Boasting and recriminations as Tyneside becomes favourite to win culture title

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The Independent Online

Newcastle and Gateshead was installed yesterday as the 7–4 favourite to be European Capital of Culture in 2008 as the unveiling of a shortlist for the title sparked tactical boasts from the contenders and angry recriminations from the losers.

Newcastle and Gateshead was installed yesterday as the 7–4 favourite to be European Capital of Culture in 2008 as the unveiling of a shortlist for the title sparked tactical boasts from the contenders and angry recriminations from the losers.

Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool and Oxford were the other cities chosen as final-round candidates from 12 cities that submitted bids for the title, which is potentially worth millions in increased tourist revenues.

The six to be cast aside by a judging panel headed by Sir Jeremy Isaacs, the former director of the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, were Belfast, Bradford, Brighton and Hove, Canterbury and East Kent, Inverness and the Highlands, and Norwich.

The expert panel of 12 chaired by Sir Jeremy will now assess renewed bids from each of the finalists before the winner, the first British city to hold the title since Glasgow in 1990, is announced by Tony Blair next May.

The remaining candidates for 2008, one of which will be the last British city to hold the title for 20 years after the decision was taken to rotate the accolade across EU member states from 2004, wasted no time in restating their belief that they were the only deserving winner.

Birmingham, a surprise early favourite for the prize after submitting what the judges decided was the most multicultural bid, underlined its superiority on the international stage over Cardiff or Newcastle. A spokesman said: "Newcastle has just a handful of large projects whereas we have hundreds of projects. We have hosted a G8 summit and the Eurovision song contest. Cardiff can only boast its Millennium Stadium."

The Welsh capital hit back with the help of Neil Kinnock, the vice-president of the European Commission, who said the city would soon have state-of-the-art performance facilities. He said: "Cardiff can – and will – promote the artistic genius of Europe and celebrate the distinctive old and new creativity of Wales."

The Geordie favourites refrained from lashing out, saying only: "We have proved we have the right ideas."

Liverpool was installed as second favourite at 5-2, with Cardiff 4-1, Birmingham 9-2, Bristol 8-1 and Oxford 9-1.

Elsewhere, some of the losers could not conceal their disappointment.

Community leaders in Belfast, which spent £1m on its bid and until yesterday had been the bookies' favourite, called the decision a "wasted opportunity". In Inverness, organisers were even blunter, saying they were "gutted".

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