Cities clash in race to stage culture festival

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The Independent Online

An expensive and acrimonious battle is being waged by two of England's grandest dock cities in the competition to be named a European City of Culture in 2008.

An expensive and acrimonious battle is being waged by two of England's grandest dock cities in the competition to be named a European City of Culture in 2008.

A British city will be awarded the title, and the bids being put together by Liverpool and by the combined might of Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead, its old adversary across the river, are reaching Olympian proportions.

Liverpool revealed yesterday that is investing £1.5m to compile its bid. It has already established its own company and emblem (a Liver bird atop one of the 12 stars of the EU). Not to be outdone, the North-east is spending about £1m to createa marketing company that is simultaneously pushing Newcastle's 2007 Ryder Cup bid.

The scale of the Liverpool effort wasunderlined by the appointment of Sir Bob Scott, the man who led Manchester's unsuccessful 2000 Olympics bid, as chief executive of its bid company, the Liverpool Culture Company. Newcastle countered with Paul Collard, who won the 1996 UK Year of Visual Arts crown for his city. Newcastle has asserted that the opening and illumination of its rotating Millennium Bridge last weekendmarked the "serious launch" of its bid. Neil Rami, the chief executive of the Newcastle/Gateshead Partnership, said the event showedhis group's plans were built on "visible signs that we mean business, not just proposals".

Newcastle has been careful not to throw mud at its north- west rival, but Mr Scott said yesterday that Liverpool's own projects would not be "five or six years old" when 2008 arrived. It is listing Everton Football Club's proposed £150m dockside home and a £100m "fourth Grace" to sit by the Liver Building on the banks of the Mersey among its future jewels. Both have yet to receive planning permission.

Even the Liverpool police tug-of-war team, which won the silver medal at the 1908 Olympics, has been cited as part of the city's heritage.

Newcastle boasts that it was the first British city to declare its intention to bid and that it established the first bid website (www.culture2008.com). It is wasting no time in winning continental friends. Mr Rami said: "We entertained a number of political and cultural leaders from Eastern Europe and Scandinavia at the weekend and they have been absolutely enthralled and astounded."

The more modest among the 13 contenders for City of Culture – including Bradford, Cardiff, Inverness and Birmingham – are bemused. Milton Keynes has accused Liverpool of promoting "a series of statistics about the city ... as if it means something."

All will submit their bids to the Government by March and a shortlist will be announced in 2003.

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