Warrington to bid for City of Culture 2021
PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 May 2017
Warrington is a town striving for city status. Rebekka O’Grady visits to see what it has to offer.
Named second best place to live in the UK, Warrington has its sights set on a very bright future. The accolade, revealed on property guru Sarah Beeney’s TV show, UK’s Best Place to Live, is only the start of things to come in the town – something which Councillor Dan Price knows all about.
The Great Sankey North and Whittle Hall councillor is the driving force behind the town’s bid for City of Culture 2021. If successful, the ambitious submission will see a potential multi-million pound boost to the economy (the Heritage Lottery Fund has already pledged to give £3m to the winning city) and a boost to tourism and cultural facilities. There is also a devolution deal currently in the works for Warrington to obtain city status.
‘Warrington has grown a lot, and with the developments such as the £107 million Bridge Street Quarter regeneration scheme, Time Square (which when completed will have a state of the art cinema and market among other things), it will feel like a very different place. With the unique timing of this and the opportunity to bid, I said we should consider applying.’
Dan along with a panel of experts looked to see if Warrington had a compelling offer, and the more they discussed it, the more they were convinced. Cllr Price says that now the bid has gone through, more people are seeing the positives and it’s reaffirming to hear that locals are behind it.
‘We don’t need the city status in order to win. The bid is made for urban areas, not just cities. They want to see ambitious towns applying; they acknowledge that and know that somewhere like Warrington will deliver. We are a dark horse but I believe we have a compelling bid.’
Reflecting on the past, but envisaging the future, the bid provides a platform to celebrate the town’s rich cultural history and will also create an opportunity to shape and develop the next four years of the borough’s cultural programme.
All final bids were to be submitted by the end of April and a shortlist announced in July, before the winning city is named in December. Part of Dan’s vision is to see Warrington turned into a cultural and heritage hub, thanks to its large catchment area which he says is the biggest outside London.
‘There are 5.6 million people who live just 45 minutes outside of Warrington. I have always been ambitious and I would like a national institution to look at Warrington as a permanent exhibition, like the Tate. The Northern Powerhouse can’t just be about railways and roads, there needs to be a cultural aspect that comes with it.’
Someone who shares Dan’s opinion of Warrington looking towards the future is market manager Andy Ward. He was appointed to the role earlier this year following the retirement of Steve Pickering after 18 years at the helm. Andy is looking forward to showing people what the new market will have to offer.
Part of the £107 million Time Square development, £14 million is being spent on the new market development and £6 million of that is on the temporary market which is being built now. Most of this will be transferable to the new one, due to open in 2019, or lettable as something else once used.
We meet Andy outside the temporary market building site, located just off Buttermarket Street and next to the old market which has been active since the 1970s.
‘We are five months behind schedule, but we will be moving into the temporary market on August 29th. The old one will then by knocked down to make way for the new Cineworld complex.
‘This market will be larger than the original, but with fewer units, at 54. We’ve had to do a selection process and most traders have been supportive of this. There will be a mezzanine level for nine units, things like hairdressers and tattooists – there will be a real mix of places. We don’t want to duplicate things, but inspire shoppers with each stall. The final market will have 80 stalls.’
For Andy, it was important to keep the market alive. He said there were talks about closing it, but it wouldn’t have been beneficial to the town.
‘The council sees the market as a key part of the development. We need to keep faith in markets; they counter chain shops with unique independent traders. There’s a lot buzzing around here and we want the market to be a destination. It will be well supplemented with events, giving people another reason to visit.
‘It got me out of retirement, so I know it’s a fantastic development and I have so much confidence in it.’