MK’s most ambitious plan yet: To become the European Capital of Culture

Bletchley Park
Bletchley Park
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Momentum is gathering pace for Milton Keynes to launch its most ambitious and outrageous bid yet – to become the European Capital of Culture.

Milton Keynes is developing a national reputation when it comes to bidding for and hosting major events, and plans are now starting to take shape for the city to launch itself onto the European map, following in the footsteps of the likes of Madrid, Amsterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen by claiming the prestigious title.

The idea, being considered by Milton Keynes Council, the city’s Arts and Heritage Alliance, and keys figures from MK Theatre and Gallery, is to launch a bid for 2023 when the UK and Hungary are expected to put forward candidates.

Milton Keynes has been in the running for the title before, but after generating plenty of national publicity – mainly for the usual roundabout and concrete cow-ralated reasons – the bid for the title in 2008 eventually fizzled out and Liverpool was selected.

However, the latest attempt to showcase the city’s rich heritage and cultural significance was the brainchild of Councillor Peter Marland, leader of the Labour Party in Milton Keynes. A proud Scouser, he saw the social and economic benefits the honour brought to Liverpool and is hoping his adopted city can reap similar rewards.

“I don’t think there is another city where the award would mean more,” he said. “The bid would look at our future as well as our rich past.

“MK is part of a borough with fantastic history and the benefits of being the European Capital of Culture would be felt all over the region.

“I want to transfer the view some people have of MK and stop them sneering at the city.

“We have the International Festival, The Stables – a hugely famous cultural venue – and a fantastic theatre and art gallery. And, of course, Bletchley Park – a hugely significant and historical place.

“I’m taking politics away from this. I want all the parties to support the bid.”

The Arts and Heritage Alliance is set to hold a forum to discuss a bid at Bletchley Park in early September, with Mike Storey, leader of Liverpool City Council from 1998 to 2005, a guest speaker. The year as Capital of Culture pumped an estimated £800 million into Liverpool’s economy and is thought to have attracted 3.5 million visitors to the city. Marseille in France and Kosice in Slovakia are the current capitals of culture in 2013.

Andrew Geary, leader of the Conservative-led Milton Keynes Council, said the proposed bid has his full support, and agrees that it should be pushed forward with cross-party support. However, he does concede that MK may have to change some people’s perception of the city in order to win.

“I think it’s fair to say we will probably be the underdogs,” he said. “But we have been the underdogs before with things like the football and rugby world cup bids, but we still won those.”