£50k Town of Culture title could 'breed resentment' across Greater Manchester

MP Lisa Nandy will be put in an 'invidious position' as chair of the Town of Culture panel
MP Lisa Nandy will be put in an 'invidious position' as chair of the Town of Culture panel

A scheme aimed at promoting the ‘distinctive culture’ of towns in Greater Manchester could instead ‘breed resentment’, according to councillors.

Communities will compete for the ‘Town of Culture’ title and £50,000 to help create a ‘recognisable brand’, hold events and attract further investment.

But there are concerns over the ‘enormous’ disparity between the size of places that could be put forward for the challenge.

The name of the award has also come under fire for potentially excluding areas within Manchester, where there are no towns.

Local authorities will be allowed to nominate towns, villages or neighbourhoods within their respective boroughs, with a winner due to be announced at the end of November.

The proposals were presented to councillors at a Greater Manchester Combined Authority meeting on September 13 but were met with a mixed reception.

Rochdale councillor Michael Holly said: “The concept is great but Bolton is a big town compared with Heywood.

“The disparity in size is enormous, and I struggle to understand what sort of comparisons you can make because they might have different offers.”

The meeting heard that size would not come into play when the applications were judged by an independent panel.

Manchester councillors were also told that wards where residents ‘identified as their own community’ could be put forward by the city council.

But Councillor June Hitchen asked for the name to be changed, saying: “People will be confused in Manchester because there isn’t a town status.

“I’m a little concerned that we would be excluded.”

Councillor Greg Statham added: “This will confuse people and it could breed resentment in other areas of Manchester that don’t necessarily have that feeling of being a civic district centre.”

The panel tasked with choosing the Town of Culture will be co-chaired by Wigan MP Lisa Nandy and Fiona Gibson, board member of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership.

GMCA bosses said the independent membership would ‘take the politics out’ of the process, but Wigan councillor Michael Winstanley said the inclusion of Ms Nandy would be ‘controversial’.

He said: “We’ve got an MP co-chairing that represents one of the boroughs, and I just think it puts someone in a bit of an invidious position

“If Wigan get it, people will say [Ms Nandy] is feathering her own nest. If Wigan don’t get it, people in Wigan will go ‘she’s absolutely useless.’”

Wigan council’s chief executive Alison McKenzie-Folan said that Ms Nandy would be there in her capacity as co-founder of the Centre for Towns think-tank.

The Town of Culture programme will run in 2020 and 2021 initially with a view of making it an annual event, with the GMCA ensuring that a borough doesn’t win the accolade twice in a row.

Councillor David Greenhalgh said the programme’s main purpose was to encourage local authorities to engage with and promote their cultural heritage.

The GMCA’s lead for culture said: “We don’t see there being winners and losers because we envisage that even those authorities that are not successful will find projects to do.

“We think it will get culture at the forefront of people’s minds.”