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All that could have been – Dundee 2023 blow could have cost city hundreds of millions

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The fiasco surrounding Dundee’s ultimately failed bid to become European Capital of Culture has cost the city and wider region a potential £140 million.

Current culture capital Aarhus – a post-industrial east-coast Danish city which rejuvenated its fortunes by developing its harbour and waterfront districts – and its surrounding area has raked in €159 million (£140 million) since winning the coveted award.

The plug was pulled on the Dundee 2023 Capital of Culture bid just days before the team was due to go before the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which would have selected the UK winner.

Following the UK’s decision to leave the EU in 2016, the European Commission belatedly decided no British cities could compete for the title, despite assurances immediately after Brexit from the UK and Scottish governments, Dundee City Council and the fact other, non-EU cities had won the award in the past.

A report detailing the economic and cultural benefits the title has brought to Aarhus has been released, highlighting just how much of a “body-blow” the decision not to allow UK cities to compete has been.

More than 1,960 jobs were created in the Danish city as a direct result of being named culture capital, as well as 11.2 million overnight hotel stays in the immediate local area being recorded.

In total, 12.6 million people visited Aarhus and the surrounding area – an increase in one year of 20%.

More than 3 million people attended specially designated Capital of Culture events in Aarhus, just under half of which cost to enter.

Central Denmark regional officials have also said for every €1 they invested publicly in the cultural celebration, €3 was spent by visitors in return.

Dundee council leader John Alexander said Aarhus’ report highlighted the huge benefit the city could have earned from winning the title.

“While some were unconvinced by the bid, this report makes it crystal clear cultural events can have a transformative effect.

“It also helpfully highlights why we have redoubled our efforts in seeking out new and alternative opportunities.

“We are not beat, this was a bump in the road not a cliff edge to fall off.

“We are not sitting idly by thinking of what could have been, we are actively pursuing other options and we are determined to deliver.”

He continued: “All five leaders recently met with the Department for Media, Culture & Sport to seek UK Government support given their verbal commitment and the fact that this was UK competition.

“I have personally held discussions with UNESCO UK and Michael Ellis MP, parliamentary under-secretary at DCMS to examine how we deliver the kind of global cultural event which will help showcase the best of Dundee and provide a further economic boost.

“Discussion and negotiations are continuing and as you would expect, we need absolute clarity around UK Government support and their commitment to take forward our exciting proposals.”

In addition to Mr Alexander’s comments, Dundee West SNP MP Chris Law said he will be raising the matter at Westminster with the Conservative government, asking why in the six months passed since the bombshell announcement no word has been handed down.


Anders Kühnau, the chairman of the regional council in the central Denmark region, said the awarding of Capital of Culture had been a boon to Aarhus and the surrounding area.

He said: “The report testifies the great outcomes of the European Capital of Culture in 2017.

“We managed to tie the region and 19 municipalities together. Culture will continue to lead the way, when our partnership continues as European Region of Culture.”