Greg Rhodes 15 February 2017

Hull rides wave of optimism

Hull rides wave of optimism  image

Hull has a plan for prosperity - one rooted in realistic, targeted ambitions that the public and private sectors alike expect will lift a once-proud maritime city out of the doldrums on a voyage of rediscovery and fresh opportunity.

It’s a signature year for Hull in 2017. Crowned UK City of Culture in November 2013, after beating fellow shortlisted bidders Leicester, Dundee and Swansea Bay, it has undertaken and accelerated a major programme of public realm and transport infrastructure improvements, now nearing completion, ready to welcome a discerning public from within the 254,000 population and those keen to witness the transformation, managed through the Hull 2017 company set up last year to deliver the programme on behalf of “the city and the nation”.

An independent, pioneering chord runs through Hull’s backbone – it opened its own telephone exchange in 1904 with cream and green phoneboxes, rolled out ultrafast broadband and is now strengthening its reputation as a digital focus. City son and English politician William Wilberforce led the movement to abolish the slave trade in the 1800s.

But Hull’s new-found status in 2017 appears merely a means to an end; one step on the road to reinventing a proud heritage and propelling the city forward on a flow tide of inward investment, visitor appeal and strong trading.

‘The key legacies are being developed around a 10-year Cultural Strategy,’ explains John Pywell city culture and place manager at Hull City Council, ‘alongside a wider Destination Hull programme.

‘This includes developing the cultural programme and partnerships and marketing the city as a destination, product development and place management.’

That legacy is built on a significant investment both by the council and its partners in HM Treasury and national cultural partners such as the BBC, Arts Council and British Council, Pywell adds, being shaped to maintain the momentum of 2017 over the coming decade, to build a “resilient and sustainable” future.

The City Plan, which lies behind the strategic priority Destination Hull, identifies 7,500 new jobs by 2023 as the £1bn investment ploughed in since 2013 unfolds as major capital programmes impacting cultural provision, on top of significant cash injections from companies based there, such as Siemens and RB.

The neo-classical styled Ferens Art Gallery reopens after a £4.5m internal refurbishment as it prepares to host next year’s Turner Prize – a coup for the city – thanks to £2.9m from Hull City Council capital investment, £1.6m grant and £0.5m input from the Arts Council Small Capital Fund.

One of the city’s most high profile and popular cultural assets, the gallery was extended and refitted in 1991. Environmental control, lighting and displays were nearing the end of their effective operational life therefore.

‘The environmental underway ensures it can play a pivotal role in the City of Culture programme and provide leading-edge art display space for Hull’s magnificent collections and large-scale visiting exhibitions,’ Pywell states. Hull New Theatre also reopens after major investment funded a new fly tower to expand its capability to stage large shows and events. The much-vaunted £35m Hull Venue music and conference centre, holding 3,500, opens in 2018, while the planned cruise terminal will swell demand for more hotel accommodation.

Key to the success of 2017 and beyond though is the public realm reaffirmation of Hull’s heritage – linking the historic centre, Old Town and waterfront with transport hubs such as Paragon Interchange rail station and easing traffic flow through the city from the Humber Bridge and beyond.

A clutch of new city centre businesses have opened since 2013, particularly growing the food and beverage offer, and several spaces being enhanced by public realm advances in several notable squares will bolster that further, providing opportunities for cafes and restaurants.

And given its position at the heart of the UK’s biggest port complex and home to Europe’s largest wind turbine manufacturing plant, Hull can claim to be set fair to become a leading hub for renewable energy industries.

To achieve its ambitions and secure a lasting legacy from Hull’s year as UK City of Culture, the council is leading the delivery of an £80m investment in streets, open spaces and cultural venues, which has attracted a further £47m in government funding and at least £260m in private sector investment. Redeveloping centre public areas, paving, street furniture and public art all fall within Hull’s ambition to treble visitor numbers, create jobs in tourism and creative industries and bolster participation in culture and the arts.

Transport infrastructure projects are underway to cater for the large crowds expected for big City of Culture events. They include a £1.4m upgrade to Paragon Interchange rail hub and enhancing traffic flow while relieving congestion at the notorious pinch point near Hull Royal Infirmary. Due for completion this month (December) with some minor areas completed during spring 2017, the public realm works begin at Paragon Interchange an upgraded street crossing into Paragon Square, creating a high quality entrance to the city.

Granite paving lines the streets emanating from Paragon Square, continuing into Jameson Street’s important retail area. Centralised improvements, including new trees, provide wider pedestrian areas to ease shop access and create places catering for different age groups and space for outdoor cafes. At the end of the street, a pedestrianised square will provide a platform for markets or entertainment.

The new paving draw visitors through to King Edward Street, with its new trees and outside café space culminating in a reimagined impressive Queen Victoria Square, where a large informal seating area overlooks a dramatic water feature which can be switched off to create another large events space. Queen Victoria’s Statue dominates the square, marked by enhanced lighting.

Whitefriargate becomes the gateway to the Old Town, with its sandstone paving and visually arresting porphyry, to deliver a ‘throwback’ cobbled street effect, akin to the area hundreds of years before, and furnished with new seating and wall lanterns.

The paving leads into Trinity House Lane and ultimately Trinity Square, where the existing church wall is being removed to create one large open space designed to set off Trinity Church, with eight shallow square pools to reflect the detail of the church fabric, and being drained for events. Seating and pavement cafes will allow visitors to linger in what is an atmospheric and restful city setting.

Marking a contrast to the rest of the centre, the Fruit Market retains its quirky, cosmopolitan feel, while cobbles and historic rails in Humber Dock Street are being lifted, cleaned and relaid, with walkways and crossing points added to deliver full accessibility to pavement cafes designed to offer views across the marina.

Cobbles continue down Humber Street, a vital part of the Fruit Market regeneration, and the road will be closed to through traffic to create a more flexible space for festivals and markets. Seating inspired by fruit crates will be positioned at either end of the street amid cafes and restaurants.

The City of Culture status reaches beyond UK shores, however. ‘Hull already enjoys significant cultural links with Rotterdam, Reykjavik and other European partners through the new Hansa, which has over 180 northern European partners,’ stresses Pywell, ‘and is partnering with Aarhus, European City of Culture in 2017.

‘The Cultural Strategy identifies the opportunity through our maritime connectivity to further develop cultural links and programming with our Nordic partners and the place of Hull as an international maritime city.’ Key performance indicators will demonstrate the impact of the City of Culture, including increased visitor spend, investment and confidence in the city, Pywell notes.

‘The city will be judged not only on the quality of its programme for 2017 but also on how it gives the city a voice by positioning it as a serious cultural destination.’ With so much in place and planned for the years ahead, that judgment would seem almost to be ‘a given’.

As the city’s website states: ‘Achieving its ambitions “will help Hull seize the once-in-a-generation opportunity it now has to reassert its role as a gateway to Europe and part of the Northern Powerhouse of cities that will help rebalance the economic, social and cultural fabric of the UK.’

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