A reset for Destination City as Liveable City may be on the way

On Monday this week the City Corporation publicly signalled a reset in the direction of its flagship Destination City programme, with more emphasis on promoting existing cultural and heritage attractions, rather than big events with bought-in acts. Residents will be offered more say.

The Culture, Heritage and Libraries committee had papers on an evaluation of Bartholomew Fair, a Cultural Planning Framework, and a late paper outlining the initial findings of the Paul Martin review of the future of Destination City.

Discussion generally confirmed the direction that emerged from Policy and Resources committee last week.

So far Destination City has concentrated on developing its consumer offer – see slides and background papers here – together with big events: The Golden Key and Bartholomew Fair.

The hope was that visitors to these would spend more in shops, bars and restaurants. The Bartholomew Fair evaluation showed limited success.

The Martin report, Appendix 2, says:

  1. A focus on visitor numbers and spend needs to be balanced with attention to social inclusion and equity – Destination City must embrace the City’s long-standing and impressive commitment to serving the public good.
  2. Destination City is therefore not only about place marketing (although this is essential and needs more attention) but the future development of a liveable, lively and connected City in a uniquely historic, cultural and characterful setting. Future decisions on allocation of the Destination City programme budget should flow from this collaborative approach.
  3. Professional leadership of Destination City requires Board level orchestration of the City’s exceptionally impressive capabilities and cultural assets working closely with business partners. In the development of a new cultural strategy, consideration needs to be given to spatial, temporal and community approaches that enable well planned, coordinated and sustained programmes of activity.

Paul Martin is due to report finally by the end of January, and so far direct resident engagement has been left off the list of stakeholders – see Appendix 1.

Several committee members pressed strongly for residents to be more involved. They know more than most what would make a Liveable City.

So far all that’s on offer are monthly sociable get-togethers announced at the recent public meeting. While welcomed, what’s needed is a more comprehensive engagement strategy.

Officers at committee conceded that this engagement should now be delivered in association with the Residential Reset programme announced earlier this year.

Overall it was a good debate – and I recommend watching it on YouTube. There was a much appreciation of what had been done by the small Destination City team to develop the brand, the visitor website, and to organise Bartholomew Fair across 17 locations with some 250 acts. Much of the discussion was about issues beyond the remit of the team.

Other key points for the future included the need for:

  • A cultural strategy and vision – something the committee has pressed for over the past year.
  • Clear objectives and measures of success. At the moment Destination City is becoming all things to all people.
  • Great transparency in what is planned, and what lessons are being learned.
  • Clear leadership and governance, with a senior officer responsible, and clarity about accountability to councillors.
  • A memorandum of understanding with the five Business Improvement Districts. At the moment they have no direct accountability for their programmes.
  • Acknowledgement of the role of voluntary and community organisations, and the knowledge they have of the City

It’s clear that – as expected from the Policy and Resource committee discussion – the preference in future will be to get commercial sponsors and outside organisers to put on major events. Councillors pressed for a decision on whether or not Bartholomew Fair will be re-staged again. It sounds as if final decisions will follow from consideration of the final report from Paul Martin.

A year ago I wondered Can Destination City also help create a Liveable City? and suggested that if that became an objective, then we needed an information hub to help people understand what’s happening, and what’s planned, together with a Museum of the Streets to reveal the City’s assets.

More recently I’ve suggested development of a Guide to Destination City. The complexity of the issues revealed in yesterday’s discussion confirms that something like that is essential as a first base for any engagement with residents and other interests.


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