Corporation dropping funding for Bartholomew Fair and rethinking Destination City

Following the meeting yesterday of the City Corporation’s Policy and Resources committee it is pretty clear that its flagship Destination City programme to attract visitors is going to change. My report here and video recording here.

No longer, it seems, will the Corporation back and organise big events like Golden Key (£1m for one day in October 2022) and Bartholomew Fair (£1.5 million over three weeks in September 2023).

Instead we are likely to see what a lot of councillors have urged – more focus on understanding and supporting the many cultural and heritage assets that make the Square Mile unique, instead of buying in outside acts.

A review of Destination City as a whole, carried out by Paul Martin, will report early in 2024, and final decisions will be made following discussion then … but yesterday policy chief Chris Hayward made his view clear. He said he viewed the Destination City £2.5m budget as pump-priming for private investment, and that the City wasn’t necessarily the body to organise big events. Video recording here.

On Monday November 20 the Culture, Heritage and Libraries committee will have a chance to dig into detail with the Destination team, and consolidate their own views. In the past there has been some argument about whether P&R or the CHL committee should be in the lead. Now there’s a chance for CHL to set out how they think things should go. Culture and heritage is their thing.

Another item on the agenda – unfortunately after the Bartholomew Fair evaluation item and any associated discussion about Destination City – is development of a Cultural Planning Framework. The main aim is to work out how “to require developers of major real estate schemes (defined as 1,000 sq m+ in the City of London) to commit to the realisation of cultural amenities as part of the planning process“.

Consultants have been working since April on a brief which includes understanding what cultural assets there are already, including:

  • Creation of a set of digital map layers that locate the Square Mile’s cultural assets and ‘cultural contributors’ (including development activity, nighttime economy, tourism and residential areas).
  • ‘Character plans’ for the City’s diverse neighbourhoods that identify how cultural planning can support the cultural development of each area towards 2040.

At the same time some work is being done, somewhere, on an overall cultural strategy for the City … something CHL members have pressed for in the past, without managing to discover what’s happening.

My sense from past committee discussion, and conversations, is that it is all very confusing for councillors. There’s no one source of information, and governance is unclear. As well as council committees there are five Business Improvement Districts that have no direct accountability to the Corporation, all developing their own plans under the leadership of Primera. It’s certainly pretty impossible for any outsiders to figure things out.

My suggestion is development of a Guide to the City’s main cultural district, Culture Mile, and to Destination City, in terms everyone can understand. Blog post here, and more about the Guide here together with background reports and blog posts on Culture Mile, Destination City and Bartholomew Fair.

Or CHL members could press for their own study, review, report, strategy – whatever.

Call it what you will, I think something is needed that pulls all the strands together in terms that can be understood by anyone interested, including residents. Chris Hayward has said we should have some ownership of Destination City.

CHL members, please do something.


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