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Hull’s Maritime City Bid

Volume 664: debated on Tuesday 3 September 2019

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Hull’s bid to become a maritime city.

It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. The Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City project is underpinned by three key bodies: Hull City Council, which works to secure the ongoing prosperity of the city; Hull Culture and Leisure Ltd, which operates the city’s museums; and Hull Maritime Foundation, an independent registered charity that aims to support, protect and promote Hull’s maritime heritage through the project.

As one of the UK’s busiest ports, Hull has come a long way since the second world war, when it was referred to only as an “unnamed costal town” despite being hit harder than any other city outside of London during the blitz. Our port industry was hit, 95% of our houses were destroyed or damaged, and more than 1,200 people were killed in air raids on the city. Becoming the UK city of culture in 2017 put Hull on the map for all the right reasons, and in 2019 the scale of our ambition has not diminished.

The UK city of culture 2017 was an inspirational year: one of building confidence, showcasing our city, changing people’s minds and laying foundations for the future. Following from that success, the Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City project is a heritage-driven, city-wide cultural regeneration and place-making project that will continue to catalyse the remarkable transformation and momentum initiated by the UK city of culture 2017.

Is the hon. Lady aware that if these proposals go ahead, they will also benefit the wider East Riding area? For that reason, she has cross-party support for what she is saying and trying to achieve.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He is absolutely right that this project’s benefits will be felt far wider than Hull; they will spill over into east Yorkshire as well.

The project will take Hull to the next level as a destination renowned for its maritime heritage and culture. Hull’s rich maritime story will take centre stage, creating a long-term legacy for decades to come. The city has already surpassed expectations and changed the perceptions of many by presenting as proud, brave, confident, and outward-looking, transformed by investment in culture, people and place.

Our connection with the sea has shaped our landscape and our culture; it touches every piece of our identity and shapes the way we see ourselves. Our fighting spirit, determination, and desire to resolve injustices has been evident through the ages, from William Wilberforce and his campaign to abolish the slave trade to the headscarf revolutionaries and their battle against the powerful establishment to change fishing safety laws. The story of those women revolutionaries is quite extraordinary: their campaign started after the triple trawler disaster in 1968, when 58 fishermen based in the port lost their lives in three separate trawler sinkings in the space of less than a month. Those women collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition calling for reform, led protest meetings, and even came down to London to lobby politicians. Among the measures the campaign secured were safety checks before vessels left port, radio operators for all ships, improved safety equipment, and a mother ship with medical facilities for all fleets.

Today, our connection to the sea continues to define Hull’s culture and economy. Maritime images dominated the city of culture opening ceremony; The Deep aquarium remains one of our tourist hotspots; and thousands of people travel through our port each month to European cities such as Amsterdam or Zeebrugge, reflecting the European movement of the late 19th century, when trans-migrants made their way through Hull on their way to North America.

Our future economic prosperity remains tied to our future as a port and the green energy estuary. We are creating wind turbines with Siemens that will help drive forward the green energy agenda, and are developing advances in battery storage to store the energy we produce. We are not always great at advertising our achievements, and it often comes as a surprise when people learn that the Humber is Britain’s busiest trading estuary. Our maritime endeavours continue to this day.

Knowing our history roots communities and creates a strong sense of identity; it gives people pride and drives community engagement. The city’s proud maritime heritage is central to our vision, and the Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City project will restore and re-interpret our maritime treasures so that they can take centre stage and be celebrated by the community. The project is based around five key elements of our maritime heritage, which are Hull Maritime Museum, the dock office chambers, the North End shipyard, and two ships: the Arctic Corsair, the sole survivor of Hull’s distant-water sidewinder trawler fleet, and the Spurn Lightship, which played a key role in Hull’s inland trade by guiding vessels as they navigated the Humber estuary. Both those ships will receive a full restoration, increased opening hours, a new interpretation and new displays, while the Arctic Corsair will also play host to a variety of training events and opportunities.

The extent of the renovation of the buildings is even more exciting. The project in the North End shipyard will commemorate how that site once contributed to Hull’s status as a global maritime port by housing the Arctic Corsair in a permanent dry berth, creating an additional attraction near the already successful museum quarter, and highlighting the Queen’s gardens—formerly the Queen’s dock—and their significance to the maritime story of Hull. The Maritime Museum will receive an additional 390 square metres of museum space, new public access to one of the building’s domes with superb rooftop views, improved education and visitor facilities, and new displays that will tell Hull’s maritime story in a unique and immersive way. That will lead to a 50% increase in the number of items available for public view, and better conservation of those items so that more of Hull’s people can benefit from them for longer.

However, Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City is so much more than a heritage project. By taking a heritage-driven approach to place-making, it will redefine the city for residents and visitors alike and transform the life chances of its citizens. Across the city, the project will promote ambition and civic pride, and raise aspirations by working with young people, older people, unemployed people, people with disabilities, and people and communities facing isolation. The project will benefit 150,000 people through informal learning and outreach programmes, while 10,000 pupils and students will benefit directly from engagement with our formal learning programme.

The activities available through the Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City plan will offer people the chance to gain practical skills through volunteering that will boost their employment opportunities and build confidence in a variety of employment settings. Skills-building opportunities will include heritage opportunities as well as transferable, public-facing skills such as oracy, developed through opportunities such as guided tours and event stewarding. By boosting confidence and increasing civic pride, the project will help to build strong, resilient communities that are motivated and inspired by their local heritage, fostering a strong and positive sense of place.

The Hull: Yorkshire’s Maritime City project will also boost our economy. A new economic impact assessment commissioned by Hull City Council to look at the benefits of the project concluded that it represents a positive return on investment and good value for money in high, medium and low-impact scenarios. It will create 121 jobs in the local economy through its construction, operation and supply chain, and as a result of visitor spend. The transformational reach and impact of the project will far outreach the sum of its parts, fulfilling its vision of being a truly heritage-driven, city-wide cultural and place-making project with people at its core. I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is a fantastic way for Hull to utilise its history to provide opportunity for the future.

Today, I ask the Minister to recognise the ambition of Hull City Council in supporting such a project, and to encourage the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to work with the council to deliver this ambitious and aspirational project, which embodies much of the thinking in the 2016 White Paper on culture and the 2017 Mendoza review. I also ask her to encourage cultural and tourism institutions sponsored by her Department to freely lend their expertise, and to offer their support and commitment to the project and engage with the team in Hull.

Finally, will the Minister ask the Secretary of State for Transport to work with the chief executive of Highways England, Jim O’Sullivan, to explore ways of unlocking the Highways England designated funds process at the earliest opportunity—to allow consideration of the A63 footbridge Spurn Lightship proposal, which would add so much value to this project? I hope the Minister feels she will be able to work with me to achieve this step in securing Hull’s future.

It is a delight for my ministerial debut to happen under your auspices, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) for bringing such a fascinating subject to the Chamber. As she knows, my Somerset constituency is a long way from Hull, but as a Back Bencher I always tried to champion it, as she is championing Hull. It is the right thing to do. We learned a great deal about Hull. I have not been there myself, but she whetted my appetite, because there seems to be so much going on. The plans for the Maritime City are interesting and exciting and I look forward to seeing them progress.

Few cities have had the recent dramatic transformation that Hull has had. The hon. Lady mentioned its history and how devastated it was after the war; it has undergone a massive transformation. As she also mentioned, it was a hugely successful city of culture in 2017, during which time more than 5 million visitors came to the city. That really enhanced the pride of its residents. More than half the city’s businesses reported an increased turnover because of all the effort that was put into that year. It is heartening that the city continues to capitalise on that success, so that it was not a one-off year. It has sparked something that will continue, which is very much the thinking behind the city of culture. We are thinking about the next one now, Coventry, which I hope will be as successful as Hull.

As the hon. Lady said, the Maritime City project will champion Hull’s eight centuries of fishing history, which will be encompassed in some of the projects that will come forward. I was interested to read about that history, particularly the trawlers. The fishing industry went as far afield as Iceland and the White sea, which is something that the city is proud of and that we should be proud of as a nation. The two historic ships, which are both on the national historic ships register, will be part of the project, as will the world-class maritime museum, which sounds fascinating.

The project will maximise the potential of those existing assets to bring visitors to the city, celebrate its history and use that history to enhance the future, which is the essence of place-making. The project will accomplish several milestones for the city. The investment in the Hull Maritime Museum will constitute its first major refurbishment in 40 years and will hugely expand it as a centrepiece for the city. The hon. Lady referred to the Mendoza report, which highlighted the value of our museums, the benefit they can bring and how much we should celebrate them. In Taunton, a great deal of investment was put into our museum and the number of visitors increased from 30,000 to 120,000 in the first year, which is phenomenal.

The Arctic Corsair trawler is the last vestige of the trawler industry and a real flagship. It is the last surviving sidewinder trawler—I have learned something—and it will receive a fitting final home in its own dry dock in the North End shipyard, as the hon. Lady highlighted, which will allow it to remain open and accessible to the public. The Government are keen to support that and have already provided £50,000 through the coastal revival fund. That pot of money, which came from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, already supports conservation and restoration work on the ship.

As hon. Members present are aware, my portfolio encompasses not just arts and heritage, but the tourism agenda. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) mentioned the wider benefits of the project. Indeed, there will be real benefits across the board for the wider area of increasing the offer in Hull. There is real evidence that demonstrating and doing more with the UK’s historic sites can draw in many more tourists.

The Minister does not know what she is missing. Will she commit to visiting Hull and the East Riding in the not-too-distant future?

That is a lovely offer. I love Yorkshire anyway—I think it is very close to Somerset in its feel—and I would very much like to make a trip and visit all these places, particularly Hull, to see what has been gained from being the city of culture and learn the lessons for the next city of culture. I am sure my team will take that offer up.

Tourism in the wider East Yorkshire region contributed £878 million in 2017 and provided almost 20,000 jobs, so it is a valuable part of the economy. In the past two years, overseas visits to East Yorkshire and Hull have hit new heights; there were 113,000 in 2018. The region’s forthcoming tourism strategy will build on that trend, because there are great opportunities.

I am particularly excited that several elements of the Maritime City project address the issue of improved access for disabled visitors. I strongly believe that our heritage sites and visitor attractions should be accessible to everyone. It is a growing sector. As Tourism Minister—I hope it lasts—I am particularly emphasising that in the tourism sector deal. For the first time, disabled visitors will be able to get aboard the Arctic Corsair following its restoration.

It is encouraging that, when the DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund expert panel decided to award £150,000 to the Hull Maritime Museum refurbishment, it specifically noticed the emphasis placed on better access for visitors with disabilities, which was one of the reasons for its success. The project should be highly commended for prioritising and integrating the needs of all Hull’s visitors.

Hull’s potential was recognised by Historic England in 2017, when it was announced as one of its first heritage action zones. Through advice and financial support, that initiative aims to create partnerships that will improve economic growth and the quality of life in Hull’s old town. Ultimately, it will secure new uses for historic buildings, increase affordable housing and seek better links with the waterfront to better exploit that maritime heritage. That all chimes well with the Maritime City project.

Hull’s upward trajectory has been facilitated and enhanced by a flood of investment in arts and culture over the last few years—lots of places would be quite jealous of how much Hull has achieved. Grants from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Arts Council, many of which have focused on the importance of getting communities engaged and involved, have had a huge impact. Engaging communities in that way is so important in making a success of a place.

There has been a raft of events, such as the Freedom Festival, the Big Malarkey Festival—we would not have been allowed, Mr Hollobone, because it was a kids’ event, but it was all about books and stories, so I was interested to hear about it as I am also the Libraries Minister—and the Creative People and Places project, which have had great success in attracting new audiences to become engaged in and inspired by the arts.

I am also pleased that the Maritime City project has taken note of the need to involve people across the board. It has staged roadshows across the city to showcase the project and foster community buy-in. More than 10,000 residents have already taken part and been reached as part of the council’s integrated work that has already been referred to. Together, the Heritage Fund and the Arts Council have given more than £2 million to Absolutely Cultured to build on the legacy of Hull’s UK city of culture year, which shows a universal desire for the city not to rest on its laurels.

What has been achieved in Hull with the help of grants from those two organisations really demonstrates the importance of national lottery funding for major UK projects, which is to be particularly celebrated in this, its 25th anniversary year. Hull could be used as something of a model for funding. The Heritage Fund has given more than £7 million to projects in Hull in the last five years and its £1.4 million development grant for the Maritime City project has been catalytic in getting it to the current stage.

Of course, as a Minister, one cannot second-guess the outcome of the second round bid the project has put in to the Heritage Fund. The decision will be taken by the north area committee, which I believe has visited the site already, or is to do so later this month. However, whether or not the application is successful, there is reason to be confident that the city of Hull will find a way to bring the ambitious plans in the bid to fruition.

The Maritime City project is perfectly placed to capitalise on the momentum generated by Hull’s year as city of culture and the other factors I have mentioned. The legacy of that year can be keenly felt throughout the city. There are some truly impressive statistics. To name just a couple, in 2018 the city’s employment rate and number of businesses reached their highest ever recorded rate, including more than 550 new cultural jobs. That is a pretty extraordinary outcome.

I note with interest the opportunities in the project bid for training and skills, which I was very pleased to see. Those are particular elements in the new tourism sector deal, which hopes to build skills and apprenticeships so that our young people feel that there is a future working in tourism and such sectors in these areas. The developments in Hull will surely offer opportunities that will keep younger people there and stop them from thinking they need to go somewhere else to get good employment. I was pleased to see that as part of the bid.

As a result of all the work in Hull, I believe that civic pride is at an all-time high, with three in four residents reporting that they are proud to live in Hull—perhaps the others will be got on board with all the new projects coming to fruition! Recent VisitEngland findings show that Hull Maritime Museum has had the greatest growth among all museums and galleries nationally, with an almost 400% increase in visits. That is absolutely phenomenal and has happened even before the refurbishment of the museum. It is a great demonstration of the role that museums can hold.

As has been outlined, the Maritime City project, which involves five different sites, including the two historic vessels, will attract a further 300,000 visitors to Hull and potentially bring an additional £2.86 million to the local economy. It will be a huge boon for the city, continuing its upward trajectory to become a must-visit destination in the UK.

We want UK visitors to go to places such as Hull. We also want to attract international visitors. With our new airport links, building on, for example, the special deal in Manchester to encourage inbound tourism, or with Newcastle Airport, perhaps we can get people to use those routes—these are all good selling points for people who are going up north. We want to strengthen that, and tourism, arts, heritage and culture really help. I was so pleased to hear there is cross-party support for this project. Things are often successful with cross-party support as it demonstrates very wide interest—not, of course, that I can influence the decision.

The hon. Lady raised a point about Highways England. I will ascertain what might be holding that particular aspect up and how it might be moved forward, and report back. I urge the hon. Lady to continue championing the cause, which helps a great deal; it is always good to have a champion.

Hull has a unique place in the UK’s maritime history. We discussed the two ships in Hull—I have knowledge of the SS Great Britain in Bristol, which has very good disabled access; Bristol has an interesting maritime history as well. The SS Great Britain is a huge tourist attraction in Bristol, visited by a great many people. It is a beautiful place to visit, and so I know how attractive such ships can be to the public, who are intrigued about their history. It makes perfect sense to build on that heritage for the future.

Should the bid be successful, I am sure that Yorkshire’s Maritime City, Hull, will continue to grow and develop and maintain its unique position, that more people will hear about it, that businesses will benefit, that more visitors will come and that we will all be reminded of our glorious seafaring past, which is so much part of our history in the UK.

Question put and agreed to.