Regeneration in Hull, East Yorkshire

PUBLISHED: 21:53 14 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:19 20 February 2013

Statue of anti slavery campaigner William Wilberforce and Hull College

Statue of anti slavery campaigner William Wilberforce and Hull College

Hull has been the butt of many jokes over the years. But the city centre is regenerating and developing at a rapid rate and good things are happening to this historic East Yorkshire capital. So will Hull residents have the last laugh? Tony Greenwa...

Back in May, we spoke to John Godber, Hull's most famous resident and Britain's best-loved playwright. Godber has lived in Hull for almost 25 years and knows all about the bad headlines his adopted city receives on a regular basis: one week it's being lambasted for having the lowest education results and poorest council in the country; the next it's voting itself (ITSELF, notice) Britain's Crappest Town (I took exception to that,' said Godber. 'It's a city. At the very least it should have voted itself Crappest City.')

To pour petrol on the bonfire, Phil and Kirsty pop up annually on Channel 4 and name Hull as one of the worst places to live in the UK. In 2007, they placed it 'second worst' (behind Middlesborough) and said: 'Kingston upon Hull (or should it be Hell?) sits in isolation on the north east coast of England. It's nabbed the number two spot thanks to some terrible crime stats...

Last year (2006), Hull's boys in blue were named as the joint worst performing force in the whole of the UK.' Godber, however, is considerably more optimistic about the future. 'Hull is at a tipping point of real major changes with regards to image and self-confidence,' he told us.

'It's evolving. There are great things happening here and it'll only be a matter of time before people's perceptions do a complete about face.' So we ask Richard Kendall, policy executive at the Hull Chamber of Commerce, a simple question: Is Godber right? Is Hull at a tipping point of major change? No, it isn't, he says - which wasn't the answer we expected. But Kendall hasn't finished.

'We've gone over that tipping point. It remains to be seen, but there's a great buzz about the city now. I think it's a culmination of things. There's been so much going on in Hull, so many developments. And our football team's promotion to the Premiership has really fired everyone up.'

Perhaps he's onto something there. Hull City's play-off final victory over Bristol in May - and subsequent entry into the Premier League - could be symbolic of a new-found confidence in Hull generally. 'Hull is a hugely proud place,' says Vickie Bissett, Director of Artlink, the centre for community arts on Princes Avenue.

'It's proud of its history and culture... so when its football team is promoted, it justifies that feeling of pride. I think people always recognised that Hull is a city with real potential. It had been a bit dormant - but a lot of hard work has gone on over the last five or six years and attitudes are starting to change from within.'

Regeneration is the name of the game here, with over 1.5bn of investment currently transforming the city centre. Last year, for example, saw the launch of St Stephen's, a 200m retail-led scheme with a dramatic, glazed canopy roof. This brought in big-name stores such as Zara, La Senza, H&M and Jane Norman, as well as an Express by Holiday Inn, two new cinemas (including Europe's first multiplex digital cinema), and the Albermarle Music Centre.

The Paragon Interchange railway station - which delivers some 24,000 people to St Stephens' door each day - is at the heart of this ambitious regeneration plan. On Hull's waterfront, meanwhile, the Humber Quays complex is now home to The Royal Bank of Scotland, PricewaterhouseCoopers and World Trade Centre Hull & Humber.Work on Humber Quays Phase Two, featuring more office space, a hotel and restaurants, will start in the autumn; and the Fruit Market area adjacent to the Marina is being redeveloped and turned into Hull's very own version of Covent Garden.

There's more. In 2009, John Godber will have a brand new, purpose-built home for his acclaimed Hull Truck Theatre. Even Hull Council was assessed by the Audit Commission recently and dubbed an authority which is 'improving well'.

There's also an enthusiastic creative vibe in Hull. For Artlink's Vickie Bissett, that's great news. 'Hull has always been very open to include the creative sector and arts community in its plans,' she says. 'It's certainly a positive thing as far as I'm concerned.'

Artlink, which was established in 1982, moved into a new building a year ago, with a gallery space and workshop studio - and it continues to develop and deliver an increasingly wide range of successful art projects in consultation with the community.

A registered charity, it can be found in an area saturated with newfound caf culture. But we address the balance,' says Vickie, 'so the area isn't all about nightlife.We bring some day activity to our surroundings and offer people the chance to get involved in family-orientated arts projects.'

Maybe the roots of this optimistic attitude in Hull can be traced back to the opening of The Deep, the award-winning aquarium which opened in 2002. Since its launch, two million visitors, from the UK and abroad, have been through The Deep's doors. The Princes Quay shopping centre, on Princes Dock, is also an attractive magnet for shoppers, with big high street names next to cafes and restaurants. House prices seem to be stable at present.

'Hull's a fantastic place to invest,' says Richard, 'because you can get a lot more for your money.' So there, Phil and Kirsty. Richard doesn't agree with the duo's assertion that Hull is 'isolated', either. But come on, we say. It is at the end of the M62 and a good distance from anywhere else.

'Um, well it is in a way,' says Richard. 'But there are great transport links to and from Hull. The M62 and A63 are close by.' In the floods of 2007, Hull became 'the forgotten city'. Sheffield and Leeds had suffered devastating flood damage, but noone noticed that large parts of Hull had been washed away too.

'If this was anywhere else it would have been declared a national disaster,' said council leader Carl Minns. 'We need to get the message out to the government and to the people of this country how hard Hull has been affected.' The spotlight was turned on Hull eventually, but only, says Richard, after the city complained that nothing was being done.

'Perhaps we haven't done as much jumping up and down as we should have done in the past,' he says. 'But now we've got a really good story to jump up and down about. It'll be nice to get attention for the right reasons for a change.

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