Southampton: European Capital of Culture

Culture off the shelf…
March 28, 2008, 7:46 pm
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What could be more cultured than the latest handcrafted Scandinavian chic, sold in exclusive serene boutiques in our fine city?

Not a lot. Unfortunately, IKEA’s soulless flat-packed goods don’t quite fit that bill.

But yes – fanfare if you please – after years of conjecture it’s finally happening, Southampton is getting its very own IKEA store.

How the Southampton IKEA will look

Queue hordes of delirious shoppers who’ll willingly trample each other, and their own family if needs be, to get their hands on that must have bubble chair from this season’s catalogue – oh joy.

Now we appreciate this is genuinely exciting news for a lot of people, the allure of IKEA has always been mysteriously strong for the masses. The thought of being herded through a concrete maze by little arrows, your only reward a stale hotdog on a rainy Sunday afternoon, seems pretty tough to resist.

But have they really thought this through?

The Southampton IKEA store will be located on the old Pirelli site, adjacent to West Quay. The very same site that was once poised to offer us a world class concert arena with ice rink, along with numerous restaurants and amenities, will now offer little more than a few bedside tables and lamps. Coming in at a whopping 34,000 square meters, along with a 900-space multi-storey car park and 600-seat restaurant – this is no little corner shop. Imagine the St. Marys pitch laid out five times over and you start to get an idea just how big this Swedish invasion will be.The main objectors to the plans were unsurprisingly John Lewis and West Quay, who will both no doubt be hit where it hurts, as customers drift over to our Scandinavian cousins.

One of the main claims the dissenters made, bar loss of trade, was the volume of traffic that the new IKEA will generate – and they’ve got a point.

IKEAs are almost entirely situated in out-of-town locations with easy access to motorways and major transport links. This is for a reason – the amount of cars that head off to these stores on any given day is beyond staggering.

We know what you’re thinking, putting one in the middle of a town centre would surely be madness?

Well, yep, but hey – Southampton is going to give it a go.

If you thought it was bad getting into town on a normal Saturday morning – let alone a Saints matchday – get ready for it to get a hell of a lot worse.

Cabinet member for environment and transport Councillor Gavin Dick was full of beans at the prospect of the new store: “IKEA will be a draw not just for people in Southampton but for shoppers right across the south.”

Surely that’s the point Mr Dick? Can the city handle that kind of traffic? IKEA reported  that a rise of 15% is likely, which the council deemed not worrying enough to halt the plans.

John Lewis stood by their objection, but West Quay dropped theirs after agreeing for a walkway to be built between the shopping complex and the IKEA opposite – crafty.

With IKEA anticipating around 2.4 million visitors in its opening year, when they hit us in early 2009, it might just feel a bit more crowded around town with our new guests.

Just make sure you don’t get in the way of them and their bubble chair.


Digging for Gold…
March 28, 2008, 12:02 am
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The ancient wonder that us the Parthenon in Athens? Yeah it’s alright.

The splendour of engineering that is the Paris’ Eiffel Tower? Not bad.

And as for the Brandenburg Gate, well, sorry Berlin – it’s no Bargate!

Vinson's not impressed...

According to esteemed Liberal Democrat councillor – and former head of Southampton Council – Adrian Vinson, you don’t need to head off to the continent to experience such delights. Oh no, Southampton offers just as many gems.

Vinson, who currently resides as Cabinet member for economic development, has so far managed to avoid the men in white coats, despite issuing quotes such as the following: “Too few people, even among residents, realise what jewels we have among our crown.”

Crown? Jewels? We’re looking, and we certainly don’t see anything shining out there. From our viewpoint, the city seems 100% sparkle free, and decidedly grey.

Mr Vinson’s ‘jewels’ are certainly well hidden, so well hidden in fact we’re having trouble to work out what they are, let alone where. What ‘sights’ does Southampton offer that tourists genuinely travel to see? Essentially, none.

Well ok, the docks are renowned (mostly for that ship, a topic we’ll cover at a later date), although attempting to get anywhere near them is a nightmare. A quick look on the city’s Wikitravel page backs up the point that there’s little else on offer. Where other towns and cities feature a wide range in the “Things to see” section, Southampton boasts just three. They are:

  • the Bargate
  • the Central Parks
  • Southampton Boat Show

It’s hardly a line-up you can imagine making Paris quake in it’s tailored boots is it?

Euro class?

If you strip away the parks, which are little more than grass and shrubbery in the town centre, and the Boat Show – which is only an attraction lasting nine days a year, then only the Bargate remains. Nice as it is as a feature on the High Street, it’s hardly up there in the region’s guidebooks as an essential box to tick.

The jewels seem pretty non-existent, although we’re promised the city is to undergo radical transformation in the next decade. Will these plans really come to fruition? We shall wait and see.

The one genuine project that excited the city in the last few years was the proposed ice rink and concert arena on the West Quay site. We ourselves vividly remember meeting the Head of Southampton Council when these plans were unveiled, and the certainty they had that it would definitely happen.

Safe to say those plans have long since been shelved.

Oh, and the Head of the Council at the time who spoke so passionately and assured us it would happen?

A certain Mr Vinson.

Erm.. you’re doing what?!
March 27, 2008, 7:57 pm
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March has never been the most eventful month.

Winter festivities are still being brushed out of the system, and further celebrations saved for the warmth of the summer sun. Even the majority of juicy news stories seem to bide their time, pining for warmer climes; the gentle Easter build-up passes by with little else bar a dodgy tummy from early chocolate gorging.

The rumblings began on a rain-soaked night, the feint cracklings of Radio Solent barely audible as every sense faced a battering from the elements. A rogue councillor sat in the BBC studios, situated barely 30 feet from their offices in Civic Centre, seemingly engaging in nothing more than a harmless filler piece. A light hearted debate, which any sane thinking listener would assume was purely hypothetical, as the words Southampton and culture somehow found themselves uttered in the same sentence.

The days passed, and nothing more was thought or said. Until that is, the unthinkable somehow, somewhere, by someone, seemed to make sense.

So we’ll leave you with the story, as broken by the Daily Echo


THEY are some of the world’s best known cities boasting the finest architecture, grandest museums, galleries, opera houses and cultural attractions.

From Paris to Madrid, Reykjavik to Genoa they have all been a recognised as a showcase for the diverse cultural wealth Europe has to offer.

For more than two decades cities across the European Union have competed vigorously to win the coveted title, currently held by Liverpool.

Now city councillors have launched a bid to join their number and make Southampton a European Capital of Culture – with the help of Portsmouth.

They want to use a recent city vision as a platform to catapult Southampton and its south coast rival towards winning the prestigious title by the 2020s.

Labour councillor Sarah Bogle has won cross party backing for the ambitious goal which would bring jobs, investment and boost the profile of the region.

Started 20 years ago, and now officially known as the European Capital of Culture, the title has previously showcased the likes of Paris, Madrid, Reykjavik, Genoa and is now held by Liverpool.

Cllr Bogle said while it was an aspiration at this stage with much work to do Southampton needed to “think big”.

“We need to be focusing on the long term to make a difference, and this is a real measure of success for the 2026 vision already set out and agreed for the city,” she said.

She said Southampton would have to put aside its historic rivalry with Portsmouth to come up with a “joint and complementary offer” across south Hampshire.

Lib Dem councillor Adrian Vinson, Cabinet member for economic development, backed the move.

He said: “Too few people even among residents realise what jewels we have among our crown.”

He said that in the coming years the council plans to create a cultural and artistic quarter in centre of Southampton which would confirm it as a “regional capital for arts and culture” and a “centre of national excellence.”

The plans include a new £13m arts complex, a revamp of Guildhall square, and a heritage attraction at the Civic Centre.

Councillor Terry Hall, Portsmouth city council’s executive member for culture and leisure said he was “fully behind” the move for a joint bid.

“We are already working together on a range of initiatives and it makes perfect sense for us to combine our energies and talents,” he said.

“With our long background of heritage and history, the two cities can offer a region of culture’ – and a wonderful way to promote our south Hampshire tourism and economy.”


We’re off for a lie down, after reading that – we need it.