PLANS for Southampton to become a UK City of Culture have moved a step closer.

The national competition is credited for reversing the fortunes of forgotten cities.

Last year's coveted title went to Hull - where council leaders there say it has brought in more than £1 billion of investment, thousands of new jobs, increased visitors and "staggering" amounts of positive media coverage.

But they had to get £32m of investment from partners -and invest £100m themselves.

Now Coventry is gearing itself up for its year-long celebration in 2021 while Southampton City Council leader Councillor Simon Letts says the city has already made its "down payment" with Studio 144.

And he has promised that a bid for the 2025 award will be led by the city's young people - not civil servants or "artists in their forties and fifties."

The announcement comes just months after the grand opening of Studio 144 - Above Bar's £30m arts complex - where head of Arts Council England Darren Henley is reported to have told city culture boss Councillor Satvir Kaur that "the time is right" for a bid.

As reported city culture chiefs last mooted the idea in 2016 - but now Cllr Letts has now said they were waiting for Studio 144 to be finished.

Speaking to the Echo he said: "We have waited to choose the optimum moment. When that was confirmed to us that now was the time to go by the man himself that gave us a real push.

"Southampton is a changing city. We want that to be recognised on a national level.

"We have already started our down payment with Studio 144 - it's already in place. And there are other investments into the city over the next five or six years.

"Our strategy will be to use not old civil servants but the young people of community that are going to benefit from the experience."

This time round Southampton will go it alone instead of putting in a joint bid with Portsmouth.

Now director of Southampton Cultural Trust James Gough has been asked to write a feasibility study which is set to be done by the end of this year.

Speaking to the Echo he erred on the side of caution and said Southampton has to be sure the bid is "affordable, has traction and is uniquely Southampton and properly representative."

He added: "We have got to make sure the conditions are right. We will be putting together a bid for City of Culture 2025 but it's got to be strong.

"Nine out of ten residents in Hull were involved. That's a really good statistic that we need to be aiming at. It's about getting community voices heard. The three things the Arts Council look at are community engagement, economic regeneration and high quality art - so 33 per cent of the bid is about really making sure that residents are involved. Connectivity is crucial."

City culture boss Cllr Satvir Kaur said she was "excited" about the bid and added: " It's about rising participation and the people that traditionally don't feel the art world is for them - the whole idea is to change that perception."

Leader of Southampton Conservatives Cllr Jeremy Moulton added: "I am fully supportive. The city has bid before unsuccessfully, but I feel we have a very good chance this time, especially with the completion of the city's Northern Above Bar Cultural Quarter and the opening of the new Nuffieldtheatre."

But leader of Southampton Independents Denise Wyatt said money should be spent on "getting the basics right."

A spokesperson for Arts Council England said: "We would not make comment on specific support for city of culture bids but only support in broader terms."

The BID added: "We fully support it.”

A report by Hull University said:

Hull’s UK City of Culture year attracted a total audience of 5.3 million attending over 2,800 events, cultural activities, installations and exhibitions.

Over half of the audiences were from Hull with nearly all residents (over 95%) attending at least one cultural activity during the year. The evaluation evidenced a new confidence in local people, with significant increases (+9%) in residents’ willingness to take part in a range of cultural and non-cultural activities, including volunteering and sport.

The total number of annual visitors in 2017 is projected to be 1.3m greater than in 2013, when Hull bid for the UK City of Culture title and 4.7 million people visited the city. The projected value of tourism in 2017 is on track to contribute in excess of £300m to the economy.

3 in 4 residents are proud to live in Hull and the city achieved significant national profile, securing over 20,200 pieces of media exposure across print, online and broadcast media outlets.

Nearly 800 new jobs have been created in the visitor economy and cultural sector since 2013, a direct result of investments totalling £219.5m in the cultural and visitor economy, which arefully or partly attributable to Hull being awarded UK City of Culture status in November 2013.