Tyne & Wear

Great Exhibition of the North organisers stand by visitor numbers

Tickertape falls from the sky on Newcastle Quayside as crowds line the bank
Image caption The exhibition saw crowds drawn to venues across Newcastle and Gateshead, including the Quayside

Festival bosses have insisted the Great Exhibition of the North "achieved and exceeded" its visitor targets after questions were raised over its success.

New figures released by organisers show 3.8 million of the 5.4 million visitors to Tyneside last summer engaged with the event.

Of those, 1.46 million people said the exhibition was the main part of their visit to the area.

Councillors have questioned how many people were simply passers-by.

Receiving more than £5m of public funding, the exhibition celebrated the cultural achievements of the North of England.

Staged across Newcastle and Gateshead between 22 June and 9 September, highlights included Stephenson's Rocket, the steam locomotive made in Newcastle in the 1820s.

'Just walked past'

At a meeting of Newcastle City Council's overview and scrutiny committee, Councillor Rebecca Shatwell outlined her concerns over the figure of three million people said to have visited Grey's Monument in Newcastle city centre while it was decorated as a workers' maypole.

The Labour councillor for the Wingrove ward said: "I am more interested in people who engaged with the artwork rather than just walked past it."

Liberal Democrat Wendy Taylor, who represents Newcastle's Dene and South Gosforth ward, queried why hotel bookings had only gone up by 5% during the event's run, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Sarah Stewart, NGI chief executive, said the 5.3million figure related to "visits, not unique visitors".

"It is difficult to estimate how many were unique," she added.

"One of the key objectives of the exhibition was actually to get repeat visitors, and many of those were local residents who we were able to engage.

"Whichever way you dice those numbers, if you then add in all of the virtual engagement through the media and others then our target of wanting to engage three million people was achieved and exceeded."

The calculation of visitor numbers was previously questioned in October following an investigation by the BBC's Inside Out programme.

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