The four have been shortlisted by an independent panel and selected on the quality of their proposed cultural programmes and social regeneration schemes. The final recommendation will be made in June.
It is intended that the winning city will host high-profile cultural events such as the Turner Prize, BBC Sports Personality of the Year, The Brits and the RIBA Stirling Prize.
Many of the cities have used the opportunity to fuel the large-scale improvement of cultural facilities. These include a new Library of Birmingham (pictured), designed by Dutch architect Mecanoo, and a £15.3m face-lift of Sheffield’s The Crucible theatre.
Culture minister Margaret Hodge says of the cities, ‘It’s a testament to their hard work – and dedication to culture – that they’ve come so far in what had proven to be a very tough competition.’
The long list in December included fourteen selected cities, including Carlisle, Chichester and Swansea.
Judging panel chairman Phil Redmond says, ‘It was a hard choice, but also heartening that all bidders had recognised the power of culture to bring people together.’