Wrexham has become the seventh city in Wales at the fourth time of asking after failed bids in 2000, 2002 and 2012.
Third City in North Wales
Eight UK towns received city status as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, including Douglas on the Isle of Man and Stanley on the Falkland Islands. It is the third city in north Wales, with Bangor, Gwynedd and St Asaph, Denbighshire. Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and St Davids (Pembrokeshire) are the other Welsh cities.
Towns were traditionally settlements with a charter to hold a market and therefore become a “market town”. City status in the UK traditionally went to towns with diocesan cathedrals, but is now an award from the monarch. Recently, criteria have included reaching a particular population, having a university or exceptional circumstances, such as Southend-on-Sea receiving the title after the murder of their MP Sir David Amess.
The announcement took many people by surprise. News of the application had largely flown under the radar in recent months due to the higher profile of the City of Culture campaign. There were mixed reactions to the news: some people were afraid that the award would mean council tax rises, while others were optimistic that city status would attract higher levels of investment.
We can investigate a part of the council tax issue by comparing neighbouring areas with a similar population. Taking Bolton (a town) and Preston (a city) as examples, we can see that Preston has slightly higher council tax rates. However, Cheltenham (a town) has higher council tax than its neighbour Gloucester (a city).
Doncaster, also awarded city status this year, has stated on its council website that “Winning city status does not lead to increases in council tax or tax or business rates.”
Investment for Wrexham
By looking at how other places have fared, we can get some idea of what we can expect in terms of investment for Wrexham. Doctor Steve Musson from the University of Reading researched the economic impact of city status on the UK’s eight newest cities. Preston, Newport, Stirling, Lisburn and Newry became cities in 2002, while Brighton and Hove, Wolverhampton and Inverness gained city status in 2000.
Although the UK was enjoying an economic boom, the new cities (except Wolverhampton) outperformed their regional counterparts in terms of increasing investment and reducing unemployment. While there are no tax breaks or extra powers, there can be little doubt that the award brings a lot of national press coverage, exposure across social media and a sense that it “puts the place on the map”.
Element of Pride
Indeed, Doctor Musson goes on to say, “The other advantages, less easy to quantify, are the international exposure and the buzz created. There is also an element of pride about becoming a city.” Only time will tell, of course. Wrexham has spent so long considering itself a town, that the word “city” still sounds strange when used to describe the place.
Future generations will not bat an eyelid when using the term and, fingers crossed, we can combine the title with a City of Culture award sometime in the future. Wrexham is on the up in so many ways and we must all hope that city status plays its part in our continued development and success.
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