The Suffolk town of Ipswich intends to launch a new bid for city status. This would represent the fourth time that Ipswich has tried to become a city – the last attempt was in 2012, when the Queen chose three UK towns to become cities to mark her Diamond Jubilee celebrations. It is hoped that a new opportunity for city status will come with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022. In this blog, we take a look at what it means to become a city, the history of Ipswich’s prior city bids, and consider what a successful bid this time might mean for the town’s future.
What does city status actually mean today?
The question of what defines the difference between a town and a city isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. For a start, it doesn’t have anything to do with the size or total population of the urban area – the UK’s smallest city is St Davids in Wales, with a population of under 2,000. For centuries of British history, city status was conferred to towns that had a cathedral, but that hasn’t been an official requirement since the 19th century.
In fact, city status is a civic honour decided upon by the government and granted by the authority of the monarch. There are no formal qualifying criteria and, perhaps oddly, there are no direct benefits – such as additional powers or funding – conferred when a town becomes a city. However, as well as granting prestige or status to a place, a 2002 study of Britain’s newest cities showed evidence of a clear boost to the local economy in comparison to regional counterparts, attracting investment, property development and economic growth.
Following in Chelmsford’s footsteps?
Chelmsford is a good regional example of a town’s successful bid to become a city. One of 25 contenders for city status at the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Chelmsford’s bid package focused on a number of the city’s key qualities and features. These included its historical heritage as a Roman market town and the birthplace of wireless radio, its existing position as the county town of Essex, and its modern standing as a regional cultural and business hub. At the time, Chelmsford Business Improvement District commented that its rebirth as a city is “something of a renaissance, with large investments in retail spaces, offices and housing”.
Why have previous bids failed?
Ipswich has previously submitted bids to be granted city status three times – in 1992, 2000 and 2002 – but opted not to attempt again in 2012. Previous bids were spearheaded at borough level, with some arguing that Suffolk County Council seemed rather uninterested in the attempts. Ipswich residents’ support for prior bids has also been somewhat lukewarm – not least among Ipswich Town FC fans, who don’t welcome the prospect of their beloved club changing its name.
Rather than a borough council project, the new bid for 2022 is a joint effort between Suffolk County Council and Ipswich Borough Council under the Ipswich Vision Partnership umbrella, alongside other local bodies including Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, Ipswich Central, the University of Suffolk and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership. Terry Hunt from Ipswich Vision told ITV News Anglia: “The evidence from towns which have become cities is that it’s a massive economic boost for that place. It creates jobs, brings investment and people regard the place in a different way. They are more ready to do business with that place, and more ready to create jobs.”
Recent and planned urban regeneration efforts in Ipswich – such as the waterfront improvements, the proposed northern bypass and other major infrastructure works – are already attracting investment and interest in the town from property developers and businesses, and point to the potential for local economic growth. A successful bid for city status could lead to further investment and development opportunities, potentially paving the way for jobs growth and a more buoyant Ipswich property market.