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Ipswich should be a city – but it’s time to ditch the archaic bidding process

PUBLISHED: 06:34 07 December 2017

Ipswich deserves to be a city - but the selection process is outdated. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Ipswich deserves to be a city - but the selection process is outdated. Picture: GREGG BROWN

When I saw that leaders of Suffolk County Council were proposing to launch a new bid for city status for Ipswich, I had two slightly conflicting emotions.

One part of me said: “Here we go again!” Having covered bids in 1992, 2000, and 2002 I do feel to some extent that I’ve seen it all before – and I’m not convinced any future bid for city status would be any more successful than our bids in the past.

On the other hand there is no idea that Ipswich should be considered a city. It IS a city in all but name – and any chance to talk up the place should be leapt at.

It is particularly significant that the running this time is being made by the county council. In previous bids the county was, to be honest, rather sniffy.

It’s not that the powers that be in County Hall (all the previous bids were made before the county’s move to Endeavour House) were hostile to Ipswich’s bid. It’s just that they gave the impression that this was a matter for the borough and did not really concern the rest of the county.

That may have been a fatal factor in the ultimate failure of the bids. So from that point of view, the fact that the county has raised the issue.

Because there is no doubt that Ipswich deserves to be a city. Suffolk is one of the few counties in this country without a city (Cambridgeshire has three which seems a bit greedy) and Ipswich is certainly worthy of the title given its population and its growing economic importance.

I know that our wholly-unscientific poll showed a majority of people didn’t want Ipswich to become a city and the internet and Facebook trolls sharpened their prejudices to talk down the place but I haven’t actually met anyone over the last few days who doesn’t believe that Ipswich should be a city.

What does concern me is that in any battle for official City Status recognition there are likely to be number of other potential claimants with similar claims – Reading, Middlesbrough. Shrewsbury, Colchester, and Blackburn all come to mind.

And while in this part of the country we can see the attractions of Ipswich (and Colchester) I can’t help feeling that the fact the most recent city created was Chelmsford may work against us.

If you’re the civil servant sitting in an office in Whitehall who makes the decision (don’t believe for a second that the decision is made by the Sovereign) there will be a temptation to think that East Anglia got the honour in the 2012 so it’s time for another part of the country to get lucky.

To my mind this whole business about a community having to apply to the government to get the “Royal seal of approval” to call itself a city is all rather archaic and out of touch in the 21st century.

Frankly if a community reaches a threshold of say 100,000 and wants to call itself a city, why shouldn’t it?

No other country has this ridiculous process of becoming a city. Did Ipswich in Australia ask anyone before calling itself a city? I don’t think so.

What harm would it do to the country if all those aspiring cities became cities?

Would anyone say their trip to the City of Oxford would be tarnished if Reading down the road becomes a city?

And the fact is no one pays any attention to whether a place is a city when it comes to looking at the economic vibrancy. Ipswich is included in the Centre for Cities index when it comes to measuring the vibrancy of Britain’s cities along with the other places I’ve mentioned here.

You don’t have to formally be a city to apply to become UK City of Culture (if you did, Paisley would not have been shortlisted for 2021), It is a totally cosmetic distinction.

Having said that, many people will tell you that wearing a good cosmetic is very important if you want to get on in life!

I know some of the comments said Ipswich was not worthy of city status because of the number of beggars on the town’s streets.

Frankly if that was a criteria, there would be no cities in Britain right now.

There are more beggars on the streets of Ipswich than there were in the past, but if anyone thinks this is a problem restricted to Ipswich, they really need to get a reality check!

You find beggars on the streets of any city or large town – last week we visited family in Lincoln (a city since time immemorial) and there were beggars right outside its main tourist attractions.

So yes, Ipswich deserves to be a city. The county is right to raise the issues some years before the next likely competition – but isn’t the whole process medieval?

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