Tom Hunt MP: Why I opposed Ipswich's city status bid

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt is pleased to see an end to the national lockdown - but warned: 'This isn't the end of the struggle.'...

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has spoken out against the town's city status bid - Credit: Archant

For the upcoming Jubilee, marking Her Majesty’s 70th year on the throne, it has been announced that towns across the country will be able to bid to be granted city status. We would be competing against towns across the country and only one would secure city status.

There has been some debate, particularly in this paper, about whether city status is something which Ipswich should bid for and I held back on my views until I could sound out more of what some of my constituents think about it.

Ipswich Cornhill

There has been debate about whether Ipswich should remain as a town or bid to become a city - Credit: Paul Geater

It may well be the case that there could be some real benefits associated with Ipswich becoming a city and I am sympathetic to those arguments.

However, from talking to constituents, I realise that this is a matter which is also bound up with issues of local identity and our character as a town. These things are of real importance to people and should not be dismissed.

If any bid is to be successful, then it must come with the clear and resounding support of the people of Ipswich.

There are towns across the country where there is already a base of enthusiastic public support – a number of which have been campaigning for city status over many years – and these are the places which we would be going up against.

Last week, to gauge the thoughts of constituents I carried out a poll, which I promoted on social media and which thousands took part in.

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Around the same time, the Ipswich Star also carried out its own poll which likely had a higher participation rate than my own one.

In my poll, 66% rejected the city status bid and in the Ipswich Star poll, 70% rejected it.

Of course, these aren’t exactly scientific polls - but as of yet, they are all we have to go on.

This in itself is part of the problem. The fact that it has also rarely ever been brought up on the doorstep or in correspondence with me, means that it is very difficult for me to say with any degree of confidence that city status is what my constituents want.

And this is where I take issue with some of the points put forward by Paul Geater in his recent article which asks readers to ‘ignore the moaners" - i.e. the majority of the people in Ipswich, as far as we can currently tell.

Firstly, he refers to people against the bid as “a minority of moaners" but has no evidence whatsoever for any kind of majority for city status. It would be a very different situation if he did.

Bearing in mind that this is a significant change from the status quo, I think the burden is on those who want to change the status quo to provide evidence of significant support from across the community at every level.

In my view, he also dismisses people who are, indeed, happy with this status quo.

He claims that there is an argument that "Ipswich is a dump" which doesn’t "deserve" to be a city and that "there are far too many people who like to put Ipswich down at any opportunity".

I think this is a gross misrepresentation of views across the town. Frankly, I think it’s insulting even to his own readers who answered his poll in good faith. 

So many of the people who have written and spoken to me about this want Ipswich to stay as a town precisely because they are so proud of their heritage. Because they are passionate about Ipswich and what we achieve, and don’t see why it should have to change at all.

Paul also claims that the bid won’t be a waste of money and time because Ipswich council have said they won’t be spending anything on it and "there are council officials who are filling in government forms all the time".

But I think he very much underestimates how much officer time would go into a bid like this. Also, if we weren’t going to really go for it and campaign for the bid properly, what would even be the point of doing it?

It is also wrong of people to claim that as a town we have less opportunity to attract money and investment. This year, Ipswich has hardly been neglected - the government’s Towns Fund, for which we secured the maximum bid of £25million, was specifically open for towns demonstrating that the government has a big town focus.

It may have been the case in the past that towns were forgotten, but not anymore.

Ultimately, as an elected representative, I have responsibility to listen to all constituents - not just those with the loudest voices in the local media and on the borough council.

For something as significant as a change of status from the oldest Anglo-Saxon town in England to a new city, you need to have strong consensus support behind it.

There are plenty of other places across the country where this is the case, but that is not so here. There is also a certain kind of arrogance to impose this change regardless of the levels of public support just because you think it’s a good idea.

I definitely think that we need to push back on this idea that people who are happy for Ipswich to remain a town are somehow unambitious for the place where they live.

There are incredible levels of passion for Ipswich and a real sense of place and community here. Ipswich is a great place to live and I am incredibly proud to represent it in Parliament.

We don’t need to be a city to achieve what we want to achieve and just because we’re not a city it doesn’t mean we are any less of a place compared to our neighbours.

Of course, I’d argue we’re a far better place with our own history and sense of identity.

Having said all this, I want it to be clear that I am in no sense vehemently against the idea of us becoming a city. I just want to make sure the clear majority voice is heard.

I can see the case for those who want to become a city and I am sympathetic to it. If there was a clear sense that this is what my constituents wanted, I would be more than happy to throw my support behind it.

If some comprehensive scientific poll was carried out across town which came back in favour of the city bid then, of course, I would get behind it.

But right now, the Labour council is proposing a major change to the status and identity of the area without even bothering to engage in even elementary consultation with Ipswich residents.

I think the key dividing line here between me and the borough council is not about being either pro-town or pro-city.

Rather, it is between those who believe that we should have a proper consultation about this and those who want to rush into something as significant as this without consulting the people of Ipswich, who own the town.

I firmly believe that the borough council should conduct this polling before they make any moves on behalf of Ipswich.

I simply don’t see the point of rushing into trying to change the status and identity of our town without having strong evidence of enthusiasm for the proposal amongst the people who have grown up and live here.

In the future, that might change. We could well see a time when the whole community is united behind the idea that Ipswich should be a city. But it doesn’t look like that time is now.

For now, I think we should continue to focus our attention on improving our town – making it safer, sorting out the roads and public services, and drawing in new investment to boost our local economy and create more jobs.

What goes to the heart of this matter is that there seems to be a select group of people who think their voices should be heard above others just because they shout the loudest and want rush into something as significant as this without any consultation.

If there is a comprehensive scientific poll from the borough council which shows widespread support for a bid, then I will listen and happily get behind it to carry out the wishes of my constituents.

This isn’t about me being for or against us becoming a city, but rather it is about making sure that my constituents are firmly in the driving seat.

Ultimately, it is the people of Ipswich who own the town and they should be the ones that have the final say on its character, status and identity.

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