What does city status mean in the UK?

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The UK will soon be home to over 70 cities – but what exactly does that mean?

We explain what makes it, how to become one and why cities might want to bid.

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Southend-on-Sea in Essex to become town after Tory MP Sir David Amess murderedCredit: Getty

What does city status mean in the UK?

A city is generally considered to be a large city with a cathedral or a university, but this is a very common misconception.

British city status is in fact not automatic, rather it is granted by the monarch.

Although this is seen as an “upgrade” of a city, it does not mean that the region will face major changes.

However, it can boost tourism and be a symbol of pride for city dwellers.

There are currently 69 cities in the UK – 51 in England, seven in Scotland, six in Wales and five in Northern Ireland.

However, following the murder of MP Sir David Amess, Southend-on-Sea in Essex will become a town, bringing the UK total to 70.

The veteran Tory had spent two decades defending the city, and Boris Johnson announced on Oct. 18, 2021 that she would be granted city status to honor one of the “nicest, kindest and sweetest MPs.”

What is a city in the United Kingdom?

Historically, cities had to house a cathedral to achieve city status, and settlements with such a landmark remain cities.

This is why relatively small towns like Ely in Cambridgeshire, which has a population of just 18,000, have long had town status.

However, this is no longer the case.

Instead, the only requirement is that his status be granted by the monarch, on the advice of ministers.

Birmingham was the first city without a cathedral to become a city, in 1889.

Places can also lose their city status overnight, as Rochester in Kent did overnight due to a technical oversight when it became part of a single large urban area known as the name of Medway Towns.

Brighton and Hove became a city in 2000

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Brighton and Hove became a city in 2000Credit: Kevin Dunnett

Why do cities want to become cities?

City status can be a symbol of pride for its inhabitants and increase the number of visitors, thus boosting the economy.

Professor John Beckett, who has written a book on the subject, said it was mostly a “status thing” that “gives the government a bit of favoritism.”

He told the BBC: “There have never been privileges. It has always been a matter of status, nothing more.”

City status is granted through a series of tenders, managed by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (or its predecessors).

Through this process Brighton and Hove in East Sussex, Inverness in the north of Scotland and Wolverhampton in Staffordshire were granted city status in 2000.

To mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, five other cities were “upgraded” to become cities.

These were Preston in Lancashire, Stirling in central Scotland, Newport in South Wales and Newry and Lisburn, both in Northern Ireland.

Of the 25 applicants for the 2012 cycle, three other cities have been formally nominated – Perth in central Scotland, Chelmsford in Essex and St Asaph in Denbighshire, Wales.

As part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022, the monarch will grant another handful of UK cities city status.

Boards have until December 8, 2021 to get started.

The list of potentials includes Reading in Berkshire, Dudley in the West Midlands and Middlesbrough in North Yorkshire.

Southend DE will become a homage town for Sir David Amess after years-long campaign by assassinated MP


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