Newport City: 10 years on

Wednesday 14 March 2012, 14:06

James Roberts James Roberts

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Ten years ago, in the year of Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee, Newport was awarded city status. The 2002 accolade proved third time lucky for the Gwent town after two unsuccessful bids in the 1990s.

By becoming a city Newport joined Bangor, Cardiff, Swansea and St Davids as Wales' cities; ticking the boxes marked 'regional or national significance', 'historical, including royal features' and a 'forward-looking attitude'. Outside of Wales, Preston, Stirling, Lisburn and Newry were also allocated city status that year.

Transporter Bridge in Newport (photograph by Jonathan Crookes)

Transporter Bridge in Newport. Photograph by Jonathan Crookes, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

Newport's bid officially got under way on 25 July 2001 with Newport Council's head Sir Harry Jones kicking off a pitch which underlined the town as the gateway to Wales and drew upon a history that stretches back to pre-Roman times.

This BBC Wales News clip from the day Newport received the award looks at the reactions from people and politicians across Wales, and hints at the divisive issue of city status in Wales.

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The granting of city status came at a time when Newport had suffered a series of economic and industrial problems, including a number of major factory closures and redundancies, capped off by steel makers Corus' decision to close the massive Llanwern steelworks in 2001.

Newport City Centre

Newport City Centre. Photograph by Paul Dyer, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

Newport's Royal appointment caused some heated inter-Wales rivalry with a bid from Wrexham also being proposed that year. The decision not to award the north Wales town city status reinforced what many felt was a 'north-south divide. The fourth city in Wales, Bangor, remained the only one in the north of the country until today, when St Asaph in Denbighshire was also granted the title.

Speaking a decade ago, Wrexham MP Ian Lucas said: "I am angry about this. We now have three cities in Wales on the south coast and the opportunity to recognise the conurbation in the north east in an important part of Wales has been lost."

Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary at the time, defended the decision, drawing upon the economic strife encountered at the time. "The past 12 months have been truly traumatic for Newport and its people," he said. "First there was the agony of widespread steel job losses as Corus closed the heavy end at Llanwern; then there was the joy that the town's Celtic Resort had won the competition to host the 2010 Ryder Cup."

In the midst of the ongoing global economic strife, the cost and validity of gaining city status is increasingly brought under the microscope. Since 2002 Newport has experienced considerable regeneration, but has it proved a change for the better since being lofted to city status?

Is there a 'north-south divide' with Swansea, Cardiff, and now Newport in such close proximity, and Bangor, the sole city of the north until today's St Asaph announcement? Does it really matter? The beautiful city of St David's in Pembrokeshire has a population of around 2,000 whereas over the border in England, Milton Keynes as a population of around 200,000 and remains a town.

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