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December 2021

Yes or No to City Status?

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Yesterdays decision by Wrexham Council to apply for City Status has stirred passions on all sides of the debate. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-59569058. Although the application process does not require a town to provide evidence of the economic benefits of becoming a city, much of the discussion in Wrexham and elsewhere in the UK has often been framed in economic terms.

There is no published evidence of the economic benefits (or disbenefits) of the award of city status, so to address this gap Wrexham CBC commissioned our independent study to specifically examine the potential economic benefits for towns like Wrexham.

The study found that the towns awarded city status have experienced economic growth, but data does not show that the rate of growth accelerated following the award of city status. However, the comparative analysis of new cities and towns suggests there is a potential for benefit where city status has been used to strengthen other economic and regeneration initiatives in an area.

We undertook a comparative analysis of towns similar in profile to Wrexham that’s have been awarded city status. The case studies shows that areas which have been successful in gaining city status identify a range of benefits including:

  • Helping to boost local pride which, in turn, may have economic benefits
  • Providing a new platform to promote the city and raise ambitions
  • Creating opportunities for anchor institutions, economic clusters, and sectors to raise their profile
  • Enabling some cities to attract major projects such as a university and enterprise zone, which they might not otherwise have secured as towns
  • Allowing relationships to be developed with other cities and helping them to collectively ‘punch above their weight’, securing both public and private investment and collaborating with Government on strategic issues
  • Providing a reason for, and focus for re-branding campaigns
  • Perceived successes in attracting inward investment – attributed to city awareness and the infrastructure and facilities they offer e.g. business incubator, high-profile local businesses and organisations, alongside city status
  • Higher expectations of placemaking with cities thought of as more vibrant places to live, work, and invest
  • Cities with an accessible rural hinterland are seen as very attractive places.

The evidence suggests the opportunity for a range of potential benefits for Wrexham from city status if it links such an award to delivering more ambitious place shaping plans and investment strategies, connected to local attributes such as the University, employment and transport infrastructure and cultural attractions.

Owen Davies Consulting with economic specialists Hardisty Jones Associates researched the economic benefits of city status.

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