Wrexham County Borough Council were looking to apply for city status as part of the Queens Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Given the lack of published evidence on the economic benefits (or disbenefits) of gaining city status and to help inform their decision to apply, Wrexham CBC commissioned this independent study to specifically examine the potential economic benefits for towns like Wrexham.
HJA carried out a quantitative investigation into the economic performance of various places in the UK over the last 20 years.
We examined the economic performance of settlements across two categories:
- Those that have applied for city status and been successful (referred to as new cities)
- Those that have applied for city status and not been successful (referred to as past bidders)
We also looked at the performance of two control groups:
- Cities that had city status prior to 2000 (referred to as cities)
- Settlements that have never applied for city status (referred to as towns)
To identify the settlements we carried out a selection process of places across the UK, choosing settlements that were similar to Wrexham in population size, economic structure and urban form (not part of a larger conurbation). Within each category five settlements were chosen.
The economic performance of each group was measured using three socio-economic variables: annual change in population, annual change in employment, and annual change in Gross Value Added (GVA). All data used for the comparisons was sourced from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The quantitative analysis found that the towns awarded city status have experienced economic growth, but ONS data does not show an acceleration in the rate of growth following the award of city status. To compare economic performance of the four groups over time, we calculated the correlation between each groups annual change in population, employment and GVA. Regarding population change, the average annual growth rate in the population of new cities was not significantly differently to that of past bidders or the control groups. Analysis of jobs growth found that the award of city status is not a significant factor in the performance of an area. Studying GVA growth patterns revealed varying annual changes between the groups over the period with past bidders and new cities ending up with almost the same overall levels of growth, and this was higher than for cities and towns. Although the quantitative analysis did find a strong case to suggest that gaining city status impacted on local economic performance, qualitative research did find some benefits to the award.
We undertook consultations with five new cities and several longer-established cities to identify the perceived impacts of city status. The consultations with successful cities revealed 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
- Providing a reason for, and focus for re-branding campaigns
- Higher expectations of placemaking with cities thought of as more vibrant places to live, work, and invest
Brining all evidence together, HJA identified the opportunity for a range of potential benefits for Wrexham from gaining city status if it linked 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.