A tale of five cities

30 May 2002 by
A tale of five cities

Tourism in five towns in Britain will be given a boost after they are granted city status as part of this month's celebrations for the Queen's Golden Jubilee. It is an honour that was sought by a total of 42 towns over many months, following the announcement in December 2000 that one town in each of the four parts of the UK was to be made a Jubilee City.

In the event, the honours go to Preston in England, Stirling in Scotland, Newport in Wales and to two towns in Northern Ireland: the largely Loyalist Lisburn and the mainly Republican Newry.

Some of the Jubilee cities are already popular tourist destinations, but their new status will greatly benefit the tourism industry.

Preston City Council has no doubt that tourism there will be helped by its new city status. The award recognises "Preston's diverse community, ancient history, regional importance and forward-thinking attitude", and it comes as multi-million-pound plans are announced for redeveloping the city centre.

It is, however, already a successful tourist destination, with day visitors and short-break stayers bringing in £45m a year and filling more than one million bednights. Those football fanatics who don't make the trip to Japan for the World Cup can come to Preston and visit the National Football Museum - and perhaps catch Preston North End FC, one of the oldest clubs in the FA League, playing at home. The Harris Museum and Art Gallery provides another cultural attraction, and the English Lakes are a short drive away.

Preston is a young city: of its 135,700 citizens, a fifth are aged under 15 (compared with 18.9% for England and Wales as a whole) and 16.2% are aged 15-24 (England and Wales: 12%). House prices are for the most part marginally above the average for Lancashire. But flats and maisonettes sell for about 21% cheaper than the average for the county. This plentiful supply of cheap housing bodes well for Preston as a university city. The University of Central Lancashire has about 14,000 students enrolled now and plans to double this number in the next three years.

This is surely good news for local pubs and restaurants, which will welcome a plentiful supply of young people, both as customers and as workers. Hotel and restaurant staff account for 5.6% of Preston's total workforce, compared with 6.5% in the UK as a whole. But the trend is upwards: local employment in distribution, hotels and restaurants has grown by 15.2% between 1995 and 1999. Only construction, at 20%, has grown faster - another sign of a local development boom.

The statistics confirm chef Paul Heathcote's instinct that Preston was a good place to set up in the restaurant business. Twelve years ago he noted that the town was "pretty affluent, and it could sustain a good restaurant". He opened Paul Heathcote's restaurant at Longridge, on the outskirts of Preston, in 1990 and followed that six years later with his second premises in the town centre.

Heathcote is now a national celebrity and a local attraction - his picture appears in the Preston City Guide. But with two restaurants in Preston and more in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool, he doesn't need city status to make his business successful - that is already established. However, it does put his portfolio of restaurants where they should be.

"I've got five restaurants, of which two were not in a city before. We aim to be in cities, where you get a larger footfall. One suspects as Preston grows the footfall will increase," he says.

In Stirling, Provost Tommy Brookes welcomes the news of city status with delight. "Stirling was the town that always thought it was a city - now the whole of Britain knows it is a city," he says.

The award comes as Stirling council opens Scotland's newest centre for music and the arts - the £6m Tolbooth, with a 300-seat theatre, state-of-the-art recording studio and workspace.

"This is a very special day for Stirling and one that marks a watershed in the development of the whole area," Brookes says. "In the coming months we can look forward to renewed interest in the city, with a greater potential for investment and economic growth."

Brookes adds it is now up to the council and its public- and private-sector partners to develop a marketing strategy that will take full advantage of Stirling's new status.

Stirling attracts about one million visitors a year to its castle, Wallace Monument and other historical sites. Council spokesman Don Montieth believes that will increase. "With its new-found city status it will achieve an even greater national and international significance, which is likely to attract even more visitors from all corners of the globe and boost the city as a venue for national conferences and gatherings," he says.

Pat Ashman, marketing manager at the Celtic Manor Resort, Sir Terry Matthews's golf hotel outside Newport, is already planning to change the wording of company literature to include "City of Newport". The success of Newport's bid for city status perhaps reflects the success of Celtic Manor Resort itself. It has grown into its modern form, with three golf courses, following Matthews's purchase of a disused manor house alongside the M4 in 1980.

Ashman, a little immodestly perhaps, suggests that the resort's success contributed to the award. She has evidence to support the claim, though. "We did an evaluation, and we found that more than 250,000 people had come to Newport who would not have come here but for the Celtic Manor. There's nothing else like it for conferences in Wales," she says.

Indeed, the hotel can be credited for bringing the Ryder Cup to Newport in 2010 - a tournament that will raise the profile of the city even further. Tourism traffic should grow here: Newport is on the road through Cardiff into south-east Wales. Any growth will be welcome, as the local community currently feels the shock of the closure of the Corus steel works. "Here, we're creating jobs," adds Ashman.

If the Jubilee city dwellers have any doubts that their new status will encourage tourism, then they should look at the example set by Brighton. It is already benefiting from being made a Millennium City at the end of 2001. Robin Hutson, chief executive of the Hotel du Vin group, believes city status is good for business. The hotel group has invested £6m in a 38-bedroom Hotel du Vin due to open in October in Ship Street, in Brighton's Lanes district.

Hutson says: "We secured the building around September or October last year, just about the time that Brighton was named as a city. That was an endorsement of what we had witnessed happening. There's a growing confidence, the whole place is smarter than it was a couple of years ago."

Golden Jubilee Cities

Preston, Lancashire Home of the University of Central Lancashire, and long-established county town
Population: 135,700
Local attraction: National Football Museum
Celebrity chef: Paul Heathcote
Visit by the Queen: 5 August

Newport, Gwent
Following closure of the Corus steelworks, job creation is key to tourism action plan, due to be launched the day before Newport is named a Jubilee City
Population: 135,000
Celebrities: Manic Street Preachers
The Queen coming to lunch: 13 June

Lisburn, County Lisburn
Local attraction: Irish Linen Centre, Lisburn Museum

Newry, County Newry & Mourne
Population: 21,600
Historical attractions: Victoria Lock (built in 1850 and still operating), and the disused Newry Canal (opened in 1741, 23 years before England's first canal)

Stirling, Stirlingshire
Historical attractions: Stirling Castle, where the Scottish Royals were born, crowned and died; the Wallace Monument

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