Towns Set Their Sights on Becoming Cities

Article excerpt

Byline: STEPHEN DEMPSTER

TO mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee four UK towns - one from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - are to be granted city status this year.

In the Province, Ballymena, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Craigavon, Lisburn and Newry are each making a strong case to join Belfast, Londonderry and Armagh as a city.

The cities will be created by personal command of the Queen, who will be advised by Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine after consultation with his ministers.

Officials have been assessing towns against three key criteria, agreed by the Queen, including: ''notable features, such as regional or national significance'', ''historical - including royal - features'' and a ''forward-looking attitude''.

Other factors taken into account will be whether the city has a ''character and dignity of its own'' and a ''quasi-metropolitan position in its region or sub-region''.

The Lord Mayoralty will also be granted to an existing city but the Queen has agreed that cities of less than 10 years' standing were unlikely to succeed.

Lord Irvine is expected to formally grant the status to four new cities in Parliament during the early part of the year but no date has yet been set for the announcement.

It is expected the Queen may then visit each city during the year, as part of her Jubilee tour of the UK.

The six Northern Ireland entries have each submitted their bids and been visited by Secretary of State John Reid.

As they wait for the result, reporter STEPHEN DEMPSTER has been hearing from each why they believe their town has earned the right to become Ulster's fourth city.

Today he hears from Coleraine, Newry and Lisburn. Tomorrow it will be the turn of Carrickfergus, Ballymena and Craigavon.

Coleraine: Rich in history

COLERAINE is the capital of the Causeway Coast and a gateway to some of the most beautiful scenery and historic landmarks in Ireland.

It also has a rich history, as the site of the earliest known settlement of man in Ireland around 7000BC.

But while its historical credentials are sound, the town has based its bid on being one of the most forward-looking areas in the Province - home to the University of Ulster, the internationally acclaimed Milk Cup competition and a host of global companies.

Coleraine's application has captured the imagination of the people in the town - which has a population of over 28,000 and serves a Borough of 55,900 - with support and input from businesses, schools and community groups and Mayor John Dallat is confident the collective effort has made it a strong runner to become a city.

''Coleraine has a wonderful history and is also set for the 21st century. We have a very strong case for city status,'' he said.

A spokesman for Coleraine Borough Council said: ''Our present transport system is well developed and with the recent opening of a new rail and bus centre and the planned investment on the Belfast/Derry railway line, the town is located within an hour's drive of Belfast and Derry's air and seaports.

''As home to the headquarters of the University of Ulster, we have in our proposed city Bio-medical Science and Celtic Studies departments which have achieved five star ratings, while the Coleraine Campus is also home to Northern Ireland's first Science Research Park and the Province's only Science Innovation Centre.

''The town has a strong base of indigenous and international companies including AVX, DPP and ABC Laboratories and, as a shopping town, an enviable mix of independent stores and multiples serving a population of 250,000 within a 30-minute drive.

''A new 105,000 sq ft shopping centre is also due to be opened in 2002.''

Two of Coleraine's most famous sons, actor Jimmy Nesbitt and Walker Cup golfer Graeme McDowell have also endorsed the bid.

The spokesman said: ''Coleraine has excellent recreational facilities. …