Is Southend-on-Sea a city?

In a word, no. Southend-on-Sea is a town and unitary authority with borough status. The county town of Essex, Chelmsford, is currently the only city in Essex, and even Chelmsford was only granted city status in 2012. Southend-on-Sea have been applying for city status for years, competing against other towns across the East of England that also believe themselves worthy of the title. Other city applicants include: Chelmsford (who has now been granted); Colchester; Ipswich; Luton; and, last but not least, Southend-on-Sea. In the government-published “Key Statistics for Built-Up Areas 2011”,  it lists Southend-on-Sea as being the 5th largest urban town in the United Kingdom without city status.

Though a prestigious status to hold, it’s one that bears no additional rights and this is why some deem “city” nowadays as nothing but a vanity title. Traditionally, going back to the 1500s, city status was only given to towns that had a cathedral. Though it’s still a popular belief to this day that city status can only be granted to towns with cathedrals, this is no longer the case and hasn’t been for decades. There is now a whole variety of criteria that a town can meet to qualify for the status, such as the size of the town’s population. There is no singular checklist that any town must complete in order to be eligible. Instead a town must prove its own worth, culturally and economically, as to why it’s deserving of the status.

There currently exists only 69 cities in the United Kingdom, of which 11 have been recently granted the status since 2000 in competitions celebrating the new millennium in 2000, the Golden Jubilee in 2002 and the Diamond Jubilee in 2012. Of the 69 cities in the UK, 51 of them are in England.

What about Southend’s new City Deal?

Southend-on-Sea is the twelfth “city” to have been chosen for the City Deal, during the second wave of City Deals given to the biggest cities in England. Technically not a city by status but by size and population, and Southend-on-Sea has a population of 174,800 residents.

The City Deal brings Southend £6 million funding from both public and private investment, and we have already seen the contribution it has made toward the Town Centre Education Quarter, as it is formally called, which encompasses the South Essex College, University of Essex, The Forum and the Focal Point Gallery. By incorporating these educational facilities closer to the town centre, located just off of the high street, Southend is prioritising the accessibility to education within the area.

Southend-on-Sea is already an established location for day trippers and local tourism, swelling with tourist activites and host to an impressive number of festivals and events each year. We even already have a City Beach! But we still have a long way to go to really drive Southend from being a Seaside Town to Seaside City, in terms of what Southend-on-Sea offers. Victoria Avenue serves as a depressing “Welcome to Southend” scene, with its derelict buildings eclipsing the surrounding greenery and historical Priory Park entrance. As part of the City Deal, Southend Borough Council will be buying empty sites in the central Southend area (including on Victoria Avenue) so that they can finally be put to use after years of dormancy.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said that: “We’re giving Southend-on-Sea the freedom, power and tools to really be innovative and design whole new ways of building a stronger local economy and fairer society. This City Deal puts power in the hands of local people who know best what skills are needed in the area to give it a real chance of changing the fortunes of thousands of people across Essex.”

Greg Clark, the Minister for Cities, has also stated ahead of his visit to Southend-on-Sea to sign the City Deal: “Southend has the potential to be a driving force for growth in the South East. It is a great place for businesses to locate, expand or start-up. To help achieve that potential, local business and civic leaders told us they wanted to give much better support to small and medium-sized businesses. I am delighted to be able to say ‘yes’ to that proposal which is a big boost for the economy of Southend.”

The City Deal will be directly supporting 1350 businesses, mainly SMEs, across the South Essex area. Not only will this boost Southend’s entrepreneurial energy, but it will create more jobs within the local area and create new business opportunities. The Southend-on-Sea economy is worth approximately £2.64 billion per annum with 5635 businesses supporting 65,300 jobs. There is certainly room for growth. And with the expansions of the London Southend Airport, Southend-on-Sea is growing to be a buzzing hub of business and tourism.

Maybe this City Deal is what Southend really needs before we can truly call ourselves a city.

If you would like to read more about the new City Deal in more depth, you can read the government-published PDF here, dated March 12th 2014.

So in two words…