Northampton has thrown its hat into the ring for city status. What do people in the town make of the bid?
Speak to a true Northamptonian, especially a football fan, about the town and you might well be told: “Big city lights don’t bother me.”
But the famous line sung by Cobblers fans might need a rethink if council leaders have their way.
On Thursday night, West Northamptonshire Council approved a proposal to apply for city status for Northampton.
The authority will submit its entry ahead of the 8 December deadline, with winning cities announced as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June 2022.
‘The footsteps of kings and queens’
Town historian Mike Ingram welcomes the bid but says there are still lots of unanswered questions.
Mr Ingram, a member of the town’s civic society, asks: “What’s going to happen to the town council overall? What happens to the mayor? The freemen?
“All these little things; have people thought about them?”
He adds: “Northampton should have been a city a long while ago.
“The town’s always been radical. That should be recognised.
“We are an important town in Royal ways. You can’t go anywhere in Northampton without walking in the footsteps of kings and queens.”
Charles Commins, one quarter of popular Northampton Town Football Club podcast ‘It’s All Cobblers To Me’, is convinced fans of the club would not stomach a change of name to Northampton City.
Back in 1969, Swansea City changed its name from Swansea Town when the area got city status but Mr Commins does not see a similar thing happening in Northampton.
“The supporters wouldn’t allow it,” he says. “I’d expect scenes like the European Super League idea.
“I just don’t see it really, even if it became a city. It wouldn’t polarise the fan base – nobody is going to walk into Sixfields after city status and start changing all the words of our songs.
“It would separate the fans from the club.”
Many of the songs beloved by Northampton Town fans celebrate the area’s town status, not least the “Big city lights don’t bother me” line of the celebrated “The Fields Are Green”.
Mr Commins, who runs the podcast alongside Chessie Coleman, Danny Brothers and Neile Egerton-Scott, says there is too much history behind the town name of the club to change it.
But he jokes if a rebrand was needed then fans have already decided the city moniker will not work, with some favouring a complete change.
Tongue-in-cheek suggestions include Northampton Pumas, Olympic Northampton and Dynamo Northampton.
The benefits of city status
- Winning cities have outperformed their regional counterparts by 87%
- Wolverhampton has seen £2bn of investment in the 12 years since winning city status
- Perth has seen £30m invested in its cultural sector alone since 2016 as a result of its new status
- City status expert John Beckett said becoming a city is a “way of announcing to an international audience that here is an important place which which they should be doing business”
- The council says the cost of the bid is “minimal” with around £200 spent externally and some officer time used to pull it together
Source: West Northamptonshire Council
Council leader Jonathan Nunn says there has already been benefits in the city status process.
Conservative Mr Nunn says: “As an exercise, it has helped identify what’s great about Northampton and how people feel.
“It does seem cities get on the radar of investors more significantly. It’s good for civic pride and would bring a lot more opportunities to the town.”
He says Northampton’s bid would feature a “much to be proud of” including the town’s heritage and history, its “unique sport offer” and everything from Royal connections to diverse communities.
The city status bid has received cross-party support, with a unanimous vote at Thursday’s night’s full council meeting.
Labour leader Gareth Eales says it feels like a “significant moment for the town”.
“It would give us access to the funding streams that are only open to cities,” he adds.
“There could be a really positive, bright future for Northampton ahead.”
‘What are the benefits?’
The bid for city status perplexes Terry Steers.
Mr Steers, who is the owner of St Giles Ale House in the town centre, says the council needs to explain what the benefits are.
“I don’t really understand what exactly we get from being a city instead of a town,” he says.
“Customers are of the same opinion. They don’t really understand what the benefits are.
“I think people are proud of the fact Northampton is the biggest town in the country.
“We’ve got the population to make it a city, but why do it?”
The council has made much of how city status will bring more money in, pointing to examples like Perth which became a city in 2012 and has seen £30m invested in its cultural sector alone since 2016 as a result of its new status.
But Mr Steers is unconvinced, pointing to examples such as the missing £10.25m loan to Northampton Town and the failure to redevelop Greyfriars bus station.
“The issue we have the population’s confidence in the council,” he says. ” The new council is supposed to be a new start , and the consensus of my customers is that it’s the same old council with a different badge on it.”
He says more investment would be great but people are worried the local authority “would squander it.
“By changing into a city, it’s just changing the badge again which is what the council has just done to itself.”
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