New­port be­came a city in 2002. JAMES MCCARTHY looks at how that sta­tus ben­e­fits an area and what lo­cal peo­ple think has changed in the en­su­ing 15 years

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS -

WHEN New­port ac­quired city sta­tus in 2002 it was against a back­drop of gloom. More than 2,100 steel jobs had been axed in Gwent the year be­fore, al­most half of those based in Llan­wern.

The town had al­ready failed to se­cure city sta­tus twice – in 1994 and 2000. So it was hoped its for­tunes could be turned around.

Fif­teen years later New­port is a dif­fer­ent place. But change has been a long time com­ing.

“These things mean ev­ery­thing and noth­ing, it depends what peo­ple make of it,” New­port West MP Paul Flynn said.

He claimed New­port’s “unique fea­tures and ro­bust char­ac­ter” made it de­serv­ing of city sta­tus.

“There is a cer­tain ca­chet in be­ing a city rather than a town,” the shadow leader of the House of Com­mons, 82, said.

“They con­cen­trated on the fact that it has the won­der­ful Tre­de­gar House and the world-class Celtic Manor ho­tel and the cathe­dral and Ro­man re­mains at Caer­leon.”

The con­test to win city sta­tus was launched to mark the Queen’s Golden Ju­bilee

Hol­ly­wood leg­end An­thony Hop­kins, whose par­ents once ran Caer­leon’s Ship Inn, had backed the bid.

So had tele­coms bil­lion­aire Terry Matthews, owner of the Celtic Manor.

He had just put New­port on the map by per­suad­ing the or­gan­is­ers of the 2010 Ry­der Cup to hold their con­test at his re­sort.

Four years later the 2014 Nato sum­mit was held there.

Mr Flynn said: “There are not tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits. One of our prob­lems was we could not change the name of the foot­ball team from New­port County to New­port City.”

He warned shout­ing “up the City” in New­port might not be ben­e­fi­cial to one’s health “be­cause of the as­so­ci­a­tions with other cities in South Wales.”

“City sta­tus is not a magic cure for a place’s ills, but it is all pos­i­tive and ad­van­ta­geous,” he said. “It gives you a feel­ing of an­tiq­uity and per­ma­nence.

“Our cathe­dral was here in the sixth cen­tury and the Ro­mans be­fore that.”

Lister Tonge is dean at St Woo­los Cathe­dral. The site be­came a re­li­gious one in the 5th cen­tury. Woo­los is a cor­rup­tion of Gwyn­l­lyw, the name of a Welsh saint thought to have lived be­tween AD450 and 500.

The church’s pres­ence was key to New­port’s tran­si­tion from town to city.

“You only have to look at the build­ings above the shop fronts to see this is a city with an enor­mously proud past,” Rev Tonge said.

The award was an­nounced by then Lord Chan­cel­lor Lord Irvine on Thurs­day, March 14, 2002.

Then First Min­is­ter, the late Rho­dri Mor­gan, sent a per­sonal mes­sage of con­grat­u­la­tions, dub­bing it a “well-de­served hon­our”.

He said New­port has had “most, if not all, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a city for many decades. “It is a go-ahead and vi­brant gate­way into Wales,” he said.

Va­lerie Hoppe was mar­ried to Ben­jamin Hoppe, chair­man of the cam­paign to make New­port a city. He died aged 83 af­ter a fall this year.

“The only in­volve­ment I had was go­ing to the din­ner with the Queen,” she said.

“They held it in the leisure cen­tre. I sat two ta­bles down from her.

“It was much bet­ter than expected. I did think it would have been nicer to have it at the Celtic Manor or one of the other ho­tels, though.

“I didn’t speak to the Queen but she and Ben had a chat. He said the lady-in-wait­ing, who was on the other side, was very nice.”

She said it was “quite an achieve­ment” ac­quir­ing city sta­tus. “It was a bit of a joke that Ben was a Swansea man,” Va­lerie said. “We came up from Swansea in 1963.” For­mer New­port coun­cil leader Bob Bright helped bring the Fri­ars Walk shop­ping de­vel­op­ment to New­port.

“It’s cer­tainly been a ben­e­fit from a mar­ket­ing point of view,” Mr Bright said.

“It has be­come more pros­per­ous be­cause it is on the M4 cor­ri­dor. The lat­est boost is the cer­tainty of the tolls be­ing abol­ished on the Sev­ern Bridge.

“If you’re in Asia, or Amer­ica, or even Europe, and you see ‘New­port city’, you’re more likely to take a bit of no­tice.

“That is prob­a­bly the big­gest ben­e­fit of it be­com­ing the third city.”

Mr Bright, who left of­fice last year af­ter fall­ing ill, ad­mit­ted there was still “an aw­ful lot that needs to be done.”

“There has been crit­i­cism from lo­cals,” he said.

Dean Bed­dis is one of those lo­cals. The owner of the city’s Krim­i­nal Records said: “Noth­ing has changed, there .are more home­less peo­ple liv­ing on the streets and the em­ploy­ment fig­ures have not gone up.

“The main street has dis­ap­peared, though the new build­ings at Fri­ars Walk look great. New­port looks like a Val­leys town. It does not have the ‘oomph.’

“There is no big sta­dium or mu­sic venue, no mu­sic fes­ti­vals or tourists.”

He in­sisted he has “al­ways loved the place”.

“I will prob­a­bly never move, but it does not have the at­trac­tions [of ] Bris­tol, Swansea or New­port,” he said.

Re­tired leisure worker Pam Glover said: “I don’t think of it as a city, it’s a town.

“The cities I’ve been to don’t look like New­port. Think of Liver­pool, Cardiff, London, Manch­ester and Bris­tol.

“They are build­ing houses and things but as far as the city cen­tre is con­cerned, it does not feel like a city cen­tre.”

At the time of the win it was said New­port was suc­cess­ful be­cause it fit­ted the cri­te­ria of a town with re­gional or na­tional sig­nif­i­cance, and a for­ward-look­ing at­ti­tude.

Pam said: “We’ve got Fri­ars Walk, but what else have we got? You can get through there in 10 min­utes and on the main street there is hardly any­thing.”

Stir­ling in Scot­land, Pre­ston in Lan­cashire and Lis­burn and Newry, both in North­ern Ire­land, were also awarded city sta­tus the same year.

“I don’t think New­port will im­prove in my life­time,” Pam said.

Chain­saw sculp­tor Chris Wood runs Wood Art Works, in Pon­thir, just out­side Caer­leon.

“They have done quite a bit and re­placed it with an aw­ful lot – your nor­mal c**p,” the 48-year-old said.

“They have stolen its cul­ture, it’s nowhere near like it used to be.”

He re­mem­bered at­tend­ing gigs at TJ’s – the venue fa­mous for be­ing the place Kurt Cobain pro­posed to Court­ney Love.

“I don’t go into town much any more but it seems a bit soul­less at the mo­ment,” Chris said. “What New­port used to be known for, the amaz­ing mu­sic scene and ev­ery­thing, has all gone, and I think the coun­cil are quite happy about that.”

For him New­port had “al­ways been the same as a city any­way”.

“The huge thing was when they took down the Chartist mu­ral. Whether peo­ple liked it or hated it, it gave New­port an iden­tity.

“They said they were go­ing to re­place it but they won’t.

“And if they do, it will be with some­thing bor­ing, it will not have the same im­pact.”

Il­lus­tra­tor Phil Hack­ett lived in Christchurch, New­port, and in the city cen­tre, be­fore he moved to Bris­tol.

“It def­i­nitely looks a bit smarter now,” the 36-year-old said. “There has been lots of money chucked into the high street with all the benches and things.

“But you have still got peo­ple sit­ting around the streets with their dogs and drink­ing.

“The peo­ple have not changed, even if it does look a lot nicer.

“One thing that made me laugh was when Fri­ars Walk was be­ing built was that peo­ple were com­plain­ing there was not a Burger King.” One has since been built on Com­mer­cial Street.

“New­port is stuck in the shadow of Cardiff and Bris­tol, which is dif­fi­cult be­cause you can al­ways just pop on the train and go to one of those.”

Dean Bed­dis, An­thony Hop­kins and Pam Glover

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