‘Fix the town first’: Merthyr Tydfil votes to go for city status – but not everyone is happy
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
Councillors have agreed for Merthyr Tydfil to apply for city status as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations next year.
At a meeting of full council on Wednesday, September 8, councillors voted in favour of putting the application in.
The UK Government has announced a civic honours competition as part of the celebrations which includes a competition for city status and any local authority in any part of the United Kingdom is welcome to enter.
Applications may only be made by an elected local authority for its entire area or a distinct area within its boundary.
There are 10 towns in England and Wales in competition for city status with Merthyr Tydfil and Wrexham the only two in Wales.
Here are some of the arguments that are being made for and against Merthyr Tydfil becoming a city at the moment.
The case against
Gurnos resident Mark Morris, who has been actively campaigning against council plans to remove The Greenie playing fields in order to build a new 3-16 Catholic school, said people want problems in the town fixed first before becoming a city.
He said it’s a “lovely suggestion” but would rather the council focus on fixing existing issues in the town before trying to get city status.
He pointed to the lack of a swimming pool for the kids with the pools at Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Centre having been closed since December 2019 due to structural issues.
He also said the new bus station in the town has “hardly any buses running” and that the ones that do stop at 6pm whereas in a city they would go on until around 10pm.
Mr Morris also pointed to the issue around The Greenie playing fields in The Gurnos where the council wants to build a new super school which he said would “rip history” away.
He also raised concerns about the town centre and how many shops have shut down there.
He said: “It’s not just me saying it. The community is against it. It’s a nice idea but what about all these problems?
“I’m not hating, we just want these problems sorted. We don’t want Merthyr to be a laughing stock.
“Yes we’ve got history but why waste resources for something we don’t need at the moment?
“Fix these and maybe the people of Merthyr will listen. They’re supposed to be working with us not at us.”
He said the council needs to consult people on this and pointed to the number of comments on the council’s Facebook page post and comments on posts by Facebook groups such as Merthyr Tydfil Matters and Valley Times which opposed the idea at the moment.
Mr Morris said there was one online poll which saw hundreds of people vote against the idea.
Urban economic and social researcher Dr Jane Croad, who is coordinating the application, told councillors at the full council meeting that the many cultural resources and exciting potential of Merthyr Tydfil would be central to the application.
Councillors heard how it would help attract inward investment, new businesses and skilled employees, boosting economic and social development in Merthyr Tydfil and surrounding areas.
She said that city status should be granted in recognition of Merthyr Tydfil’s contribution to the prosperity and safety of the UK and the world through “coal, steel and many lives.”
Councillors heard that, with the massive improvements in the Heads of the Valleys Road (A465), Merthyr Tydfil is a “pivotal point” between Swansea and the West Midlands and city status would “improve the connection and aspirations of the surrounding valley towns and villages which relate geographically and culturally more closely with Merthyr Tydfil than other cities in Wales.”
Council leader Councillor Lisa Mytton emphasised that becoming a city would give Merthyr Tydfil the same perceived economic and social status as other cities in the UK and compel people both in and outside the county borough to raise their expectations and aspirations for it.
She said: “I’m so pleased that my fellow councillors agree that we should definitely grasp the opportunity to achieve what would be a fantastic result for us.
“Merthyr Tydfil has seen millions of pounds worth of regeneration in recent years.
“We have an amazing new bus interchange, some of the best scenery and outdoor sports facilities in the UK, a wealth of shops and accommodation providers and a rapidly increasing number of restaurants and bars. Why shouldn’t we be a city?”
Cabinet member Councillor Geraint Thomas urged local residents to “seize this fantastic opportunity to build on Merthyr Tydfil’s success and plans for a bright future.
“In the technology revolution, Merthyr Tydfil needs the status of city to achieve impetus to seize the opportunities of the new movement.”
The mayor of Merthyr Tydfil, Councillor Malcolm Colbran said “Winning this bid would fulfil the dreams and aspirations of the people of Merthyr Tydfil to be the city of the Heads of the Valleys.
“It would give a massive to businesses and people – we all need to get behind the application and show solidarity in our purpose and our confidence in Merthyr Tydfil.”
The council said some people had questioned whether Merthyr Tydfil was large enough to be a city.
But it pointed out that there are 12 cities in the UK with lower populations than Merthyr Tydfil, including St. Asaph with a population of less than 3,355 people. Perth with a population of 46,970 were granted city status in 2012, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
So Merthyr Tydfil, with a population of 59,100, is definitely well placed to be a city, the council said.
Since 1889 there has been no requirement for a city to have a cathedral.
The requirements include having a distinct identity, civic pride, cultural infrastructure, interesting heritage, history and traditions, vibrant and
welcoming community a record of innovation, sound governance and administration, associations with Royalty and other distinctive residents or communities who have made widely recognised significant contributions to society and cultural infrastructure.
The council said that Merthyr Tydfil fulfils these criteria convincingly and during a forthcoming consultation, local residents will be asked to give their views, knowledge and experience to help show this.
Applications for Queen’s Platinum Jubilee city status must be submitted by local authorities on December 8, 2021. The announcement is likely to be made in early 2022.
The bid will have the support of Lord Lieutenant of Mid Glamorgan Peter Vaughan and High Sheriff for Mid Glamorgan Jeff Edwards, who are also Merthyr residents, as well as Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney MP Gerald Jones.