Blackburn submits bid for city status in Platinum Jubilee competition

Published Friday 10 December 2021 at 9:27

Blackburn, Lancashire: A City of Our Own Making

Blackburn’s bid for City Status has been formally submitted by the Council – in the very same year the town celebrates its magnificent King George’s Hall 100th anniversary.

The decision to bid for the prestigious City Status as part of the Queen’s Jubilee competition is now timelier than ever before – marking a century since the town’s iconic theatre and music venue first opened.

And fittingly, it was King George V who laid the very first foundation stone.

The application curated by the Council, as per the competition rules, was submitted to meet the competition deadline on December 8.

The town’s bid, using the strapline, Blackburn, Lancashire: A City of Our Own Making, focusses on its strengths and unique assets.

Blackburn is a Cathedral town – with one of the newest in England nestled next to the impressive £34million Cathedral Quarter complex – home to 21st century office space, a hotel, restaurants and cafes all just a stride away from Blackburn’s rail and bus stations.

It has one of the best education systems in the world. Star Academies is one of the best performing multi-academy trusts and schools such as Westholme and Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School all attract international students.

Blackburn’s University Centre at Blackburn College is another living example of our community coming together to create a new setting to serve local needs.

Civic Pride has never been greater, with Blackburn Town Centre winning the Great British High Street of the Year Award in 2016. The Council was awarded Council of the Year in 2018 – the third time of winning the accolade in an unprecedented recognition of the borough’s governance and leadership.

And just very recently, Blackburn was crowned gold medal winner in the prestigious Britain in Bloom competition for the fourth year in a row.

Blackburn is proudly home to an army of 2,000 volunteer litter-pickers who have joined the borough’s ‘red bag revolution’ scheme since it launched just three years ago – together collecting thousands of bags of litter each year.

Home to the BBC’s radio station serving the whole of Lancashire, Blackburn Rovers –  one of the most historically significant football clubs – and world leading businesses and inventors are all here as you would expect of somewhere with city status.

Blackburn is an ancient Lancashire market town, with a population of just 5,000 in the early 20th century which transformed into “the weaving capital of the world”. It is now home to more than 130,000 residents, a multi-billion pound economy and home to over 4,000 businesses – some of the biggest in the world.

Textiles still have a place in Blackburn as a leader in developing performance fabrics, which are used in a myriad of industries, from motor racing to fire prevention.

The Textiles Biennial held every two years celebrates our industrial history but has also inspired creative thinking – flax is now being grown in Blackburn, which will be used to make clothing in a local mill. It is home to the annual Festival of Light and to the nationally significant National Festival of Making – attracting people to Blackburn from all across the globe.

Blackburn is a multi-cultural town with a sense of togetherness, proud public and private sector partnerships and entrepreneurial spirit.

Some of the greatest inventions were made here in Blackburn including the modest aerosol, Formula One engines and John Noel Nichols, inventor of the nation’s favourite soft drink Vimto, was born here.

Cllr Quesir Mahmood, who has been leading the bid, said:

My sincere thanks go to all those who volunteered their time to help with submitting this bid.

In less than a month we have met with businesses, residents and volunteers – with over 100 voices coming forward to share their reasons for backing Blackburn’s bid. The response to this bid has been overwhelming and has truly helped to re-ignite the positive spirit within.

Colleagues who were at the council for previous bids tell me there is now a level of support and enthusiasm not seen before, which is also my experience. Residents are quite rightly really proud of their town and want to see Blackburn recognised on a national level.

This fantastic bid has been put together in a short timeframe, with people giving their time to help. It’s been an immense effort from everyone – we’ve had people from all walks of life getting in touch to ask how they can help. That’s community spirit at its best.

We can only wait now with our fingers firmly crossed until the announcement in 2022.

No matter what the outcome is we have a great platform to build on and continue to use the materials produced by our fantastic community as part of the town’s promotion to engage with and bring new businesses into Blackburn as part of our wider regeneration plans.

Council Leader Mohammed Khan, CBE, said this will be his last ever bid for Blackburn to become a city before he retires in 2022.

Cllr Khan said:

My hope is that our dreams and ambition for Blackburn to be finally granted the city status it deserves, is realised.

The response has been fantastic. It clearly shows a great deal of pride in the borough we live in, and that will hopefully come across to the judges determining our bid for city status.

I’d like to thank everyone who worked so hard on it, including our communities who have helped to draft and submit images to be used in the bid.

We had around 600 residents submitting photographs that beautifully captured the town’s finest assets as part of the competition. The entries were of a very high quality and I’m really pleased we have been able to use many of them in the bid submission – my thanks go to all of our residents for getting on-board and helping.

I’m also extremely grateful to everyone who got behind the bid, it gained a huge amount of support from the community, businesses, the voluntary and faith leaders and politicians from across the political spectrum.

The overwhelming consensus is that Blackburn deserves to be England’s newest city.

According to experts at the Open University (OU), the status can be a ‘marker of identity and national significance’ in terms of economy, culture, scientific knowledge and social advancement.

Denise Park, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council’s Chief Executive, said:

It has been a remarkable effort by everyone involved in putting forward such a strong bid.

It’s also been an incredible exercise just to see it written in one place all the amazing things and the fascinating history that is here in Blackburn.

Seeing them all listed, page after page, picture after picture, is a really powerful reminder of just how much Blackburn has to offer.

The Council’s Chief Executive added:

Blackburn is at the heart of Lancashire, we are the only place in the county that has put forward a bid, placing us in a unique position.

People often ask what benefits being a city brings. Cities market themselves and are recognised as centres of commerce, heritage, creativity and other specialisms.

The hope is that being a city elevates the place to a greater level of national significance, firmly placing Blackburn on the map.

Kate Hollern, Blackburn’s MP, wrote a letter of support outlining a number of outstanding reasons as to why Blackburn deserves City Status above all else.

She added:

To achieve city status would be a huge positive step for Blackburn and its ability to attract investment and jobs and to help tackle the issues we face.

I was delighted to see that our MPs for neighbouring constituencies, Nigel Evans in Ribble Valley, Sara Britcliffe in Hyndburn and Jake Berry in Rossendale and Darwen, have all endorsed the bid, both acknowledging the fact that Blackburn deserves city status but noting the positive knock on effect this will have on the wider East Lancashire community.

Jack Straw, who was the town’s MP during the previous bid, said:

I think the case for Blackburn becoming a city is overwhelming and it’s been really wonderful to see others take the same view.

Bishop of Blackburn the Right Reverend Julian Henderson said:

Blackburn with Darwen has built a reputation for excellent interfaith work over many years.

Being bestowed this honour by Her Majesty The Queen would also reflect the rich heritage of the town in relation to worship and community cohesion; as well as its rich cultural and industrial heritage.

City facts 

  • City status is rarely granted, with only 14 new cities created during the 20th Century
  • The last time the government asked for submissions was in 2012 as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations
  • In that competition, 25 towns applied for city status with three being granted – one in Wales (St Asaph), Scotland (Perth) and England (Chelmsford)

Blackburn facts

  • Blackburn Cathedral is the headquarters of the Blackburn Church of England Diocese.  It is one of England’s newest Cathedrals. A church was established in Blackburn long before the Norman conquest of England and by not long after 1066 formed a large parish covering most of East Lancashire.  The Church became a Cathedral in 1926 – at the heart of a diocese that is now responsible for most of Lancashire stretching as far as Lancaster in the North.  It is common practice that the presence of a Cathedral is the basis for city status.
  • Blackburn Rovers Football Club.  One of the oldest established professional football clubs in England, and with one of the most esteemed reputations.  Six times FA Cup winners (the only club ever to win the cup three years in a row (1884-1886) and the first northern team to feature in a final (1882).  Three times champions of the English League (1911-12, 1913-14 and 1994-95).  League Cup Winners (2003).
  • A proud and notable industrial heritage.  From its exponential growth during the industrial revolution Blackburn has always played a leading role in industry.  At the turn of the last century more cotton cloth was produced in Blackburn than in any other town in the World – a mile a minute.  And as the cotton industry declined Blackburn did not rest on its laurels – instead diversifying into other industries.  Much of the development of the Compact Disk was pioneered in Blackburn and the area now boasts a diverse hi-tech industrial base as well as the more traditional heavy engineering.  Blackburn truly continues to be an industrial and economic powerhouse.
  • The location of key global headquarters.  Blackburn’s Issa brothers maintain a major commitment to the area, basing the headquarters of its multi-billion pound service station empire in Blackburn – now with the ASDA group under its umbrella.
  • The largest urban centre in East Lancashire.  A borough of 150,000, Blackburn is the largest urban centre in East/Pennine Lancashire, and is an employment and retail hub drawing in people from all of the neighbouring towns.
  • Royal Blackburn Hospital, Headquarters of the East Lancashire Hospital Trust and the principal hospital serving the East Lancashire population of over half a million residents.
  • Major political figures have represented the town.  Blackburn has always and continues to attract political figures who make a national impact – Blackburn’s first Labour MP, Philip Snowden, elected in 1906, went on to be Chancellor of the Exchequer; Barbara, later Baroness Castle represented the town for over 34 years, during which she played a key role in several Labour Governments; and Jack Straw held the roles of Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Lord Chancellor during his 36 years of office.
  • A tour of Blackburn today, when compared to twenty years ago would show a major transformation.  As has been widely publicised, Blackburn’s Council has faced major reductions in its core budget in recent years; yet the redevelopment of so many central sites belies the financial challenge and further serves to emphasise the determined, energetic and can do attitude of Blackburn and its people.  A new Cathedral Square, with city standard office provision, restaurants and bars and the first cathedral cloister built in this country for almost 500 years; a brand new state of the art bus station; a redeveloped Mall – one of the best performing in the country and part of Blackburn’s successful recent High Street of the Year award; Blackburn College and University Centre campus with tens of millions invested.
  • And out of town, major housing developments both in terms of affordable housing on brownfield sites and high end housing in the suburban areas are all contributing to a growth in population as the strong local jobs market once again drives migration into Blackburn from other parts of the country.

You can read previous stories here:

Support for our City Bid | The Shuttle: Blackburn with Darwen Council News

Blackburn’s City Bid receives support from its biggest admirers | The Shuttle: Blackburn with Darwen Council News

Council leaders back Blackburn’s bid for city status | The Shuttle: Blackburn with Darwen Council News

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