Once the capital of Roman Britain, Colchester has been officially considered a town since the industrial revolution.

But, as the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee approaches, the borough council has confirmed it will once again be bidding for city status.

If successful, it will become Essex’s third city, since the Government announced Southend-on-Sea will be awarded the status to honour the former town’s late MP Sir David Amess, who died earlier this month.

But what does becoming a city actually mean, how do towns become cities and is this transition justified?

What does city status mean?

Officially, city status in the UK is granted by the monarch, on the advice of MPs.

According to an insight article from the House of Commons library, cities used to be defined as settlements with a cathedral, but this has not been a requirement since the late 1800s.

Similarly, it can be associated with having a university or a large population, but these are not mandatory for the status to be granted.

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Instead, city status is a broader recognition of the growth or prestige of a town.

City status does not mean a local authority receives any special rights, such as more funding or tax breaks.

It also does not mean a town’s local authority will become more powerful. According to the insight article, a “city council” could be a parish, district or unitary authority.

So a new “Colchester City Council” would still operate underneath Essex County Council in a two-tier system.

Most recently, towns have been recognised as cities through competitive bids run by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Colchester High Street

Colchester High Street

Brighton, Inverness and Wolverhampton were awarded city status to mark the Millennium. Preston, Stirling, Newport (South Wales), Lisburn and Newry then became cities to mark the Golden Jubilee two years later.

Most recently, Perth, Chelmsford and St Asaph were awarded the status in 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee.

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The case for Colchester 

The town was the capital of Roman Britain and the country’s first ever city.

Its 2,000-year-old history will be a major part of its bid, with the area being home to ancient monuments such as the Roman Circus, the only known of its kind in the UK.

Colchester city signs

Colchester city signs

“In terms of history, Colchester is watertight,” said historian Andrew Phillips.

Mr Phillips is a former lecturer in history at Colchester Institute and heads an oral history project called Colchester Recalled.

He said although modern “political pull” will affect who wins the Platinum Jubilee bid, the town’s history gives it a good case.

“It is the only major ‘city’ with a history that goes back to Roman times and beyond, which is not now a city. All the others are. 

“It was and continued to be a major city right through medieval times, and until the industrial revolution it was always in the top 12 towns in terms of wealth and population in Britain. 

“So its size, population wise, clearly didn’t enjoy an industrial revolution and therefore it didn’t so much stagnate, it didn’t go down the road of seething sewers, mass disease and mass poverty and factories, which is what the industrial revolution was actually about.”

Furthermore, the town is home to one of the University of Essex’s campuses, a hallmark of a would-be city, although the university also has campuses in Southend and Loughton.

However, critics within the council argue it won’t address any of the serious issues affecting Colchester, given that the status will not grant it extra funding or autonomy.

At a cabinet meeting earlier this month, councillor Lewis Barber (Con, Lexden and Braiswick) said: “I don’t believe conferring city status to us would address any of the issues that my residents care about and that I feel challenge our borough.”

Colchester has also tried, and failed, four times before to obtain city status.

Each time, ministers decided its competitors had a more compelling case.

Neighbouring Chelmsford had a successful bid in 2012.

The more recent decision to award Southend the status could help Colchester’s chances, as it leaves it the county’s biggest town, but could also dissuade ministers from choosing another settlement in Essex.

But residents are unlikely to have to hold their breath long.

The 25 page bid has to be submitted by December, in time for the Platinum Jubilee when residents will find out if it is to be fifth time lucky for Colchester.