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Cllr Mieka Smiles is the Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Culture and Communities on Middlesbrough Council.

The City of Middlesbrough. Middlesbrough City.

Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

The Queen’s 70th Platinum Jubilee celebrations will see a small number of towns across the UK given ‘city status’.

Bidding for the honour is a rare opportunity to showcase your town and talk about the things you’re most proud of. And our bid is now officially in.

We as a town have previously bid for the honour three times. It’s something I’ve always supported.

But rightly, this is something that a few will question. Why are we doing this? What benefits will it bring? How much money and effort will go into this? Don’t we have better things to be concentrating on? All valid points. They’re questions I’ve asked too.

The first answer for me is that most residents want to see it happen. A poll we conducted showed an overwhelming 91 per cent of those who cast their vote supporting it. It is also a bid from the entire North East – with independent Middlesbrough mayor Andy Preston gaining cross party support from every council leader in the region.

Our greatest educational institutions – including Teesside University – have also thrown their weight behind the application, the cost of which we’ve kept well below £5,000. Recently crowned University of the Year for Social Inclusion by The Times – and with a staggering 20,000 students – it is the second largest university in the UK not in a city.

My second justification for the bid is I think statistically this should have happened a long time ago. City status actually seems somewhat overdue. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) it’s game, set and match. As it is local authorities that apply rather than towns, it’s natural to consider the population of the area the authority covers – ours being around 140,000 residents.

Neighbouring Stockton’s local authority area has a population of around 190,000 – but that takes in a number of towns including Stockton, Thornaby, Billingham and Yarm.

For me, a city is one built up area. One central hub of activity like Middlesbrough rather than a spread of towns. Looking past local authority boundaries, and using ONS stats, Middlesbrough as a built up area is greater than its local authority boundary and has a population of 177,354 – a larger population than neighbouring cities such as Sunderland, York and Durham.

We’re also a major centre for employment: another city hallmark. Once again using ONS figures, there were 71,000 employees working in Middlesbrough in 2019, accounting for almost 27 per cent of all Teesside employee jobs. It’s easy to see why many people think we’re already a city, with respected think tank Centre for Cities already classing us as one.

Thirdly? Healthy regions have cities at their heart. That’s because being a city is shorthand for being a region’s engine room for work, education, culture and leisure. It gives people from the area – and not from the area – an extra reason to visit us: even if that’s due to an increased ability to market ourselves in a positive way. In terms of the wider region, it would also be a recognition of what’s taking place here on Teesside and a great example of levelling up in action.

There’s such a feeling of positive change in our area. The Freeport, Treasury Teesside and the many, many millions invested in our towns thanks to the Future High Streets and Town Deal funds – including £36m invested directly into Middlesbrough. But despite all of this…Teesside is arguably the biggest metropolitan area in the country without a city at its heart.

Extrapolating direct statistical benefits of what city status bestows is difficult to do and I’ve done plenty of research to find out there’s not much data on the topic.

Preston – which became a city in 2002 – became one of the top five areas in the country for private sector growth. I decided to get on the phone to the man who led Preston’s bid to talk to him about the benefits and his answer was that city status was a vital ingredient to the transformation of the area. I thought that was a great way of looking at it.

City status is very clearly not any kind of silver bullet. We won’t be given an extra billion quid as a result. But it could be a part of our wider journey of transformation, which takes me neatly onto my final reason: ambition.

We do, of course, have extraordinary challenges, like many big towns and cities.

Some cynics have decided that a city status bid is a distraction and simply about ego and status. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being proud and would question the merits of any politician who didn’t genuinely love the area they represent, want their area to be given whatever status it deserves and investigate its next step on the journey to becoming a better place.

And if being a little egotistical about where I’m from is a crime, then I’m happily guilty.