Belfast Telegraph

Ballymena has strong case to be city, says David Cameron

By Sam Lister and Maureen Coleman

David Cameron has pledged to look personally at the bid to grant Ballymena city status in honour of the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

While the Prime Minister insisted he could not make any commitment to endorse the proposal, he told MPs he was sure the Co Antrim town had a “strong case”.

The promise came during exchanges with the DUP's Ian Paisley jnr during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons yesterday.

The North Antrim MP asked: “Would the Prime Minister support the campaign by the historic town of Ballymena to achieve city status during Her Majesty’s jubilee year?”

One UK town will be granted city status to mark the jubilee in 2012.

Last month Ballymena Borough Council announced it planned to make a fresh bid for the status and has formed a working group to draw up the plans.

Mr Cameron told the Commons: “I will certainly have a look at that. I know these campaigns for city status can gain great traction and before I start endorsing every single one I will perhaps have a look at what he says, and I’m sure a very strong case.”

Local authorities across the UK were invited to submit bids for their towns while existing cities will also have the chance to bid for a Lord Mayoralty — or in Scotland a Lord Provostship.

Only one award of city status and one Lord Mayoralty or Lord Provostship are expected to be made. Welcoming Mr Cameron’s assurance that he would personally consider Ballymena’s bid, the town’s mayor Maurice Mills said there were plenty of good reasons to justify city status.

“There is a tremendous amount going on in Ballymena and we are a city in name after all, the City of the Seven Towers,” he pointed out.

“Statistically, it’s been proven that we are the best shopping town outside Belfast. Not only do we have a wide range of multi-national retail groups, we also have plenty of excellent independents as well.

“We are still a reasonably strong industrial base, we have five leading hotels within the borough, the magnificent Braid Complex, a museum and Town Hall.

“We also form part of the St Patrick’s Trail, which is important for tourism, and we are one of the gateways to the Glens of Antrim, so all in all, I think we have a lot to offer as a city.”

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has special responsibility for the Diamond Jubilee, added: “Marking Her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne in 2012 will be a great opportunity for the nation to come together in celebration, just as it did for her Silver and Golden Jubilees.

“This competition will be an important part of this and will ensure that there is a lasting legacy that will remain long after the festivities are over.”

Local authorities have six months to submit their entries before recommendations are submitted to the Queen by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Winners will be announced in the first half of 2012.

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