Towns that treat disabled people like trash shouldn’t be honoured with city status

Local authorities that act against type and exercise their grey matter with a view to making life better for their disabled residents are far more deserving of a reward than those trumpeting about royal links and heritage

<p>‘It matters to be able to use and enjoy the would-be city that you live in, work in and contribute to’ </p>

‘It matters to be able to use and enjoy the would-be city that you live in, work in and contribute to’

Get you Marazion! The Cornish town, population 1,440, has put in a quixotic bid to become Britain’s smallest city. The honour is up for grabs, you see, as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, and the publicity generated has likely delivered a much needed shot in the arm to the local tourist trade.

In truth, it is unlikely to spirit the title away from St Davids in Pembrokeshire, Wales, which has around 1,600 residents and city status. Marazion faces stiff competition in England from the likes of Bournemouth, Reading, Colchester and Middlesborough, which have been campaigning hard.

But you wouldn’t rule it out. It would certainly be seen as a feather in the cap of local MP Derek Thomas, whose 4,020 majority over the Liberal Democrats is far from unassailable. Especially with Boris Johnson and… well, you know.

Wait, I hear you say, surely the presence of marginal seats in the vicinity of hopeful applicants won’t play a role. This is the Queen’s decision after all. Thing is, it will be taken on ministerial advice. And that isn’t always what it might be under the lamentable Mr Johnson.

Fun and cynical games aside, I have a problem with the whole exercise. Upon the announcement of the competition, the then secretary of state for culture wars, Oliver Dowden, trumpeted the “great opportunity for towns and cities in every corner of the country to showcase their heritage”.

Chloe Smith, then minister of state for the constitution and devolution, urged bids from “vibrant towns and cities with distinct identities, history, and sense of community” and with a “shared sense of civic pride”. Existing cities can also get a gong courtesy of Lord Mayor status, which matters a lot less. Being able to call yourself a city can yield a considerable economic boost. I doubt having a Lord Mayor does the same.

Anyhow, Smith is now, allegedly, the minister for disabled people. You know what there is no mention of in any of the documents I could find on the government’s website? Accessibility.

I read through the guidance and the Q&As for local authorities considering applying and the application form itself and I couldn’t find a single mention of it. There’s lots of fluff about “civic pride”, “cultural infrastructure” and “interesting heritage, history and traditions”. There is also a nod to “distinctive features, age, residents or communities who have made widely recognised significant contributions to society and cultural infrastructure”.

Inclusion gets a half-arsed look in, I suppose, with a nod to the successful applicant having a “vibrant and welcoming community’’ with modernity barely covered by marks for a “record of innovation”. Sound governance and administration gets a mention and given the quality of the ministers who will be advising Her Majesty on this, well, LOL.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think any local authority deserves to be honoured if they’re guilty of behaving like the City or York, which already has all the gongs it could possibly need, but has shut off its centre to disabled people with blue badges, making it all but impossible to visit for some of them. Or Waltham Forest, which uses us as a cash cow. Or some of the other places that people have tweeted me about since I started writing about them.

Towns that treat 12 per cent (a conservative estimate of the number of disabled Britons) of their populations like trash, like the above two do, shouldn’t get to become cities. They shouldn’t be in the competition. It should be nil points, go back to the drawing board, try harder.

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This stuff ought to be considered because it matters. It matters to be able to use and enjoy the would-be city that you live in, work in and contribute to. Local authorities that act against type and exercise their grey matter with a view to making life better for their disabled residents are far more deserving of a reward than those screaming look – royal links! Heritage theme park here!

I could go on. Green spaces get a mention, which is nice, but green policies don’t. A town committed to offering a cleaner environment for its children would be a deserving recipient of city status. A town committed to making life better for all its people, whatever its circumstances, and that succeeds in doing so? Get out the charter.

A perusal of the worthy Mr Thomas’ website would at least tell you that a greener West Cornwall & Scilly is among his priorities, so maybe Marazion has something to show us there? Maybe some of its rivals have. But trumpeting heritage would seem to be the better bet, particularly if you don’t have a marginal nearby (sorry, I couldn’t help it).

The thing is, there’s already a glut of heritage on these islands and heritage doesn’t help people like me with the challenge of getting around and about.

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