IT WAS a prize which had eluded Newport before but 15 years ago today our historic town became Wales’ third largest city.

While Newport had limited success with two failed bids for city status in 1994 and 2000, politicians welcomed another chance for the coveted status – a pathway to investment and development. The prime minister officially launched a competition in July 2001, with one Welsh town receiving the accolade to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

Newport’s bid was submitted on September 1, 2001, with Welsh towns Wrexham, Aberystwyth, Machynlleth, Newtown and St Asaph also in the running. Although the quest was soured by the loss of 2,100 Gwent steel jobs– more than 1,000 linked to the closure of heavy end of Llanwern plant – the bid aimed to showcase Newport’s best assets.

It argued that Newport deserved the prize as it was the largest town in Wales without city status despite having a cathedral and a university within its boundaries. Other points showcased Newport as a royal and historic city –including Caerleon’s status as one of three original cities of Roman Britain – while also crediting the town’s contribution to sport.

Looking forward, the bid added Newport was a “city of the future”, an economic hub of the Welsh Valleys and one of the fastest growing areas in the UK. As Roman-themed events swept Newport’s Indoor Market, owner of the Celtic Manor Resort, Sir Terry Matthews, announced that the 2010 Ryder Cup would be held in Newport.

Hollywood actor, Sir Anthony Hopkins, whose family lived in Newport during the 70s, also bolstered the bid by crediting Newport’s “long and rich history and culture” and the town’s economic importance to Wales.

On decision day – March 14, 2002 –the announcement of city status was warmly received, with then first minister Rhodri Morgan describing Newport as a “vibrant gateway into Wales.”

While the benefits of city status may have been slow in coming, the vision shown in 2001 is becoming clear today, with the transformative impact of Friars Walk as a prime example. On the 15th anniversary of our town’s ascension to city status, politicians, residents and organisations have paid tribute to Newport, from its past successes to prospects for the future.

Newport West MP, Paul Flynn, credited then secretary of state and Torfaen MP, Paul Murphy, as the “main influence” in considering the “virtues and attractions” of Newport in the bid.

Reflecting on Newport’s historic day, he said: “The city has more than its fair share of naysayers who always believe that every silver lining has a big cloud attached.

“But every proud Newportonian was quietly thrilled.”

The MP also credited several aspects of Newport’s culture, from the “proud victories” of Newport’s sporting teams to the “tourist treasures” of Tredegar House and Caerleon’s Roman sites.

Other highlights, for Mr Flynn, included Newport hosting the Ryder Cup and the “unforgettable imprint” former US president Barack Obama made at the Newport-hosted NATO conference.

He added: “The city’s economy has (also) held up. The dreadful loss of manufacturing jobs was partly healed by the inflow of civil service jobs and a recent miraculous small renaissance in the troubled steel industry.

“Optimism is high that the Uskmouth juxtaposition of steel, and tidal and other power outputs could provide a new prosperous industrial revolution here.”

Newport East MP, Jessica Morden, said the “future is looking bright” for Newport, describing it as a “city on the rise”.

“Friars Walk has brought a renewed sense of confidence in the city centre, increasing footfall significantly and attracting £120m into the local economy,” she said

Looking forward, she welcomed plans for Newport’s Cyber Security Academy and Coleg Gwent’s plans to create a £60million Knowledge Quarter “in the heart of the city”.

While becoming a city in 2002 was a new chapter in the story of Newport, Newport West AM, Jayne Bryant, believes the city has maintained its “strong sense of identity”.

“Culturally and musically we have a wealth of talent and the Riverfront and the Dolman Theatres support this,” she said.

“The new (international) convention centre will rival anything in Europe and attract events and people from far and wide.

“As a proud Newportonian, city status gave us a boost and confidence in our identity. There’s much more to come from our new city with a rich past.”

Newport East AM, John Griffiths, added that city status was a “milestone in Newport’s history” that recognised the town’s “regional role and significance”.

“It put a spring in the step of local people, raised our profile and enhanced our image. Since then we have seen a great deal of development – economic, social and cultural,” he said.

Over the past 15 years Newport has welcomed several new facilities, from the Riverfront Arts Centre and Wales National Velodrome to the FAW National Football Development Centre.

Chief executive of Newport Live, Steve Ward, said: “We have also seen may high profile events including the Ryder Cup, the UK School Games, National Junior Track Championships, four Olympic cycling training camps and three Paralympic training camps, the Olympic Torch Trail, the annual Big Splash Festival (and) high profile concerts and events at Newport Centre and The Riverfront.

“All in all, the last 15 years have altered the Newport landscape for arts, culture and sport for the better and has improved the profile of Newport within Wales and the UK.

“Newport Live is the next part of this journey and we are so happy to be part of inspiring the city’s residents to be happier and healthier for the next 15 years and more.”

Newport City Homes board chairwoman, Jane Mudd, added the past 15 years have seen “substantial changes” including “investment on a phenomenal scale” in education, infrastructure and housing.

“Each of these serves an incredibly diverse population that is full of passionate, talented people. The same is true of Newport City Homes and I’m incredibly proud of our role in the city, which has seen us invest more than £80million over the last eight years,” she said.

“Since 2002, Newport has redefined itself as a city on the rise. A city of democracy. This is something to celebrate, not only on landmark anniversaries such as this, but each and every day. Newport is an amazing place and I’m incredibly proud to serve it.”

Paul Murphy, aged 45, of community group Pride in Pill, said: “I do love Newport and I will support it as it’s my city.

“It’s getting a lot better as you have a lot of work going on in town and in Pill. The new shopping centre is the best thing for Newport.”

Sally Wallis, of community news page, Pill Pulse, moved to Newport in 2001 and believes that “more money” has been invested into the Newport’s arts scene following city status.

“A lot of people didn’t really see the point of city status at the time the council was bidding for it and felt that it was a waste of money but I think now most people can see the benefits,” she said.

“Big events such as the NATO summit and the Ryder Cup have been held here and helped to cement Newport’s status as a vibrant, up-and-coming city.”

She added: “A town that becomes a city takes time to change and 15 years, although it sounds like a long time, isn’t in terms of the metamorphosis from a town to a city.

“I think some people expected change to happen a lot faster than it has.”

Ex-Celtic Manor sous chef, David Scarpato, believes Newport has experienced a “transition” in the past five years, reflected by key milestones such as the Ryder Cup and Friars Walk.

“I think especially in the hospitality and catering industry a lot more jobs have been created for people and I look forward to seeing the changes in the next 10 years of Newport’s history,” he said.

For Newport City Council leader, Cllr Debbie Wilcox, Newport has “embraced and overcome many challenges” over the past 15 years and “thoroughly deserves” city status.

“With a multi-million international convention centre on its way, and the Vibrant and Viable Places programme continuing to transform the city’s landscape, the future looks bright,” she said.

The leader added she is looking forward to the next 15 years, which will see the city play its part in the 1.2billion Cardiff Capital Region City Deal, which aims to unlock economic growth, create jobs and boost the economy of South East Wales.

She said: “As a city we have a lot to offer and we are an important link in ensuring the City Deal benefits all our residents.

“We have come a long way in the last 15 years and the future offers many exciting opportunities for our city to continue to thrive and grow.”