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Monday, 3 January, 2000, 17:37 GMT
Bookies back Brighton's city hopes

brighton Brighton, famed for its Royal Pavilion, could become a city

Brighton and Hove's bid to become the first town given city status in the new millennium has been declared the bookmakers' favourite.

The twin boroughs in West Sussex, given odds of 4-1 by William Hill, lead a field of 39 communities striving for city status in an unusual competition, organised by the Home Office.

The Queen is expected to announce the winner in the next few weeks, but the Home Office has so far failed to reveal when the decision will be made and what it is being looked for in the Millennium City.

asaph St Asaph has a cathedral, but it is still only a town
William Hill said Luton was the 8-1 second favorite with Guildford and Milton Keynes both on 12-1.

Outsiders include the tiny Welsh town of St Asaph (population 3,600) which is banking on its cathedral to help defy odds of 50-1.

It is a widely held misconception that cathedrals, universities or even high populations can qualify a community for city status.

Surprisingly Wolverhampton - one of the biggest "non-cities" in the UK - is only a 25-1 shot.

According to William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe, the lack of information on what factors the Queen - who will be advised by the Home Secretary - would be taking into account made it a tough result to predict.

"It's a race without a course and with no form guide," he said.

Other runners
20-1 Inverness, Stirling and Wrexham
25-1 Colchester, Croydon, Maidstone, Newport, Newtown, Northampton, Preston, Shrewsbury, Telford, Warrington, Wolverhampton.
28-1 Ipswich, Medway, Southend.
33-1 Aberystwyth, Ayr, Ballymena, Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Doncaster, Dover, Lisburn, Middlesbrough, Paisley, Stockport
40-1 Southwark
50-1 Machynlleth, St Asaph
Nevertheless wagers of up to 1,000 have been received, leading Mr Sharpe to conclude that members of different towns' campaign teams are trying to bolster the apparent appeal of their area.

One hot tip could be Blackburn, Lancashire which, though priced at 33-1, lies in Mr Straw's constituency.

When chosen, the new city will receive a piece of parchment declaring its status and entitlement to all "liberties, privileges and immunities" that go with it.

Though this accounts for little, it is hoped city status will provide a major economic boost.

Recent towns to be elevated to civic status were St David's and Armagh, honoured in 1994 for their roles in Christian heritage.

Also honoured was Sunderland which, at the time, was one of the largest towns in the UK.

Those towns which fail to secure the coveted new identity will be able to re-submit their applications in 2002 when the Queen celebrates 50 years on the throne.

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