THE success of Southend’s inaugural lights festival has paved the way for the town to thrive as a city, with official city status set to be confirmed on March 1.

Newly-elected Tory MP for Southend West Anna Firth revealed that a VIP guest will be in the town as a special event is held to mark city status.

The announcement follows Southend’s LuminoCity lights festival proving a huge hit, despite Storm Eunice dampening the final days of the event.

Thousands of people descended on the seafront and town centre, including residents and visitors to the town, to see the ten light displays over the four days.

Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, said: “We lost one night due to the weather, but even so, I think the centre of town was packed.

“It was really great to see so many families enjoying the attractions, everyone was really impressed.

“It’s something we’ve not seen in Southend before and it’s a great step towards official city status.

“Even on Wednesday night - normally at 6pm on a February Wednesday you wouldn’t get many people - but even then there were crowds, so I think it really did bring people into Southend.”

Southend’s city status comes after two decades of work by Sir David Amess to champion the town prior to his death in October.

Mrs Firth said: “Southend becoming a city is an amazing tribute to Sir David who fought so hard to secure it.

“It is a transformational opportunity to showcase everything that is outstanding about our city and to attract high levels of investment and jobs to Southend.

“It is also a unique catalyst upon which we can launch our bid to become the UK’s City of Culture in 2029”

A by-election was held in Southend West after former incumbent Sir David was killed at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh, on October 15 during a constituency surgery.

The 69-year-old had served Southend West since 1997, and Basildon before that since 1983.

Mr Gilbert added: “I am also delighted to confirm that our city status commemorative event will take place on Tuesday, March 1.

“This is the date where we will formally become a city which is excellent news.

“Further and full details will be published this week.”