Hull has cream telephone boxes – and they're still driving the city's tech policy today

Hull in 1935. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

Hull is set to become the UK Capital of Culture in 2017: cue visions of John Prescott cutting the ribbon looking as cultured as some bloke who’s just quickly pulled on his Sunday best.

The big moment is fast approaching – but it’s not only the city’s political leaders that might be in need of a face lift. Despite being a significant trading hub as far back as medieval times, Hull’s telecoms infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with technological change.

Although Hull is reportedly the only city in the UK that is getting broadband officially described as “ultrafast” as standard, the leading local network provider KCOM hasn’t yet delivered.

Hull is the only city in the UK to have kept – until 2007, anyway – an independent, municipal telephone network provider. That’s KCOM.

That’s why it has distinctive cream phone boxes and its residents received the White Pages telephone directory, rather than Yellow Pages:

Image credit: RM21/Wikimedia Commons.

But Hull was also one of only two places named in Ofcom’s Connected Nations report in 2015 where more than 30 per cent of businesses were stuck with sub-10 Mbps broadband.

In another report that flags poor connectivity as a significant issue for the citythe University of Hull concluded:

“Currently, the region finds itself towards the bottom of the league for most key metrics related to economics, skills, employment, social mobility, entrepreneurship and innovation.”

KCOM has committed to ramping up its roll out of Lightstream, which the company says is up to 25 times faster than copper cable broadband. It’ll be available to around three quarters of properties within its network over the next 18 months.

In the meantime, though, Hull is set to gain “Gigabit City” status, thanks to a new, large-scale fibre roll out by CityFibre, which is partnering with young local KCOM competitor Pure Broadband.

Barack Obama likened the availability of super-fast, fibre-optic internet to that of “being the first city to have fire”. He said that these internet speeds are akin to “unleashing a tornado of innovation” and many cities across the world are working out how they can get a slice of the action.

CityFibre claims its network offers speeds up to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps) and says its network is future-proofed to be able to allow for ever-greater capacity. It’ll soon be laying fibre across 62 km of the city to try to compete directly with KCOM’s effort.

The company has already upgraded most of the city to 4G, having installed fibre connections to mobile masts throughout Hull, in partnership with EE and Three. Hull is now home to incubator and business innovation spaceC4DI and is a key city that could benefit from the government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative.

Let’s hope it doesn’t continue to be held back by the slow web speeds identified by Ofcom as Europe’s gaze lands there during its City of Culture year.

The University of Hull’s State of the Humber Economy report suggests that the city “plan to actively support entrepreneurship and innovation”. If Barack Obama is to be believed, becoming a Gigabit City is most of the job done.

This article was originally published on our sister site, NS Tech.

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Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.