23 reasons the CPRE’s campaign to cover south east England in houses is the best thing that could ever happen

Southend-on-Sea, rightful suburb of London. Image: Velela/Wikimedia Commons.

You know, I’ve sometimes been a bit down on the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England. I’ve always thought it to be an absolute nest of NIMBYs: old, rich people with big houses and too much spare time, whose only amusement in life is ensuring that younger, poorer ones never have a hope of attaining secure housing, let alone ownership, by preventing any and all building projects, and pulling the ladder up behind them.

But I was wrong. I’ve misjudged them. Because today they tweeted this:

And this is the most ambitious, most radical – most amazing – housing policy I’ve ever seen. Here are 22 reasons why.

1) Cities are brilliant.

2) City > not city.

3) “London-on-sea” is a really cool name.

4) And London could do with its own seaside, couldn’t it? New York has a seaside, London wants to believe it’s as good as New York, so surely London should have a seaside too?

5) In fact, why shouldn’t it have loads of seasides? Southend! Margate! Hastings!

6) Not Brighton though for some reason; there’s a green tongue showing a distinct lack of development along the Sussex Coast. Looking at this map, indeed, it’s entirely possible the CPRE is proposing to bulldoze it altogether. What does the CPRE have against Brighton? Any theories? Anyone at all?

7) Imagine how many houses you could get in there, though.

8) Most of the countryside is effectively off limits to the likes of us at the moment: covered with private property and chemcial-drenched crops and so on. By turning large chunks of it into parks, we’d actually be making it easier for people to access greenery, because

            a) they’d be able to walk, rather than drive there,

b) they’d actually be able to get in without some farmer with a shotgun yelling, “Geroff my land!

9) Anyway, I was menaced by some cows once and I didn’t like it.

10) Honestly, think of all the houses. I’m getting all light-headed just thinking about it.

11) We could keep the good bits like the North Downs. In fact, they’d be more accessible to more people if there were houses near them, than they are at the moment, when there aren’t. Think of them like a really, really big Hyde Park.


13) Have you been to south Essex recently? It’s rubbish.

14) This is not going to make Canvey any worse, is what I’m saying here.

15) Tilbury is already the port of London, so that might as well be in London already, really.

16) Tunbridge Wells is actually pretty nice (the Pantiles, and so on). But it’d be nicer if it was part of London, because London is just better than places which aren’t London, don’t you find?

17) Jesus and Mary mother of god, think of all the houses, I need a lie down.

18) Judge Dredd is cool.

19) Looking at that map, I reckon, we could probably quadruple the population of London. Easy. And then, we could finally retake our rightful place as the largest city on Earth. Take that, Tokyo!

20) Since London is the most productive city in Britain, this exciting new land use policy would almost certainly solve the productivity puzzle that has been baffling economists for a decade, and we’d only need to change one policy.

21) It would mean we didn’t need to build on that Asda car park that it turns out everyone’s so concerned about.

22) At long last, when people send CityMetric angry messages reading, “Not everyone lives in London, you know!” we’d be able to reply, “They do, actually.”

23) Anything that upsets the CPRE is, ipso facto, good.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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The author wishes to make clear that he isn’t actually in favour of concreting the whole of Kent, but if the CPRE are going to be silly about this then so is he.


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.