Map: Which languages are spoken at different tube stops?

Image: Oliver O'Brien.

We probably don't need to tell you that London is a very diverse city. At the time of the last census,  37 per cent of the population were foreign-born and over 250 langauages were spoken within city limits. For around 1.7 million Londoners, English is a second language. 

To visualise quite how linguistically diverse the city is, Oliver O'Brien, a researcher at UCL, used 2011 census data to map the most common language besides English spoken by those living within 200m of London Underground, Overground, DLR and future Crossrail stations.

Here's central London (you see an interactive version showing the whole network at Tube Tongues):

The size of the circles represents the percentage of people who spoke the second most dominant language. To give you a rough idea, in Shadwell, the largest visible circle, 32.8 per cent of census respondants spoke Bengali.

The dominance of French in Soho, Marlybone and Mayfair is a little surprising – though, as you can see from the size of the circles, the percentages weren't actually that high (around 5 or 6 per cent); the emphasis on French in the UK education system may also have something to do with it. Bengali dominates in east London, and Arabic in west. Unsurprisingly, there's a clutch of Chinese-dominated stops around Chinatown.

In fact, language communities seem to group around certain areas: very few of the stops are dominated by a language that doesn't dominate another stop nearby.

Another trend is that, for the most part (with the notable exception of the Gujarati speakers in Willesden and Wembley) the circles tend to get smaller as you move out towards the ends of tube lines. This implies either that the city's ourskirts are less diverse, or that one language doesn't dominate. On the Central line, it seems to be the former. Here's a breakdown of the languages spoken in Epping, up at the northernmost end, compared with Leytonstone, just a few stops down:

The most linguistically diverse stop of all was Turnpike Lane in northeast London, home to 16 languages. We propose a name change to "Babel". 

 
 
 
 

Two east London boroughs are planning to tax nightlife to fund the clean up. Will it work?

A Shoreditch rave, 2013. Image: Getty.

No-one likes cleaning up after a party, but someone’s got to do it. On a city-wide scale, that job falls to the local authority. But that still leaves the question: who pays?

In east London, the number of bars and clubs has increased dramatically in recent years. The thriving club scene has come with benefits – but also a price tag for the morning clean-up and cost of policing. The boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets are now looking to nightlife venues to cover these costs.

Back in 2012, councils were given powers to introduce ‘late night levies’: essentially a tax on all the licensed venues that open between midnight and 6am. The amount venues are expected to pay is based on the premises’ rateable value. Seventy per cent of any money raised goes to the police and the council keeps the rest.

Few councils took up the offer. Four years after the legislation was introduced, only eight local authorities had introduced a levy, including Southampton, Nottingham, and Cheltenham. Three of the levies were in the capital, including Camden and Islington. The most lucrative was in the City of London, where £420,000 was raised in the 2015-16 financial year.

Even in places where levies have been introduced, they haven’t always had the desired effect. Nottingham adopted a late night levy in November 2014. Last year, it emerged that the tax had raised £150,000 less than expected in its first year. Only a few months before, Cheltenham scrapped its levy after it similarly failed to meet expectations.


Last year, the House of Lords committee published its review of the 2003 Licensing Act. The committee found that “hardly any respondents believed that late night levies were currently working as they should be” – and councils reported that the obligation to pass revenues from the levy to the police had made the tax unappealing. Concluding its findings on the late night levy, the committee said: “We believe on balance that it has failed to achieve its objectives, and should be abolished.”

As might be expected of a nightlife tax, late night levies are also vociferously opposed by the hospitality industry. Commenting on the proposed levy in Tower Hamlets, Brigid Simmonds, chief executive at the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “A levy would represent a damaging new tax – it is the wrong approach. The focus should be on partnership working, with the police and local business, to address any issues in the night time economy.”

Nevertheless, boroughs in east London are pressing ahead with their plans. Tower Hamlets was recently forced to restart a consultation on its late night levy after a first attempt was the subject of a successful legal challenge by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR). Kate Nicholls, chief executive at the ALMR, said:

“We will continue to oppose these measures wherever they are considered in any part of the UK and will urge local authorities’ to work with businesses, not against them, to find solutions to any issues they may have.”

Meanwhile, Hackney council intends to introduce a levy after a consultation which revealed 52 per cents of respondents were in favour of the plans. Announcing the consultation in February, licensing chair Emma Plouviez said:

“With ever-shrinking budgets, we need to find a way to ensure the our nightlife can continue to operate safely, so we’re considering looking to these businesses for a contribution towards making sure their customers can enjoy a safe night out and their neighbours and surrounding community doesn’t suffer.”

With budgets stretched, it’s inevitable that councils will seek to take advantage of any source of income they can. Nevertheless, earlier examples of the late night levy suggest this nightlife tax is unlikely to prove as lucrative as is hoped. Even if it does, should we expect nightlife venues to plug the gap left by public sector cuts?