Where’s the best British city to survive the apocalypse?

Oh, yay. Image: Getty.

Times are tough in the world of international relations. Kim Jong-un rubs his hands and markets tremble as President Trump’s diminutive digits hover, wotsit like, over the nuclear button.

Citymetric has already explored how nuclear bombardment could affect Earth’s major cities and those most likely to witness nuclear war. But where is the best place to be in the event of annihilation? Not merely when the bombs are dropping – but in the dreadful aftermath as politics collapses, agriculture withers and society disintegrates.

Picture the scene. Perhaps North Korea has decided to use the UK as a test case. Perhaps Donald Trump has a particularly acrimonious falling out with Sadiq Khan and unleashes hell. Whatever the reason, armageddon has arrived and Britain is the theatre.

Ostensibly, all hope is lost. But keep this handy guide in your bookmarks folder in the event of calamity. It might just give you the edge when the end times ensue.

Detonation

The discerning househunter knows that swerving catastrophe comes at a price. Once a bonus, a home combining cost efficiency and minimal likelihood of evisceration is now a necessity.

eMoov’s map of home buying options outside nuclear impact zones offers some handy insights. Unfortunately, nearly everywhere south of Scotland is out of action by their reckoning. Exeter and Truro escape the Plymouth radiation zone on a good day. Carlisle and Lancaster deserve honourable mentions, but are uncomfortably close to Newcastle and Manchester’s respective obliterations.

The really savvy apocalypse avoiders should get out of England entirely and head to Inverness. It’s cheap, has a lovely castle and even a prison for locking up the inevitable looters. If there is a better place to be as the missiles are dropping, I can’t think of it.

Detonation + 1 hour

But what if a missile goes astray? In the immediate moments following meltdown, nowhere is truly safe – an action plan is required.

WMDs carry with them the risk of radiation poisoning. But experts say it’s better to risk a little exposure while finding sanctuary than remain somewhere flimsy for the long haul.

Nuclear shelters, both mothballed and functioning, are dotted around the country. Although reserved for use by military personnel, let us assume that, if cities were being burned off the map, this conventionally miserly bunch would extend the hand of hospitality to the rest of us.

The main contenders are Bath and London. The latter is an obvious one – with bunkers available in the centre (such as the Pindar military citadel beneath Whitehall) as well as more peripheral areas (see Horsham’s Central Government War Headquarters), there are refuge opportunities aplenty.

The former is a bit riskier, but swashbuckling survivors are well rewarded. Civil Defence Today lists Basil Hill Barracks and the “infamous Corsham Computer Centre” as viable options. It’s also home to the now defunct Burlington Bunker (very much the Rolls Royce of wartime getaways in its day).

York’s Cold War Bunker has been out of action for some time but may still work in a pinch, as would Birmingham and Manchester’s telephone exchanges. But Bath and London’s combination of quality and quantity make them ideal destinations for dusting off the radiation and hunkering down for the collapse of civilisation.

Detonation +1 week

Congratulations! You have survived for a whole week.

But you aren’t out of the woods yet. Perhaps you’ve run out of socks, or need a shower, or have already eaten your granny and are on the prowl for something meatier. It’s not ideal, but if a mad dash for supplies is the only option then you need to know where to go.

London’s density of supermarkets makes it a strong choice – but its dense population means a higher attendant likelihood of violence breaking out. The apocalypse, I imagine, will be stressful enough without having to fight over a sausage roll with famished irradiated Cockneys.

You might more profitably consider Edinburgh: it has the highest number of Sainsbury’s and Tesco local stores per capita of any city in Britain, according to the Scottish Green party. Retail consultant CACI also touts Canterbury as one of the UK’s most over-serviced supermarket cities, with over 1m square feet of supermarket space in the Canterbury postcode alone.

So where are the main contenders at this early stage? Nowhere is perfect. Peripheral cities are unlikely targets but ill-equipped to deal with a possible onslaught. Core cities are often built with annihilation in mind precisely because their inhabitants are at the greatest immediate risk.

The real test comes when the dust settles and people emerge from their bunkers to rebuild society – or contend with its collapse.


Detonation +1 year

Now we’re firmly in the realm of science fiction, there are multiple schools of thought on what to do and where to go when you’re one of the few hardy remnants of humanity.

Perhaps you should get as far away from the main disaster zones as possible. Assuming the UK’s most populous cities are the top candidates for dissolving into widespread looting and pillaging, the appeal of somewhere like Inverness is enhanced significantly.

Or maybe the opposite is more plausible. Concerted efforts to restore order are more likely to get going in the nation’s capital before anywhere else.

One compromise I came up with was to head for somewhere reasonably agricultural and therefore self-sustaining. London, Bath and Edinburgh, home to some of the country’s biggest urban farms, all boost their cases in this respect. But, with nuclear winter setting in, a more radical solution is required. Tinned goods are the way to go.

Wigan is home to Heinz’s biggest UK factory, producing over 1bn tins a year. However, equidistant from targets Manchester and Liverpool, it’s likely to be a Mecca for hungry hangers-on.

Consider instead their Worcester plant: although smaller, you could trek there after sheltering for a while in Bath and enjoy a delicious post-apocalyptic minestrone and baked bean banquet until the chaos blows over.

The verdict

As Donald Trump flits between scandals faster than he does communications directors, catastrophe is off the cards for now. But with megalomaniacs in charge of the world’s WMD arsenals, scares will surely become more frequent.

My view is there’s a lot to be said for moving around a bit come Doomsday. If you start off in Bath you’re unlikely to be instantly eviscerated, then can progress to one of the city’s fabulous bunkers pending further developments. If nothing changes after a few months, the provision preservation paradise of Worcester is a relatively short trip away. It’s a strategy that requires going off the beaten track and taking some risks with radiation, but strikes quite a good balance between immediate and long run survival.

Overall there are really no winners in an apocalypse situation. One thing I am convinced of is that city-dwellers are the biggest losers of all. If you really want to watch the calamity unfold from a safe distance, you’re better off evacuating the mainland entirely.

What about seeking asylum in Sealand or Sark? Some say the UK’s extant feudal enclaves don’t have much going for them in times of geopolitical stability – but think how urban and politically innovative they will seem when nuclear war has reduced Parliament to dust and capitalism to a memory.

Following Armageddon, the security of serfdom may be a blessing. The choice between peasantry on an island and a bunker in Bath is a tricky one, but soon it will face us all.

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A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget is hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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