Leeds vs Bradford: How a tale of two cities shows the need for place-based growth strategies

Leeds Town Hall. Image: public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“You can smell the money there as soon as you get off the train.” That was how one Bradford resident described nearby Leeds, in Demos’ latest research on cities and inclusive growth.

Alas, it reflected a widespread sentiment. The Bradford citizens we interviewed were not resentful of Leeds – nor were they relentlessly negative about their own city’s relative prospects. Nevertheless, it was hard not to observe the quiet, phlegmatic acceptance of a pecking order. As one citizen put it, “Bradford is totally different [to Leeds]. It’s a poorer city with less opportunity because it has not modernised as much.”

To be clear: both of West Yorkshire’s principal cities have improved significantly in this year’s Demos and PwC Good Growth for Cities 2017In fact, all UK cities improved on last year’s results with Leeds ranking as Britain’s second most improved city, after Birmingham. But when it comes to their overall fortunes, Leeds and Bradford are, once again, contrasting. 

One big reason for this is social mobility. Whilst Bradford trails Leeds across most metrics, it exhibits a particular weakness on skills and new business starts (our two proxies for social mobility). In terms of the latter, citizens regularly complained about the “decline” or “deterioration” of the city centre. As one citizen put it, “Bradford has a dying city centre. It’s a shame but it is definitely deteriorating – it does not compare to Leeds. 


Contrastingly, Leeds’ citizens saw the city centre’s commercial cloud as something which made the city an “amazing place to live in”, driving a strongly optimistic outlook regarding the city’s economic prospects. 

Yet it is the educational outlook that should most concern West Yorkshire’s city leaders. When asked about its education system, Bradford citizens often pointed to stark divisions in the cities schools: “There are the areas where the good schools are. But then we’ve got schools where there are empty spaces; we’ve got schools where English is not their first language for the vast majority.” 

More worrying still is the widespread concern about a local ‘brain-drain’ effect between Bradford and Leeds. Most young people we interviewed were happy with the range of opportunities on offer in Bradford – but this did not translate to optimism about their ability to get on in the city’s labour market.

Most citizens saw the magnetic pull of Leeds – particularly for higher skilled work – as almost inevitable: “The professional people from Bradford have all moved to Leeds. And the big firms. I don’t think we can compete any more. It is what it is, really. There are certainly more opportunities in Leeds.”

This is the challenge faced by city and combined authority leaders when it comes to raising social mobility and nurturing genuinely inclusive growth: that the local migration of skills and opportunity can, even at a micro-scale, accentuate social division and poor outcomes.

True, the contemporary move towards combined authorities and wider city regions can, in theory, mitigate this. Better for poorer areas like Bradford to have a formalised relationship with economically dynamic ones like Leeds. But without the right policy mix then economic dynamism has a tendency to cluster. 

One look at the rampant regional inequality afflicting the UK – the worst in the OECD group of developed economies, and getting worse – demonstrates the problem. The equitable sharing of success should be the founding principle of any successful place-based public policy approach; this should be the basis, at the risk of sounding overly grandiose, of the nation state itself. But what do we see when we look at the UK as a whole? Insufficiently challenged by countervailing policy, success is seeking out itself.

Make no mistake: there is no evidence this is happening in Leeds and Bradford at the moment – both cities have improved on our metric. Indeed, given those parlous OECD statistics, arguably British city leadership is doing a lot better at embedding inclusive growth than national policymakers, across the board.

But our research does underline the complex nature of trying to deliver effective, place-based strategies in a way that does not merely shift inclusive growth or social mobility opportunities between areas.

Of course, Bradford has just received one of the government’s new Opportunity Areas, precisely to help raise social mobility outcomes in the city. The lesson from Good Growth for Cities 2017 is that this must be aligned with a comprehensive, place-based approach to inclusive growth across the whole of the West Yorkshire region. 

Alan Lockey is head of modern economy at Demos.

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook