The official boundaries of the city of Liverpool are far too small – and it matters

Liverpool from Everton Park. Image: Getty.

In April I made the case for a bigger Liverpool City Region (let’s call it Greater Liverpool to avoid confusion). This month, I’ve decided to return to one of my favourite subjects: size.

The City of Liverpool local authority has an area of 112km2. The City of Leeds local authority area is 552 km2 – nearly five times as big.

Does this matter? Yes. In fact, when you consider the fact High Speed 2 is projected to serve the latter and not the former, it seems to matter a very great deal.

The base level for a lot of statistical analysis of city regions is local authority area or borough. These are then sometimes combined with neighbouring boroughs to produce statistics for pseudo-conurbations; the resulting statistics are then often used by central government to allocate resources. (All of the statistics referenced in this article were sourced directly from the Office for National Statistics.)

So the fact Leeds is bigger means it has a massive in-built advantage over other, less generously defined, cities, even if the latter are more contiguously urban. Indeed, the City of Leeds local authority area actually includes not only large rural areas, but also towns which are not physically part of the Leeds contiguous urban area at all.  

So what do the statistics tell us about the cities of Liverpool and Leeds in their current forms?

The easiest way to even things up, to help us to compare like with like, is to add neighbouring boroughs to Liverpool, until it’s the same size as Leeds.

Then we can revise and compare the above numbers again and get a truer picture of the relative performance of each place. 

The City of Liverpool is 112km2; Wirral Metropolitan Borough is 157km2; Knowsley MB is 87km2; St Helens MB is 136km2; Halton is 79km2. That is a total of 571km2.

The combined statistics for this pseudo-Liverpool – which is actually the official Liverpool City Region, minus the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton – are as follows:

The resulting numbers show that this pseudo-Liverpool local authority area is of a similar physical size to the City of Leeds, and has a much better GVA and a much larger population. That suggests that Liverpool deserves at least the same amount of investment and opportunity as Leeds. It goes someway to proving the old adage, popularised by Mark Twain, that: “there are lies, damned lies and statistics”. 

Unfortunately, misleading statistics can have a profoundly negative impact on the life opportunities of enormous numbers of people. So why doesn’t central government try to do something to level the playing field? Perhaps it could treat the area served by the Liverpool Underground, centred on Liverpool city centre, as a single city for statistical purposes – and use that when making its investment decisions.

For example, here is a map with a 20 mile radius circle drawn around Liverpool Town Hall. It looks uncannily like Greater Liverpool as referenced above and, indeed, correlates rather well with map of the Liverpool underground:

This pseudo-Liverpool would be the largest Core Cities local authority area in the UK, with the largest population, making this newly identified pseudo-Liverpool local authority area the UK’s most significant city after the four capital cities. So, bring on the appropriate level of central government largesse and respect, I say – not to mention the avalanche of inward investment.

For completeness, here are the physical sizes of all of the UK Core Cities local authority areas in ascending order of size. The obvious question is: why are the Yorkshire ones so generously allocated?

  • Nottingham – 75km2
  • Bristol – 110 km2
  • Liverpool – 112km2
  • Newcastle – 114km2
  • Manchester – 116km2
  • Cardiff – 142km2
  • Glasgow – 175km2
  • Birmingham – 268km2
    Sheffield – 368km2
  • Leeds – 552km2

Incidentally, as forecast in June, HM Revenue & Customs has now signed a 25 year lease for India Buildings in Liverpool city centre, to be used as one of its 13 national hubs. Now all we need is for many thousands more Civil Service jobs to be moved to the eminently suitable Liverpool city centre, and we will be well on our way to becoming a new London.

Let’s hope Liverpolitan Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry gives them a big nudge in our direction.

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’.

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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 – 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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