What challenges will the West of England's new mayor have to tackle?

The Clifton Suspension Bridge, which is basically Bristol's most famous thing. Yay. Image: Rob Humphries @robb__scott

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain's cities.

Meet Tim. 

No, not Farron. This one:

Tim Bowles is the new mayor for the West of England, having served as a local councillor for Winterbourne, South Gloucestershire, since 2010. 

We don't know all that much about him, other than that he used to run an events company, and that he got his phone out in the middle of his acceptance speech to make sure it was switched off. 

He's a Conservative – which might seem surprising for a metro region until you remember that vast swathes of the West of England 'metro' region is just fields and villages – and is now tasked with running a region of around 750,000.

So. Now that Tim and his £62,000 salary are in situ, what's the plan? What are the big problems in the West of England region that Tim Bowles will have to tackle to be a success as mayor? 

Thankfully, the good people over at the Centre for Cities have a shiny 'Metro Mayor Data Dashboard' tool, where you can explore data sets for each of the newly devolved regions. Go play

For the West of England region – centred on Bristol, the beating heart of British wokeness – there's good news, and there's bad news. 

The good news is that the region's population is more skilled than the national average. 

Click any of the following images to expand them. All images: Centre for Cities.

And by quite a large margin, too – the green line is the West of England level, versus the grey which indicates the national average. 

Weekly wages are also rising pretty quickly too, and are now just about on a par with the national average. 

The employment rate for the West of England still sits higher than the national average, though there are signs that may not be the case forever. 

And the West of England's claimaint count rate – aka, the percentage of the population needing benefits – is still slightly lower than the national average. 

At that point, the good news for the West of England pretty much dries up. 

The region may be more skilled than the national average, but its schools are drastically underperforming. 

The 'Progress 8 scores' – a measure, basically, of how much kids match up to the performance they could be capable of – are way down in the West of England, compared to the national average. 

If you look at kids on free school meals – the most disadvantaged pupils – it's just as bleak, if not more so. 

And the new supply of apprenticeships is down on the national average, too. And that gap doesn't look like it'll get smaller any time soon. 

Although weekly wages may be growing faster in the West of England than the rest of the country, the total number of jobs is stagnating a little. 

Admittedly, there is only one year's worth of decline here, as we don't yet have the data for 2016; but given that the total number of jobs has fallen for three out of the five years we do have data for, it's not looking great. 

And in terms of what the economy of the West of England can ship off to other people, the data once again shows a lackluster performance. 

Services exports are less lucrative in the West of England than in the rest of the country, and goods exports tell a similar tale. 

And then there's this. The important stuff – the part of the article that all true CityMetric believers skim down to find. 

Transport. 

Bus journeys in the West of England region have soared since 2013, growing at a much faster rate than the rest of the country – where buses are basically in decline. 


But of course, being the West of England, there's no data on anything like light rail, because there are no light rail or metro systems. The buses are literally it. 

So the important question here is whether or not that growth is really good news. Is it that more people are taking advantage of local bus services, enjoying good, quick, cheap journeys to and from work, clubs, their friends' houses, and the pub? 

Or is it that slow, cranky, smelly, tired old busses are becoming more and more overcrowded and unpleasant, while still charging extortionate prices?

I did a bit of my (continuing) growing up in the West of England, and took the time to sample some of the area's gourmet busses. From my experience, it's very much the latter. 

Game on, Tim. 

Let's see what you can do before re-election time comes around. 

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Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.


At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

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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