UKIP once pledged to turn London's Circle Line back into a circle. Here’s why it’s a bad idea

These are good, British shapes. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Today marks the start of UKIP’s annual conference. There are still a few loony lefty idiots out there who'd have you believe that Nigel Farage's UKIP is all lukewarm beer and genteel bigotry. Should you be one of those narrow-minded, liberal (and, frankly, bigoted) fools, here's an extract from documents accompanying the party's 2010 manifesto which shows that there's so much more to the party than that. (We’ve taken it from The Guardian, because the original document has mysteriously been removed.)

"Ukip will return London's Circle line to a circle – the complete circular service recently stopped. We will build grade-separated junctions to improve the number of trains and their reliability at Edgware Road, Gloucester Road and Aldgate."

See? They have actual transport policies, too, you racist.

In fairness, you can sort of see why this idea might have some appeal. Once upon a time, Circle line trains did exactly what you'd expect them to do: go round and round a loop enclosing much of central London (it's the yellow one):

Since December 2009, though, the line hasn't been a circle at all, but a sort of spiral, beginning at Hammersmith and going once round the loop before giving up at Edgware Road.

This throws up all sorts of irritating anomalies. It means the same train will stop at Paddington twice, 65 minutes apart, but on two different platforms. It means that the train will terminate at Edgware Road and reverse, but only the second time it gets there. And it means that there is no way to travel from the north side of the route to the west without changing trains at that very station.

Worst of all, it means it's called the Circle Line and it's not even a little bit like a circle. And that's just really irritating, in the same way as when someone leaves a cupboard door slightly open in your eye-line when you're trying to watch television, or when someone arranges all their books by order of colour. It just feels wrong.

So, bringing the circle back would be good, right?

Sadly, as with so many UKIP ideas, it all falls apart the moment you start thinking about it. The new service pattern was introduced for two reasons. Partly it was to increase the number of trains on the Hammersmith branch; but partly, it was because the old service pattern required trains to cross each other's paths at three different points. That places a limit on how frequently trains can run (sometimes, there’ll be another train in the way). Worse, it means that a delay on one bit of the line quickly has a knock on effect right across this bit of the network.


UKIP clearly know this – hence the promise to create "grade separated junctions" at the three pinch points. That'd mean creating new tracks travelling either under or over the existing ones, so that trains no longer have to cross each other's paths.

In other words, UKIP’s promise was a commitment to spend a lot of money on tunnelling, which might require paying compensation to those who own the properties above, would certainly mean moving a lot of utility pipes, and might not actually be possible at all – and all for no other reason than that it’s mildly annoying to have a line called the Circle line that isn't actually a circle.

Alas for fans of policy-making-through-OCD, Nigel Farage later described his party's 2010 manifesto as "nonsense", adding: "I didn't read it. It was drivel." Tragically, it seems the Circle line may never be a circle again.

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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Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

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’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.