Want to know where to find a real-life magic money tree? Look to the night tube

The Night Tube, on opening night, last August. Image: Getty.

One of Theresa May’s beloved slogans during the less-beloved election of 2017 was all about a so-called “magic money tree”. Whenever somebody complained that her manifesto didn’t offer enough funding for things like schools, hospitals, or nurses’ wages – or when somebody mentioned that Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto offered more funding for things like schools, hospitals, and nurses’ wages – Theresa would develop a tiny twinkle behind the eye and say there was “no magic money tree”.

Fake news. There is a magic money tree – albeit a very small one – and it’s called the night tube.

Despite the long series of delays, union disagreements, pushed-back launch dates, and theories that the next version of Waiting for Godot at the National Theatre would be called Waiting for the Night Tube, we now have 24-hour services on the Jubilee, Victoria, Central, and (some) of the Northern line on Friday and Saturday nights.

And though it hasn’t been running for long, the early evidence shows that even such a limited service has had an astonishing effect. Mark Wild, the managing director of London Underground, has said that passenger numbers were 50 per cent higher than forecast over the first few months of the service to November 2016.

More than 100,000 people used the night tube during the first weekend it ran, and that popularity has shown no great signs of abating.

A celebratory night tube train on the Victoria line at Pimlico. Image: Alex Nevin-Tylee.

The London Assembly’s Transport Committee chair – Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon – said that TfL had expected the night tube to run at a loss for the first three years of its service, racking up a total bill of £24.6m. This no longer looks likely, and TfL operation heads say they’ll break even much earlier.

But it’s more than just the popularity of the service itself that’s important.

Worldpay is the biggest payments processor in the UK – as in, they sell a whole load of card machines (mobile and wired) and also handle online payments – and has been doing pretty well recently, despite possible concerns about the impact of Brexit. The firm took a look at card transaction data for the late-night period, the hours between 1am and 4:30am, in the London area.

Its analysis showed that takings rose 75 per cent from before the launch of the night tube to June of this year. Almost a third of that late-night spending came in the borough of Westminster – the city’s nightlife hub and where the night tube services on the Jubilee, Central, Victoria, Piccadilly, and Northern lines intersect – but that increases in spending also occurred in more far-flung districts areas.

A map of current night tube services. Image: TfL

An increase of 75 per cent in takings is not something to be sneered at – essentially, the amount of money that businesses in central London made at night almost double because of the night tube, or at the very least at the same time as the introduction of the night tube. That’s huge, and is pretty much good news for everyone.

The fact that businesses re making more money means that they’re able to grow – perhaps by opening up new branches or by hiring new staff – which means more jobs are on offer, meaning lower unemployment rates. This in turn means more taxes collected from those people earning those wages, which in turn means more money to be able to spend on nice things like schools, hospitals, and night tube services.

But while TfL have admitted that they won’t be able to extend the night tube to the sub-surface lines – Circle, District, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan lines – in the near future because of what they call ‘open heart surgery’ on the signalling systems, they’ve not ruled it out. Night tube services expanding to these areas – and, if they’re so inclined – to the other branch of the Northern line via Bank, or to the Bakerloo line, would mean a further boon for businesses. 


Oh yes – and the night overground service between Dalston Junction and New Cross Gate, which was today confirmed to start running from December, will also be a huge boost to economic activity at night in the city's emergent eastern fringe.

So there is a magic money tree. There has been this whole time.

It’s called sensible investment in public services. Welcome to the night tube. 

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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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.