Is Liverpool really poorer than Manchester? It depends how you count

The Mersey Gateway Bridge, which links Runcorn to Widnes. Image: Getty.

Back in September 2017 I compared some statistics for Liverpool and Leeds – after first resizing Liverpool to give it the same physical area as Leeds, so as to make for a fairer comparison. Using my chosen metrics, Liverpool won out fairly substantially.

This exercise was quite popular, and yielded interesting results, so I have decided to revisit the theme this month. This time I have chosen to focus on three different versions of Liverpool. I’ve also included statistics for Greater Manchester, as a reference point.

Here are the three versions of Liverpool I’ve chosen, ranked in my preferred order:

1. The true metropolitan area which I’ll call “Greater Liverpool”, which I defined and described here. That consists of nine English local authority areas (Cheshire West and Chester, Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton, Warrington, West Lancashire, Wirral), plus two in north Wales (Flintshire and Wrexham). 

2. The stunted official Liverpool City Region. That consists of just six of the English local authority areas: Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral;  

3. And, purely for completeness, the City of Liverpool single local authority area. This, while being the core component, is not the whole story as far as economic discussion is concerned. 

My own view is that the Greater Liverpool metropolitan area represents the true independent functional economic area around here. On this point I concur with this seminal 2011 report titled ”Rebalancing Britain: Policy or slogan? Liverpool City Region – Building on its Strengths”, written by Lord Heseltine and Sir Terry Leahy. All of the statistics referenced in this article were sourced directly from the Office for National Statistics.

So, what do the statistics show for the first three versions of Liverpool, mentioned above? To give these numbers some context I’ve also included the figures for Greater Manchester – that is, the 10 English local authority areas of Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan.

As can be seen, when Greater Manchester is compared to the Greater Liverpool metropolitan area, their economic performance is very similar. Indeed, the truly remarkable discovery from this exercise is that the GVA per head of Greater Liverpool and the GVA per head of Greater Manchester came out exactly the same, at £21,626.

Incidentally, if a combined road and railway crossing was built across the River Dee between the Wirral peninsula and North Wales, as shown on the map above, it would, for example, bring Rhyl to within a half hour journey time of Liverpool city centre. It’d also be likely to have a very positive impact on the Denbighshire and Conwy local authority areas’ economies, by bringing them directly into the Greater Liverpool metropolis. 

The map shows two potential locations for a River Dee crossing. Option A, between West Kirby and Talacre, is about eight miles in total; and option B, between Heswall and Holywell, is about 10 miles in total. Both options connect to the M53 and into the existing eight lanes of road tunnels; and to the Liverpool Underground railway tunnel, under the River Mersey directly into Liverpool city centre.

While we’re at it, the River Dee is one of eight sites that have been identified as optimum for a tidal barrage in the UK. Here’s a video of one at work in France: 

 

Such a development would also complement the proposed Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project in South Wales

To take account of such a development, I’ve also calculated the numbers for a greater, Greater Liverpool  which includes the Denbighshire and Conwy local authority areas. That increases the GVA and population substantially, whilst reducing the GVA per head figure:

 

One last thing. If, because of a national border, only the nine local English local authority areas’ statistics had been included in the Greater Liverpool figures, then Greater Liverpool’s GVA per head for 2015 would have increased to £21,667. That’s actually higher than Greater Manchester’s £21,626. Would that have made the headlines, do you think?

Dave Mail is 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.


 

 
 
 
 

Vanilla Skybus: George Romero and Pittsburgh’s metro to nowhere

A prototype Skybus on display near Pittsburgh. Image: BongWarrior/Wikimedia Commons.

The late director George A Romero’s films are mainly known for their zombies, an association stretching from his first film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, to his last as director, 2009’s Survival of the Dead.

But many of them are also a record of Pittsburgh, the city he lived and worked in, and other locations in the state of Pennsylvania in the late 20th century. Martin (1978), for example, isn’t just a movie about a kid who thinks he’s a vampire: it’s a moving portrayal of the post-industrial decay of the Pittsburgh borough of Braddock.

Though born in New York, Romero studied in Pittsburgh and stayed in the city after graduation, shooting commercials as part of the successful Latent Image agency. It was in collaboration with advertising colleagues that he shot his debut Night of the Living Dead. On both that movie and subsequent films, Romero and his colleagues used their experience and connections from the agency to secure cheap and striking locations around the city and state. 

It’s in Romero’s little-seen second film, 1971’s romantic drama There’s Always Vanilla, that a crucial scene touches on a dead end in the history of urban transport in Steel City.

In the scene Vietnam vet Chris, only recently returned to town after a failed music career, sees his father off on a train platform, after an evening where Chris got his dad stoned and set him up with a stripper. (It was the early 1970s, remember.) An odd little two-carriage metro train pulls up on an elevated concrete platform, Chris’ father rides away on it, and then Chris literally bumps into Lynn, whom he then both gaslights and negs. (It was the ‘70s.) You can see the scene here.

A screenshot from There's Always Vanilla, showing the Skybus through a chain link fence.

If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you might assume that funny little train, still futuristic forty years on, is just an everyday way of getting around in the exciting New World. Who knows what amazing technology they have over there, right?

In fact, the Transit Expressway Revenue Line, more snappily referred to as the Skybus, not only doesn’t exist today: it hardly existed at all, beyond what we see in that short scene. In the 1960s there were plans to replace Pittsburgh’s street car system with a more up to date urban transit system. The Skybus – driverless, running on rubber tires on an elevated concrete track with power provided with an under rail system – drew enough support from the Port Authority and Federal Government for them to fund a short demonstration track at the Allegheny County Fair, at that point a local institution.

It’s this demonstration track and train that appears in There’s Always Vanilla. Film makers love isolated systems like this, or the UK’s many heritage railways, because they allow for multiple takes and a controlled environment. So it made sense for Romero to use this local curio rather than seek access to an in-use station.


The sequence in Vanilla shows that the Skybus system worked, and as a potential metro system it looks quite striking to this day with its curved windows and distinctive logo. But the proposed system wasn’t popular with everyone, and cost concerns and political wrangling stalled the project – until it was finally rejected in favour of a more conventional steel wheel on steel rail transit system.

The demonstration track was pulled up in 1980, although the small station and platform seen in the movie remains: Romero expert Lawrence Devincentz narrates a photo tour of the building on the blu ray of There’s Always Vanilla.

Vanilla was renamed and barely seen on release, but is now available as part of a boxset of Romero’s early works from Arrow Video, in ridiculously pristine 2K digital transfer. The Skybus is there too, a curio of Pittsburgh history caught on a few short minutes of film. Neglected back then, both seem considerably more interesting now.

‘There’s Always Vanilla’ is available on blu ray as part of Arrow’s ‘George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn’ box set, and will receive a standalone release later this year.

Mark Clapham used to work in rail regulation, but now writes things like this. He tweets as @markclapham.