London is funding the rest of the UK, and other things we just learned about the nation's taxes

A generic stock image to represent the concept of taxes. Image: Pixabay.

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. 

So those nice people at the Centre For Cities have just published a new report crunching the numbers on economy taxes – those relating to labour and property, basically – for 62 British cities, in the years from 2004-05 to 2014-15.

It’s packed full of interesting maps and charts and (spoilers) massively depressing statistics. Here's what we learnt.

In nearly a third of British cities, the tax take has fallen

The national picture on economy taxes is pretty encouraging. In 2004-05, they stood at £283bn; by 2014-15, they’d increased by 12 percent £317bn in 2014-5 (all figures in 2014-15 prices to make sure they're comparable). The decade in between those two stats included the worst recession in decades, so that doesn’t seem like bad going.

Look at individual cities, though, and the news is less good.

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In 20 out of 62 cities featured, the tax take has fallen. And those 20 include some biggies: Birmingham, Glasgow and Leeds.

There's a regional pattern to the figures

Well, two regional differences, really. Here’s a map:

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In an entirely shocking development, in England, the fastest growing tax bases are mostly in the south; the fastest shrinking ones mostly in the north. Up in Scotland, the divide is prosperous Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and shrinking Dundee and Glasgow.

I know, we were surprised too.

Tax per job seems to be falling is most cities

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In other words, an increase in employment is not necessarily leading to an increase in tax take. That might be a recession thing – or it might point to the rise of relatively low value jobs.

Britain is a freak country

Urban theorists like Geoffrey West like to talk about the agglomeration effect: larger cities mean more connections, which means more productivity, which means more growth.

Except, for some reason, in Britain. Over the last 10 years, much of the biggest growth in tax take has come in smaller cities. Larger cities – with the single exception of London – don't make the list:

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The Treasury is increasingly dependent on fewer, more productive cities

Although British cities are contributing almost the same share of taxes to the national pot as they did a decade ago, these tax revenues are being generated by fewer cities.

In 2004/05 the top 10 largest cities generated 66 per cent of all urban economy taxes, in 2014/15 this had risen to 68 per cent.

Which doesn't sound great if you want a resilient economy, but okay. More concerningly:

The Treasury is terrifyingly dependent on London

You know all that silly talk of London going independent to retain its EU membership? And you know the way much of the rest of the country's opinion seems to be "good riddance"?

Well:

In 2004/05, London generated as much economy tax as the next 24 largest cities combined (40 per cent of all economy taxes generated in cities). In 2014/15 the capital created almost as much tax as the next 37 cities (45 per cent of the urban total). This shift is even more staggering when looking specifically at labour taxes.

To make the same point another way: in 2004-05, London generated 25.3 per cent of the national tax take. Which was bad. In 2014-15, it generated 28.6 per cent of the national tax take. Which is worse.

Even the most expansive definitions of London, which cover the entire commuter belt, give the city a metropolitan population of around 13m. It is, at most, 20 per cent of the UK population. It's punching way above its weight

To hammer that home for a moment:

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Or, just in case you’re still not getting it:

There's a lot more in the report. There's even a whole new data tool to play with. This, for example, is an interactive map of percentage change in economy taxes generated in 62 British cities between 2004 and 2014.

You can check the new data tool out here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge

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Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.