This map shows the price of a square foot of housing in every postcode in London

The central London section of the map. Image: Neal Hudson.

You know, I sometimes worry that my mental map of London’s property prices might be a bit simplistic. Okay, I know Bloomsbury, say, is more expensive than Barking. But which is better value? Where are you getting more for your money?

Well – enquiring minds need worry no longer, because housing analyst Neal Hudson, who used to work at Savills before he went rogue*, has just published this rather lovely map. It shows property prices per square foot in every London postcode: not the area ones, like N1 or E17, but the individual locations.

And it demonstrates, among other things, that, measured purely on the basis of size, homes in Barking are much better value than those in Bloomsbury. So as long as you’re not worried about location or facilities or that sort of thing, Barking is definitely better.

Bloomsbury and Barking, labelled to enable direct comparions. Sort of.

The map only shows postcodes inside Greater London (which, oddly, means that some homes in London E4, which are technically in Essex, aren’t included). As a result, you can see exactly how arbitrary the city boundaries are in a few places:

On this version I’ve labelled some of the contiguous suburbs that fall outside the city boundaries.

You can also see the surprisingly big areas of the city that done include any homes. In the centre, this is because of parks, or the offices of the City; but further out there’s a surprisng amount of industrial land (in the dark greys that mean “built up”) or open space (in the light grey that mean, well, not).

As to the prices themselves – as you’d expect, they’re highest in the centre. But the most expensive areas, in burning hot whites and yellows, also spread to the west into Kensington and Chelsea, and north into Hampstead.

The cheapest, meanwhile, are generally to be found to by the Thames to the east, especially in the boroughs of Barking and Bexley. In fact, the map shows at a glance many of the prejudices that have been built into London’s social geography for decades. North is more expensive than south; west more than east.

Probably the single most striking thing about the map is the way it highlights the way the character of the river changes as you travel across London. In the West, where the Thames is narrow, pretty and easily crossed, the most expensive properties are those by the river. In the east, where it’s wide, industrial and unbridged, it’s the cheapest.

The unadulterated version. Image: Getty.

Anyway, there’s no doubt loads more interesting stuff to find in here, if you’re minded to spend an hour looking (not least, the relative price in your own area). So why not play with the big version of the map on Hudson’s own website. You can also follow him on Twitter, and should, because he posts lovely maps like this surprisingly often.


*Freelance.

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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“Stop worrying about hairdressers”: The UK government has misdiagnosed its productivity problem

We’re going as fast as we can, here. Image: Getty.

Gonna level with you here, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I’m a huge fan of schadenfreude, so learning that it the government has messed up in a previously unsuspected way gives me this sort of warm glow inside. On the other hand, the way it’s been screwing up is probably making the country poorer, and exacerbating the north south divide. So, mixed reviews really.

Here’s the story. This week the Centre for Cities (CfC) published a major report on Britain’s productivity problem. For the last 200 years, ever since the industrial revolution, this country has got steadily richer. Since the financial crash, though, that seems to have stopped.

The standard narrative on this has it that the problem lies in the ‘long tail’ of unproductive businesses – that is, those that produce less value per hour. Get those guys humming, the thinking goes, and the productivity problem is sorted.

But the CfC’s new report says that this is exactly wrong. The wrong tail: Why Britain’s ‘long tail’ is not the cause of its productivity problems (excellent pun, there) delves into the data on productivity in different types of businesses and different cities, to demonstrate two big points.

The first is that the long tail is the wrong place to look for productivity gains. Many low productivity businesses are low productivity for a reason:

The ability of manufacturing to automate certain processes, or the development of ever more sophisticated computer software in information and communications have greatly increased the output that a worker produces in these industries. But while a fitness instructor may use a smartphone today in place of a ghetto blaster in 1990, he or she can still only instruct one class at a time. And a waiter or waitress can only serve so many tables. Of course, improvements such as the introduction of handheld electronic devices allow orders to be sent to the kitchen more efficiently, will bring benefits, but this improvements won’t radically increase the output of the waiter.

I’d add to that: there is only so fast that people want to eat. There’s a physical limit on the number of diners any restaurant can actually feed.

At any rate, the result of this is that it’s stupid to expect local service businesses to make step changes in productivity. If we actually want to improve productivity we should focus on those which are exporting services to a bigger market.  There are fewer of these, but the potential gains are much bigger. Here’s a chart:

The y-axis reflects number of businesses at different productivities, shown on the x-axis. So bigger numbers on the left are bad; bigger numbers on the right are good. 

The question of which exporting businesses are struggling to expand productivity is what leads to the report’s second insight:

Specifically it is the underperformance of exporting businesses in cities outside of the Greater South East that causes not only divergences across the country in wages and standards of living, but also hampers national productivity. These cities in particular should be of greatest concern to policy makers attempting to improve UK productivity overall.

In other words, it turned out, again, to the north-south divide that did it. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? This is my shocked face.

The best way to demonstrate this shocking insight is with some more graphs. This first one shows the distribution of productivity in local services business in four different types of place: cities in the south east (GSE) in light green, cities in the rest of the country (RoGB) in dark green, non-urban areas in the south east in purple, non-urban areas everywhere else in turquoise.

The four lines are fairly consistent. The light green, representing south eastern cities has a lower peak on the left, meaning slightly fewer low productivity businesses, but is slightly higher on the right, meaning slightly more high productivity businesses. In other words, local services businesses in the south eastern cities are more productive than those elsewhere – but the gap is pretty narrow. 

Now check out the same graph for exporting businesses:

The differences are much more pronounced. Areas outside those south eastern cities have many more lower productivity businesses (the peaks on the left) and significantly fewer high productivity ones (the lower numbers on the right).

In fact, outside the south east, cities are actually less productive than non-urban areas. This is really not what you’d expect to see, and no a good sign for the health of the economy:

The report also uses a few specific examples to illustrate this point. Compare Reading, one of Britain’s richest medium sized cities, with Hull, one of its poorest:

Or, looking to bigger cities, here’s Bristol and Sheffield:

In both cases, the poorer northern cities are clearly lacking in high-value exporting businesses. This is a problem because these don’t just provide well-paying jobs now: they’re also the ones that have the potential to make productivity gains that can lead to even better jobs. The report concludes:

This is a major cause for concern for the national economy – the underperformance of these cities goes a long way to explain both why the rest of Britain lags behind the Greater South East and why it performs poorly on a

European level. To illustrate the impact, if all cities were as productive as those in the Greater South East, the British economy would be 15 per cent more productive and £225bn larger. This is equivalent to Britain being home to four extra city economies the size of Birmingham.

In other words, the lesson here is: stop worrying about the productivity of hairdressers. Start worrying about the productivity of Hull.


You can read the Centre for Cities’ full report here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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