Eight thoughts on YouGov’s polling on what Britons think about London

How could anyone hate this, eh? Cor. Image: Getty.

Those click hungry cats over at YouGov have done it again – conducting a poll that looks suspiciously like it only exists because it’s the sort of thing that might go viral. Let’s gloss over the fact I fall for it every single time and get down into the weeds.

This time, it’s the capital that the polling firm has been polling about – basically, do people in different bits of the country like it?

Here are the results, in the form of a map:

And here are some of my thoughts about that map:

1. London is surprisingly popular

The capital has a net favourability rating of +17: while 28 per cent have an unfavourable view of the capital, 45 per cent have a favourable one. (The rest are various flavours of “don’t know”.)

I’m genuinely a bit surprised by this: maybe I’m just a delicate flower, but the impression I’ve had of late is that everyone outside the M25 bloody hates us. So this is a pleasant surprise.

2. It gets less popular the further you go from it

Generally, the southern and eastern bits of England – those closest to London – have broadly favourable views of it. Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and the North West and far north of England have broadly unfavourable views.

This might go some way to explain London’s unexpected lack of unpopularity: the population of Great British is clustered towards the south eastern end of the island, so I’d guess that something like 60 per cent of the total must live in the broadly green bit.

3. Poorer areas are less keen on London

Scotland and Wales plausibly have their own reasons for disliking the capital, not least that it serves as a symbol of English domination. So set those aside, and look instead at the English regions with the most negative view of it: Cornwall, the north west, the north east... All are on the wrong side of the major faultline running down the middle of the British economy. Even in Yorkshire, which is broadly positive to the capital, it’s South Yorkshire, the most depressed part of the county, which is by far the most negative.

There are exceptions, like affluent Cheshire; by and large, though, this is a gazetteer of the parts of England which have struggled most economically over the past few decades.

Since another way of describing the north-south divide is “London’s dominance of the British economy”, it’s perhaps no surprise that residents of these regions don’t think much of the capital.

4. In the south east itself, the results are weird

The economic explanation breaks down when you get closer to the capital. It’s very unclear to me why Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Sussex – rich regions all – should like the capital less than the other counties around them.

The only explanation that comes to mind is that they’re all places that attract migrants from elsewhere in Britain (top universities, good jobs, etc.), so maybe they bring their views with them. But I’m reaching.

5. People who don’t like London tend not to like cities

One of the largest differences between the pro- and anti-London groups is their response to the statement, “I think cities are grey and depressing”: 61 per cent of London-haters agree with that one, compared to 35 per cent of everyone else. In the same way, 53 per cent of anti-Londoners agree with the statement, “I could never live in a big city”.

6. There is such a thing as a self-hating Londoner

Oh hang on, no, it’s actually other people they hate.

The research also finds that anti-Londoners are nearly twice as likely to believe that multiculturalism has had a negative impact on the UK as everyone else: 57 per cent to 32 per cent. To quote the write up:

“This relationship holds true across all parts of Britain, and is especially strong amongst Londoners who are themselves anti-London.”

In other words, of those who live in Greater London and think multiculturalism was a bad idea, more than two-thirds of them also have an unfavourable view of the capital. Whatever could it mean.

7. We can fix this, if we want to

I quote:

“Having lived in London seems to boost people’s opinions of the city: 43 per cent of pro-Londoners have done so (with 21 per cent living there currently), while only 23 per cent of anti-Londoners have ever resided in the city (with 6% living there currently).”

So, all we need to do to get everyone to love London is to force everyone to live there for a bit.

I see no possible downsides to this plan.


8. YouGov is trolling the Celtic nations

The map stops in the central belt of Scotland, effectively cutting off everything north of the Forth Bridge. It doesn’t feature Northern Ireland at all.

I assume there’s a boring explanation for this (“It’s harder to poll Northern Ireland, and the map was too small when we included all of Scotland”) but it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing calculated to go down brilliantly in the non-English bits of the UK.

Anyway, this was fun. Not quite as fun as the time they commissioned a poll on whether the DLR is a tube just to annoy me, but fun nonetheless.

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

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What does the Greater Manchester Spatial Plan mean for the region’s housing supply and green belt?

Manchester. Image: Getty.

We’re not even halfway through January and we’ve already seen one of the biggest urban stories of the year – the release of Greater Manchester’s new spatial plan for the city-region. The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) sets an ambitious target to build more than 200,000 homes over the next 18 years.

Despite previous statements indicating greenbelt development was off the table, the plan allows for some moderate easing of greenbelt, combined with denser city centre development. This is sensible, pragmatic and to be welcomed but a question remains: will it be enough to keep Manchester affordable over the long-term?

First, some history on Manchester’s housing strategy: This is not the first iteration of the controversial GMSF. The first draft was released by Greater Manchester’s council leaders back in October 2016 (before Andy Burnham was in post), and aimed to build 227,000 houses by 2037. Originally, it proposed releasing 8.2 per cent of the green belt to provide land for housing. Many campaigners opposed this, and the newly elected mayor, Andy Burnham, sent the plan back to the drawing board in 2017.

The latest draft published this week contains two important changes. First, it releases slightly less greenbelt land than the original plan, 4.1 per cent of the total, but more than Andy Burnham previously indicated he would. Second, while the latest document is still ambitious, it plans for 26,000 fewer homes over the same period than the original.

To build up or to build out?

In many cities, the housing supply challenge is often painted as a battle-ground between building high-density homes in the city centre or encroaching on the green belt. Greater Manchester is fortunate in that it lacks the density of cities such as London – suggesting less of a confrontation between people who what to build up and people who want to build out.

Prioritising building on Greater Manchester’s plentiful high-density city centre brownfield land first is right and will further incentivise investment in public transport to reduce the dependence of the city on cars. It makes the goal in the mayor’s new transport plan of 50 per cent of all journeys in Greater Manchester be made on foot, bikes or public transport by 2040 easier to realise.

However, unlike Greater London’s greenbelt which surrounds the capital, Greater Manchester’s green belt extends deep into the city-region, making development on large amounts of land between already urbanised parts of the city-region more difficult. This limits the options to build more housing in parts of Greater Manchester close to the city centre and transport nodes. The worry is that without medium-term reform to the shape of Manchester’s green belt, it may tighten housing supply in Manchester even more than the green belt already does in places such as London and York. In the future, when looking to undertake moderate development on greenbelt land, the mayor should look to develop in these areas of ‘interior greenbelt’ first.

Greater Manchester’s Green Belt and Local Authority Boundaries, 2019.

Despite the scale of its ambition, the GMSF cannot avoid the sheer size of the green belt forever: it covers 47 per cent of the total metropolitan area). In all likelihood, plans to reduce the size of the green belt by 2 per cent will need to be looked at again once the existing supply of brownfield land runs low – particularly if housing demand over the next 18 years is higher than the GMSF expects, which should be the case if the city region’s economy continues to grow.

An example of a successful political collaboration

The GMSF was a politically pragmatic compromise achieved through the cooperation of the metropolitan councils and the mayoral authority to boost the supply of homes. It happened because Greater Manchester’s mayor has an elected mandate to implement and integrate the GMSF and the new transport plan.

Other cities and the government should learn from this. The other metro mayors currently lacking spatial planning powers, in Tees Valley and the West Midlands, should be gifted Greater Manchester-style planning powers by the government so they too can plan and deliver the housing and transport their city-regions need.

Long-term housing strategies that are both sustainable and achievable need to build both up and out. In the short-term Greater Manchester has achieved this, but in the future, if its economic success is maintained, it will need to be bolder on the green belt than the proposals in the current plan. By 2037 Manchester will not face a trade-off between high-density flats in the city centre or green belt reform – it will need to do both.  If the city region is to avoid the housing problems that bedevil London and other successful cities, policy makers need to be ready for this.

Anthony Breach is an economic analyst at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.