Where’s the best British city to survive the apocalypse?

Oh, yay. Image: Getty.

Times are tough in the world of international relations. Kim Jong-un rubs his hands and markets tremble as President Trump’s diminutive digits hover, wotsit like, over the nuclear button.

Citymetric has already explored how nuclear bombardment could affect Earth’s major cities and those most likely to witness nuclear war. But where is the best place to be in the event of annihilation? Not merely when the bombs are dropping – but in the dreadful aftermath as politics collapses, agriculture withers and society disintegrates.

Picture the scene. Perhaps North Korea has decided to use the UK as a test case. Perhaps Donald Trump has a particularly acrimonious falling out with Sadiq Khan and unleashes hell. Whatever the reason, armageddon has arrived and Britain is the theatre.

Ostensibly, all hope is lost. But keep this handy guide in your bookmarks folder in the event of calamity. It might just give you the edge when the end times ensue.

Detonation

The discerning househunter knows that swerving catastrophe comes at a price. Once a bonus, a home combining cost efficiency and minimal likelihood of evisceration is now a necessity.

eMoov’s map of home buying options outside nuclear impact zones offers some handy insights. Unfortunately, nearly everywhere south of Scotland is out of action by their reckoning. Exeter and Truro escape the Plymouth radiation zone on a good day. Carlisle and Lancaster deserve honourable mentions, but are uncomfortably close to Newcastle and Manchester’s respective obliterations.

The really savvy apocalypse avoiders should get out of England entirely and head to Inverness. It’s cheap, has a lovely castle and even a prison for locking up the inevitable looters. If there is a better place to be as the missiles are dropping, I can’t think of it.

Detonation + 1 hour

But what if a missile goes astray? In the immediate moments following meltdown, nowhere is truly safe – an action plan is required.

WMDs carry with them the risk of radiation poisoning. But experts say it’s better to risk a little exposure while finding sanctuary than remain somewhere flimsy for the long haul.

Nuclear shelters, both mothballed and functioning, are dotted around the country. Although reserved for use by military personnel, let us assume that, if cities were being burned off the map, this conventionally miserly bunch would extend the hand of hospitality to the rest of us.

The main contenders are Bath and London. The latter is an obvious one – with bunkers available in the centre (such as the Pindar military citadel beneath Whitehall) as well as more peripheral areas (see Horsham’s Central Government War Headquarters), there are refuge opportunities aplenty.

The former is a bit riskier, but swashbuckling survivors are well rewarded. Civil Defence Today lists Basil Hill Barracks and the “infamous Corsham Computer Centre” as viable options. It’s also home to the now defunct Burlington Bunker (very much the Rolls Royce of wartime getaways in its day).

York’s Cold War Bunker has been out of action for some time but may still work in a pinch, as would Birmingham and Manchester’s telephone exchanges. But Bath and London’s combination of quality and quantity make them ideal destinations for dusting off the radiation and hunkering down for the collapse of civilisation.

Detonation +1 week

Congratulations! You have survived for a whole week.

But you aren’t out of the woods yet. Perhaps you’ve run out of socks, or need a shower, or have already eaten your granny and are on the prowl for something meatier. It’s not ideal, but if a mad dash for supplies is the only option then you need to know where to go.

London’s density of supermarkets makes it a strong choice – but its dense population means a higher attendant likelihood of violence breaking out. The apocalypse, I imagine, will be stressful enough without having to fight over a sausage roll with famished irradiated Cockneys.

You might more profitably consider Edinburgh: it has the highest number of Sainsbury’s and Tesco local stores per capita of any city in Britain, according to the Scottish Green party. Retail consultant CACI also touts Canterbury as one of the UK’s most over-serviced supermarket cities, with over 1m square feet of supermarket space in the Canterbury postcode alone.

So where are the main contenders at this early stage? Nowhere is perfect. Peripheral cities are unlikely targets but ill-equipped to deal with a possible onslaught. Core cities are often built with annihilation in mind precisely because their inhabitants are at the greatest immediate risk.

The real test comes when the dust settles and people emerge from their bunkers to rebuild society – or contend with its collapse.


Detonation +1 year

Now we’re firmly in the realm of science fiction, there are multiple schools of thought on what to do and where to go when you’re one of the few hardy remnants of humanity.

Perhaps you should get as far away from the main disaster zones as possible. Assuming the UK’s most populous cities are the top candidates for dissolving into widespread looting and pillaging, the appeal of somewhere like Inverness is enhanced significantly.

Or maybe the opposite is more plausible. Concerted efforts to restore order are more likely to get going in the nation’s capital before anywhere else.

One compromise I came up with was to head for somewhere reasonably agricultural and therefore self-sustaining. London, Bath and Edinburgh, home to some of the country’s biggest urban farms, all boost their cases in this respect. But, with nuclear winter setting in, a more radical solution is required. Tinned goods are the way to go.

Wigan is home to Heinz’s biggest UK factory, producing over 1bn tins a year. However, equidistant from targets Manchester and Liverpool, it’s likely to be a Mecca for hungry hangers-on.

Consider instead their Worcester plant: although smaller, you could trek there after sheltering for a while in Bath and enjoy a delicious post-apocalyptic minestrone and baked bean banquet until the chaos blows over.

The verdict

As Donald Trump flits between scandals faster than he does communications directors, catastrophe is off the cards for now. But with megalomaniacs in charge of the world’s WMD arsenals, scares will surely become more frequent.

My view is there’s a lot to be said for moving around a bit come Doomsday. If you start off in Bath you’re unlikely to be instantly eviscerated, then can progress to one of the city’s fabulous bunkers pending further developments. If nothing changes after a few months, the provision preservation paradise of Worcester is a relatively short trip away. It’s a strategy that requires going off the beaten track and taking some risks with radiation, but strikes quite a good balance between immediate and long run survival.

Overall there are really no winners in an apocalypse situation. One thing I am convinced of is that city-dwellers are the biggest losers of all. If you really want to watch the calamity unfold from a safe distance, you’re better off evacuating the mainland entirely.

What about seeking asylum in Sealand or Sark? Some say the UK’s extant feudal enclaves don’t have much going for them in times of geopolitical stability – but think how urban and politically innovative they will seem when nuclear war has reduced Parliament to dust and capitalism to a memory.

Following Armageddon, the security of serfdom may be a blessing. The choice between peasantry on an island and a bunker in Bath is a tricky one, but soon it will face us all.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook

 
 
 
 

Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.


There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).