Everyone wants to build houses, and five other things we learned from the first UK City Leaders’ Survey

Liverpool, which is a city. Image: Getty.

Something unusual happened in British politics over the last few weeks: someone bothered to ask city leaders what they think.

The inaugural UK City Leaders’ Survey, conducted by the Centre for Cities and those cheeky, publicity hungry tykes at Arup, invited views from the leadership of 63 cities, whether metro mayors, mayors or council leaders. Inspired by the Menino Survey of Mayors conducted by researchers at Boston University, the survey symbolises the growing influence of urban leaders in this ridiculously over-centralised country of ours. We at CityMetric are quite in favour of this, for the understandable reason that we, too, need to eat.

The results, the survey authors stress, are not statistically representative: the response rate was about a quarter, and the findings are indicative rather than scientific. But they do give some indication of what city leaders are worrying about at the moment.

So, what did we learn – and are there any pretty charts to illustrate it?

1) Building housing is everything

Housing and regeneration was identified, unprompted, as the biggest overall economic priority for the majority of leaders surveyed,” the report says.

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And within the housing sector, “supply was the overwhelming priority”.

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That’s nine out of ten respondents prioritising adding to their housing supply. Nearly half wanted to build more council homes.

So: the prime minister’s recent promise that she’d lift the borrowing cap to enable councils to build homes seems likely to be embraced with open arms.

2) Improving skills is everything else

Leaders highlighted inclusive growth as another of their broader priorities,” the report says. “When asked to provide more detail in this area, they tended to specify adult learning.

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Again, that’s quite the lead adult education has over other growth priorities, and the runner up is under 18 education. Both are running way ahead of other priorities including transport and public realm.

Adult education is an area that’s long been neglected by national government: governments of all parties have been far more concerned with schools and universities (which ministers and columnists vaguely understand) than further education or technical colleges (which they don’t). So it’s interesting to note that local leaders are worrying about this gap.

That said...

3) But care is, annoyingly, everything too

...it’s not clear they have the money to do anything about any of this.

Social care was identified by almost every leader as being the public service under the most pressure. This was also the policy area where most leaders would wish to see further funding allocated through the upcoming Spending Review.

This is unsurprising, of course, but here’s the kicker:

In turn, many were prepared to sacrifice funding in other areas, such as adult skills, to achieve this.

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It’s very easy to say that, were money available, you’d to increase spending on adult education. But the money isn’t available – and preventing adult social care services from falling over is a far more pressing problem.

You can see that from quite how universal concern about social care now is:

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That’s damn near unanimity. This is a problem.

4) Views on transport vary

Leaders tended to identify roads within their area and supporting a shift from cars to other modes of transport (such as public transport) as the two key areas.

In other words, everyone either wants to make things easier for cars or for things that aren’t cars.

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Glad we cleared that up.

5) City leaders are fretting about climate change

Of the leaders surveyed, 79 per cent agreed to either spending money or sacrificing revenues for the sake of mitigating climate change. Only one leader strongly disagreed with this.

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These findings are strikingly similar to those the Menino Survey found when it asked surveyed US mayors:

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I’m reminded of the late Ben Barber’s comment about why he believed mayors would save the world. National governments can mess around with ideas like sovereignty. Cities actually have to make sure stuff works.

6) On funding, they value certainty over flexibility

Would city leaders like to be able to move money around, based on local need? Or would they rather have longer budgets to give them certainty about how much they’ll have?

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That said, the difference is pretty narrow. I suspect a lot of city leaders would ideally have both.

The really interesting thing about work like this, of course, is how its findings change over time. So here’s to the 2019 UK City Leaders’ Survey. Nice to have something to get excited about each December isn’t it?


You can read the whole survey here.

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

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.