Here’s what the public think of “metro mayors”

We have run out of ways of illustration devolution stories, so here is a kitten. Image: Getty.

London just had its mayoral election (we may have mentioned this). And next May, a slew of other English city regions will hold their own, electing their first “metro mayors”.

That is, at any rate, the plan. How many of the nine of so devolution deals currently under discussion actually get delivered is a slightly different question.

But anyway, let’s accentuate the positive, and assume these deals are actually going to happen. If they do, what will the public think of them? 

The Centre for Cities just commissioned ComRes to find out. Here’s what it found.

1) Most people haven’t noticed.

This is not, admittedly, how the CfC present these findings: it argues, instead, that the numbers actually look pretty good this far out from the election.

But nonetheless, a majority of those surveyed hadn’t noticed the impending arrival of a metro mayor at all.

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There’s also quite a gap in awareness. The Liverpool city region is reasonably conscious of the new mayor (perhaps because there already is a mayor of Liverpool). But Sheffield is surprisingly ignorant, given how long plans there have been on the table. This might be because the Sheffield City Region will include quick big rural areas a relatively long way from Sheffield – then again, it might not.

2) Most people prefer mayors to council leaders

A more positive message, for devolution fans. Once people are aware of the mayor, they apparently think they should outrank existing council leaders.

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There’s also less regional variation.

3) A lot of people want mayors to do things they can’t do

The new mayors will not have power over schools. Outside Manchester, they won’t have power over the NHS, social care or the emergency services, either.

And yet:

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This is either an encouraging sign that people want their mayors to be more powerful – or a recipe for disillusionment and frustration.

4) People are surprisingly keen on planning

Here’s what people say when prompted for their views on bits of policy the new mayors actually will control.

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That people are in favour of affordable housing is no surprise (at least, to us). The enthusiasm for “creating a city-region strategic plan” is perhaps less expected. I mean, we’re pleased, but.... what?

Just as striking in some ways is the relative lack of excitement about transport. Are urbanites now so used to driving everywhere now so unused to having access to decent public transport that it never even occurs to them to ask for it? Or are we just – gulp – nerds?

Here, for your delectation, is a map of the regions getting metro mayors:

And here's our most recent podcast, where we discuss this stuff and the New Statesman's Stephen Bush sings a rousing chorus of “metro, metro mayor”.

ComRes surveyed 2,500 people in the five biggest city regions expected to introduce metro mayors.

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

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


 

 
 
 
 

“Every twitch, breath or thought necessitates a contactless tap”: on the rise of the chain conffeeshop as public space

Mmmm caffeine. Image: Getty.

If you visit Granary Square in Kings Cross or the more recent neighbouring development, Coal Drops Yard, you will find all the makings of a public space: office-workers munching on their lunch-break sandwiches, exuberant toddlers dancing in fountains and the expected spread of tourists.

But the reality is positively Truman Show-esque. These are just a couple examples of privately owned public spaces, or “POPS”,  which – in spite of their deceptively endearing name – are insidiously changing our city’s landscape right beneath us.

The fear is that it is often difficult to know when you are in one, and what that means for your rights. But as well as those places the private sector pretends to be public space, the inverse is equally common, and somewhat less discussed. Often citizens, use clearly private amenities like they are public. And this is never more prevalent than in the case of big-chain coffeeshops.

It goes without saying that London is expensive: often it feels like every twitch, breath or thought necessitates a contactless tap. This is where Starbucks, Pret and Costa come in. Many of us find an alternative in freeloading off their services: a place to sit, free wifi when your data is low, or an easily accessible toilet when you are about in the city. It feels like a passive-aggressive middle-finger to the hole in my pocket, only made possible by the sheer size of these companies, which allows us to go about unnoticed. Like a feature on a trail map, it’s not just that they function as public spaces, but are almost universally recognised as such, peppering our cityscapes like churches or parks.

Shouldn’t these services really be provided by the council, you may cry? Well ideally, yes – but also no, as they are not under legal obligation to do so and in an era of austerity politics, what do you really expect? UK-wide, there has been a 13 per cent drop in the number of public toilets between 2010 and 2018; the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Bromley no longer offer any public conveniences.  


For the vast majority of us, though, this will be at most a nuisance, as it is not so much a matter of if but rather when we will have access to the amenities we need. Architectural historian Ian Borden has made the point that we are free citizens in so far as we shop or work. Call it urban hell or retail heaven, but the fact is that most of us do regularly both of these things, and will cope without public spaces on a day to day. But what about those people who don’t?

It is worth asking exactly what public spaces are meant to be. Supposedly they are inclusive areas that are free and accessible to all. They should be a place you want to be, when you have nowhere else to be. A space for relaxation, to build a community or even to be alone.

So, there's an issue: it's that big-chain cafes rarely meet this criterion. Their recent implementation of codes on bathroom doors is a gentle reminder that not all are welcome, only those that can pay or at least, look as if they could. Employees are then given the power to decide who can freeload and who to turn away. 

This is all too familiar, akin to the hostile architecture implemented in many of our London boroughs. From armrests on benches to spikes on windowsills, a message is sent that you are welcome, just so long as you don’t need to be there. This amounts to nothing less than social exclusion and segregation, and it is homeless people that end up caught in this crossfire.

Between the ‘POPS’ and the coffee shops, we are squeezed further by an ever-growing private sector and a public sector in decline. Gentrification is not just about flat-whites, elaborate facial hair and fixed-gear bikes: it’s also about privatisation and monopolies. Just because something swims like a duck and quacks like a duck that doesn’t mean it is a duck. The same can be said of our public spaces.