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.


 

 
 
 
 

The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.


“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.