Leeds vs Bradford: How a tale of two cities shows the need for place-based growth strategies

Leeds Town Hall. Image: public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“You can smell the money there as soon as you get off the train.” That was how one Bradford resident described nearby Leeds, in Demos’ latest research on cities and inclusive growth.

Alas, it reflected a widespread sentiment. The Bradford citizens we interviewed were not resentful of Leeds – nor were they relentlessly negative about their own city’s relative prospects. Nevertheless, it was hard not to observe the quiet, phlegmatic acceptance of a pecking order. As one citizen put it, “Bradford is totally different [to Leeds]. It’s a poorer city with less opportunity because it has not modernised as much.”

To be clear: both of West Yorkshire’s principal cities have improved significantly in this year’s Demos and PwC Good Growth for Cities 2017In fact, all UK cities improved on last year’s results with Leeds ranking as Britain’s second most improved city, after Birmingham. But when it comes to their overall fortunes, Leeds and Bradford are, once again, contrasting. 

One big reason for this is social mobility. Whilst Bradford trails Leeds across most metrics, it exhibits a particular weakness on skills and new business starts (our two proxies for social mobility). In terms of the latter, citizens regularly complained about the “decline” or “deterioration” of the city centre. As one citizen put it, “Bradford has a dying city centre. It’s a shame but it is definitely deteriorating – it does not compare to Leeds. 


Contrastingly, Leeds’ citizens saw the city centre’s commercial cloud as something which made the city an “amazing place to live in”, driving a strongly optimistic outlook regarding the city’s economic prospects. 

Yet it is the educational outlook that should most concern West Yorkshire’s city leaders. When asked about its education system, Bradford citizens often pointed to stark divisions in the cities schools: “There are the areas where the good schools are. But then we’ve got schools where there are empty spaces; we’ve got schools where English is not their first language for the vast majority.” 

More worrying still is the widespread concern about a local ‘brain-drain’ effect between Bradford and Leeds. Most young people we interviewed were happy with the range of opportunities on offer in Bradford – but this did not translate to optimism about their ability to get on in the city’s labour market.

Most citizens saw the magnetic pull of Leeds – particularly for higher skilled work – as almost inevitable: “The professional people from Bradford have all moved to Leeds. And the big firms. I don’t think we can compete any more. It is what it is, really. There are certainly more opportunities in Leeds.”

This is the challenge faced by city and combined authority leaders when it comes to raising social mobility and nurturing genuinely inclusive growth: that the local migration of skills and opportunity can, even at a micro-scale, accentuate social division and poor outcomes.

True, the contemporary move towards combined authorities and wider city regions can, in theory, mitigate this. Better for poorer areas like Bradford to have a formalised relationship with economically dynamic ones like Leeds. But without the right policy mix then economic dynamism has a tendency to cluster. 

One look at the rampant regional inequality afflicting the UK – the worst in the OECD group of developed economies, and getting worse – demonstrates the problem. The equitable sharing of success should be the founding principle of any successful place-based public policy approach; this should be the basis, at the risk of sounding overly grandiose, of the nation state itself. But what do we see when we look at the UK as a whole? Insufficiently challenged by countervailing policy, success is seeking out itself.

Make no mistake: there is no evidence this is happening in Leeds and Bradford at the moment – both cities have improved on our metric. Indeed, given those parlous OECD statistics, arguably British city leadership is doing a lot better at embedding inclusive growth than national policymakers, across the board.

But our research does underline the complex nature of trying to deliver effective, place-based strategies in a way that does not merely shift inclusive growth or social mobility opportunities between areas.

Of course, Bradford has just received one of the government’s new Opportunity Areas, precisely to help raise social mobility outcomes in the city. The lesson from Good Growth for Cities 2017 is that this must be aligned with a comprehensive, place-based approach to inclusive growth across the whole of the West Yorkshire region. 

Alan Lockey is head of modern economy at Demos.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.