Local council wards are really very interesting, actually

The Highlands, home of big wards. Image: Getty.

Did you know that the UK’s biggest ward accounts for 2 per cent of the total area of the UK? You did? Ok then, did you know that only one UK ward out of more than 9,000 begins with “z”? Perhaps you did.

But did you know that “Plumpton, Streat, East Chiltington and St John (Without)” is the longest ward name in the UK, and also perhaps the best? How about the fact that there are 11 UK wards bigger than Greater London and the smallest ward in the country (in the City of London) is not very big at all – 0.044 km2 (about 6 football pitches). The ward that you’d most like to drink? Why, that’s the ward of “Speyside Glenlivet” (in Moray), surely.

Time for some maps now. They all have the name of the local authority they’re in in the top left, with the ward name along the bottom.

Not quite as big as Trinidad and Tobago, but close enough.

It’s small, ancient and has about 320 people.

Zetland ward, in Redcar and Cleveland.

If you’re a local councillor in the UK’s biggest ward you have an awful lot of ground to cover, as you can see below for the journey between Achiltibuie and Kinloch Hourn, which are both in the same ward but over three hours apart. Extra points if you can pronounce Achiltibuie (I can but I have a bit of an advantage on the Highland-place-names-as-Shibboleth thing).

The route between Achiltibuie and Kinloch Hourn, in the same ward. Image: Google Maps.

There are two really, really big wards in the UK. One is shown above: that’s Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh. The other is North, West and Central Sutherland. Both are in the north west Highlands, and are more than 4,800 km2 in size (that’s over 1,800 square miles, which is close to three times the size of Greater London, or 18 City of Edinburghs).

The biggest ones in other parts of the UK are a good bit smaller, and here they are below. Overall, the 10 biggest UK wards account for more than 10 per cent of the land area of the UK, and the 100 biggest account for just over 30 per cent of the UK’s land area. You could fit almost 3,000 of the smallest UK wards in Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh, but I don’t think it’s a very sensible idea so I’d advise against it.

By far the biggest ward in England.

Just a smidgen bigger than Torr Head and Rathlin.

The biggest ward in Wales is also a donut ward.

The other humongous ward. 

All this isn’t supposed to be profound or anything like that, just a bit of map trivia, so read on for a bit more about the little wards. The smallest wards in the UK are all in the City of London, and we’ve seen the smallest of those above (Queenhithe) so let’s look at smallest ones in different parts of the UK instead.

Northern Ireland’s smallest ward.

Scotland’s smallest ward.

The smallest ward in Wales.

Not the street of Charles Booth fame, but it is small.

Wards are actually very important though, and they represent a very important part of local democracy in the UK – so there are some practical implications to this kind of thing, particularly when you consider the different areas people represent and how widely they can vary, even within a single local authority. For example, in Northumberland the biggest ward is more than 1,100 times the size of the smallest. In the Highland Council area in Scotland, the biggest ward is over 1,300 times the size of the smallest.
But did you know that wards can also be mapped with a basemap in greyscale? You didn’t? Okay, here’s proof, with a selection of wards covering more than 100 km2.

Lots of big wards in this neck of the woods.

Not anywhere near Bolton.

Another donut ward - I’m not sure how many there actually are.

10th biggest ward in Northern Ireland.

Yes, the Isle of Skye is a single ward (pop about 10,500).

I like the name of this ward.

Notes: I used ward boundaries for 2018 from the ONS Open Geography Portal. This file contains 9,114 wards for the UK, with 7,446 in England, 462 in Northern Ireland, 354 in Scotland and 852 in Wales. Scotland has relatively few wards compared to Northern Ireland and England but I won’t go into that here.

My favourite ward? Not sure, but Aird and Loch Ness is definitely a contender – see below. It contains all of Loch Ness, is pleasingly-shaped and is only a little bit smaller than Luxembourg. Then there is “Highland” ward which is not in “Highland” (the council area) but is in the Highlands but in the Perth and Kinross council area. I have loads more of these maps but that’s enough for today.

The midgie capital of the world (at least in my experience).

Hmm.

 

Dr Alasdair Rae is a senior lecturer in the urban studies & planning department of the University of Sheffield. This article was originally posted on his blog, and is reposted here with the author's permission.

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Leeds is still haunted by its pledge to be the “Motorway City of the Seventies”

Oh, Leeds. Image: mtaylor848/Wikimedia Commons.

As the local tourist board will no doubt tell you, Leeds has much to be proud of: grandiose industrial architecture in the form of faux-Egyptian temples and Italian bell-towers; an enduring cultural legacy as the birthplace of Goth, and… motorways. But stand above the A58(M) – the first “urban motorway”  in the country – and you might struggle to pinpoint its tourist appeal.

Back in the 1970s, though, the city council was sufficiently gripped by the majesty of the motorways to make them a part of its branding. Letters sent from Leeds were stamped with a postmark proudly proclaiming the city's modernity: “Leeds, Motorway City of the Seventies”.

Image: public domain.

During the 1960s, post-war optimism and an appetite for grand civic projects saw the rapid construction of motorways across England. The construction of the M1 began in 1959; it reached Leeds, its final destination, in 1968. By the early 1970s the M62 was sweeping across Pennines, and the M621 loop was constructed to link it to Leeds city centre.

Not content with being the meeting point of two major motorways, Leeds was also the first UK city to construct a motorway through the city centre: the inner ring road, which incorporates the short motorway stretches of the A58(M) and the A64(M). As the council put it in 1971, “Leeds is surging forward into the Seventies”.

The driving force behind Leeds' love of motorways was a mix of civic pride and utopian city planning. Like many industrial cities in the North and Midlands, Leeds experienced a decline in traditional manufacturing during the 1960s. Its position at the centre of two major motorways seemed to offer a brighter future as a dynamic city open for trade, with the infrastructure to match. In response to the expansion of the roads, 1970s council planners also constructed an elevated pedestrian “skywalk” in an attempt to free up space for cars at ground level. Photos of Leeds from that time show a thin, white walkway running through blocky office buildings – perhaps not quite as extensive as the futuristic urban landscape originally envisaged by planners, but certainly a visual break with the past.

Fast forward to 2019 and Leeds’ efforts to become a “Motorway City” seems like a kitsch curiosity from a decade that was not always known for sustainable planning decisions. Leeds’s historic deference to the car has serious consequences in the present: in February 2019, Neville Street – a busy tunnel that cuts under Leeds station – was found to contain the highest levels of NO2 outside London.

City centre planners did at least have the foresight to sink stretches of the inner motorways below street level, leaving pedestrian routes largely undisturbed. Just outside the centre, though, the roads can be more disruptive. Sheepscar Interchange is a bewildering tangle of arterial roads, Armley Gyratory strikes fear into the hearts of learner drivers, and the M621 carves unsympathetically through inner-city areas of South Leeds with pedestrian access restricted to narrow bridges that heighten the sense of a fragmented landscape.

 

Leeds inner ring road in its cutting. Image: author provided.

 

The greatest problem for Yorkshire's “Motorway City” in 2019, however, is not the occasional intimidating junction, but the complete lack of an alternative to car travel. The dire state of public transport in Leeds has already been raised on these pages. In the early 20th century Leeds had one of the most extensive tram networks in the country. The last lines closed in 1959, the same year construction began on the A58m.


The short-sightedness of this decision was already recognised in the 1970s, as traffic began to build. Yet plans for a Leeds Supertram were rejected by successive Conservative and Labour governments unwilling to front the cost, even though smaller cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield were granted funding for light transport systems. Today, Leeds is the largest city in the EU without a mass transit system. As well as creating congestion, the lack of viable public transport options prevents connectivity: the city's bus network is reasonable, but weaker from East to West than North to South. As a non-driver, I've turned down jobs a short drive away that would be a logistical impossibility without a car.

Leeds' early enthusiasm for the motorway was perhaps premature, but there are things we can learn from the 1970s. Whatever else can be said about it, Leeds' city transport strategy was certainly bold – a quality in short supply today, after proposals for the supertram were watered down to a trolleybus system before being scrapped altogether in 2016. Leeds' rapid transformation in the 1960s and 70s, its grandiose visions of skywalks and dual carriageways, were driven by strong local political will. Today, the long-term transport strategy documents on Leeds City Council's website say more about HS2 than the need for a mass transit system within Leeds itself, and the council has been accused of giving up the fight for light rail and trams.

Whilst central government's refusal to grant funds is the greatest obstacle to Leeds' development, the local authority needs to be far more vocal in demanding the transport system the city deserves. Leeds' desire to be the Motorway City of the Seventies might look ludicrous today, but the political drive and utopian optimism that underpinned it does not.