The official boundaries of the city of Liverpool are far too small – and it matters

Liverpool from Everton Park. Image: Getty.

In April I made the case for a bigger Liverpool City Region (let’s call it Greater Liverpool to avoid confusion). This month, I’ve decided to return to one of my favourite subjects: size.

The City of Liverpool local authority has an area of 112km2. The City of Leeds local authority area is 552 km2 – nearly five times as big.

Does this matter? Yes. In fact, when you consider the fact High Speed 2 is projected to serve the latter and not the former, it seems to matter a very great deal.

The base level for a lot of statistical analysis of city regions is local authority area or borough. These are then sometimes combined with neighbouring boroughs to produce statistics for pseudo-conurbations; the resulting statistics are then often used by central government to allocate resources. (All of the statistics referenced in this article were sourced directly from the Office for National Statistics.)

So the fact Leeds is bigger means it has a massive in-built advantage over other, less generously defined, cities, even if the latter are more contiguously urban. Indeed, the City of Leeds local authority area actually includes not only large rural areas, but also towns which are not physically part of the Leeds contiguous urban area at all.  

So what do the statistics tell us about the cities of Liverpool and Leeds in their current forms?

The easiest way to even things up, to help us to compare like with like, is to add neighbouring boroughs to Liverpool, until it’s the same size as Leeds.

Then we can revise and compare the above numbers again and get a truer picture of the relative performance of each place. 

The City of Liverpool is 112km2; Wirral Metropolitan Borough is 157km2; Knowsley MB is 87km2; St Helens MB is 136km2; Halton is 79km2. That is a total of 571km2.

The combined statistics for this pseudo-Liverpool – which is actually the official Liverpool City Region, minus the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton – are as follows:

The resulting numbers show that this pseudo-Liverpool local authority area is of a similar physical size to the City of Leeds, and has a much better GVA and a much larger population. That suggests that Liverpool deserves at least the same amount of investment and opportunity as Leeds. It goes someway to proving the old adage, popularised by Mark Twain, that: “there are lies, damned lies and statistics”. 

Unfortunately, misleading statistics can have a profoundly negative impact on the life opportunities of enormous numbers of people. So why doesn’t central government try to do something to level the playing field? Perhaps it could treat the area served by the Liverpool Underground, centred on Liverpool city centre, as a single city for statistical purposes – and use that when making its investment decisions.

For example, here is a map with a 20 mile radius circle drawn around Liverpool Town Hall. It looks uncannily like Greater Liverpool as referenced above and, indeed, correlates rather well with map of the Liverpool underground:

This pseudo-Liverpool would be the largest Core Cities local authority area in the UK, with the largest population, making this newly identified pseudo-Liverpool local authority area the UK’s most significant city after the four capital cities. So, bring on the appropriate level of central government largesse and respect, I say – not to mention the avalanche of inward investment.

For completeness, here are the physical sizes of all of the UK Core Cities local authority areas in ascending order of size. The obvious question is: why are the Yorkshire ones so generously allocated?

  • Nottingham – 75km2
  • Bristol – 110 km2
  • Liverpool – 112km2
  • Newcastle – 114km2
  • Manchester – 116km2
  • Cardiff – 142km2
  • Glasgow – 175km2
  • Birmingham – 268km2
    Sheffield – 368km2
  • Leeds – 552km2

Incidentally, as forecast in June, HM Revenue & Customs has now signed a 25 year lease for India Buildings in Liverpool city centre, to be used as one of its 13 national hubs. Now all we need is for many thousands more Civil Service jobs to be moved to the eminently suitable Liverpool city centre, and we will be well on our way to becoming a new London.

Let’s hope Liverpolitan Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry gives them a big nudge in our direction.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’.

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



What’s up with Wakanda’s trains? On public transport in Black Panther

The Black Panther promotional poster. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Black Panther is one of the best reviewed superhero films of all time. It’s instantly become a cultural touchstone for black representation in movies, while shining a positive light on a continent almost totally ignored by Hollywood. But never mind all that – what about the trains?

The film takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda, a small, technologically advanced nation whose power comes from its main natural resource: huge supplies of a magical metal called vibranium. As is often the case in sci-fi, “technologically advanced” here means “full of skyscrapers and trains”. In other words, perfect Citymetric territory.

Here’s a mostly spoiler-free guide to Black Panther’s urbanism and transport.

City planning

It’s to the credit of Black Panther’s crew that there’s anything to talk about here at all. Fictional cities in previous Marvel films, such as Asgard from the Thor films or Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t feel like real places at all, but collections of random monuments joined together by unwalkably-wide and sterile open spaces.

Wakanda’s capital, the Golden City, seems to have distinct districts and suburbs with a variety of traditional and modern styles, arranged roughly how you’d expect a capital to be – skyscrapers in the centre, high-rise apartments around it, and what look like industrial buildings on its waterfront. In other words, it’s a believable city.

It’s almost a real city. Image: Marvel/Disney

We only really see one area close-up: Steptown, which according to designer Ruth Carter is the city’s hipster district. How the Golden City ended up with a bohemian area is never explained. In many cities, these formed where immigrants, artists and students arrived to take advantage of lower rents, but this seems unlikely with Wakanda’s stable economy and zero migration. Did the Golden City gentrify?

Urban transport

When we get out and about, things get a bit weirder. The narrow pedestrianised sand-paved street is crowded and lined with market stalls on both sides, yet a futuristic tram runs right down the middle. The tram’s resemblance to the chunky San Francisco BART trains is not a coincidence – director Ryan Coogler is from Oakland.

Steptown Streetcar, with a hyperloop train passing overhead. Image: Marvel/Disney.

People have to dodge around the tram, and the street is far too narrow for a second tram to pass the other way. This could be a single-track shuttle (like the former Southport Pier Tram), a one-way loop (like the Detroit People Mover) or a diversion through narrow streets (like the Dublin Luas Cross City extension). But no matter what, it’s a slow and inefficient way to get people around a major city. Hopefully there’s an underground station lurking somewhere out of shot.

Over the street runs a *shudder* hyperloop. If you’re concerned that Elon Musk’s scheme has made its way to Wakanda, don’t worry – this train bears no resemblance to Musk’s design. Rather, it’s a flying train that levitates between hoops in the open air. It travels very fast – too fast for urban transport, since it crosses a whole neighbourhood in a couple of seconds – and it doesn’t seem to have many stops, even at logical interchange points where the lines cross. Its main purpose is probably to bring people from outlying suburbs into the centre quickly.

There’s one other urban transport system seen in the film: as befitting a major riverside city, it has a ferry or waterbus system. We get a good look at the barges carrying tribal leaders to the ceremonial waterfalls, but overhead shots show other boats on the more mundane business of shuttling people up and down the river.

Transport outside the city

Unfortunately there’s less to say here. Away from the city, we only see people riding horses, following cattle-drawn sleds, or simply walking long distances. This is understandable given Wakanda’s masquerading as a developing country, but it makes the country very urban centric. Perhaps that’s why the Jabari hate the other tribes so much – poor transport investment means the only way to reach them is a narrow, winding mountain pass.

The one exception is in freight transport. Wakanda has a ridiculously developed maglev network for transporting vibranium ore. This actually follows a pattern seen in a lot of real African countries: take a look at a map of the continent and you’ll see most railways run to the coast.

Image: Bucksy/Wikimedia Commons.

These are primarily freight railways built to transport resources from mines and plantations to ports, with passenger transport an afterthought.

A high-speed maglev seems like overkill for carrying ore, especially as the film goes out of its way to point out that vibranium is too unstable to take on high-speed trains without careful safety precautions. Nevertheless, the scene where Shuri and Ross geek out about these maglevs might just be the single most relatable in any Marvel movie.

A very extravagant freight line. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Perhaps this all makes sense though. Wakanda is still an absolute monarchy, and without democratic input its king is naturally going to choose exciting hyperloop and maglev projects over boring local and regional transport links.

Here’s hoping the next Black Panther film sees T’Challa reforming Wakanda’s government, and then getting really stuck into double-track improvements to the Steptown Streetcar.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray tweets as @stejormur.

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