Is the Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-Sheffield corridor a single urban region?

The Northern Powerhouse region, Britain's answer to the Ruhr? Image: Google Maps.

On Tuesday, we ran an article on Alasdair Rae's maps of English urban areas, in which we examined the different levels of coherence visible in different metropolitan regions.

What we ignored, though, is that the four northern areas are actually adjacent to one another. In some ways they make up a single urban region, stretching across the Pennines from Liverpool to Wakefield: the multi-centred urban belt that George Osborne is hoping to turn into his "northern powerhouse".

Rae's data was in distinct metropolitan chunks so we've combined them ourselves. The results are no doubt imperfect (and if you spot any major clunkers we're happy to amend), but you get the idea:

This complicates the idea of city regions even further. That blue blob is the town of Hebden Bridge which, officially, is part of West Yorkshire. Look at the region as a whole, though, and it's not obvious it “belongs” to Leeds any more than it belongs to Manchester (thanks to a direct train line, residents commute to both). Once again you can see quite how hard it is to draw a line around an area and say “this is an English city”.

UPDATE: Dr Rae has since been in touch on Twitter to point that he, er, had already done this properly. We're leaving our version in place, if only because it took ages, but his is very obviously better, not least because it includes local authority boundaries, enabling you to see the shape of the region much more clearly. Here it is:

There’s one other thing to notice about this map. The combined population of this northern belt is around 7.6m, and their combined area is 5502km2: that gives the region a population density of around 1381 people per km2.

Greater London fits around 8.6m people into less than a third of the area (1569km2): a population density of 5481 people per km2.

This is probably pretty much what you'd expect, but nonetheless, it's worth hammering home. To emphasise quite how much more densely populated London is than the trans-pennine belt, we've shoved the four northern metropolitan counties together into a single lump, and placed them next to the capital:

We often say we could easily accommodate more people in London if we felt the need. That's true. But it's even more true of the north.


The Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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