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.


Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.