You can map Britain and Ireland's population centres, using only the location of pubs

Britain and Ireland, seen through pubs. Image: Ramiro Gómez/Open Street Map.

We like a gratuitous map around here, and we haven't had one in a while. So here's the latest thing we've learnt through scouring the forgotten corners of the internet for random acts of cartography: you can map the population of the British Isles through the locations of pubs.

This map is the work of Ramiro Gómez, a Berlin-based software developer, who created it to show off the sort of visualisations you can pull out of open data sets.

Gómez started with a list of pub locations extracted from OpenStreetMap, did some fancy footwork to make sure he was only including pubs and not things like "public buildings", turned them into geographic coordinates, then restricted the data to coordinates located roughly in the region of British Isles rather than, say, Patagonia. (We've massively over simplified a lengthy and complicated process here. You can read about it in greater depth, and see some of the code Gómez used, on his website.)

Then he plotted the lot on a map. Here's the result.


You can instantly see quite how much of the British population is focused within a single 300 mile arc, running from the Kentish coast to Lancashire. Mapped through pubs, the major conurbations become solid blocks of blue: London in bottom left corner, Birmingham and the cities of the east Midlands above it, then the cities of the M62 belt further north.

Further west there are further blobs representing Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea; and in the north east a smaller conurbation, including Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

Something else that immediately pops out at you is how much the English like their seaside: you have to go far to the north to find an area where the gap between coastal pubs becomes more than a few miles wide.

The other countries of the UK are less thickly covered in blue dots – a reflection, we suspect, of the lower population densities at work. Mid Wales is practically empty, while the vast majority of Scotland's drinkers seems to be concentrated in its two largest cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, with smaller clusters representing Dundee and Aberdeen.

One surprise is Ireland, a country at least as famous for its pubs as its bigger neighbour, but which looks practically empty in comparison, and here only a few communities (Dublin, Limerick, Cork) are visible at a glance.

Again, this is probably a reflection simply of a lower population: there are under 7m people in the whole of Ireland, compared to more than 53m in England. But that doesn’t explain why Belfast, a city of around 500,000 people and the second largest on the island of Ireland, barely shows up at all. This might suggest some gaps in the data; or it might reflect some socio-economic phenomenon specific to Ulster that we're unaware of. Please do write in if you know.

EDIT TO ADD: One explanation for Ireland's relative de-pub-ulation seems to be gaps in the data: this chap from County Monaghan thinks that some whole counties may be missing. This is possibly the result of Open Street Map, which relies on user contributions for its accuracy. Bummer.

One last thought. We've asked before whether the M62 belt, from Liverpool to Sheffield, should be considered a single conurbation for some purposes. At the time, angry northerners got in touch to point out that there was a significant gap between Manchester and Leeds, thanks to the Pennines.

You can see this on the map, where suddenly, in the middle of the one of the bits of the British Isles that's most densely populated with pubs, you find an area almost entirely devoid of them.

Maybe, just maybe, we were wrong.

Thanks to Ramiro Gómez for allowing us to publish this map. You can read more about his work, and even buy a copy of the map as a poster, by visiting his site.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

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