Which parts of Great Britain are furthest from a train station?

A station, of the sort you won't find in much of the Highlands or West Wales. Image: Getty.

In my ongoing quest to answer the burning questions of our times, I decided to use some data-based boffinry to expxlore some issues I sometimes think of when zipping up and down the country on the train. I'm sure I can't be the only one, so here are some results that I've had saved up for a while.

The first question is, “Which parts of Great Britain are furthest from a train station?” The second is, “How many train stations are there in each local authority or parliamentary constituency?” Yes, I know I need to get out more – but if you're reading this you probably do too, so take a look at the first two maps below.

Not exactly earth shattering, but some interesting snippets.

You can click on this to see a bit more detail.

Not entirely unexpected patterns here, really. I did this in part to use as teaching material in the future (it uses a basic GIS operation), and I set the boundary at 30km just because it produces an interesting result.

You can see the area around Bude in North Cornwall is England's largest area without a station. This issue has been raised in parliament many times, including in 2014 by the previous MP for the area.

The furthest areas from stations are all in the mostly sparsely populated north and west Highlands, but also in and about the Cairngorms and the Borders – though the latter has just got a lot smaller thanks to the re-opening of the Borders Railway. West Wales and a bit of North Wales also fall off the map. Lastly, there’s a tiny sliver of land in Yorkshire that sits just outside this 30km buffer distance.

Some zoomed in maps follow:

This is just on the Scotland-England border.

Around Bude in North Cornwall (and a bit on Exmoor).

A zoomed in map of train station deserts in the Highlands.

The Norfolk train-free zones.

The West Wales no-rail-zone.

Looking for trains in the Yorkshire Dales? Avoid this bit.

Okay, so having answered one burning question, let's briefly turn to the other. How many areas in Great Britain (and I'm just referring to the island of Great Britain) do not have a station?

For Local Authorities, I make it 12 out of 376 and for Westminster Constituencies, I make it 49 out of 630. I've screenshotted the two files here but you can also explore them yourself in Google Drive

Many stations in the largest areas, obviously.

 

Same as above – e.g. Highland coves a larger area than Wales.

What should we conclude from this? Not much, but It's quite interesting to look at the local authorities or constituencies that do not have a train station – of which there are 2,557 listed in the Office of Rail and Road 2015-16 data that I used for this.

The next two maps show where there are no stations - but there are possibly a couple of small inaccuracies (Kensington & Chelsea being one, as three national rail stations are right on the border there).

This is very interesting.

If you've read this far, you should get out more.

Okay, so that's about it. Some data notes below if anyone is interested. Also, the spreadsheets in the Google Drive folder have passenger entry and exit data – that is, the headline 'passengers' figures that are used to identify the busiest stations (e.g. Waterloo with nearly 100m in 2015-16). I have also added in average, max, min and sum figures on passengers for the aggregated local authority and parliamentary constituency numbers. Hours of fun.


Some notes on the data: Follow this link to get the 2015-16 data on stations that I used here – including the eastings and northings for station locations.

I got the boundaries from the excellent ONS Geography Portal and they are, of course Crown Copyright (but also open data) – as in, Contains OS data © Crown copyright and database right (2017).

The data are compiled by Steer Davies Gleave on behalf of the Office of Rail and Road and they are accompanied by this interesting two page summary. In addition to the two spreadsheets, I have also uploaded the images in this post to the Google Drive folder.

Train station vs railway station? I'm not bothered about this, or with data is/data are.

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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So why is Peterborough growing so quickly?

Peterborough Cathedral. Image: Jules & Jenny/Flickr/creative commons.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.  

The 2001 census put the population of Peterborough at 156,000. Some time before next spring, it’s projected to pass 200,000. That, for those keeping score, is an increase of about 28 per cent. Whether this makes it the fastest growing city in Britain or merely the second or the fourth – the vagueness of Britain’s boundaries means that different reports reach different conclusions – doesn’t really matter. This is a staggering rate of growth.

Oh, and since austerity kicked in, the city council has had its grant from central government cut by 80 percent.

Expansion on this scale and at this rate is the sort of thing that’d have a lot of councils in our NIMBY-ish political culture breaking out in hives; that seems to go double for Tory-run ones in Leave-voting areas. This lot, though, seem to be thriving on it. “I think the opportunity in Peterborough is fantastic,” says Dave Anderson, the city’s interim planning director. “We’re looking at growing to 235,000 by the mid-2030s.”

More striking still is that the Conservative council leader John Holdich agrees. “I’m a believer in ‘WIMBY’: what in my back yard?” he says. He’s responsible, he says, not just to his electorate, but “to our future kids, and grandkids” too – plus, at that rate of growth, a lot of incomers, too.

All this raises two questions. Why is Peterborough growing so quickly? And what can it do to prepare itself?

If you’re a little uncertain exactly where Peterborough is, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Until 1889, the “Soke of Peterborough” was an unlikely east-ward extrusion from Northamptonshire, far to its south west. Then it was a county in its own right; then part of the now-defunct Huntingdonshire. Today it’s in Cambridgeshire, with which it shares a metro mayor, the Conservative James Palmer. When I ask Holdich, who’s giving me a whistlestop tour of the city’s cathedral quarter, to explain all this, he just shrugs. “They keep moving us about.”

Sitting on the edge of the Fens, Peterborough is, officially, a part of the East of England region; but it’s just up the road from East Midlands cities including Leicester and Nottingham. I’d mentally pigeonholed it as a London-commuter town, albeit a far flung one; but when I actually looked it up, I was surprised to discover it was closer to Birmingham (70 miles) than London (75), and halfway up to Hull (81).


The more flattering interpretation of all this is that it’s on a bit of a crossroads: between capital and north, East Anglia and the Midlands. On the road network, that’s literally true – it’s where the A1 meets the A47, the main east-west road at this latitude – and railway lines extend in all directions, too.

All of which makes Peterborough a pretty nifty place to be if you’re, say, a large logistics firm.

This has clearly contributed to the city’s growth. “It has access to lots of land and cheaper labour than anywhere else in the Greater South East,” says Paul Swinney, director of policy at the Centre for Cities. “Those attributes appeal to land hungry, low-skilled business as opposed to higher-skilled more knowledge-based ones.”

That alone would point to a similar economy to a lot of northern cities – but there’s another thing driving Peterborough’s development. Despite being 70 miles from the capital, the East Coast Main Line means it’s well under an hour away by train.

In 1967, what’s more, the ancient cathedral city was designated a new town, to house London’s overspill population. The development corporation which owned the land and built the new town upon it, evolved into a development agency; today the same role is played by bodies like Opportunity Peterborough and the Peterborough Investment Partnership.

The city also offers relatively cheap housing: you can get a four-bed family home for not much over £200,000. That’s fuelled growth further as London-based workers scratch around for the increasingly tiny pool of places that are both commutable and affordable.

The housing affordability ratio shows average house prices as a multiple of average incomes. Peterborough is notably more affordable than Cambridge, London and the national average. Image: Centre for Cities data tool.

It’s made it attractive to service businesses, too. “London has probably played quite a big role in the city’s development,” says Swinney. “If you don’t want to move too far out, it’s probably one of the cheapest places to move to.”

The result of all this is that it has an unusually mixed economy. There’s light industry and logistics, in the office and warehouse parks that line the dual-carriageways (“parkways”) of the city. But there are also financial services and digital media companies moving in, bringing better paying jobs. In a country where most city economies are built on either high value services or land-hungry warehousing businesses, Peterborough has somehow managed to create a mixed economy.

Peterborough’s industrial profile: more services and less manufacturing, and more private and fewer public sector jobs, than the national average. Image: Centre for Cities.

At the moment, if people think of Peterborough at all, they’re likely to imagine a large town, rather than the fair-size regional city it’s on course to become. Its glorious 12th century cathedral – the hallmark of an ancient city, and at 44m still by far the highest spot on the horizon for miles around – is stunning. But it’s barely known to outsiders, and at least twice on my tour, the council’s communications officer proudly announces that the Telegraph named her patch as one of the best towns to live in within an hour of London, before adding, “even though we’re a city”. 

So part of the council’s current mission is to ensure that Peterborough has all the amenities people would expect from a settlement on this scale. “What the city needs to do is to adopt the mind-set of a slightly larger city,” says Anderson. Slightly smaller Swansea is developing a new music arena, of the sort Peterborough doesn’t have and needs. He frets, too, about retail spend “leaking” to Cambridge or Leicester. “Retail is now seen as a leisure activity: in the core of the city it’s important that offer is there.”

To that end, the early 1980s Queensgate shopping centre is being redeveloped, with John Lewis giving up a chunk of space to provide a new city centre cinema. (At present, the area only has road-side suburban multiplexes.) There’s major office, retail and housing development underway at North Westgate, as well as work to improve the walking route between the station and the commercial centre, in a similar manner to Coventry.

Fletton Quays. Image: Peterborough Investment Partnership.

Then there’s the city’s underused riverside. The council recently moved to new digs, in Fletton Quays, on the far bank of the River Nene from the centre. Across the river from the Embankment, the city centre’s largest green space, it’s a pretty lovely spot, of the sort where one might expect riverside pubs or restaurants with outdoor seating – but at the moment the space is largely empty. The Fletton Quays development will change all that, bringing more retail space and yes, new homes, too.

Jobs in Peterborough are unusually distributed around town: in many cities, most jobs are in the central business district. Image: Centre for Cities.

The big thing everyone agrees is missing, though, is a university. It already has the University Centre Peterborough, where degrees are provided by Anglia Ruskin University. The plan is for the site – a joint venture between ARU and Peterborough Regional College – to go its own way as an independent institution, the University of Peterborough, in autumn 2022. That should help provide the skills that the city needs to grow. A growing student population should also bring life and cash to the city centre. 

How big could Peterborough get? Could its enviable combination of good location and cheap housing and grand ambitions combine to make it the modern equivalent of Manchester or Liverpool – one of the great cities of the 21st century?

Well, probably not: “I think the optimum size for a city is probably about 250,000,” says Holdich. But that’s still a whole quarter bigger than now, and the council leader even discusses the possibility of refitting his dual-carriageway-based-city with some kind of light rail network to service that growing population. Peterborough’s not done growing yet.

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

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