Why Britain needs its little cities to grow up

Strangled by planning laws, most regional centres like Manchester and Birmingham cannot share in London’s prosperity

For Londoners, the idea that Britain is gripped by the worst economic downturn in more than a century seems like no more than a statistical curiosity. Despite being at the epicentre of the global financial crisis, London didn’t have much of a recession in the first place and is now booming again, with house prices soaring, restaurants packed, buoyant levels of new job and business creation, and output far above pre-crisis levels.

flashman: Urban sprawl from London to Manchester. Welcome to future hell.

dtmark: 95% of the people live on 5% of the land. Not advocating "urban sprawl" everywhere by any means, but some perspective might be important.

taxationistheft: Some perspective - Britain imports more than 40% of its food; its vulnerable to food supply issues (horse meat scandals, sharp price increases as in 2008); its food security is the lowest of any large western developed nation.  So your idea is to build on more farmland and reduce food security even lower.   Great choice, if you enjoy diets.  What you need to consider is how much land is needed to support a nations population - we're rich, so we can impoverish people in other countries who can't afford what we can, as we compete for their food supply.  Think it's sustainable? 

isambard2000: About 75% of the UK is agricultural land, yet we still import 40% of our food. Do the maths.  Just as turning all cities into farmland will not solve the problem of food security, the expansion of cities is not the source of the problem either.

crazytaff: Its called a megalopolis and whether you like it or not, its the future, see Chinese super cities such as canton-pearl delta and the NE USA, Baltimore to Boston megalopolis.

wilfulsprite: Perhaps small cities/large towns outside of London would have withered and died, had the government not shipped the immigrant population all over the country. How did 14,000 Somalis end up in MK? 12,000 Somalis in Northampton?  Why are small, provincial towns becoming home to Iraqis, Libyans, Kurds, Syrians, Albanians, Nigerians etc.? All these towns, which were just quiet backwaters where people just worked and got on with their lives, are heading towards becoming like the worst parts of London with the highest unemployment rate in England.

Mike Barnes: London gets the bulk of investment. We had to spend 9 billion to finance a 2 week sports festival for London. You can barely get a motorway upgraded or railtrack built anywhere else.

jimknowsall: Birmingham and Manchester (twice) tried to win the Olympics. They failed essentially because they are not great cities.

isinglass: How insulting to the people of these two cities. I am a Londoner by birth and can tell you that, if cities are measured by the calibre of it's people, then Birmingham and Manchester have a great deal going for them. In general they have a humanity that seems lacking, or isn't shown, in London. The fact that London has enjoyed preferential status for a thousand years is why it has such superior buildings, transport etc. It has bled the rest of the country dry. 

jimknowsall: It's no insult to the people of those cities. Cities are rarely measured by the calibre of their people, and that certainly wasn't the issue in the battle to win the Olympics.

Mark: Another tosser that has never set foot out of the M25 for fear of falling of the face of the earth. I live in the north and I can assure you it is not the devoid of opportunity wasteland that the London media makes it out to be. There was an article on the BBC by another Londophile saying that London was a first class capital ith a second hand nation attached. Why doesnt London become it's own nation and float out to sea? It will probably sink due to the weight of it's own bullsht.

stopher: I'm with you in the way feel but did you not agree that reducing planning restrictions would help bring growth ?  Don't you agree that Gordon Browns policies made things worse ? Plus don't you agree that anything from the BBC is very suspect ?

Chris Hobson: Or immigration needs to shrink down…

billmiddleengland: Quite. Immigration and an over-centralised political governance are the problems. In all English cities, politically imposed mass immigration has displaced English people, English culture and wealth creating activity. They have been deliberately replaced with non-English people, non-English culture and non-economic activity. Local English regions are powerless to create vibrant wealth creating conditions. They are subservient to Westminster and the EU. Until local regions are returned the power to make local decisions, verified by the local electorate, things will only get much worse. 

MikeytheMike: Of course blame immigration and/or the EU for every ail of the UK.

George Washington:  Well you may not like the idea but it IS the root cause of most of the UK's ills…

mirabilis2000:   "blame immigration and/or the EU for every ail of the UK" Well said.

stephenmarchant: Jeremy, It may well be the case that large cities attract capital and wealth. However, in the UK one only has to follow the money - the' City' is our problem. We have a finance industry that operates in parallel to the real economy rather than serving its needs. This money helps to push up real estate and associated services in and around London. There is a ripple effect that reaches areas of the South East but the other regions of the UK see little benefit. The Govt were right to start decentralisation of public sector organisations but they are still mainly concentrated around Westminister. However, this must also involve a radical reduction in the costs of delivering public services. There is no way that our smaller cities and towns are going to get the oxygen to grow unless there is a radical shift of wealth from the State and banksters to ordinary people who believe in work and thrift. If our politicos are deluded enough to believe the parasitic elements in our Establishment and finance industries can carry on skimming whilst the masses are forced into ever lower standards of living, the UK will be facing a dire future.

obbo12: Rubbish. The financial centre of the UK has been Lodon for the last 1000 years, if it was only about following the money why does Leeds even exist. The 18th and  19th  century had all those northern towns grow into cities on the back of northern entrepreneurs. What's changed since then, 70 years of labour domination of the local   politics has made making a profit into a dirty word and forced the majority of would be entrepreneurs to go south.  

stephenmarchant: obbo12 In the 19th Century we had banks that could fail. We had retail banks, a gold standard and an empire with which to trade. I would not "rubbish" your comment as you have a valid point about Labour domination of local politics.  Many of us remember the syndicalism of the 1970s ending with the Winter of Discontent. However, it was the1980s  'Big Bang' in the City that unleashed the debt fuelled society we are suffering from today. At the very least we need a 'Glass-Steagal' type Act to bring sanity back into finance so that it serves society rather than society serving it's needs.

obbo12: In the 1980s no bank failed or needed state support. Why did no no large business start in Liverpool? Might if be something to do with Derk Hatton's demagogic rule that made starting a business there very risky.  The corrupt rule of T Dan Smith in Newcastle in the 60s was the same.  How about Steven Purcell's resigning because  links with gangsters in Glasgow.  The left has used the power of local patronage not improve the local economy but further their own political and corrupt interests. Labour domination has lead to the promotion of sectional interests over that of genuine need for growth.

YouKnowNowt: One thing Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford and York have in common is being attractive old cities. London's biggest attraction is that it is full of tree lined streets, grand squares, large parks and beautiful old buildings. Birmingham and Manchester have their moments but are not in the same league. They should build some attractive spaces rather than try to be modern

ImDavesSlave: Build around towns like Oxford and Cambridge then, there is plenty of land. With the NIMBY scum there youd be lucky to get planning permission for a rabbit hutch.

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