Cities in the north and the Midlands have been transformed by a period of rapid regeneration that has seen population and jobs growth far exceed that of London since the turn of the century, according to a new report.
The Centre for Cities thinktank said urban renaissance in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Liverpool had been so marked that problems of urban decay had been replaced by a need to find room for further expansion.
Calling for changes to planning laws to permit commercial and residential development, the thinktank said the central districts of England’s big regional cities had all seen their populations grow more than six times as quickly as that of central London.
When measured by a combination of jobs and population increase, Manchester had seen the fastest city centre growth in England and Wales in the period 2002-2015, followed closely by Leeds, Birmingham and Liverpool. London was in 20th position.
The thinktank said the big regional cities were starting from a low base compared to London but were also benefitting from the desire of knowledge-based businesses to be based in city centres.
Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “30 years ago the centres of places like Manchester and Birmingham were run-down and struggling, but since then they have undergone a dramatic transformation and have become increasingly attractive locations for people to live and work in.”
Britain has a distinct north-south economic divide, with the richer parts of the country lying below a line drawn from the Wash to the Severn estuary. London has been the fastest growing region over the past 20 years and led the way during the recovery from the deep recession of 2008-09, but the thinktank said the city centres expanding most rapidly were in parts of the country seeking to shake off their post-industrial hangovers.
Centre for Cities ranks Manchester number one for city centre growth and jobs
England and Wales
Population growth in city centre (2002-2015)
Jobs growth in city centre (1998-2015)
City centre average across England & Wales
A separate report last week from Your Move – one of the UK’s biggest estate agency chains – showed that while property prices were falling in London they were rising in the north-west.
The Centre for Cities warned that recovery in Manchester and elsewhere could be undermined by planning polices that prioritise residential development over commercial space in city centres.
It said permitted development right, which allow commercial space to be converted for residential use without planning permission, posed a threat to commercial property needed to attract firms and jobs to city centres.
The thinktank’s report recommended that the government should allow cities to exclude their centres from permitted development rights, and that cities should relax planning laws – including controlled development of green belt land – to allow more house building in other areas.
“This urban renaissance has brought opportunities for people living across these cities and their surrounding areas, and it’s vital that it continues,” Carter said. “But for that to happen, cities need to take tough decisions on how to sustain the growth of their commercial centres, while also providing the homes their residents need.”