Earlier this week the City Growth Commission published a report calling for more powers and infrastructure investment for Britain’s 15 main urban conurbations. It’s the latest attempt to tackle the issue of London’s monopoly of the UK’s economic and cultural landscape.
It’s difficult to think of any other major economy where the capital city dominates as much as London does in the UK. The United States has several thriving cities (New York, L A, Houston, Chicago, etc) and it’s a similar picture in European nations such as Germany and Spain.
Public Transport is one of the areas which the City Growth Commission has said needs urgent attention and it’s not hard to see why. I can travel by rail from my home on Merseyside to London quite easily and quickly, but getting to other cities such as Newcastle or Glasgow can take an eternity and often involves several changes of train. It also strikes me as disappointing that other cities haven’t introduced integrated ticketing for public transport along the lines of London’s Oyster Card.
If this devolution of power to city regions is going to happen, it will present some communications challenges, particularly around local identity and civic pride. People in Liverpool may well be happy to be called Liverpudlians, but residents elsewhere on Merseyside are not. Getting everyone to sing from the same hymn sheet in large and diverse areas such as Merseyside and Greater Manchester will not be easy, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth a try.
London has shown that it is possible for a large and hugely varied urban area to achieve economic growth and have a clear sense of its own identity. Although we may not like to admit it, much of the credit for this should go to London Mayor Boris Johnson and to his predecessor Ken Livingstone.
The success of the plans for the regeneration of Britain’s major conurbations may depend on persuading residents to put aside long standing local rivalries and take a regional view rather than a local one. One final thought, regional political leaders of the calibre of Boris and Ken would also help.