The case for making Hebden Bridge the UK's second city

 
Hebden Bridge street

Related Stories

Birmingham and Manchester are usually mentioned when the subject of Britain's second city comes up. But is Hebden Bridge - population 4,200 - the rightful owner of the title?

Pretty much everyone in the world knows which is Britain's biggest city, but who can name the second?

It is a trick question, of course. Britain does not have a second city. Instead, it has a first city and a couple of thirds.

The 2011 census figures for Britain's broadly defined built-up areas, ranked by population, show that Greater London comes first with 9.8 million.

That makes it as big as the next six urban areas put together - Greater Manchester (2.5m), the West Midlands (2.4m), West Yorkshire (1.8m), Greater Glasgow and Clyde (1.2m), Liverpool (0.9m) and South Hampshire (0.9m).

Drawing on that list, Manchester and Birmingham offer the best candidates for second city status, but each is still only a quarter of the size of the capital and its sprawling urban area.

Now, if Britain was a typical country, you might expect it to have a second city of about five million, which is twice the size of Greater Manchester or the area around Birmingham.

London skyline London is the size of the six next biggest urban areas combined

I say this because it has been observed - very loosely it should be said - that the size distribution of cities within countries tends to follow a pattern in which the biggest city is about twice the size of the second city, three times the size of the third city, four times the size of the fourth and so on.

It is named Zipf's Law after the American linguist George Zipf, who noticed that the frequency distribution of words in many languages followed that pattern.

For the UK, the implication is stark.

Start Quote

It is as though Britain has a great world city but lacks a great national one”

End Quote

As the eminent economic geographer from the London School of Economics, Henry Overman, puts it: "These kind of arguments imply that the problem with Britain's urban system is not that London is too big. Instead, if anything, it's that our cities are too small."

Our second tier cities in particular.

Having cities that are too small is potentially an economic problem because we know that big cities act as hubs which boost whole regions.

We know that cities are where a disproportionate amount of business gets done. And we know that, typically, bigger cities are more productive than smaller ones.

One World Bank report summarised it thus: "The large and growing academic literature suggests that doubling city size increases productivity by 3% to 8%."

In other words, if you could make Manchester the size of London (by doubling it and doubling it again) you would expect it to be about 6% to 16% richer.

Manchester Manchester's population has grown rapidly over the past decade

Those who hate Britain's lopsided London-centricity might want to think about the idea of promoting the creation of a far bigger second city - one of several million people, which could serve as a counterweight to the mighty force that is the capital.

Hitherto, one might say that the lack of a proper second city has allowed London to divide and rule the rest of the nation. And the argument is even more powerful now that London has become such an obvious global centre.

It is as though Britain has a great world city but lacks a great national one.

Find out more

So, if you believe this analysis, which second city offers the most hope for taking on the might of London?

Manchester or Birmingham are usually put forward, and the data suggests there is a logic to those two being on the shortlist.

Most people who have thought carefully about it veer towards Manchester, which has had a faster growing population in the last decade and enjoys more of an international reputation based on its two football teams. (Not to mention the US exposure it has gained from the character Daphne in Frasier).

And, in a GfK opinion poll for the BBC, the city was a clear but not runaway winner. When asked which of six cities they would like to be the UK's capital if it were not London, 31% of people chose Manchester, against 25% for Birmingham. (The list also included Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff and Bristol.)

Birmingham city centre Birmingham is often put forward as the UK's second city

However, there is an interesting alternative suggestion - Hebden Bridge. It is not a suggestion to take literally, but it does make an important point.

Hebden Bridge, nestling in the Pennines between Manchester and Leeds, is certainly one of the most interesting and flourishing towns in the UK. It was once declared the "fourth funkiest town in the world" (whatever that means) and is often said to be the lesbian capital of the UK.

Zipf's Law applied to world cities

Germany

  • Berlin 3,375,222
  • Hamburg 1,734,272

Brazil

  • São Paulo 11,125,243
  • Rio de Janeiro 6,323,037

Canada

  • Toronto 5,583,064
  • Montréal 3,824,221

South Africa

  • Johannesburg 7,860,7812
  • Cape Town 3,430,99

Source: National statistics agencies

The suggestion that it is Britain's second city came from resident David Fletcher, who was active in the 80s saving the town's old mills and converting them to modern use.

His point is that Hebden Bridge is an inverted city with a greenbelt centre and suburbs called Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.

His point was that the real second city of the UK is a trans-Pennine strip that extends the relatively short distance across northern England, joining the built-up areas that lie second, fourth and sixth in the UK ranking.

Certainly, Hebden Bridge has attracted a lot of professional couples who are split commuters, one heading towards Manchester and one towards Leeds each morning. It is a place that allows both those cities to be treated as next door.

And maybe therein lies some kind of answer to the critical mass of London. It's not a second city called Hebden Bridge, but a super-city that tries to turn the great cities of northern England into one large travel-to-work area.

It would require a lot of physical infrastructure to improve links between the different centres.

And there would doubtless be rivalry and tension. The fact that Manchester is at its centre may not delight those who enjoy the football rivalries that are well known in that neighbourhood.

But there is no need to combine the teams, or to combine the names.

There would simply be a need to build on the success the bigger cities of Britain have been enjoying in recent years.

Watch Mind The Gap: London Vs The Rest on BBC Two at 21:00 on Monday, 10 March. Or catch it later on the BBC iPlayer.

 

More on This Story

Related Stories

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 536.

    Why are we discussing this? What's the point of a 'second city'? Who cares if it's Manchester or Birmingham or whatever, will it actually change anything? Many of the comments here suggest that people just want to gripe at 'London', even though it's just a collection of people and institutions. There is no agenda to divide and conquer the rest of the country - the suggestion is ridiculous.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 535.

    404.Jason Mills
    "It seemed a long way to the point, and then it turned out there wasn't one."

    Beautifully put, sir! Evan Davis well reduced, and succinctly so!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 534.

    While Boris the Buffoon dashes around doing his best to generate investment & jobs for his constituents and his city, just what are the Chief Execs of Manchester, Birmingham & Liverpool doing for their £200k+pa salaries?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 533.

    The second city for the UK should be one of the other capitals - Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast. For England's second city I think we should have a balance to the South so it should be in the North - Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield or Manchester. This woud take investment away from London though so it will never happen. I wonder when Yorkshire will get a referendum on independence?!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 532.

    Why do we even feel the need to have cities anyway?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 531.

    Although it has terrible underinvestment Sheffield would make an excellent second city. It absolutely needs investment, particularly in better transport infrastructure (including a city centre station for HS2!) but it is a friendly city, interesting history, lots of parks and green space and it makes an excellent hub being so close to Manchester, Leeds, Hull, Nottingham and other cities.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 530.

    @521.Jonny, its a major transport hub with trains converging at New street from the NE, SE, SW and NW, it also has an Airport and motorway network, though the M6 can be a nightmare.

    In terms of population, I wonder what the critera is for Brum and Manchester, should it include Wolverhampton for brum or Bolton/Stockport etc for manchester?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 529.

    Double the size of cities like Leeds or Manchester to improve productivity by 3%.

    Lets not!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 528.

    @ 510.justice96ynwa and @ 489.Padmundo198
    Comparing british cities to olympic 100m runners is a bit like making ridiculous metaphors that have no real relation to the argument that you are trying to make.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 527.

    A passing bit of light news. All this po-face stuff about bigger and richer, and the outlook for Britain being 'stark' shouldn't be taken too seriously. Cities come as they come in different cultures (France has a very different city size-pattern from us, as do most of our European neighbours) Interesting article, but we've more significant worries than Mr Zipf or the wilder shores of the LSE

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 526.

    London isn't a city it's a sprawling dirty metropolis.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 525.

    B.ham was remodelled after the war on the 1950/60's model that the car would be king. Now lots of dated empty offices. Manch was only remodelled after the IRA did a bit of town planning in 1996 and the first tram scheme installed. Now the largest city resi population in UK (other than London of course). Gotta be Manchester

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 524.

    489.Padmundo198

    Good point. As far as the world is concerned London IS Britain, actiually some would say London is a world city and the destination of choice for many. It's up to the regions to market themselves better and make the case of why Manchester, Birmingham etc are better.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 523.

    I have nothing against Manchester, in fact it's a cracking City….But Manchester as a city without the surrounding areas that makeup Greater Manchester (only formed in 1972) is not bigger than Birmingham. So Brum is Britain's 2nd City. Glasgow, Bristol and a few others are bigger than Manchester too, having said that why is it a competition anyway? Is it divide and conquer by the EVIL Cockneys

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 522.

    Wasn't Colchester the Capital in Roman times, better place then most of the cities mentioned in the article and far more deserving.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 521.

    Why would Birmingham be the second City? I've not heard an argument for it apart from scale? I'd like someone to convince me otherwise, but the momentum is all with Manchester.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 520.

    Comparing cities in the UK with those in larger countries is silly because many of our cities have no room to expand any further.There are people living 30 miles away from other big cities who will say there's very few green spaces in between.These are just lines on maps and some outlying towns and villages are not in the countryside but simply have a few more green spaces.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 519.

    Q: ... is Hebden Bridge - population 4,200 - the rightful owner of the title? A: No.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 518.

    I am assuming someone at the BBC asked some of the Salford based staff where they live and decided to commission an article about it. Next week they could do an article on Didsbury fashionistas.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 517.

    What nonsense. Hebden Bridge isn't a City, it's a Village!

 

Page 24 of 50

 

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    EUROZONE INFLATION 12:28:

    Inflation in the eurozone in August has been revised up to 0.4% from the original estimate of 0.3%. Despite that rise the threat of deflation remains in Europe. (Deflation is a dangerous spiral of delayed spending and investment and depressed growth). Earlier this month the European Central Bank lowered interest rates and launched a stimulus scheme to help avert that scenario.

     
  2.  
    RECORD ROLLS ROYCE ORDER 12:03:
    A  Rolls-Royce Phantom

    Never let it be said that Chinese businessmen don't know how to splash the cash when the mood takes them. The Financial Times reports that one particular entrepreneur Stephen Hong has ordered 30...yes 30...bespoke Rolls Royce Phantoms for a cool $20m (£12.3m). He intends to use the luxury cars to ferry guests around his Macau gaming and hotel complex. Two of the Phantoms are expected to be the most expensive ever commissions at $1m each.

     
  3.  
    INTEREST RATES 11:45:
    The Bank of England

    Two members of the monetary policy committee believe that recent inflation figures are somewhat misleading. Ian McCafferty and Martin Weale say Consumer Price Inflation has been depressed by the rising value of the pound in the first part of the year. They also believe that there is a "rapid absorption" of slack in the economy. As usual there appears to have been much discussion of exactly how much slack remains in the economy.

     
  4.  
    UNEMPLOYMENT 11:30:
    Tweet from Tory party chairman Grant Shapps

    Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps has welcomed the latest unemployment data today. Taking to Twitter to do so. See if you can spot the deliberate mistake in his tweet though: "UK unemployment tumbles by a further 146,000. A good moment to recall that every Lab govt in history has left more people on the doll."

     
  5.  
    MOTOR INSURANCE FRAUD 11:17: Radio 5 live

    For the first time, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has collected data on the extent of fraud on motor insurance applications. It detected more than 180 thousand fraudulent applications last year. Often applicants are failing to disclose full information about their driving record. Aidan Kerr, head of fraud at the ABI tells Radio 5 live that it is hard to calculate the extent of the practice, as many people give up a claim when challenged.

     
  6.  
    QATAR AND AIRBUS 10:59:
    Airbus A380

    Qatar Airways has taken delivery of its first A380 superjumbo, following a three-month delay, during which it wrangled with Airbus over cabin fittings. Airbus has also been trying to fix an issue with seals around the doors of the jet. Qatar will be the first customer for the Airbus A350 and Airbus says it will deliver the first plane by the end of the year.

     
  7.  
    UNEMPLOYMENT 10:46:
    A  general view of a Jobcentre Plus in Glasgow.

    The ONS data also shows the claimant count - the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance - has fallen below 1 million for the first time since September 2008. It now stands at 966,500.

     
  8.  
    'SICK' FRANCE 10:36:
    Emmanuel Macron

    "France is sick," the country's new economy minister Emmanuel Macron has told French radio. He said France has no choice but to "reform the economy". Unemployment is currently at a record 10% and there's been no growth for two quarters. Meanwhile the government budget deficit is expanding. The Business live page wishes Mr Macron good luck.

     
  9.  
    UNEMPLOYMENT 10:14:
    Iain Duncan Smith

    Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith tells the BBC News Channel that pay in the financial services industry is distorting current average wage growth statistics. He says pay rises in the manufacturing industry are up 2% year on year. He also points out that food prices are coming down and inflation generally is falling.

     
  10.  
    Via Twitter Andrew Sentance, former member of Monetary Policy Committee

    tweets: "UK unemployment rate at 6.2% & still falling sharply. At current rate of decline it'll be <5% next summer - pushing up pay & inflation."

     
  11.  
    WAGE GROWTH 09:58:
    Hand and coins

    The ONS data shows average pay was 0.6% higher in the three months to July, compared to a year earlier. That's an improvement on the previous figure which showed a 0.2% decline. Pay excluding bonuses also rose slightly by 0.7%, the previous figures was 0.6%. Pay rises are still running well below the rate of inflation. On Tuesday data showed consumer price inflation running at 1.5% in August.

     
  12.  
    INTEREST RATES 09:35:

    There was no change in voting patterns at the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee at September's meeting. Two members voted in favour of raising interest rates to 0.75%.

     
  13.  
    UNEMPLOYMENT 09:32: Breaking News

    The unemployment total fell by 146,000 to 2.02 million in the three months to the end of July, official figures show. The Office for National Statistic said the unemployment rate for the period was 6.2%, down from the previous level of 6.4%.

     
  14.  
    EUROPEAN CAR SALES 09:27:
    The new body of the Volkswagen Passat

    Car sales across Europe rose for the 12th month in a row industry figures show today. They were 1.8% higher at 701,118 in August, from 688,464 a year-earlier the Association of European Carmakers (ACEA) says. Volkswagen, Ford and Opel all benefited from improved demand in Spain, Portugal and Ireland. But car sales in Germany - Europe's largest car market - were 0.4% lower.

     
  15.  
    INTEREST RATES 09:20:

    At 09:30 the Bank of England publishes minutes from the interest rate policy meeting in September. In August's meeting two members of nine-strong monetary policy committee voted to raise interest rates. Will others have joined them in September? Watch this space.

     
  16.  
    Via Twitter Kevin Peachey Personal finance reporter, BBC News

    tweets: "Hold music among biggest consumer service irritations says @WhichUK survey - any views on the most annoying?"

     
  17.  
    TECH SHARES ARE UP 09:04:
    imagination technologies

    Shares in two of Britain's most successful technology companies are sharply higher this morning. Imagination Technologies, which designs chips for mobile devices, has seen its shares jump 6%. That's after the company forecast a strong performance in the second half of the year. Fellow chip designer, ARM Holdings is leading the FTSE 100 higher with a 1.9% gain.

     
  18.  
    HEADLINES
     
  19.  
    MARKET UPDATE 08:34:

    Shares in London are higher in early trading with the FTSE 100 up 16 points

    • Smiths Group slumps 5.4% after sales fall
    • JD Sports up 2.7% following half year results
    • Pound slightly higher at $1.6296
     
  20.  
    SCOTTISH REFERENDUM 08:26: BBC Radio 4

    Former Bank of England Deputy Governor, Sir John Gieve says the Bank is "a creature of Westminster" and will be an adviser in any currency negotiations. "I think it could work, " he says of currency union but adds it "relies on careful negotiation". A lot of policy decision would remain in London, he adds. If the economies of Scotland and the rest of the UK began to diverge more than they do at present that could be a problem.

     
  21.  
    INTERNET OF THINGS 08:17: BBC Radio 4

    The Internet of Things is a phrase bandied around. ARM Holdings boss, Simon Segars is fresh from a conference about it - but it all sounds a bit pedestrian. Mr Segars says one example is a coffee cup that has a microchip in it that could tell you if you're consuming too much coffee. There is already a fork that can tell you if you are eating too quickly. On Today he also mentions apps that help you find a parking space.

     
  22.  
    JD SPORTS 08:11: Radio 5 live

    We're not far off being saturated with sports shops in the UK says Peter Cowgill, executive chairman of JD Sports on Radio 5 live. But the company is having "significant success" competing in Spain, German, France and the Netherlands.

     
  23.  
    PHONES 4U RESCUE 07:57: BBC Radio 4

    It is "perhaps not surprising" that Vodafone and EE are looking at buying parts of Phones4U now that it is in administration, says Laura Lambie of Investec Wealth and Investment on Today. Both EE and Vodafone had been approached by Phones 4U which tried to interest them in buying the retailer, she says. After refusing that approach, Vodafone and EE are now looking "to pick up assets on the cheap", according to Ms Lambie.

     
  24.  
    SONY PROFIT WARNING 07:50:
    xperia phones

    The profit warning at Sony is the result of a review of its mobile phone business. It says there has been "a significant change in the market and competitive environment". As a result, it has taken a £1bn charge to reflect the loss of value of the mobile business. It is reducing the number of models it produces and is concentrating on a premium lineup.

     
  25.  
    JD SPORTS PROFITS 07:36: BBC Radio 4

    "The high street is alive and well," says Peter Cowgill, executive chairman of JD Sports on Today. The retailer has a strong presence in shopping malls and online but Mr Cowgill says a high street presence is "still very important to JD Sports". The retailer has a contingency plan if Scotland votes Yes to independence. But he adds: "We don't think there will be a major impact on our trade. We think there will be no change to prices [if Scotland votes Yes]."

     
  26.  
    SONY PROFIT WARNING 07:32: Breaking News
    Sony office

    Sony expects to report a much deeper loss this year than originally forecast. The firm now expects a loss of 230bn yen (£1.3bn) for the year which ends 31 March. Its previous forecast was for a 50bn yen loss.

     
  27.  
    JD SPORTS PROFITS 07:29:

    Profits at retailer JD Sports doubled in the first half of the year. Before exceptional items it made a pre-tax profit of £19.9m. Sales at stores open for more than a year rose 13% from the same period a year ago. But its fashion business which includes Scotts and Bank had a "disappointing" first half, the company said.

     
  28.  
    INDITEX RESULTS 07:10:
    Zara store

    The world's biggest clothing retailer, Inditex has posted a 2.4% fall in first half net profit. The owner of Zara, made 928m euros (£738m). That was not as bad as some analysts were expecting. The company also said that sales for the start of the third quarter rose 10%.

     
  29.  
    SPACESHIP CONTRACT 06:56: Radio 5 live
    Space X Capsule

    Nasa has awarded up to $6.2bn (£3.8bn) to Boeing and SpaceX to develop space vehicles that can take crew into space. The firms are aiming to have their spaceships ready by 2017. Since the space shuttles were retired in 2011, the Americans have relied on Russia and its Soyuz vehicles to get to the International Space Station.

     
  30.  
    SCOTTISH REFERENDUM 06:38: BBC Radio 4
    Scottish bank notes

    Former Bank of England deputy governor Sir John Gieve tells the Today programme he expects Bank staff to be at work very early on Friday morning to try to calm markets, whichever way Scotland votes in the independence referendum. In particular, the Bank will be busying itself with the possibility of "deposit flight" so that "we don't get the sort of panic that there was with Northern Rock". That means for starters making sure that cash machines remain fully stocked.

     
  31.  
    ARM CHIEF EXECUTIVE 06:27: Radio 5 live
    Arm processor

    It's arguably Britain's most successful technology company, but you may have never heard of it. ARM designs computer chips and is worth almost twice as much as Marks and Spencer. On Wake Up to Money chief executive Simon Segars says most of the firm's customers are in California, China, Taiwan and South Korea. "It's a shame" there are not more technology companies in the UK, he says. People have been keener to go into financial services, Mr Segars says.

     
  32.  
    SCOTTISH REFERENDUM 06:16: Radio 5 live

    Whichever way the Scottish independence vote goes, the business impact "remains unclear" says Nora Senior, chair at Scottish Chambers of Commerce on Wake Up to Money. Big questions over currency, Europe, debt, pensions and tax were raised in the run up to the vote, she says. "Business wants a decision that is clear and swiftly executed," Ms Senior says.

     
  33.  
    BEREAVEMENT AND WORK 06:10: Radio 5 live

    A third of employees who have suffered bereavement in the past five years felt that they had not been treated with compassion by their employer, according to a survey by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). It is launching guidance for companies. "Managers need appropriate training and support," said Sir Brendan Barber, ACAS chair on Wake Up to Money.

     
  34.  
    PHONES 4U RESCUE 06:00:
    Phones 4U sign

    The Financial Times is reporting that Vodafone and EE have approached the administrators of Phones 4U about buying parts of the failed business. Around 550 shops and 6,000 jobs are at risk. The private equity owners of Phones 4U and its founder, John Caudwell have blamed the aggressive tactics of EE and Vodafone for the collapse of the firm. Both network operators deny those accusations.

     
  35.  
    05:59: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning everyone. As always you can get in touch with us via email on bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or twitter @bbcbusiness.

     
  36.  
    05:59: Ben Morris Business Reporter

    We'll get the latest unemployment figures and data on earnings at 09:30 this morning. Plus the Financial Times says that Vodafone and EE are looking to buy parts of their former customer, Phones 4U. Stay with us.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • Cinema audienceClick Watch

    Brighter 3D films - the new laser-based system promising to deliver crisper, clearer movies

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.