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
    0

    Comment number 730.

    May be UK has only one large city because of it's physical size. All the other countries mentioned are all much larger than the UK. Some counties' conurbations are farther apart than those in the UK . Some countries also have historical reasons for their large concentractions e.g. Canada - English or French language divide, South Africa - the divide between Dutch and British settlers

  • rate this
    +34

    Comment number 661.

    I don't care where the 2nd city is located, as long as it kick-starts growth and investment in some area of this country other than London! How can a country feasible compete with only one geographical region? Would Germany be the power base of growth and development it is today if every decision made was to protect Berlin. Who cares where they locate it just diversify

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 655.

    As someone who lives near Hebden Bridge but commutes to Manchester, and with a partner who commutes to Huddersfield, I quite like this idea.

    Sadly there is little investment in the idea with the current rail provider in the area (Northern Rail) using old buses on train bogeys on the Manchester to Leeds line. The trains are usually late, always overcrowded, and often cancelled/over-filled.

  • rate this
    +24

    Comment number 574.

    That's final then - scrap HS2 & concentrate on infrastructure between the northern cities. How about a motorway that goes all the way to Scotland - or are we holding off, waiting for them to leave? I don't condone the idea of increasing the populations of these areas but if we can better connect them then that would be hugely productive - M62 from Liverpool to Leeds is in desperate need of upgrade

  • 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?!

 

Comments 5 of 13

 

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    11:10: Xiaomi camera
    Xiaomi

    Tweet picture of the day courtesy of TechCrunch, which reports that Xiaomi has introduced a bargain GoPro-style action camera that can be strapped to almost anything - even a cat...

     
  2.  
    10:54: Eurozone inflation

    Eurostat also said that consumer prices in the eurozone fell by 0.3% in February, compared with the same month last year, following a 0.6% fall in January. Economists had expected a 0.4% slide. Excluding the cost of energy and unprocessed food, prices rose by 0.6% year-on-year.

     
  3.  
    10:44: Eurozone unemployment

    Eurozone unemployment continued to fall in January, hitting its lowest level since April 2012 as the economy gained momentum. The jobless rate fell to 11.2% from 11.3% in December, with the number of people out of work down by 140,000 to just over 18m.

     
  4.  
    Mobile World Congress Via Twitter

    Nic Fildes, technology and communications editor of The Times, tweets from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona:

    Of all the clunky telecoms buzzwords, "softwarization" is the worst. It sounds like a defunct rave act

    @NicFildes

     
  5.  
    10:13: Mortgage lending
    house building

    The number of loan approvals for house purchases fell to 60,786 in January, compared to an average of 61,666 over the previous six months, the Bank of England said today. The number of approvals for remortgaging was also down, to 31,640, compared with an average of 32,044 over the previous six months.

     
  6.  
    10:00: New coin
    coin

    Here's that new portrait of the Queen for sterling coins. It's only the fifth coin portrait of the Queen in her 63 years on the throne and the first since 1998. New coins bearing the image will now be struck, according to the Royal Mint.

     
  7.  
    Mobile World Congress Via Twitter

    BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones tweets:

    Rory Cellan-Jones

    I think it's fair to say that Sony Eye Glass is a work in progress

    @ruskin147

     
  8.  
    09:42: North Sea gas deal BBC World News
    North sea oil rig

    Following the government decision to block the sale of 12 oil and gas fields in the North Sea to Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman, Daragh McDowell, an analyst at risk analytics firm Verisk Maplecroft tells BBC World Business Report: "To allow Russian investment in North Sea offshore oil would definitely run counter to the spirit, if not the letter, of existing sanctions."

     
  9.  
    Globalisation Via Twitter
    Factory workers in Sri Lanka

    Duncan Weldon, Newsnight economics correspondent, asks whether globalisation is slowing down.

     
  10.  
    09:12: Brand new
    chocolate

    Marks & Spencer, Cadbury and Heinz have all taken a dip in consumers' affections, according to the annual Consumer Superbrands survey. British Airways topped the survey, while messing with the Creme Egg hurt Cadbury. What say you, readers? Which brands do you love - or love to hate? bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk

     
  11.  
    08:57: Pension charges
    Steve Webb

    Pensions minister Steve Webb is worried that the "dark corners" of the investment and pensions industry are hiding some "nasty surprises". As a result, the Financial Conduct Authority and Department for Work and Pensions have called on the industry to help draft new rules on how the cost of workplace pension schemes should be reported to savers. "We have a duty to throw light for the first time on potential hidden charges - and restore faith and fairness in British pensions," Mr Webb says.

     
  12.  
    Mobile World Congress Via Twitter
    Lumia phones

    Leo Kelion, technology desk editor of BBC news website, tweets: #Sony and #Microsoft have new phones at #MWC - but they're not flagships - here's why

     
  13.  
    08:28: Newspaper review
    paper

    The FT reports that Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman will fight to buy those North Sea gas assets. The Wall Street Journal analyses the complex relationship between mobile operators and social networks and whether they should defriend each other. The Times takes a look at more companies coming forward to tackle RBS's Global Restructuring Group (GRG) and its alleged habit of putting them to the wall. RBS says a legal inquiry found no evidence it "set out to artificially distress otherwise viable businesses", The Times reports.

     
  14.  
    08:13: Watch out
    watch

    Technology fans will be watching the Mobile World Congress, which kicks off in Barcelona today, for the latest gadgets. Manufacturers seem determined to get us to buy a smartwatch. Apple and its rivals such as Samsung are trying to make the things prettier and more useful, AFP reports, having interviewed various analysts. Will you be tempted?

     
  15.  
    07:59: Trinity Mirror
    Mirror.co.uk

    Trinity Mirror will start paying a dividend for the first time since 2008 - of 3p a share - as pre-tax profits rose 1% to £102.3m for 2014, the Daily Mirror publisher said. However, print advertising revenue fell 14.1% in the second half of the year as supermarkets cut their spending.

     
  16.  
    07:45: Thorntons
    choc

    A "mixed performance" from Thorntons, chief executive Jonathan Hart tells investors. International sales rose by 19.9% to £5.4m in the first half of the company's financial year, but UK commercial sales melted away by 12.4% to £54.7m. Sounds more like a pick 'n' mixed bag to us...

     
  17.  
    07:32: Nationwide house prices
    For sale sign

    House prices fell by 0.1% in February, according to Nationwide - the first decline in five months, since September. That brought the annual rate of price rises to 5.7% compared with 6.8% in January - a sharper than expected slowdown.

     
  18.  
    07:16: Lib Dems Norman Smith Assistant political editor, BBC News
    Lib Dems

    The Liberal Democrats announce the first of many proposed tax rises today as part of their vow to pay off the deficit by 2018 by increasing the tax take rather than cutting spending further. Norman Smith tells Radio 4's Today programme that banks would have all the cuts in corporation tax since 2010 wiped out in a move that would generate about £1bn for the public purse. However, the Lib Dems still need to raise a further £7bn or so to make their sums add up, he adds.

     
  19.  
    07:02: Buffett letter
    bricks

    A quick reminder of what Mr Buffett's company owns. Among other businesses, Berkshire Hathaway owns about half of Heinz, engine oil firm Lubrizol, clothing maker Fruit of the Loom, the pleasingly named Acme Brick company and private plane operator NetJets. He also owns stakes in Mars, Coca Cola and American Express.

     
  20.  
    06:50: Bank shares BBC Radio 4

    David Cumming, head of equities at Standard Life, tells presenter Simon Jack on Today there is a "lot of noise" around banking stocks given the regulatory pressure the sector is now under, meaning they have a "higher than average risk profile". He also thinks the FTSE 100 will crack the 7,000 mark in the next few weeks as the economy continues to improve.

     
  21.  
    06:37: East Coast trains Radio 5 live
    train

    The East Coast rail route between London and Scotland has returned to private hands after more than five years in the public sector. David Horne of Virgin Trains East Coast is on 5 live. He says Virgin has done a good job with the West Coast line. National Express took over the line during a recession, so starting a franchise now should work better for Virgin, Horne adds.

     
  22.  
    06:24: Market update

    China's decision to cut interest rates over the weekend - the second reduction in four months - in a bid to ward off deflation has boosted stock markets in Asia today, with Sydney up 0.5% as mining companies bounced higher, while the Nikkei in Tokyo and the Shanghai Composite were both 0.3% higher.

     
  23.  
    06:11: Buffett letter Radio 5 live
    warren

    Sue Noffke, fund manager at asset manager Schroders, is 5 live's markets guest. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett sent his annual letter to shareholders on Saturday, summing up his 50 years building one of the planet's biggest companies. Because he behaves more like an owner than an investor, "he has had a longer-term investment horizon" than other investors, says Ms Noffke.

     
  24.  
    06:02: Software security Radio 5 live

    Online security firm AVG's chief executive Gary Kovacs is on 5 live speaking from Barcelona's Mobile World Congress tech show about security breaches. The internet has "only been around for 20 years," so securing the place is now a priority, he says. A podcast is now on the website.

     
  25.  
    06:01: Chris Johnston Business reporter

    Good morning! Get in touch via email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or on Twitter @BBCBusiness

     
  26.  
    06:00: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Good morning everyone. Welcome to Monday. The UK government has said it will block the sale of 12 North Sea oil and gas fields to Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman after concerns about the effect of "possible future sanctions". Stay tuned for more of the best business news.

     

Features

  • A very clever little girlBrain gain

    Why are people getting better at intelligence tests?


  • Don Roberto Placa Quiet Don

    The world's worst interview - with one of the loneliest men on Earth


  • A reveller attends celebrations to mark the 450th anniversary of the city of Rio de Janeiro - 1 March 2015Partying in the streets

    Rio de Janeiro marks 450 years since it was founded


  • BeefaloBeefalo hunt

    The hybrid animal causing havoc in the Grand Canyon


From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • BatteriesClick Watch

    More power to your phone - the lithium-ion batteries that could last twice as long

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. 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.