Previously, the surfacing of this well-worn topic would spark a discussion about how other large British cities could take on the capital at its own game. However, this audience reflected a sense of recognition that London is the capital and always will be. So where does this leave the UK’s secondary cities?
The acceptance of London’s dominance is certainly borne out by the numbers. PricewaterhouseCoopers’s forecast for the UK’s economy says: “London and the South East continue to lead the recovery, with average growth of around 3% in 2015-16.” It adds that, “all other UK regions should also register growth” over the period – though only of around 1.6-2.4% per annum.
Yet just when there appears to be new acceptance of London’s pre-eminence, a number of government moves aim to boost the economies of our other large cities. Chancellor George Osborne’s ‘northern powerhouse’ strategy aims to ‘close the gap between north and south’. By improving transport links between Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield he hopes to combine the strengths and activities of these cities to form an economic unit capable of competing at a higher level than the cities would do acting alone.
So is the British attitude to the hierarchy of cities just wrong?
We could take inspiration from the US, where there is less of a sense that all cities are competing with New York City and more of a feeling of a variety of urban centres, each with their own particular character: The movie industry gives Los Angeles its personality, while Silicon Valley is the tech Mecca and Boston is known as an intellectual and medical centre.
Germany exemplifies this too, with economic hotspots distributed around the country: The seat of government is in Berlin, finance is focused within Frankfurt, business in Dusseldorf, Cologne is the media hub and Hamburg’s strength is its major port.
So if (so-called?) secondary cities take the opportunities that they now have to – instead of worrying about competing with London – go their own way, they can carve out strong, individual identities which offer an interesting alternative to London. Not only will this lift the cities themselves, as places to live, work and do business, but it will add immeasurably to the richness of the UK plc offer.
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