02
September
2015
|
17:01
Europe/London

City regions: bigger is better?

  • Thirty-four key actors in the North West were interviewed
  • The paper identifies the factors which explain Greater Manchester’s prominence in national policy debates
Manchester

Research presented to the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference today looks at the argument for backing larger city regions in the north.

In seeking to develop a credible intellectual and political case for a Greater Manchester city region, based on a bigger is better argument, authorities in Greater Manchester have been careful in choosing their comparators in order to make their case, argues new research presented to and released by the Royal Geographical Society today.

Other cities such as Bristol and smaller urban areas like Milton Keynes, Cambridge and Warrington have actually experienced higher levels of economic growth on many indicators and may actually be better positioned to take forward the government’s growth agenda than some of the larger cities, Professor Graham Haughton, of The University of Manchester, was telling the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference.

The research was completed by Professor Haughton, Iain Deas and Dr Stephen Hincks, of The University of Manchester. Thirty-four key actors in the North West were interviewed about attempts to develop new geographies to cover Manchester, Liverpool, and their surrounding areas.

The argument largely ignores the inconvenient fact that some of England’s highest economic growth rates are actually in medium-sized cities. It is similarly quiet about the government’s continuing focus on public investment in London, and instead makes the case for Manchester getting similar preferential treatment. But government funding is not zero-sum. If some areas get more, others get less.
Professor Graham Haughton

The paper identifies the factors which explain Greater Manchester’s prominence in national policy debates and its longstanding status as a model for other city regions: strong and stable local political leadership; pragmatism in its dealings with central government; and a flexible approach to drawing in supporting partners. However, the paper also argues that Manchester’s political leaders have been astute in developing a powerful intellectual case, based on agglomeration economics, which has helped secure the support of successive governments.

This case, the paper argues, is a potent one, but misplaced. “The argument largely ignores the inconvenient fact that some of England’s highest economic growth rates are actually in medium-sized cities. It is similarly quiet about the government’s continuing focus on public investment in London, and instead makes the case for Manchester getting similar preferential treatment. But government funding is not zero-sum. If some areas get more, others get less”.

“The case for a Greater Manchester city region seems to rest on the assumption that areas close to Manchester will benefit from the greater growth and tax revenue the city will supposedly generate as a consequence of preferential government investment, for instance in infrastructure. But we need to keep a careful eye on other potential growth areas outside Greater Manchester, such as Warrington and Chester, to make sure they are not disadvantaged. Similarly, we should be concerned about whether struggling smaller northern towns and cities become further disadvantaged as public investment is focused elsewhere. Are they to be left to hope for trickle-down? It could be a long wait if so,” said Professor Haughton.