Most popular ▴ See a list of all my posts! The experts got it wrong. Why are there no great Windows 10 apps? How moving the Capital helps Hartlepool. Gender bias calculator The Centre of the UK Defending Uber BusTracker Imagination not needed. Part 1. Imagination not needed. Part 2. Imagination not needed. Part 3. Why Birmingham fails Who is London? Innovation on buses. Heathrow

PDFs and Data ▾ Global open data and PDFs. Improving PDFs for Science. Improving PDFs for Planners. PDFAttacher. A Clearer Plan Hybrid PDFs PDF test-off. PDF Profiler Making PDFs play nicely with data

Housing ▾ Counting households. 1. Counting households. 2. The housing market works (where we let it) Hexmaps Adonis is wrong on housing Car free Birmingham

Regional Growth ▾ Measuring tech in the UK and France in 10 steps. Defending the Zombie graph. Channel 4 must move to Mancheseter Measuring innovation 1: meetups Measuring innovation 2: scientific papers. The UK city-size abnormality. Cities not cheese: why France is productive. How moving the Capital helps Hartlepool. Industrial Strategy. Leeds Growth Strategy 5: Limits. Leeds Growth Strategy 4: Focus. Leeds Growth Strategy 3: Inclusive growth. Leeds Growth Strategy 2: Where to grow? Leeds Growth Strategy 1: Why grow? Imagination not needed. Part 1. Imagination not needed. Part 2. Imagination not needed. Part 3. Inclusive growth. The BBC in Manchester 1 The BBC in Manchester 2 What works (growth) North-South divide: we never tried Imitating Manchester Why Birmingham fails Who is London? Researching research Replacing UK steel The Economist & The North The State of the North, 2015 Move the Lords! Calderdale Digital Strategy Maths of inequality Income by MSOA Heathrow and localism The NorthernPowerhouse Centralism and Santa Claus Yorkshire backwards London makes us poor

Transport ▾ Crossrail 2: Where trust in experts dies. Pacers: crap trains, worth keeping. A Yorkshire transport policy. Stop telling me to learn from London. Fixing it ourselves: bus data in the North. Open fare data will be hard. Transport is too complex! Investment is political London loses when it blocks Leeds' growth The Centre of the UK Defending Uber BusTracker Train time map What works (growth) The Value of Time Innovation on buses. Heathrow 1975 WYMetro Plan

Politics & Economics ▾ GDP measures are like toilets. The UK's private postcodes restrict innovation. Yorkshire could learn from Ireland's success. Alternatives to GDP are a waste of time. Fiscal balance in the UK "Not like London" Innovation takes time to measure Fifa and the right In defence of the € GDP mystery Liberal protectionists 5 types of EU voter Asylum responsibilities STEM vs STEAM The Economist & Scotland BBC Bias? Northern rail consultation What holds us back? Saving the Union Summing it up

Positive ▾ Bike Lights Playful Everywhere Greggs vs. Pret Guardian comment generator Consult less, do more! More things for Leeds! Cartoons PubQuest: Birmingham

Tech ▾ What's holding back opendata in the UK? Anti-trust law saved computing 1 Anti-trust law saved computing 2 Open Data Camp Cardiff Why are there no great Windows 10 apps? Tap to pay. Open Data in Birmingham Defending Uber BusTracker Train time map Building a TechNation How the UK holds back TechNorth GDS is Windows 8 OpenData at the BBC SimFlood SimSponge See me speak Digital Health Leeds Empties Leeds Site Allocations Building a Chrome extension I hate webkit Visualising mental health Microsoft's 5 easy wins Epson px700w reset Stay inside the Bubble

Old/incomplete ▾ Orange price rises The future of University Cherish our Capital Dealing with NIMBYs Sponsoring the tube Gender bias calculator MetNetMaker Malaria PhD Symbian Loops Zwack Kegg Project The EU Eduroam & Windows 8 Where is science vital? The Vomcano 10 things London can shove Holbeck Waterwheel

Last modified: 04 August 2014

Is London too big and is it holding the rest of the UK back?

I recently went to a public meeting in Liverpool where those questions were debated. I will post my write-up of that event soon. First I will answer the questions myself.

Is London too big?


People working together create more wealth. As more people work together in larger and larger cities agglomeration effects — more meetings, both organised and by chance — increase their productivity still more. Above a certain size though, the congestion and internal segregation of a city can start to reduce the benefit of greater size. If the stifling effect of size is stronger than the positive effect of agglomeration then a city could be said to be too big.

That's the idea anyway.

I've read about this, and heard people talk about it, so I looked for the figures that backed up the theory. I found them so hard to find that I suspect I'm missing something. This is the best I could come up with.

The scientist in me finds that trend line ridiculous. There is no justification for it at all and I am surprised that the OECD published it. The data does not convince me that agglomeration effects are curtailed at large city sizes, so I'm sticking to the null hypothesis that they don't.

You might be thinking that the data also doesn't show that agglomeration effects exist but the minimum city size is well above the level at which those effects start to occur so we can't say that.

I'm much more convinced by Barney Stringer's argument that London is in fact too small!

Of course there are others ways of looking at the question. Is London's influence on the nation too big? Yes, I absolutely think it is. I took that to be the subject of the second question.

Is London holding us back?


I was stunned at the debate in Liverpool to hear Henry Overman state that he could think of no way to answer this question, so let me suggest one. The North of England has a similar population to a number of nearby Northern European countries with similar cultures and economic histories. Denmark, Finland, Norway, Austria, Sweden, and Ireland all exist without London and my scientific mind sees seem as good subjects for a controlled study.

If London were a boost to the North of England's economy we would expect the North to be richer than these countries.

If London were of no effect to the North of England's economy we would expect the North to be as rich as these countries.

If London were holding us back, we would expect the North to be poorer than these countries.

Let's look at the data.*

The answer is clear; London is holding the rest of the UK back!

I have explored, and will continue to explore, how this happens but in answering the question here the mechanism is of little importance.

But, But, But, But...

"Ireland's a tax haven", "Northern culture is not like in the Nordic countries", "Austria is uniquely well placed in Europe", "Iceland's GDP figures are a sham", "Ireland's only rich because of the EU bailout", "Norway's only wealthy because of Oil", "Sweden's too big to compare to the North of England".

I've heard lots of reasons why I'm wrong and why the North of England, unlike every one of our Northern European neighbours, is uniquely deficient and in desperate need of London. I don't believe them. If instead of anecdotes, my critics produced facts I would be willing to change my mind.


* The GDP per capita of the North of England (North-East + Yorkshire + North West) and South-East (East + South-East + London) is calculated according to the contributions of those regions to the UK's total GVA per capita.

blog comments powered by Disqus