Forgotten Towns: new Demos research shows England’s metro revolution is leaving satellite towns behind

A ground-breaking new study from cross-party think tank Demos shows a concerning gulf between the socio-economic performance of English towns and their neighbouring cities.

Against a wide variety of critical social and economic measures – including health, education and employment – the report finds that three in five English towns are falling behind their urban neighbours.

The report, Talk of the Town, was undertaken to map the fortunes of the satellite towns orbiting 21 of England’s largest cities, and to better understand their distinct characteristics. With cross-party agreement on the need for a more balanced level of regional economic growth throughout the UK, the report sought to capture the unique local profiles and needs of both towns and cities – and identify where they could most benefit from targeted support.

While compared to their neighbouring cities, towns tend to under-perform socio-economically, in absolute terms, they were found to have either very high or low socio-economic profiles, with cities falling in the middle range.

Importantly, however, while towns on average beat their nearest cities on 22 of the 30 measures, they tended to be least successful on some of the most important criteria for a place’s social and economic strength – including residents’ qualification levels, and their health and wellbeing.

The towns surrounding Leeds and Liverpool in the North (Castleford and Kirkby) and Brighton in the South (Shoreham and Portslade) were found to be lagging the furthest behind their respective cities, while West Bridgford, Beverley and Sutton Coldfield are out-performing their neighbours Nottingham, Hull and Wolverhampton by the largest margin.

 

Broadly, the study found towns in the Midlands are the best overall performers against their nearest cities. It also identified a substantial North-South divide in absolute socio-economic performance, affecting both towns and cities – meaning those towns under-performing in the North are likely to have come from a particularly low base.

Towns broadly succeeded on employment levels, life expectancy, child development for under-fives, electoral turnout, and the number of SMEs. Residents were also found to have higher life expectancy, and lower rates of childhood obesity – but higher rates of adult obesity.

Commenting on the report, its co-author, Ally Paget, said:

“The findings of this report suggest that the majority of English satellite towns are eclipsed by their nearest cities in some of the most important respects – such as residents’ health and level of qualifications. It is clear that, for better or worse, England’s towns have different social and economic circumstances from their urban neighbours. If efforts at securing growth are too focused on cities, ignoring what towns need and what they have to offer, there is a very real danger that England’s towns will continue to be left behind.”

4Children’s Chief Executive, Imelda Redmond CBE, said:

“As this report makes clear, England’s towns are being left behind. Despite the welcome devolution agenda from governments over the past few decades which has seen cities outside London benefit from increased funding, towns have been overlooked. This research also underlines just how strong the North / South divide is and how far we have got to go to close the gap. 4Children will be looking further into the impact on children, young people and their families growing up in the towns which have fared worse.”

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Notes to Editors

Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think tank. We are an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research. Visit: www.demos.co.uk.

This report was supported by 4 Children – a national charity focused on children and families, which has championed an integrated approach to children’s services. 4 Children works with a wide range of national partners to ensure children and families can access the services and support they need in their communities. Visit: www.4children.org.uk

Talk of the Town launches a wider collaboration between Demos and 4 Children for 2016, which will explore outcomes for, and the lived experiences of, children and families living in satellite towns.

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Sophie Gaston – Press and Communications Manager, Demos
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