Britain’s satellite towns are falling behind their city counterparts in socioeconomic terms, new research by the independent thinktank Demos indicates.

Three-in-five towns are under-performing their closest city according to the Talk of the Town report, which mapped the socioeconomic fortunes of satellite towns outside 21 English cities.

Of the 42 towns in the sample, 26 fared worse than their nearest city while 16 rated better based a series of socioeconomic indicators. Towns generally fared less well than nearby cities on some of the most important measures: self-reported good health, disability, educational measures and healthy eating. They also reported higher levels of adult obesity (but lower levels of childhood obesity).

Castleford near Leeds, Kirkby outside Liverpool and Shoreham-by-Sea near Brighton and Hove were found to lag furthest behind their respective city neighbours.

However, it wasn’t all bad news for town-dwellers, with some outperforming their city neighbours. The best performers relative to their nearest cities were West Bridgford (Nottingham), Beverley (Hull) and Sutton Coldfield (Birmingham).

Broadly speaking people in towns lived longer, had higher levels of employment and higher rates of home ownership. Child poverty and overall household deprivation tended to be lower while they also had higher election turnouts.

Overall towns scored better on 22 of the 30 socioeconomic measures used to determine a location’s socioeconomic rating. However, crucially they fell behind on those measures which were considered most important and therefore carry more weight. These include the proportion of the population with no qualifications, those with degree level qualifications, those in the higher social/income grades and those who report that they are in good health.

“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,” co-author Ally Paget said of the research, which was supported by the national charity 4 Children.

“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.”

Towns in the Midlands were the best performers when compared with their nearest cities, while towns in the north and south were more likely to have lower ratings than their neighbouring cities.

However, when towns in the north and south were compared to each other, southern towns tended to perform better in socioeconomic terms than their northern counterparts.

Co-author of the report Charlie Cadywould said it was no surprise that, overall, towns and cities in the south performed more strongly than those in the north.

“However, it’s interesting to see that cities in the south are doing even better than their satellite towns, while towns in the north lag behind their neighbouring cities. The government would be wise to ensure the benefits of its Northern Powerhouse agenda are spread outside of major urban centres, in order to ensure prosperity is truly shared across the region.”

As the majority of the data used to create the overall performance index for England was unavailable at the same level for towns and cities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland it wasn’t possible to compare locations in the different countries. However, the study did compare towns and their neighbouring cities within these three nations.

In Northern Ireland two towns, Castlereagh and Newtownabbey, outperformed their neighbouring city, Belfast on every measure. The opposite was the case in both Scotland and Wales where towns (four in each country) underperformed on most available measures compared to their nearby cities.

Although Welsh towns tended to do better on election turnout and housing measures than their larger neighbour they underperformed on health, education and household measures.

In Scotland, the only measure on which towns significantly outperformed their comparator cities was on employment rates, but they fell behind on most education and household measures.

Source: The Guardian

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