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SERC/Urban and Spatial Programme Discussion Paper

Is Pennine England becoming more Polycentric or more Centripetal? An Analysis of Commuting Flows in a Transforming Industrial Region, 1981-2001


This paper examines census-derived commuting data for the world’s earliest major urbanindustrial region, now home to 10 million people. Owing its origins to water power from the Pennine rivers, this region now comprises many closely-spaced cities and towns whose distinct identities have been eroded through the loss of their local industrial specialisms and the long-term growth in mobility. It contains five of the city regions identified by ‘The Northern Way’, a policy initiative designed as part of the Labour government’s 2004 Sustainable Cities Plan for stimulating agglomeration economies across the wider region, with a more polycentric structure being seen as a positive contribution to this development. The paper tests how far this part of Northern England may be evolving into a single polycentric mega-city region, using commuting data from the 1981, 1991 and 2001 Censuses. Two hypotheses are tested; namely, that there is increasing polycentricity within each of the five city regions and that there is increasing linkage between the five city regions. With gravity modelling removing the effects of generic reductions in distance deterrence, evidence is found of trends towards greater polycentricity at both these scales of analysis, albeit modest in scale: there has been some reduction in the five cities’ attraction of commuters living in the other parts of their city regions and the boundaries between the city regions have become somewhat more permeable over time.


Tony Champion and Mike Coombes

25 April 2012     Paper Number SERCDP0105

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This SERC/Urban and Spatial Programme Discussion Paper is published under the centre's Urban programme.