Champion , Coombes

IGU Urban Commission, Canterbury, 2010

Tony Champion

Mike Coombes

Centre for Urban & Regional Development Studies (CURDS) , Newcastle University

Is Pennine England becoming more polycentric or more centripetal? An analysis of commuting flows in a transforming industrial region, 1981-2001


This paper addresses a topic that is especially relevant to the first of the IGU Urban Commission’s three themes for 2008-2012, namely interdependent urban systems. It investigates possible trends towards functional polycentricity in what was the first major urban-industrial region of the world during a period of rapid economic restructuring and population redistribution. The focus is on the five city regions which are currently seen as emerging in what were once the textile (and, to a lesser extent, steel) manufacturing areas of the former counties of Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, which we term Pennine England, now home to just over 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. As such, it inherits from the past a highly complex urban system within which there are major concerns about the future sustainability of all its individual parts, most notably the former industrial settlements located towards the peripheries of these city regions but also some of the city-region cores themselves.

The paper’s aim is to test how far Pennine England may be evolving into a single polycentric mega-city region. In particular, have the largest centres strengthened their dominance over adjacent towns or has there been greater increase in centrifugal patterns or inter-peripheral flows which indicate more of a polycentric tendency? Commuting data from the 1981, 1991 and 2001 Population Censuses are used to test two hypotheses: firstly, that there is increasing polycentricity within each of the five city regions, i.e. they are decreasingly dominated by their main cities, with secondary centres emerging; and, secondly, that there is increasing linkage between the five city regions, with decreased dominance of the wider region by one centre, which historically has been Manchester. Following a review of literature which draws attention to a previously unrecognised role of the Pennine region in conceptual development, the paper outlines the role of changing commuting patterns in restructuring the urban system through the twentieth century, and then presents the results of the models which test for increased polycentricity in its last two decades. The region has for long had a sluggish economy, so this case study complements the previous tests of emerging polycentricity which mainly have been undertaken for more dynamic regions.


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