Introduction

In recent years, cities have been high on the policy agenda. Starting with City Deals and leading on to Devolution Deals and the creation of metro mayors, a number of cities and city regions are now able to better tailor policy to address
their challenges and take advantage of opportunities available to them.

The EU referendum has changed this somewhat, bringing back to the fore long-running debates about cities and towns. The geography of the ‘Leave’ vote has been characterised by commentators as a split between the ‘metropolitan
elite’ in big cities and the ‘left behind’ smaller towns. This has led to calls on government, most articulately from the recently created Centre for Towns, about what can be done to support those towns cast as being left behind.

While there has been a great deal of discussion about the relative balance of policy between a focus on cities and towns, much less is understood about the relationships between them. And this should be a crucial part of the debate
because it affects how policy should respond.

This report fills this void, setting out what the links between the two look like, and informs what this means for policy as it attempts to improve access to economic opportunity for people across the country.

Section two looks at the contribution that cities make to the economy and to civic life. Section three looks at the flows between cities and towns, and the roles that they play in their economies and the national economy overall. Finally,
section four considers the policy implications for Government as it looks to improve the access to economic prosperity that people across the country have.

Box 1: Defining towns and cities

To look at the links between cities and towns first requires towns to be defined.

In its research Centre for Cities uses the primary urban area definition of a city, which captures the continuous built-up area to define its physical footprint. A minimum daytime population of 135,000 is applied to distinguish cities from other areas, giving a total of 62 cities in Britain, ranging from London and Manchester to Exeter and Wakefield.

The same principle is used to define towns, again using built-up areas and applying a minimum daytime population of 30,000. This approach gives a total of 164 towns.

Because much of the data used in section 2 is available at a local authority level only, local authorities are used as the building blocks to define cities, as is standard in Centre for Cities’ research.

In section 3, in order to be comparable with the town definition, cities are defined using much smaller output areas as the building blocks. The Census is the only data source that provides data on a number of indicators at this geography, so most data in this section is from 2011.

Section 3 also refers to the hinterland around cities. To define hinterlands the average distance that a worker from outside commutes into each city is used as the radius of the circle which has its centre point in the middle of the city.