03How does the amenity offer differ across cities?

While, in general, cities are able to play host to a range of amenities, there is variety in the amenity offer seen across cities. This section looks at the scale of this variation and the reasons why it occurs, in order to shed light on the link between a city’s economy and its amenity offering.

All cities offer a base level of day-to-day amenities

The majority of cities offer similar access to day-to-day amenities. Figure 6 shows that the number of these amenities available ranges from 38 per 10,000 residents in Slough to 100 per 10,000 residents in Brighton. This variation is mainly driven by cities at the extremes. Half of all cities provide between 56 and 69 of these amenities per 10,000 residents.

Similarly, there is little variation in the availability of budget amenities across cities. This ranges from 37 per 10,000 residents in Blackpool down to 16 in Basildon. When Blackpool and Worthing are excluded, the remaining 60 cities provide between 16 and 26 amenities per 10,000 residents.

This is despite significant variation in the performance of these cities’ economies, the strength of a city’s economy being measured by its ability to attract high-skilled exporters (see Box 5). It is not the case that stronger city economies offer fewer budget amenities, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 6: Day-to-day amenities per 10,000 people in each city, 2018

Source: Locomizer (2018), ONS mid-year population estimates (2017)

Figure 7: Relationship between economic strength and budget amenities

Source: Locomizer (2018), ONS Business Structure Database (2017), 2011 Census, ONS mid-year population estimates (2017)
Note: This chart only contains data on cities in England and Wales due to unavailable data for Scotland and Northern Ireland

Brighton offers the same number of budget amenities (24) per 10,000 residents as Hull, despite having more jobs in high-skilled exporting firms. This is because the majority of budget amenities are also day-to-day amenities, such as discount stores selling household supplies or low-price supermarkets, and so are distributed across cities in a similar way to population.

There are however exceptions. Blackpool and Worthing house more budget amenities than other cities, 37 and 32 per 10,000 residents respectively, compared with the average of 20 for British cities. The ability of these coastal cities to attract visitors may contribute to this as it provides an additional population demanding day-to-day amenities.

Box 5: How does a city create a strong economy?

The economic success of a city is determined by its ability to attract exporting businesses. Since they export, they can inject money into the local economy. Among exporting businesses, it is high-skilled exporters, such as engineers and financial services businesses that bring the most wealth to a local economy.

Given this, in this report, the share of a city’s jobs in high-skilled exporting firms is used as a proxy for economic performance – the higher the share, the stronger the economy.

As they sell to many markets, these businesses could in theory locate anywhere. Their location decisions are based on the advantages that different places offer them. In particular, in deciding where to invest, highskilled exporters tend to look for two things: access to knowledge and highskilled workers.

In recent years, cities in the Greater South East (Greater London, the South East and East of England) have tended to be better at offering businesses these benefits, and this is reflected in the strong economic performance of these places.

Strong city economies are able to sustain more specialist and premium amenities

There is much greater variation across cities in the availability of specialist amenities. Unlike day-to-day amenities, this variation is related to economic performance. Cities with stronger economies are able to sustain a greater offering of these amenities.

In Cambridge there are 27 specialist amenities for every 10,000 residents while in Barnsley there are just four, as Figure 8 shows. Cambridge has more than five times as many restaurants as Barnsley, and more than double the number of art galleries.

Most of the difference between cities is driven by specialist food and drink amenities, such as restaurants and bars. Cultural amenities — including performing arts, museums and galleries — make only a very small contribution, ranging from two for every 10,000 residents in Cambridge to 0.1 in Slough.

While the positive relationship between economic performance and specialist amenities is relatively strong, there are some exceptions. Slough and Reading have fewer specialist amenities than expected given their strong economies. Blackpool, meanwhile, has many more amenities despite a weaker economy. The reasons for these exceptions are explored in case studies 1 and 2.

Figure 8: Relationship between economic strength and specialist amenities

Source: Locomizer (2018), ONS Business Structure Database (2017), 2011 Census, ONS mid-year population estimates (2017)
Note: This chart only contains data on cities in England and Wales due to unavailable data for Scotland and Northern Ireland

Strong cities also offer greater access to more expensive amenities. There is a positive relationship between economic strength and a city’s offering of premium amenities (see Figure 9). For example, Cambridge provides four premium amenities for every 10,000 residents while in Wigan there is less than one for the same number of people.

Figure 9: Relationship between economic strength and premium amenities

Source: Locomizer (2018), ONS Business Structure Database (2017), 2011 Census, ONS mid-year population estimates (2017)
Note: This chart only contains data on cities in England and Wales due to unavailable data for Scotland and Northern Ireland

The prominence of high-skilled jobs in exporting businesses in stronger city economies means those working in the city are more likely to be in higher-paid occupations, raising spending power and demand for amenities in the city. The disposable income of residents rises as economic performance improves. For example, gross household disposable income in 2017 was £23,487 in Cambridge but only £12,623 in Blackburn.10

An amenity located in a strong city economy benefits then not just from the scale of the urban market, but also from this additional spending power. Combined, this is enough to sustain more specialist and premium amenities.

So stronger city economies are able to offer both a base level of day-to-day amenities and access to more premium and specialist amenities, while weaker cities can offer only a more limited selection. This counters the popular claim that cities are playgrounds for the rich.11 Instead, those that cater for wealthy consumers often provide just as well for those with less to spend.

Importantly, there are no weak city economies with a strong specialist or premium amenity offer (no cities are in the top left of Figure 8 and Figure 9). For example, Doncaster has just 13 per cent of jobs in high-skilled roles in exporting firms and the third lowest productivity of all UK cities. It is able to sustain only seven specialist amenities and one premium amenity for every 10,000 residents. Those living and working in weaker cities do not have sufficient spending power to sustain as many theatres, restaurants and cinemas as in stronger cities. As a result, running specialist or premium businesses in these places is not as viable as it is in a city such as Brighton.

This finding has important consequences for policy, which are discussed in Chapter 5.

Larger cities are able to sustain a wider variety of amenities

While, on average, cities offer a wider variety of amenities than other parts of the country, not all cities offer this range. As shown above, not all offer the same variety of specialist and premium amenities. These differences can also be illustrated by looking at the range of places to eat on offer.

The variety of food options a city can sustain is driven by the size of the city, rather than by economic performance. It is Britain’s largest cities that offer the most variety, as Figure 10 shows. Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and London contain the widest range of cuisines. In contrast, small cities such as Worthing and Crawley, have a much more limited choice, offering only 17 cuisines.

Figure 10: Distinctive cuisines by city population

Source: Locomizer (2018), ONS mid-year population estimates (2017)
Note: This chart only contains data on cities in England and Wales due to unavailable data for Scotland and Northern Ireland

The size of a large city provides a sufficient customer market to contain both enough demand for less common amenities and the specialist workers to produce the good or service being sold.

Figure 11 compares the variety in Burnley and London, the cities with the least and most diverse food offerings. In Burnley, there are 13 different cuisines on offer but one — British — accounts for 57 per cent of all places to eat and drink.

In contrast, London offers at least 34 different cuisines, and British food accounts only for 28 per cent of places to eat. Instead, a third of London’s establishments offer cuisines outside Britain’s top six, including Nepalese and Korean. In Burnley, these less common cuisines account for just 7 per cent of the city’s offering.

Figure 11: Range of cuisines on offer in Burnley and London

Source: Locomizer (2018)

As well as sustaining a greater range of cuisines, larger cities are also able to sustain a wider range of different-sized amenities. While large day-to-day amenities (employing more than 250 people) spread out across cities in the same way as population, this is not the case for large specialist amenities. Small- and medium-sized cities do not house any large specialist amenities — 29 per cent are in large cities and 71 per cent are in London. Only cities with significant scale allow these larger venues to recover their fixed costs.

Case study 1: Slough — a strong economy with a weak amenity offer

Slough has one of the strongest economies of all British cities and yet it has a weak amenity offering. In both Figures 8 and 9, the city is an exception to the rule that stronger economies have more specialist and premium amenities, sitting in the bottom right quadrant. It also has the least day-to-day amenities per person of all British cities. The presence of high-skilled jobs in the city should increase spending power and so enable the city to sustain a wider range of amenities, but in Slough this is not the case.

Three factors are likely to contribute to this:

1. Unusual commuting patterns may lead to high earners spending their money elsewhere

The city has the highest share of workers commuting into the city from outside. In 201112, 62 per cent of Slough’s workforce lived outside the city while 57 per cent of residents commuted to jobs outside. For comparison, the average British city imports 42 per cent of its workers and exports just over a third of residents for work.

Not only does this swap of workers and residents take place, the occupations of each group differ. Of all the high-skilled jobs in Slough, 77 per cent are done by workers living outside the city. While 42 per cent of jobs are done by Slough residents, they do just 23 per cent of high-skilled jobs. In 2018, the average Slough worker’s weekly wage was £135 higher than the average Slough resident’s wage — the largest difference of all British cities.

As a result, while the strength of the city’s economy should increase the spending power available to sustain amenities, especially more specialist and premium options as seen in other strong cities, many of those earning higher wages leave the city after work and so are likely to spend much of their leisure time and money in other locations.

2. Concentration of jobs outside the city centre weakens high street offer

More specialist and premium amenities tend to concentrate in a city’s centre — as Figures 1, 2 and 3 show — but, in Slough, the location of jobs may limit the centre’s ability to play this role, weakening the city’s overall amenity offer.

Many of the city’s most productive, high-skilled jobs are located in the suburbs. Unlike other strongly performing cities, Slough’s city centre is not the part of the city with the highest concentration of jobs.
Instead, the trading estate is the densest location of employment, housing 23 per cent of Slough’s jobs.
The 243 hectare estate – based in Slough’s suburbs – is home to half of the city’s manufacturing jobs and 44 per cent of jobs in information and communications technology, both of which are very productive industries in Slough. As a result, the city has a very strong suburban economy.

This means that many well-paid workers in the city spend their working days in the suburbs, reducing the chance they spend time and money in amenities on the city centre’s high street.

3. Proximity to other amenity-rich locations may disperse consumers

Slough is near to many alternative destinations for consumers. London is accessible in 17 minutes by train and Windsor and Eton are even closer, all three with very strong reputations as places to visit. The capital hosts one of the highest numbers of specialist and premium amenities, houses the very largest venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and O2 Arena, and offers the widest range of amenities.

So, despite having residents with considerable disposable income, the seventh highest of all British cities10, some of their spending is likely to be dispersed in other locations. This is illustrated by the average distance travelled by visitors to spend leisure time in Slough and its neighbouring cities, as shown in Figure 12. Visitors to London travel 61km, on average, to spend time in the city compared with the 14km average for visitors to Slough.

Several other cities around London, such as Basildon and Aldershot, have similarly small average distances and weak amenity offerings despite strong economies. They too are likely affected by the pull of London.

Figure 12: Average distance travelled by a visitor to each city

Source: Locomizer (2019)

Case study 2: Blackpool — a weak economy with a strong amenity offer

Blackpool’s position in Figure 8 shows it has a relatively strong specialist amenity offer for its mid-ranking ability to attract high-skilled exporting jobs. This is especially significant given the city performs relatively worse on other measures of economic performance — it is in the bottom half of cities for resident and worker wages and ranks 46th out of 62 cities for the share of residents with a degree.

The city’s status as a tourist destination provides an additional source of consumers to sustain amenities.

Blackpool’s coastal location has always made it an attractive place to visit. Its status grew with the advent of the railways, making it accessible to a greater number of people, and it thrived in the inter-war period as a holiday spot. Although its popularity has fallen from this peak, it remains a significant destination, estimated to attract 18 million trips by tourists each year.14

This is visible in its abundant accommodation sector. The city has 57 places to stay (including hotels, hostels and bed and breakfasts) for every 10,000 residents which is significantly higher than any other city. York ranks second on this measure, offering 11 per 10,000 people.

This additional population of visitors likely contributes to the ability of the city to sustain a larger number of specialist amenities than its residents and workers might do alone.

These visitors contribute to the city sustaining many budget and day-to-day, rather than premium, amenities.

The city is also unusual because it does not have an especially strong offer of premium amenities, which is often the case for other cities with many specialist amenities. Instead, it has a very high availability of budget and day-to-day amenities (see Figures 6 and 7). The affordable nature of the city’s visitor economy then does not make up for the lower spending power of residents and workers who cannot sustain a higher number of premium amenities.



  • 10 ONS Gross Disposable Household Income (2017)
  • 11 http://cityobservatory.org/the-new-mythology-of-rich-cities-and-poor-suburbs/
  • 12 2011 Census data is used as this is the most recent source of detailed commuting data available
  • 13 ONS Gross Disposable Household Income (2017)
  • 14 Blackpool Council (2018) Tourism Performance Update 2018. Accessible at: https://democracy.blackpool.gov.uk/ documents/s36486/ITEM%252010%2520-%2520Tourism%2520Scrutiny%2520Report%2520-%2520June%25202018. pdf+&cd=7&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk