It is simplistic to talk about two nations

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The Independent Online

It does not seem long since the doom-mongers were predicting the imminent collapse of London as a city. But a new analysis, People and Places: a 2001 census atlas(published by the University of Bristol's Policy Press), shows that the opposite is now true. Today, we have a "greater Greater London", the researchers argue. "In London's suburbs," they write, "are the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, its education enclaves; at its extremities are the beaches of Devon and Cornwall, where many Londoners spend their summer weekends. London's edge suburb is not Croydon but Bristol."

It does not seem long since the doom-mongers were predicting the imminent collapse of London as a city. But a new analysis, People and Places: a 2001 census atlas(published by the University of Bristol's Policy Press), shows that the opposite is now true. Today, we have a "greater Greater London", the researchers argue. "In London's suburbs," they write, "are the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, its education enclaves; at its extremities are the beaches of Devon and Cornwall, where many Londoners spend their summer weekends. London's edge suburb is not Croydon but Bristol."

London dominates Britain. The population within the Greater London Authority area continues to grow (up by about 7 per cent in 10 years), whereas that of cities like Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester has shrunk (by 3, 8 and 10 per cent respectively). Finance is the driving force: 1.7 million more people worked in banking and finance in 2001, compared with 1991; most of them in, and around, London. Additionally, one in five graduates lives in the area.

The researchers wring their hands over these trends. Is Britain, they wonder, dividing even more sharply into two nations: a mega-London, and anorthern archipelago of scattered islets of prosperity set in a sea of economic and social decline? It is not so simple. The South of England includes the country's two wealthiest boroughs, Wokingham in Berkshire and Hart in Hampshire. Here are Britain's highest proportion of well-to-do households, owning at least three cars and living in properties with at least seven rooms. On the other hand, the London boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets are Britain's poorest. Almost half of their inhabitants are reckoned to be living below the poverty line.

The South doesn't carry all before it. Nor is the entity called "the North" in a state of total collapse: just look at the success and vibrancy of cities such as Edinburgh, Manchester and Leeds, and the prosperity of the suburbs that fringe them. But the truth is that London is benefiting from globalisation, and that its competitors are abroad, not at home.

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