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Levelling up – the best outer-London cities to invest in revealed

Zero-carbon housebuilder Etopia Homes has pinpointed the towns and cities in England which could make the best use of the government’s levelling up funds.

Its Levelling Up Opportunity Index compares the performance of the 34 largest towns and cities outside of the capital to identify places that have traditionally underperformed economically up to now, but which have the capacity for substantial future growth.

The index comes as the government is poised to launch its much-awaited levelling up white paper which will set out what ‘levelling up’ means two years after it became the central theme of Boris Johnson’s election manifesto.


In his speech to the Conservative Party conference this year, Johnson states the phrase meant “…offering hope and opportunity to those areas that have felt left behind” while “…taking the pressure off parts of the overheating South East”.

Rather than considering traditional deprivation indicators, Etopia’s index focuses on data around potential growth, business rates, commuting patterns and land use. Its aim was to provide an evidence base which government could use to focus where it should invest levelling up funding to best drive economic growth.

While it remains to be seen how the recently-renamed Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities plans to do this – or whether towns, cities or councils will be the focus of the policy – some clues are available.

The criteria for prioritising the £4.8 billion Levelling-up Fund launched earlier this year looked at factors including unemployment and travel times to key facilities, rather than alternative measures of economic potential.

As such, the index gives an overview of which cities not only require economic development in order to ‘level up’, but which may represent critical opportunities, too.

It uses a combination of standard “negative” indicators (such as low current GVA per head, low productivity growth and low business rates generated per head of population) as well as “positive” indicators (such as the amount of brownfield land earmarked for development).

England’s 34 biggest cities and towns outside London were ranked on each of six key indicators, and the aggregate of all those ranks was used to give an overall levelling-up opportunity ranking.

Bradford emerged top of the list, indicating it has the strongest case for economic support as part of the levelling-up agenda, as well as significant capacity for new economic growth. Wolverhampton was second, Coventry third, and Luton and Plymouth joint fourth.

Joseph Daniels, chief executive officer and founder of Etopia Group, comments: “We wanted to create an evidence base which can help Government to weigh up where it should invest levelling up funds to best drive economic growth. The Levelling Up Opportunity Index provides Government with a new lens with which to evaluate the economic potential of Britain’s largest cities and towns.”

“If this Government is to leave a real legacy from levelling up then it needs to be willing to take on the transformational levelling up opportunities that our index has shown exists in places like Leicester, Wolverhampton and Bradford.”

He adds: “These towns and cities all have huge potential to become self-sufficient centres of economic growth and by investing in low carbon, sustainable property development, we believe a bigger, better and more resilient economy can be delivered for these places themselves and for Britain as a whole.”

The full levelling-up opportunity index ranking is as follows:

1 Bradford (highest priority)

2 Wolverhampton

3 Coventry

4= Luton

4= Plymouth

6 Sheffield

7 Blackpool

8 Middlesbrough

9 Derby

10= Birmingham

10= Leicester

10= Stoke-on-Trent

13 Sunderland

14 Salford

15= Portsmouth

15= Carlisle

17 Brighton and Hove

18 Kingston upon Hull

19 Ipswich

20= York

20= Liverpool

22= Leeds

22= Southampton

24 Nottingham

25 Bristol

26 Reading

27= Lincoln

27= Norwich

29 Preston

30 Newcastle

31 Oxford

32 Manchester

33 Milton Keynes

34 Cambridge

You can view the full index report, as well as key indicators used in the study, here.

Poll: Levelling up - is it a meaningless slogan or a genuine attempt to revive left behind towns and cities?



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