Nigel Spence


Contemporary demographic and economic trends in the British urban and regional system

Nigel Spence

Geographia Polonica (1985) vol. 51, pp. 19-36 | Full text

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The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the features of what is becoming to be described as the 'new geography of Britain1. It is not long ago when researchers were able to make the following types of statement about the nation's spatial demography and economy:'generally speaking, the only places where an actual decline in population has taken place have been rural areas. Such areas may be extensive (but) none of these constitutes a region of its own, and the decline of such areas is matched by the expansion of urban areas elsewhere in the region' (McCrone, 1969).'

In the congested regions the primary problem is to plan the expansion in such a way as to make the best use of space, minimise the social and economic costs of congestion and preserve the amenity of the environment. This means that some urban concentrations must be prevented from further population growth and expansion must be diverted to other centres' (McCrone, 1969).

Not unnaturally urban and regional policies were formulated to counter such problems as then perceived. Now such statements are no longer admissible and many such policies no longer applicable. The structural changes, social as well as economic, which have affected British society in recent times have had spatial ramifications which have transformed the geography of the country. To be sure there have been some recent spatial policy initiatives intended to counter the emergent problems but it is clear that they are far from being consistent and well reasoned. Policy options will be considered further in the conclusion of the paper where it will be argued that their currently enacted poverty lies just as much in a lack of understanding of structural processes of change as in a lack of political will. The main part of the paper will however be concerned to detail trends in population, employment and unemployment in the British urban and regional system.


Nigel Spence, Department of Geography, London school of economies and political science. London, UK