THE ‘SHRINKING AND AGEING’ CLUSTER
e.g. Ebbw Vale, Worksop, Wigan, Redditch
The distribution of the 79 ‘shrinking and ageing’ towns very much overlaps with the UK’s former industrial heartlands in the West Midlands, the North East, the North West, Yorkshire and south Wales. These are often places where traditional industries have closed and where major questions exist about the long-term future of the town.
Settlements within this cluster over-index for the pace at which the population is ageing, but under-index for growth in the population, for projected growth in population, and for rises in house prices. Use of the latter metric latter reflects the overlay of economic and demographic challenges faced by these towns, resulting in more visible decline, with many hosting large numbers of empty houses or abandoned buildings.
Just 7 of the 79 our ‘shrinking and ageing’ towns are ‘large towns’, with a disproportionately high number of smaller places. As the name for the cluster perhaps suggests, this reflects that many of these towns had historically been built for a single purpose, serving a specific industry.
Our sense would be that attitudes among towns in this cluster are likely to reflect lower level hostility and social conservatism, rather than overt anger or activism. The issues in ‘shrinking and ageing’ towns ideally require economic policies at the national level, which re-establish a clear sense of purpose for each town. But local strategies can also help, by looking at other economic ‘purposes’ which generate centres of gravity – be it through encouraging different sorts of companies to invest or through promoting the town as an affordable place to commute to and from.