22 July 2020

The Heartland in Context includes more than 20 maps providing insight on the region's people, places, economy and environment.

What follows is my selection of just five of these maps which powerfully highlight some of the big opportunities, challenges and contrasts which exist across our region.

ONE: We have an economy powered by science and technology innovation

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England’s Economic Heartland is one of the world’s leading economic regions, colloquially referred to by the media as the country’s ‘brain belt’. Throughout the region there are clusters of internationally renowned, cutting edge science and technology businesses. Enhancing connectivity between similar clusters (both physically and digitally) is a key ambition – as is harnessing the innovation which exists in the region to trial and deploy new, cleaner and smarter forms of mobility.

 TWO: There are many ‘centres of gravity’

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Compared to some other regions which are dominated by one or two very large cities, the Heartland is polycentric in nature. Based on the GVA of local authorities in 2018, Milton Keynes had the largest economy, followed by the economic and population centres of Swindon, Oxford, Cambridge, Northampton, Peterborough and Luton, which each had economies worth £6bn or more. There are several other important centres, for example Bedford, Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Watford, Hemel Hempstead and Stevenage. As a consequence, travel to work patterns in the Heartland are complex, making it important to ensure that the solutions put forward for investment are tailored to local needs.

THREE: We have a significant and economically important rural population

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A quarter of the Heartland’s population live in rural areas, where (under Defra’s definition), settlements contain fewer than 10,000 people. This is significantly higher than the England and Wales average of 18.5%. And when you also include ‘rural hubs’ of 10,000-30,000 population, 34% of Heartland residents live in small market towns and their rural hinterlands, compared with 23% in England and Wales.  Rural areas are important economically – indeed, GVA in the Heartland’s 12 predominantly rural local planning authorities amounted to £41bn in 2018, contributing a quarter of the Heartland’s total GVA. However, within rural communities the connectivity options, both physical and digital, available to residents and businesses are often limited, bringing with it implications that extend beyond the transport sector. This is something our Draft Transport Strategy looks to address.

FOUR: Transport emissions are a particular challenge

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Transport-related emissions are a particular challenge for the region, rising 10% between 2012-2017, compared to 5% nationally. In 2017 the Heartland’s transport emissions stood at 13,507kt, equating to 47% of the Heartland’s total carbon dioxide emissions, compared with 37% nationally. Emissions per capita are higher in areas containing significant parts of Strategic Road Network, although there is also a correlation between high emissions and high car mode spilt. The requirement to achieve net zero emissions from transport no later than 2050 is a central pillar of the Draft Transport Strategy. We know that a ‘business as usual approach and relying on national interventions such as the ban on new petrol and diesel cars from 2035 (as welcome as this is), will not get us where we need to be – we need to go further. Pathways to Decarbonisation, produced for EEH by the universities of Oxford and Southampton, explores the extra measures which could be taken to achieve net zero.

FIVE: Levelling-up will help realise our economic potential

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The Heartland is considered a relatively prosperous region. However, there are significant variations in life outcomes within it. Thirteen of the Heartland’s planning authority districts contain neighbourhoods which are amongst the 10% most deprived nationally. More than 800,000 people live in the top third most deprived planning authority areas in England, accounting for 15% of our total population. There are significant variations within local planning authority areas. For example, the life expectancy of boys in the Northfield Brook estate in Oxford is 75.5, almost 15 years lower than their peers in Oxford North – just six miles away. The Draft Transport Strategy recognises the importance of better connectivity to improve social equality and access to opportunities in our more deprived areas.

Adam King is England's Economic Heartland's Communications Manager