To level up, Boris Johnson needs to build homes in satellite towns

A key priority for the government is to revive the fortunes of Britain’s old industrial towns.  Boris Johnson promised to bring jobs and skills directly to these areas, so people no longer need to leave in order to prosper.

The economic revival of regional cities in the past two decades or so has put even more  pressure on the satellite towns which surround them.

The growth and energy of cities such as Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle has created new opportunities for skilled young people in the satellite towns not just to work in the city, but to live there. By moving, they reduce the value of what economists call the human capital of their home towns.  And human capital is crucial to economic growth and productivity. 

Manchester is the classic example. Twenty five years ago, there were essentially no private homes at all in the city centre.  Now, 80,000 young people live there, and their numbers are growing.  

A fundamental problem for most of the regions of the UK is that they are in a monetary union – we all use sterling – with the high productivity regions of London and the South East.

The lower productivity areas suffer a drain on resources because they are unable to compete on efficiency grounds.  And because they are in a monetary union, they do not have the option of a currency devaluation to help offset this.  So such areas suffer from lower growth of their economies and higher unemployment.

The same thing happens at a more finely grained geographical level.  The satellite towns suffer a drain of productive resources to their high productivity cities in the centres of their regions. 

The raft of measures to develop skills in the Queen’s speech are very welcome.  But skills take time to build up.

 The proposed shake up to the planning system can have a much more rapid impact.

The changes are intended to make it more difficult for existing owners to block new development schemes.

Though the government’s purpose seems to be simply to increase home ownership, this can actually be a powerful and effective way of increasing the competitiveness of satellite towns.

Paul Ormerod
As published in City AM Wednesday 12th May 2021
Image: James Johnstone via Flickr

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Alex O’Byrne, Associate at Volterra, is an experienced economic consultant specialising in economic, health and social impact, economic strategy, project appraisal and socio-economic planning matters.

Alex has led the socio-economic and health assessments of some of the most high profile developments across the UK, including Battersea Power Station, Olympia London, London Resort, MSG Sphere and Westfield. He has significant experience inputting to EIAs and s106 discussions as well as drafting economic statements, employment and skills strategies and affordable workspace strategies.

Alex is also experienced at economic appraisal for infrastructure. He was project manager of the economic appraisal for the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail in Auckland. He also led the economic and financial appraisals of the third tranche of the Transport Access Program for Transport for New South Wales, in which Alex developed and employed innovative methodological approaches to better capture benefits for individuals with reduced mobility.

He is interested in the limitations of current appraisal methodologies and ways of improving economic and health analysis to ensure it is accessible to as many people as possible. To this end, Alex recognises the importance of transparent and simple to understand analysis and ensuring all work is supported by a robust narrative.

Alex holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics from the University of Manchester and he was a member of the first cohort of the Mayor’s Infrastructure Young Professionals Panel.


Senior Partner

t: +44 020 8878 6333

Ellie is a partner at Volterra, specialising in the economic impact of developments and proposals, and manages many of the company’s projects on economic impact, regeneration, transport and development.

With thirteen years experience at Volterra delivering high quality projects to clients across the public and private sector, Ellie has expertise in developing methods of estimating economic impact where complex issues exist with regards to deadweight, displacement and additionality.

Ellie has significant experience in estimating the economic impact across all types of property development including residential, leisure, office and mixed use schemes.

Project management of recent high profile schemes include the luxury hotel London Peninsula, Battersea Power Station and the Nova scheme at London Victoria. Ellie has also led studies across the country estimating the economic and regeneration impact of proposed transport investments, including studies on HS2 and Crossrail.

Ellie holds a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Cambridge.