Published on 8 July 2020
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Townscapes: The South West


Benjamin Goodair, Research Assistant, Bennett Institute for Public Policy
Professor Michael Kenny, Director, Bennett Institute for Public Policy


July 2020

About this report

This is the fifth in a series of papers analysing the fortunes of towns across Britain. The analysis draws upon data relating to public service provision, economic outcomes and demographic changes.

This report examines the welfare of towns in the South West of England.

Key Findings

  • Towns in the South West are particularly vulnerable to an economic downturn in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. Five out of ten towns in Britain with the most employment in hospitality and tourism industries are found in this region. It would be badly impacted by a Summer with a significantly diminished number of tourists.
  • Only 15% of towns in the South West are residential in character; the vast majority of them provide a relatively large number of jobs for local residents.
  • Eight out of the ten most deprived towns in the South West are situated on,
    or near, the coastline, and the other two are rural towns in Cornwall.
    Compared to towns in other British regions, the South West’s towns provide a higher number of public services per capita, including nursery schools, post boxes, bus stops and health-related services.
  • Since 2011, the South West has fared the best of any English region in terms of changes in the numbers of public services provided in towns.
  • Towns in the South West are 21% less likely to have a train station  compared to towns in the rest of Britain.

About Townscapes

The declining economic fortunes of many towns, and the chasm that divides the experiences and outlooks of many of their inhabitants from the metropolitan centres where wealth and power have become concentrated, are issues of growing interest in political life and public policy.

In the UK, the preponderance of support for Brexit among town-dwellers, and the countervailing values of many young urbanites, has sparked a deep debate about how and why towns are locked out of the circuits of growth in the modern economy, and how the inequalities associated with economic geography can be more effectively tackled.

Our Townscapes project offers a deeper analysis of how towns are faring across the regions of Britain and elsewhere. It aims to step away from the generalisations and dogmas that infuse much of the contemporary policy debate and offer instead a more finely grained picture of how different towns relate to their wider regions and nations, as well as to their nearest cities. It showcases the merits of a more granular and regionally rooted perspective for our understanding of geographical inequalities and the kinds of policy needed to address them.


Professor Michael Kenny

Inaugural Director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy

Professor Kenny is the Inaugural  Director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy. Biography Before he arrived in Cambridge, Michael held positions at: Queen’s University, Belfast; the University of Sheffield,...

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