46th Congress of the European Regional Science Association: "Enlargement, Southern Europe and the Mediterranean", August 30th - September 3rd, 2006, Volos, Greece
The past fifty years have witnessed a major transformation of Britain's urban system. Some cities have consistently prospered and been relatively successful in terms of maintaining or increasing their share of national employment and population, whilst others have lost ground and have struggled to attract new investment and jobs. This changing geography of where people live and where economic activity locates are major systematic long-term trends persisting over decades rather than years. Paralleling the process of geographical restructuring and closely related to it, have been other economic, social and technological changes that have profoundly changed the role of different cities in the national economy in terms of their changing industrial specialisation. A familiar and well-documented theme has been the relative decline of the manufacturing sector in the conurbations and larger cities and the growth of financial and business services in conurbations such as London and some of the larger cities. Improved communications, declining transport costs, increasing capital intensity and more flexible production processes have been some of the post-war developments which have eroded the traditional locational advantages of cities for manufacturing firms and whilst transport costs and proximity to suppliers continue to matter for location, for many firms in this sector the costs of a city location would seem to outweigh the benefits. In this context we are concerned with four main questions in this paper: Which industries continue to find urban locations favourable?; Are there newly emerging patterns of specialisation within the urban system?; Which locations are favoured by high-technology industry?; and Is industry specialisation beneficial for the growth of the city? Our research argues for an urban system perspective when addressing these problems, and whilst accepting the need for locally based policy intervention in selected problem areas, also recognises the inter-dependence between cities at a regional and national level and therefore the need for policy to be orchestrated at a wider spatial scale than the local area.