The HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) appears concerned at the size of London, both in actual size and its size when compared to the next largest UK city. The figures then deployed are used to advance the proposition that HS2 may somehow make London yet more dominant. The comparison is then drawn with the absolute and relative sizes of capital cities around Europe.
Unfortunately, quite apart from ignoring the recent history and characteristics of three of the countries used for comparison, the figure fiddling I noted earlier has found its way into the argument. The figures that leap off the page are those for the French capital, Paris: there is no way that the population of this city is a mere 2.2 million.
The central area of Paris, within the city boundaries, does indeed have a population of a little over two millions, but that is because the authorities have declined to allow the disfigurement of the city and its parks and boulevards. Rather, population growth has occurred in the area outside the city boundary, to the extent that the Paris metropolitan area now has a population of just under 12 million – not far behind the 13.7 million of Greater London.
Moreover, that Paris metropolitan area accounts for over 25% of France’s GDP. It’s massively larger than the country’s next largest cities of Lyon (1.7 million) and Marseille (1.5 million). The HS2AA assert that London is uniquely seven times larger than its next largest neighbour, but it is not: Paris shares that characteristic.
There is a good reason for this “super primacy”: both cities have been national capitals for several hundred years, and their national boundaries have remained more or less constant over time. This is not the case with Berlin and Rome: Germany and Italy both became united only in 1870. Also, centres of manufacturing and commerce have developed away from the administrative centres of both countries, with the partition of Germany after 1945 also being a factor.
But what of Spain? Here, Madrid became the capital only in the 16th century, and the country has always seen a rivalry between the national capital and that of Catalunya, this being Barcelona. Not even three and a half decades of Francisco Franco could significantly change that, hence the comparative sizes of the two cities’ metropolitan areas – 5.2 million for Madrid, and 4.1 million for Barcelona.
As can be seen, the only more or less like for like comparison with the primacy of London is with Paris, and the two display similar size relative to their next largest neighbours. Moreover, there has been high speed rail in France since the early 1980s, and no sign has yet emerged that Paris is sucking the life out of Lyon and Marseille along those new rail lines.
Likewise in Spain, Germany and Italy. Red herring, HS2AA.