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   Inside Out - North West: Friday February 9, 2007
England's second city?
Lowry Centre
"Manchester's got its own identity, Birmingham is just an extension of London..."
Terry Christian

England's second city

The debate has raged for years - which is England's Second City, Birmingham or Manchester?

Everyone has an opinion, but there's been no definitive answer - until now.

BBC Inside Out pitches the two great rivals head to head and we establish what it means to be a country's second city and why it matters.

We also reveal the findings of our independent survey to ask what people across the country think.

Manchester versus Birmingham

As any good Brummie or Mancunian knows, the question of who should be England's second city is an important and hotly contended issue.

Both claim to be top dog when it comes to sport, culture, and international events.

Birmingham boasts the National Exhibition Centre, the International Convention Centre, and the European Indoor Athletics Championships

But Manchester claims to be the cultural pulse of the nation with its music and popular culture as well as two top football teams.

Manchester's sporting excellence
Old Trafford c/o PA Images
"If you ask me - sporting prowess has a massive part to play. It brings people together, inspires communities, and gives a city an identity on a world stage."
Andy Johnson

This isn't a new argument - the rivalry has been going on for years.

These two great cities both have distinguished histories and proud populations - and neither has any intention of backing down.

Since World War One, Birmingham has generally been considered to be England's second city.

But over the last 50 years or so, Manchester has became a serious contender for the crown.

The Commonwealth Games in Manchester, in particular, raised the profile of this city as a sporting venue on a global stage.

But Birmingham has also hosted more than 30 World and European championships in 20 sports over the last 15 years.

Manchester also boasts a strong cultural pedigree with the Lowry Gallery, the Whitworth Gallery and the Cube.

But Birmingham has the Royal Ballet, The REP, the Hippodrome and the Alexandra Theatre.

So which is the second city in 2007?

If you want to play the numbers game, there's an obvious answer - Birmingham is the second biggest city in England.

More than a million people live in the city - that's twice as many as Manchester.

But we also need to look at the bigger picture.

There are over two million people living in Greater Manchester and the area includes lots of the towns that surround the city.

Exclusive survey

Historically both cities have had their fair share of innovation in the world of science and industry.

Cotton wool, X-rays and the steam engine all came to being in Birmingham, as well as electro-plating and celluloid.

But Manchester was where the first computer and the Spinning Jenny were invented.

It was also where the atom was split.

You may wonder why this debate even matters - but it's more than simple regional rivalry.

Birmingham - Britain's second biggest city?

The title of second city is crucial.

When you're promoting a city to a wider international audience of businesses, tourists and investors - image is everything.

Inside Out has commissioned an exclusive survey to find out the definitive answer to which city the British public think of as England's second city.

The independent poll of 1,000 people asked people which they think is the second city - Birmingham or Manchester?

Forty eight per cent of people in the UK believed Manchester to be the second most important city after the capital London.

Meanwhile Birmingham, which has historically been known as the second city, got 40% of the vote.

The results confirm the view that Manchester's reputation has grown significantly over the last 50 years, catching up with its more southern rival.

This gradual transition was reflected in the findings.

Whilst Birmingham came out on top in the over-64 age group by 48% to 42%, in the 16-24 age group Manchester topped the poll by 58% compared to Birmingham's 38%.

Read the results of the survey in full

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It always amuses me that Manchester United is always included in any mention of "Manchester" - but the population of Trafford, where Manchester United actually is, is never included in the population figures for Manchester. Outsiders must laugh when they hear a "city" with a population of 392,000 claiming international status.

But the thing is, when people refer to Manchester, they are not thinking of the city alone, they are thinking of Greater Manchester, just as when they think of London, they are thinking of Greater London (which is actually the smallest city in the UK if you just want to talk city population figures).

The population should be based on the urban area, not this strange situation where Man United is in Trafford, the Lowry is in Salford, etc, yet all these things are referred to as "Manchester".

It is the 10 local authorities which make up "Manchester's" 2.5 million population and which make it Britain's second city.

Additionally, the population of the city of Manchester used to be much closer to Birmingham's, and the size and infrastructure of the city centre reflects this.
Rob Radcliffe

Should Birmingham be considered England's second city? I believe it should be. It's geographically and historically a significant part of our country and its heritage.

I'm a born and raised Midlander and I've been a university student in Manchester and now I'm studying in Birmingham. It is with great regret that I admit Manchester is a much nicer city to live in. Everything from its superb train and tram services to its shopping, clubs and restaurants.

Manchester just has a classier, more cultural feel about it, and I can understand why the public would vote it second to London.

The only real attraction that Birmingham has to offer to visitors is the Bullring. The council really needs to put some effort into sorting out some of the many rough areas in Birmingham as well as improving its transport services if it's to re-gain its rightful title as England's second city, but until then, Manchester has my vote I'm afraid.
Adam Kaddour

Manchester, the first industrial city, home of the first passenger railway station, where the atom was first split, and where the computer was invented. Add to that it being the birthplace of the socialist, communist, free trade and feminist movements. Could any other city in the world claim such a collection of important 'firsts'? I very much doubt it.
Jon Pickstone, London

Sorry, but the results of your survey are invalid as you only gave a choice of two places - a free choice would give a very different answer.

Music? Even Oasis would concede defeat to the Beatles. Culture? Walker Art Gallery - bigger than anything Manchester has to offer, not to mention the World Museum Liverpool, the Maritime Museum, the Tate, the Beatles Museum... got the picture yet?

Could be why we're European Capital of Culture next year.

Sport, well Liverpool and Everton head the list (Liverpool outdoes both United and Aston Villa on stats - and who could forget that 5th European Cup win?) but then if you like horses you might argue that Aintree's Grand National is a bit special.

Bridging the gap between culture and sport the Tall Ships Race is something that could never get to Manchester or Birmingham. Did I mention the Tall Ships are coming back AGAIN next year?

If you want firsts in inventions and technology, we've got plenty of those (there's a whole book listing them), but part of the definition of a city is that it has a cathedral. As the song says, "we've got one to spare". The Anglican Cathedral has the highest and heaviest peal of bells IN THE WORLD. Its Grand Organ is the largest in the UK, but it has another one as well. It is also the largest Anglican Cathedral in Britain, so we even score points over London with that one.

So sorry, but in a fair fight Liverpool beats Manchester and Birmingham hands down. Were you frightened of the competition?
Sue Ryan

Manchester is easily now the second city and this programme proved it. We've got the bigger airport, metro network, shopping centres, arenas, skyscrapers, football teams and stadiums, we've got the BBC moving five departments here and we've got the super-casino! Unlucky Brummies!
James, Manchester

As one who has lived in Birmingham and its associated towns in the West Midlands conurbation all my life one could argue that I'm extremely biased but Birmingham must be accepted as "the second city" for the following reasons:-

1) Greater population, whichever way you measure it, if it was down to music, sport etc. Several other cities eligible for the title spring to mind, notably Liverpool.

2) Contribution per capita to GDP, Birmingham is tops!

Manchester has been promoted to this claim by central government over the past two decades in order to denigrate Birmingham in the eyes of the world because of past associations with employment unrest and political disenchantment. The public's perception of trade union strength... did the city no favours in the 60'S/70's whilst Manchester was still a nonentity. All that is in the past and it's time to move on.

Birmingham has regenerated without substantial support from central government, indeed it has done so in the face of blatant anti-Birmingham feeling from Westminster.

Birmingham's failed bids for Commonwealth/Olympic Games due to negativity from Westminster but massive government support for Manchester's Commonwealth Games bid is now a cornerstone of Manchester's claim for Second City status.

A new FA Stadium (Wembley but better and cheaper!!)- failed, if Manchester had been a proposed area it would have won except for the fact that when any deprived area of London is in the running for national regenerative funding, nobody else stand a chance.

This is begetting to sound like sour grapes, as I'm sure the chance for debate intends, I'd just like to say that if it matters who is SECOND CITY, it will never come within light years of LONDON, the city who's regeneration we are all expected to contribute to through taxes, lottery funding, congestion charging and other means of extraction.

Instead of this meaningless debate over Second City status we all should be asking what anybody "Up North" get for our money.
Peter Pinson

I opened a hostel catering for backpackers in the early 90s. Friends queried why I would choose to open a hostel here. Why would 'backpackers' come to Manchester?

One of the many answers: English-speaking visitors thought we were in the Midlands (in the middle of England). They did not differentiate between England and Britain. Many came in on 'long-haul' flights, with no real intention to visit Manchester. They left totally enamoured of Manchester, and this was before the 1996 bomb with all the changes it brought.

I remember one young American guy ('lad' in my lingo) who stayed for one night only, prior to his homeward flight. "Manchester is what I expected Glasgow to be! I wish I had allowed more time to visit Manchester." was how he expressed his delight.

Visitors telephoning from Birmingham, which had no hostel (I had researched opening a hostel and at that time, and for a long time, there was no demand) told me they did not want to stay there even if they could find a hostel.

It is unimportant for Manchester's visitors where we come in such a 'poll'. I just hope that both Manchester and Birmingham do not 'throw out the baby with bathwater' as these cities develop.

I am 58 years old and have spent much of that time overseas discovering what is fascinating about the places I have visited. I only discovered what is fascinating about my home city, Manchester, when I returned here in the early 90s and spent time introducing 'My City' to visitors.
Joan Haggas, Manchester BackPackers Hostel

Being a Brummie, the decision does appal me but this is just typical of how the rest of the country looks on us.

For many years, the rest of the country has looked on this great city as dirt and it seems they don't want to quit any time soon.
David Cook

Birmingham is and will always be the 2nd city but it is little wonder that the population as a whole don't view is as such. Successive governments have treated Birmingham like an Epstein sculpture with a large hole in the middle.

We have missed out of so many things - Birmingham should have been the city of culture, should have had a super casino and what about the Olympics?

From an ex Brummie (and proud of it) that is fed up of being left out in the cold.
Iris now in Redditch

I am Welsh. My family moved to Birmingham in 1980. I absolutely love this city... the shops, the restaurants, loads of great galleries and exhibitions, the NEC, NIA, ICC, the Mailbox, sitting by the canal in the summer, the beautiful Hippodrome....

I could go on forever!!!! The list is endless. Manchester, the 2nd city-not in my mind!!!!
Alison, Solihull

Manchester should just back off, Birmingham has and always will have second city title.

Would a huge retailer such as Selfridges have come to Birmingham if they thought we were the "3rd" city? I don't think so. We have all the music scenes, from the NEC to symphony hall to the academy, we have all the canals, we even beat Venice on that one!

We have multiple universities, and if as the climate profs say the ice caps are melting, Brum will be the one where everyone rushes to, even the Londoners will have to bite their tongues!!! Birmingham rules!

Ashley Blake was discussing Birmingham's right to be, I believe, England's second city. Edinburgh is Britain's second city!!
Graham Macdonald

Birmingham lost out and the damage was done in April 1974 when Manchester became Greater Manchester. Birmingham was buried under something called West Midlands, Liverpool under Merseyside etc the list goes on.

In 1974 the powers in Whitehall decided to bury all our great cities under non descript entities whilst they instigated Manchester to become Greater Manchester. They decided what city to show off to the world.

There is now the creation of the city regions taking place. Let's all make sure this time the Birmingham city region becomes Greater Birmingham and not something like Middle west bottom outer Midlands.

A Greater Birmingham would shine though as the true second city of the UK.

Steve in Norton Canes, Cannock
(Soon to become part of Greater Birmingham I hope and not Mercia middle bottom mid-central-land).

For me, determining England's second city has nothing to do with size, population or cultural contribution.

Coming second is our national hobby - we are a nation of runners -up, of nearlymen. And there's nowhere else in the country that loses out or comes second more often than Birmingham - the city characterises the nation's natural tendency towards inadequacy.

Birmingham always comes second, and for that reason, it has to be England's second city.
John, Rugby

Birmingham is a better city culturally and historically.

I cannot believe Manchester won the debate but I think Birmingham needs newer buildings and business injection.

I noticed from the clips shown on the show that Manchester does look like a newer and more modern city than Birmingham - I really think Birmingham needs more of these.

Birmingham's football teams also need to sort themselves out to get the city on the map!

I can see Birmingham coming back with a vengeance soon.
Lakh Baddhan

Manchester has a natural up to date modern trendy style and feeling about it. It has some great restaurants & bars.

I have lived in both cities and think they are both great. I prefer Manchester at the moment due to the general feel of the city.

Birmingham needs to sort out Broad street to get anywhere close to beating Manchester.

With such a diverse and cosmopolitan population, Broad Street should signify all that is great about Birmingham. Get rid of all the nasty student bars and make it a street where we find the "world on one road".

We should have a variety of international restaurants & bars ranging form Jamaican, Bahamian, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Greek, Spanish, Argentinean, Brazilian, French, Italian, Russian, etc etc. The Broad Street image tarnishes the Birmingham image.

Clean up Broad Street and give it some real vision and direction and Brum will become the second city once again.

Out of Brum and Manchester, it's gotta be Manchester! More cultural, better architecture, and far enough from London to be a nicer place overall.

Plus, has anyone tried walking or driving around Birmingham? Not for the faint hearted!

Mind, both places aren't a patch on Newcastle!
Bri (Exiled Geordie), Manchester

Manchester is merely a massive metropolitan conurbation that now includes a great part of traditional Lancashire - much of it unhappy at being included in 'Manchester'.

Manchester is the city of 'we've gots', none of which it would have had if it hadn't had a Labour Council!

Said of Manchester - a great city but it has no soul.

It will never be our 2nd City because it's not to do with what they've got but more about what they haven't got!
Margaret, Liverpool

Manchester is definitely the country's second city. Although it should be the first.

Manchester is massive and full of great things.

We have just won the contract to build the UK's first super casino!!! Especially with the Hilton apartments which is mostly made from glass.
Nadim, Bolton

I feel the urge to defend Birmingham's credentials of being 2nd city. We have all the following:

Education- two top universities in the country (B'ham and Aston). Also the top ranked school with King Edward's, Edgbaston.

Chocolate- World renowned Cadbury signifies chocolate and Dark Chocolate is Bournville.

Events- we have hosted summits with Clinton, Eurovision song contest, sports personality.

Personalities - Jasper Carrott, Lenny Henry, Frank Skinner, Denise Lewis, Ozzy Osbourne.

Culture - CBSO, Royal Ballet, Tolkein and Lord of the Rings trilogy, many theatres and cinemas (Star City for premieres). We also have more lap dancing clubs than anywhere else and spearmint rhinos European capital.

I could carry on and on but the fact is we are bigger than Manchester and always will be. They should just get the chip of both their shoulders and grow up.
Lee Holland

As a biased and proud Brummie, I would say that people in Birmingham do not feel the need to compete with Manchester, or any other city for that matter. We know what we've got and don't feel the need to keep bashing on about it.

The problem with this kind of poll is that most people base their opinions on the view they get of the city as the pass on the M6. I've heard people bad-mouth Birmingham not knowing I was born and brought up there, only to eat their words and admit that actually they've never been to Birmingham or have only been to the NEC to see a concert.

If you spend time in the city, you will see passed the city centre, which sadly lost many of its splendid Victorian buildings due to poor post-war planning decisions, and look towards the
green and leafy suburbs.

I could go on about the city's industrial contribution to the UK, Matthew Boulton etc, famous literary residents such as Tolkein, comedians, Tony Hancock and Jasper Carrot, sporting heroes such as skater John Curry, and racing driver Nigel Mansell, world class universities and the fabulous City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, but I don't feel the need to labour the point.

And, finally, like most people who have taken little time to get to know Birmingham, the writer of the article is clearly biased towards Manchester in listing only a few bands that are from Birmingham.

Here are few more, beside Black Sabbath and UB40:

Moody Blues, Fairport Convention, the Spencer Davis Group, Led Zeppelin, the Move, ELO, Wizzard, Steel Pulse, Duran Duran, Ocean Colour Scene, Judas Priest, The Beat, Musical Youth, Asian Dub Foundation, Dexys Midnight Runners, Pop Will Eat Itself, The WonderStuff, and The Charlatans.

And, before conducting another poll, I would suggest the organisers ask people who have actually been to the cities in question.
Chris Cockel

After watching your programme I feel compelled to argue for Birmingham. Our universities at Birmingham and Aston are both highly thought of. We have the best school in Britain in King Edward's, Edgbaston. We have the biggest Christmas German market outside Deutschland. The pulse of the rail network at New Street.

We have hosted Bill Clinton and several summits. We have hosted the Eurovision contest. We are home of Denise Lewis, Frank Skinner, Lenny Henry, Tony Hancock and the immense Jasper Carrott.

On sport, Warwickshire are far better than Lancashire in Cricket and the magnitude of the arena signifies this.

We have still not mentioned Cadbury. The largest chocolate manufacturer in the world. You think of chocolate, you think of Cadbury. In fact, dark chocolate across the world is known as Bournville.

We have also got more canals than Venice. The most important point is that we are the 2nd biggest city in terms of population.
John Holland

I am not surprised. Not because I believe that Manchester is the Second City, but because this was a public opinion poll. Times have changed and how people view a city is no longer by how big it is, but by its media profile. And this is where Manchester comes out top.

Lets look at the hard facts:

Sport - Birmingham 30 World Championships, Manchester has the Commonwealth Games and the most famous football club in the world. And where have England been playing since Wembley has shut, yep, Manchester. Sorry, Brum 1-0 to Manchester

Music – whilst Heavy Metal was virtually invented in Birmingham it was the last original big thing, but that was nearly 40 years ago! Since then Manchester has had New Order, the Smiths, Happy Mondays, Oasis etc. Sorry Brum but 2-0 to Manchester

Culture – ah Britain’s best ‘regional’ Orchestra and Concert Hall – in Brum. Two Michelin star restaurants in Brum. The Royal Ballet. But all well and good, but today, culture means a buzz, and air of anticipation and something alternative. High culture, yes Birmingham wins, but when it comes to partying, Manchester wins again. 3-0

Television – the most influential medium in the world. Brum gave us Pebble Mill at One and in the process invented the midday siesta… oh and Crossroads, Boon, Doctors and Brum! Manchester has given us the Street, Cold Feet, and now has the BBC media city on its way… so sorry, Manchester 4-0

Transport – well when it comes to flying Manchester hands down, but Brum is at the hub of the nations rail, coach and motorway networks… but is ease of getting to Northampton on the 305 National Express coach more of an appeal that catching a long haul flight to Singapore, LA, or Vancouver? Manchester wins again 5-0

Ah but, financial business – financial services, well despite the flurry of major banks moving into Manchester (mainly relocating from outer Manchester business parks) Birmingham is England’s second biggest with its accountants and legal services. So 5-1.

Manufacturing – well both cities are of world wide historical greatness, but it is about now. Birmingham is still the UK leading manufacturing centre – so 5-2

New technologies – sorry it is Brum again. 5-3.

Creative industries – Manchester hands down, 6-3.

Shopping, and here is where Brum is way ahead. With the Bull Ring, Mailbox and all areas in between, Brum over £2 billion spent in its shops each year as opposed the Manchester’s £1.4 billion and Brum ranks higher on all other shopping centre rankings.
So 6-4.

Education – Birmingham is way ahead of Manchester which is usually in the bottom ten for education standards in the UK. 6-5.

Health – Manchester is the unhealthiest place to live in Britain. Official. 6-6.

Wealth – if we are talking within city limits, Brum has Edgbaston, Harbourne, Moor Green, Sutton Coldfield and Four Oaks all riddled with wealthy and millionaires. Manchester has – um – a few Ian Simpson penthouses. Sorry, but Brum wins. 7-6

Property prices – for retail rents, houses, office rents, industrial rents and just about everything else, Birmingham is more expensive which reflects demand which reflects importance, so 8-6.

Environment – Manchester is often voted Britain’s dirtiest city and Brum has more trees and parkland. 9-6.

Regeneration – Brum has led the way in the UK in the last 15 years, but things are faltering under the new Council who seem hell bent on doing nothing. In the meantime, Manchester is doing what Brum was doing so, give that one to Manchester – 9-7

So you could say it is Brum, but when it comes to selling itself, until things start to change in Birmingham and it stops living in its past and starts telling the world that it is a World City and it is amongst the best, then sorry in a public opinion poll it will always come second not to London but to Manchester and Glasgow and Newcastle and Liverpool and Edinburgh.
Ian Butt, Brummie in exile



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