The nine cities discussed in this book offer evidence of a ‘distinct, a different kind of England’. Decline is almost the only thing they have in common, together with their distance from, and yet dependence on, the capital. Adrian Jones, town planner, and Chris Matthews, historian and graphic designer, point to an enormous gap between the potential of these towns and ‘what they are presently able to achieve’. That gulf between possibilities and realities as seen in, to take just three of the nine, Hull, Wakefield and Bradford has become an open wound that begins, in the light of the referendum results, to look gangrenous.
Their informed and opinionated commentary, gimlet-eyed and witty, is offered without fear or favour. They follow in the footsteps of J B Priestley and George Orwell, but the voice they particularly venerate is Ian Nairn’s. He was a despairing – even raging – observer of crass, low-quality redevelopment, exasperated by our national failure to respect and learn from existing urban patterns. He was also a poet of the unexpected. They are fit disciples.
Jones the Planner began life as a blog that I have followed from its early days. Cities of the North is Jones and Matthews’s second book, following Towns in Britain, but it is smarter and neater. I tested it in Hull, where it proved a terrific introduction to the primary