Posted on Sunday 17 November 2013 by Ulster Business

John Simpson

Belfast is one of the best UK cities to live in, according to a new report that ranks cities on their economic performance and their quality of life.

The 2013 Good Growth for Cities index from PwC and think tank Demos, shows how combining economic performance with quality of life ranks Belfast as ninth amongst the UK's top-10 cities in which to live and work.

Derry/Londonderry also makes it into the rankings of smaller UK cities with populations of less than 250,000 people.

Published today the report measures the performance of 39 of the UK's cities against a basket of 11 categories defined by the public and business as key to economic success and personal and family wellbeing.

The measures include jobs, health, income, skills, work-life balance, house-prices, travel-to-work times, inequality and pollution.

Belfast takes the number nine slot just behind Oxford, Cambridge, Preston and Bristol and well ahead of Manchester, Liverpool and London – a significant improvement on the 2012 index where Belfast was ranked 16th.

When it comes to the devolved nations, Belfast ranks as fourth best devolved city to live in, with Derry entering the smaller cities index in tenth place. The top-four places went to Scottish cities - Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Inverness & Dingwall and Perth & Blairgowrie.

Dr Esmond Birnie, PwC's Northern Ireland chief economist said that the city scored well in most key categories.

"Belfast performs well in the economic measures of jobs and income, as well as quality of life measures like travel-t0-work times, environment and work-life balance.

"Many large English cities are paying a high price for economic success, from increased congestion and pollution, to income inequality, high house prices and marathon travel-to-work journeys.

"Our research suggests that people prefer to live where they can acquire jobs, skills and advancement as well as enjoy affordable housing and a good quality of life; our research also suggests that investment follows the same priorities, seeking skills, talent and infrastructure.

"If you accept that the measure of a city is not just about GDP and that other factors attract both people and investors, Belfast performs well, while Derry/Londonderry shows considerable potential amongst the UK's smaller cities.

"Despite these strengths, we remain overly dependent on public sector employment, with other parts of the region not performing as well as the Belfast metropolitan area.

"Nonetheless, marketing their good growth measures could boost the potential of the two main cities as investment locations and enhance the wider attractiveness of Northern Ireland."

This is the second Good Growth for Cities index and the 2013 report includes skills as a measure of good growth performance for the first time.

Paul Terrington, PwC's regional chairman in Northern Ireland, said the index confirms that Belfast and Derry have advantages that make the cities attractive investment locations.

"As global recovery is driven by emerging economies, attracting and retaining investment is vital, and in that regard, in 2012/13, Northern Ireland showed a 41% increase in the number of investment projects, substantially ahead of the overall increase into the UK of 11%.

"Investment follows skilled workers, world-class infrastructure and competitive operating costs and both Belfast and Derry score on the key criteria on our good growth scale.

"Having paid employment is at the cornerstone of individual and regional economic success and wellbeing, so it is therefore important that the messages in this report are clearly understood.

"Sustained investment in skills development and infrastructure – including roads, air routes and broadband – are vital to creating the environment that will attract and retain investment sand sustainable employment.

"There are signs that recovery is strengthening; Northern Ireland has seen nine consecutive months of falling unemployment with employment up by just over 3,000 in three months.

"However forecast growth for 2014 is around 1.7%, the lowest of the 12 UK regions, so it is important that we robustly market the attractions of Belfast, Derry and Northern Ireland to a wider audience and demonstrate that there's more to life than just measuring GDP."

PwC and Demos identified the basket of 11 categories, the most important of which were perceived to be: jobs, health; work-life balance; and infrastructure (housing and transport) with these three alone accounting for a substantial element of the public's definition of what contributed to 'good growth'.

The top-10 highest ranking cities in the index, like Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Reading and Belfast, tended to do relatively well on jobs and income, as well as skills and the environment. But unlike cities like London, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle, Belfast scored relatively well for work-life balance, travel to work times and housing affordability.

Esmond Birnie said that good growth is the Holy Grail of holistic social and economic strategy.

"To support good growth, we need good jobs that give satisfaction, pride in doing good work, career progression and a real contribution to the community.

"Add affordable housing, good transport infrastructure, work-life balance and income sufficient to live on - ideally with a little left over – and you have the recipe for the ideal good growth city.

"The Assembly and Northern Ireland's city planners have an important role to play in creating a platform for even greater growth through a focus on the key levers of skills, infrastructure and innovation."



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