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Take me to the Centre of your Town! Using Micro-Geographical Data to Identify Town Centres

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Cheshire, Paul 
Hilber, Christian 
Montebruno Bondi, PF 
Sanchis-Guarner, Rosa 


We often talk about ‘Town Centres’, but defining their location and extent is surprisingly difficult. Their boundaries are hard to pin down and intrinsically fuzzy. Nevertheless, policy makers often speak or act as if their definition was self-evident. The Dutch and later the British governments, for example, introduced very specific policies for them without ever clearly defining what or where they were. In this paper, we propose a simple methodology to predict town centre boundaries and extent. Using a range of micro-geographical data, we test our method for the whole of Great Britain in an attempt to capture all the dimensions of ‘town centredness’ in a 3D surface. We believe this is a contribution in its own right but is also an essential step if there is to be any rigorous analysis of town centres or evaluation of policies directed at them. Our method should contribute to improve not just debates about cities, shopping hierarchies and town centres, but also to other more general debates where people and policy proceed ahead of any clear definition of what are the objects of interest.



town centre, planning, retail sector, land use

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CESifo Economic Studies

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The authors thank SERC/CEP for funding (ESRC grant ES/M010341/1), and R.S.-G. acknowledges support from the British Academy. The authors thank Mr Mark Teale from CBRE and DCLG for providing them with data. ABI data accessed via NOMIS under BRES notice NTC/BRES15-P0572. The authors benefited from comments and suggestions from participants at the SERC Work-in-progress research seminar, at the CESifo Conference on the Use of Geocoded Data in Economic Research and at the University of Birmingham City-REDI seminar. The authors finally thank Steve Gibbons and Daniel Arribas-Bel for comments and an anonymous referee for helpful criticisms. Any errors remain our own.