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Northern light

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John Prescott's big idea of a 'northern city' stretching from Liverpool to Hull, which attracted big headlines this week, sounded uncannily like the proposals made by Will Alsop in his recent television series, in which the great man let us in on the secret of how to do big-vision landscape planning: look at the site from the car window and draw proposals in lipstick on the glass. Does Prescott get the point, though? It can be argued that the great northern conurbation already exists physically, that is to say there is a series of larger and smaller towns stretching more or less from coast to coast, and containing several million more people than live in London. But is it necessary to join them up any more than they are at the moment?

Alsop's conception of how you deal with Bradford or Barnsley is not to make them a subservient part of a greater entity, but to make them fantastic examples of themselves. The vibrancy of these northern towns, in fact, depends on them not being part of some amorphous urban splatter.

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