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Geo file

What is the rural-urban fringe?
‘The interface between town and country, typically in Europe, where urban areas are intensively managed to prevent urban sprawl and protect agricultural land. The urban fringe will be characterised by certain land uses which have either purposely moved away from the urban area, or require much larger tracts of land. …Despite these ‘urban’ uses the fringe remains largely open with the majority of the land agricultural, woodland or other rural use. However the quality of the countryside around urban areas tends to be low.’ 2006


APRIL 2007 547 Tom Miller

A decision making exercise about the rural-urban fringe
most developed regions of the world. There is no clear dividing line between what we call urban and what can be classified as true countryside. Many rural dwellers have their own transport and are prepared to travel to use urban shops and services; indeed, rural areas often depend on adjacent towns and cities for food supplies, middle and high order shops and services, e.g. secondary schools and healthcare. Many are prepared to commute to an urban-based job and the public transport network has been designed to facilitate this. The effects of distance have therefore been decreased due to improved mobility. This then begs the question, whether it is desirable that towns and cities spread further into their rural fringe to provide new housing (4 million new homes required in the UK 1996–2006, for example, and since increased in the South East) plus the services these new dwellings will require. What will the impacts be on both rural and urban zones? In many urban regions such development is limited by the legal imposition of a greenbelt, although it is hardly unknown for greenbelt land to be built upon! Birmingham City Council, for example, utilized part of its greenbelt to the west of the city, around the M5, to create extra housing necessitated by its inner city redevelopment plan, but compensated for the loss of greenbelt by designating land beyond the edge of the new built-up area as future greenbelt.

Ipswich, Suffolk
Ipswich, a town of 117 000 people in East Anglia (Figure 2), well connected to London and the Midlands by major dual carriageways (A12 and A14 respectively), is a relatively thriving manufacturing and service centre. By 2021 a population of 145 000 is predicted (Figure 3), so not only will Ipswich need new homes due to the national increase Figure 2: Location of Ipswich

Some say it is the epitome of modern society: a heartless, uncared-for wasteland that exemplifies the very worst of the developed world’s consumer culture. Others, that is an essential part of the popularity of suburban living and the consequent improvement in people’s quality of life. Wherever the truth lies, one thing is clear; there is no more pressured or controversial environment in Britain today than the rural-urban fringe. As a transitional zone, it is not always clear where the urban area ends and the rural begins. Beyond the city limits there is always an urban influence on the population of surrounding rural areas. The idea of a rural-urban continuum (Figure 1) is found in European countries, Japan and North America, the Figure 1: the rural-urban continuum




GeoFile Series 25 Issue 3 Fig 547_01 Mac/eps/illustrator 11 s/s B C NELSON THORNES PUBLISHING A Artist: David Russell Illustration

rural-urban fringe



rural elements (functional landscape) increase with distance from the CBD






urban elements (functional landscape) decrease with distance from the CBD


urban centre (absolute urbanity)


urban shadow


highly agricultural

remote (absolute rurality)

Adapted from Figure 17.1, p. 516 David Waugh (2000) Geography: An Integrated Approach, 3rd edn.

Geofile Online © Nelson Thornes 2007

April 2007 no.547 A decision making exercise about the rural-urban fringe in the number of households (due to divorce, increase in single person households etc), new residents are expected. Ipswich rose to modern-day prosperity through agriculture-based industry, notably engineering. As this faded due to foreign competition and aggressive take-overs, service-based employment opportunities in insurance and technology have come to the fore. Ipswich is of note for having the highest concentration of small businesses per head and it is the fifth largest port in the UK. The town is also a national centre for printing. Ipswich is the county town of Suffolk and a major commercial centre in the East of England region. It is a regional centre for administration, financial services, hi-tech industries and a hub for transport and distribution. As befits the fastest growing urban area in East Anglia, Ipswich has a hotly debated rural-urban fringe. Not only is it under pressure from public and private housing demands and the service industries vying to access this potential custom but it has political pressures too. Ipswich is reaching the limits of its boundaries, and the neighbouring local authorities are unhappy at what they see as the rampant expansion of populations that have ties to another community and therefore little commitment to theirs. Figure 4: Ipswich – population and employment structures, compared with those of the UK
Analyse the resources below in order to understand Ipswich’s economy. Why is the percentage employed in education higher in Ipswich than nationally? Why is the percentage employed in distribution higher? What grounds are there to suggest that Ipswich has a sustainable economy? Resource 1: Ipswich’s population structure compared to UK average

Age 65+ 50–64 35–49 20–34 0–19 25 20 15 10 5 0 5 10





% of population

Resource 2: Employment structures for Ipswich and the UK average Fig 547_02 Mac/eps/illustrator 11 s/s

GeoFile Series 25 Issue 3

NELSON THORNES PUBLISHING Artist: David Russell Illustration

Figure 3: Ipswich as an urban centre
The current population of Ipswich Borough is about 117,000. An extra 12,500 dwellings are planned for the town by 2021 and by then Suffolk County Council estimates that the population of the town will have risen to around 145,000. The Government has recently published a major report entitled: The State of the English Cities. This report identifies Ipswich as one of the 56 biggest towns and cities in England. In fact we are the 45th largest. In the East of England, Ipswich is the 4th largest urban area and the Borough of Ipswich has the 7th highest house building target out of the 48 authorities in the East of England. … Ipswich is a key urban centre and one that is anticipated to grow quickly. In fact, Ipswich is already growing quickly as can be seen from the number of houses built each year from 1996.
From and its bid to become an authority free of the control of Suffolk County Council.

Key Public administration and education Distribution, hotels and catering Banking, finance and business services Manufacturing industries Transport and communications Other services Construction Primary industries

Resource 3: An analysis of company structure in Ipswich Company size
GeoFile Series 25 Issue 3 Fig 547_03 Mac/eps/illustrator 11 s/s Number % NELSON THORNES PUBLISHING Artist: David Russell Illustration 2,784 61.4

Micro 1-4 employees Small 5-24 employees Medium 25-199 employees Large >200 employees

1,264 442 45

27.9 9.7 1

Geofile Online © Nelson Thornes 2007

April 2007 no.547 A decision making exercise about the rural-urban fringe figure 5: Potential rural-urban fringe development sites

Ipswich town centre

Hotel complex Light industrial units


Proposed site
Residential area Park and ride

A14 Retail park

A12 London



GeoFile Series 25 Issue 3 Fig 547_04 Mac/eps/illustrator 11 s/s NELSON THORNES PUBLISHING Artist: David Russell Illustration

Geofile Online © Nelson Thornes 2007

April 2007 no.547 A decision making exercise about the rural-urban fringe Figure 6: Local opinions

For such an unassuming site, community leaders are engaged in a surprisingly fierce debate.
‘If the growth of Ipswich is to continue it will need state-of-the-art facilities, particularly in education where other areas have a greater tradition and a greater flexibility to meet the needs of an increasingly global job market.’ Local headteacher speaking on behalf of the 14-19 college bid consortium ‘The Haven Gateway will provide 23,000 new jobs in this area by 2016. These workers will stimulate the demand for 29,600 houses with a target of 40% of them being affordable homes.’ George Courtauld, Chairman of the Haven Gateway. (The Haven Gateway is the umbrella title of the ports of Felixstowe, Harwich, Ipswich and Mistley.) ‘While there remains a ceiling on the building of new houses in our area there will remain a ceiling on growth too. I worry most about those at the beginning of the property ladder who are struggling to get on. Without new build to soak up the pressure prices can only continue to soar.’ Daniel Elliston, MD of Elliston, Steady and Hawes Ltd, a large local building company. ‘It might look like a wasteland to the untrained eye but we see areas such as this site as valuable buffering zones between town and country. Without these green spaces where will sprawl stop?’ Mike Wood, chair of Suffolk Wildlife Trust ‘At what point will a job provided by the council’s willingness to exploit every last drop of space be too expensive on every basis except money?’ A Lune-Mwen, local Green Party spokesman ‘What sort of welcome to our town does this patch of scrub represent? If Ipswich truly is a place for up and coming businesses then our major routeway in from London needs to show our drive, imagination and determination to succeed. A few butterflies won’t do that for us!’ Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council

The Decision Making Exercise
In this decision making Geofile you will be expected to gather information about the town and its circumstances plus the opinions of existing inhabitants and then decide whether the planned developments are appropriate. Your own ideas are welcomed as part of your assessment. 1. Describe the characteristics of Ipswich as a medium sized town using material from the text, Figures 3, 4 and 5, and include an element of comparison with the UK in general. 2. Which aspects of your description would make you want to move to Ipswich? 3. Explain the pressures on the rural-urban fringe of Ipswich from the point of view of environmentalists. Figures 5 and 6 will help you, but it would also be valuable to consult a medium scale map of the area, such as a road atlas, to help you assess the area. This site is on the WNW side of the town. 4. Consider the arguments in favour of development of the site identified in Figure 5. Consider the current land use (photographs Figure 5) and local opinion (Figure 6). Your own opinions are valid too, so express them. 5. There are three different bids to use the site under discussion. The proposed uses are: • a business park for small businesses • private detached housing • a 14–19 college for the local area (this would serve the town itself as well as its hinterland). For each potential use, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of development. Refer to the resources given wherever possible. 6. Do you have any other suggestions for the use of this plot of land? Is it a viable candidate for conservation/preservation? 7. DECIDE! State your chosen land use for the proposed site in the ruralurban fringe of Ipswich and argue in favour of your decision. To help you do this you may also criticise the other proposed uses.

Geofile Online © Nelson Thornes 2007