How Britain’s inflation epicentre exposed the North-South divide

A bigger inflation squeeze in these towns is making the uphill struggle of levelling up even harder as Boris Johnson’s exit throws the whole project into doubt.  

Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at Centre for Cities, says: “It certainly is the case that over the last six months or so because of the increase in prices, the position is getting wider and worse rather than getting better.

“It does make that overall challenge even more difficult, which makes the fact there’s been so little action from the Government despite so much discussion around levelling up even more frustrating.” 

Petrol cars and leaky houses

On the edges of the town centre, several tall mill chimneys that once would have billowed smoke lie dormant, nodding to Burnley’s industrial past. Yellow sandstone cottages built during its time as one of the world’s most important cotton centres line the streets of areas such as Rose Hill.

While picturesque, these old homes are sucking money from the town’s families: they leak heat easily, meaning the vast majority of residents live in homes with dire energy efficiency ratings.

Burnley has the highest household energy costs in Britain. Around eight in 10 homes have an energy performance certificate rating of C and below. That compares to less than six in 10 in London and half of homes in Milton Keynes, a city with more modern housing stock. 

Ewelina Oleksy at Burnley-based The Insulation Group says energy efficiency in the town is “one of the worst around the country”, causing many homes to be in “fuel poverty”.

“It is quite rare to come across properties rated D or above, unless they are newly built or renovated,” she says. 

“Houses are either heated using over 10 years old inefficient boilers, electric heaters and solid fuel files, leaving a massive carbon footprint behind them. 

“What isn’t helping is the lack of insulation behind it. Having a brand new boiler can be very pointless if you have uninsulated walls and draughty windows.”

Energy accounted for 4.4 percentage points of Burnley’s high inflation rate in May, compared to just two percentage points in London, according to Centre for Cities.


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