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Richard Bonner

Northern Cities Director

In our Sustainable Cities Index 2022, Leeds has come top as the highest-ranking English city for commercial transport infrastructure, while Manchester has been named as the best-connected English city with the most green space outside of London and boasts the cleanest air. However, both are held back by their economic scores.


Overall, both cities ranked closely, with Manchester ranking 30th and Leeds ranking 34th out of the world’s leading cities in the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index 2022 (SCI), on a par with Birmingham in the rankings. Leeds ranked highest of the three cities when it comes to its environmental sustainability score, whereas Manchester ranked as the best-connected English city outside of London, but the results show there are plenty of areas where both cities need new investment.

The SCI examines cities across three pillars of sustainability: Planet, People and Profit. Though all three factors are weighted equally, the data shows that putting the planet and people first is a more reliable road to prosperity than putting profit first, as long as there is some profit to finance progress.

From a commercial perspective, Leeds has come top as the highest-ranking English city for its commercial transport infrastructure – measured in terms of ecommerce use, ride-hailing and congestion. Though that is, in part, because other UK cities are more congested – meaning that road infrastructure still needs investment.

Leeds isn’t as well connected as Manchester, London and the Scottish cities in the index and rates on an international par with Riga and Bogota for its connectivity.

Lowest greenhouse gas emissions

Manchester’s greenhouse gas emissions per person are the lowest in the UK – though in international terms, it is 43rd overall. That puts it on a par with Paris, Budapest and Cape Town, but below other comparable cities such as Lyon and Lisbon.

Manchester can also boast the cleanest air among English cities by a small margin, and the city also has the most green space outside of London. The areas where the most investment is required are energy (both energy efficiency and share of renewables) and the sustainability of its transport.

The overall data suggests that our Northern cities are held back by their performance from the profit pillar, indicating that prosperity for people is being constrained. 

That certainly appears to resonate with the drivers for the Government’s Levelling Up agenda, and recent National Audit Office data indicates that the economic performance of cities across the North has been constrained in the period after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Way forward for the North

To help the North prepare for the future, Arcadis is working on several key schemes including:

  • Supporting the Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU) major investment in 76 miles of railway between York and Manchester, via Leeds and Huddersfield, to shift from cars to rail.
  • Updating the grid network in the North East to facilitate investment in hydrogen and decarbonise industry. The plans support carbon capture and storage at North Yorkshire’s Drax power station, to permanently remove 8 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.
  • Working with the University of Leeds to work towards its carbon zero targets for 2030.
  • Working with the University of Manchester on electrifying heat networks to support its zero carbon goal by 2038.
  • Tackling restraints of income inequality by working with the North Manchester health trust to improve facilities and digital inclusion to offer better connected services.
  • Helping Manchester City Council and Far East Consortium with regeneration plans for Victoria North, the biggest urban regeneration project in the region. The work will help to provide 15,000 new low carbon and energy efficient homes, schools, health care, transport and green areas by bringing brownfield land back into use.

Unlock of the stories of sustainable cities by downloading the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index 2022. A version of this article was first published in the Yorkshire Evening Post and ManchesterWorld (credit: National World Publishing Ltd).