Gridlock in Basford, Nottinghamshire. Credit: Alan Murray-Rust, published under creative commons
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A traffic survey has claimed South Nottinghamshire is more congested than New York

It’s probably wrong. 

Until now, Nottinghamshire’s greatest claim to fame was Robin Hood. This week, however, the East Midlands county swept to world renown, when a large chunk of it was revealed to be the twelfth most congested area in Europe or North America.

The survey, conducted by INRIX, a traffic information service, placed South Nottinghamshire above New York, Rome, Boston and Birmingham in its ranking of most car-clogged metropolitan areas. (No, we wouldn’t call it a metropolitan area either. We’ll get to that in a second.) Here’s the top 15:

The Nottinghamshire press were understandably nonplussed by the news, especially since the area was placed 33rd in 2011-12, and 27th in 2012-13. The Nottingham Post reported that the results have been “questioned by transport figureheads”, namely the chairman of a taxi association. It also quoted Councillor Jane Urquhart, who pointed out that major works on the M1 and A453, which together form the main route into Nottingham, have slowed down traffic a lot in the past year.

There could be other explanations for the anomaly. INRIX only considers traffic on “major motorways and arterials”. The only motorway in South Nottinghamshire is the aforementioned M1, which skirts the edge of the county for about five minutes: those road works will therefore have had a disproportionate effect on the survey.

Another explanation is that INRIX used Eurostat’s UK metropolitan boundaries, which lumps pretty much the whole county into one “metropolitan area”. The Office of National Statistics, on the other hand, uses something called “urban areas” which stop once a minimum population density is reached. It consequently defines Nottingham’s urban area as Nottingham, plus a few suburbs: this seems like a better point of comparison with NYC than the entire southern part of the county, which is mostly grass.

Nottinghamshire, as seen from space. Credit: Google Earth

The reason this is a problem is because INRIXs’ ranking is based on the difference in traffic speeds between rush hours and “free-flow” periods – and true metro areas have very different traffic patterns from more rural ones. In New York City, for example, the roads are so busy that peak time traffic is often not that much worse than general traffic. In smaller cities, peak time makes a big difference.  All the index really shows is how much more congested an area gets at commuter time. If traffic is terrible all day, then the answer may be “not much”.

Happily for Nottingham, then, its leap into the big-time seems to be a fluke. Works on those major roads will carry on until 2015 though, so the locals may be stuck in that traffic jam a little longer yet.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.