Industrial change in MEDCs

Industry is characterised by change. In the UK heavy industry has declined and high technology industry has grown. The expansion of the EU has created changes in the migration of workers and the location of companies.

Location winners and losers

Industrial location within the UK

In the past, industry in the UK was mainly located in areas where raw materials and energy was available. Key industrial areas, where iron and steel could be processed, included South Wales and Northern England.

As materials became exhausted and imports became more available, the industry in these areas declined. Government intervention has helped some of these areas. Grants have been given for firms to set up in areas of high unemployment.

The rise of high technology industries in the UK has meant areas that attract skilled workers and have excellent communication links have benefited from growth. These areas include the M4 Corridor, which contain footloose industries.

The M4 corridor

The M4 corridor


Industrial location within Europe

In 2004 eight Eastern European countries joined the EU. One of these countries was Poland. This resulted in workers migrating from Poland to the UK for jobs, sometimes in low skilled manual jobs such as fruit picking. The expansion of the EU has also led to some companies moving out of the UK. Twinings Tea and Cadburys Chocolate are two examples of firms moving from the UK to Poland.

Worldwide industrial location

Factories based in countries such as India and China have around 25% lower operating costs than the UK. There is growing demand for cheap manufactured goods such as clothing and electronics. Both China and India have a large labour force to provide workers for the factory. They also have a plentiful supply of energy. These countries also have fewer regulations, which make it cheaper for a factory to produce goods. Firms which have a choice of location are attracted to areas where they can make more profit. China is now an important manufacturing industry producing a large share of the world’s electronic goods, clothes and shoes.

Many call centres for insurance companies, banks and railways are also now located in countries which have cheap but skilled labour. Norwich Union is one company which has moved its call centre from the UK to India.

Government intervention

When there have been large numbers of job losses in an area which has undergone de-industrialisation, such as South Wales, the government and the EU will often intervene to improve the environment and quality of life for local people. Other areas which have been affected include Merseyside, Tyneside and Belfast with the decline of shipbuilding.

Industry is actively encouraged to locate in areas of low employment with incentives such as grants, subsidies and low rents.

Improvements which have accompanied the re-industrialisation in South Wales include:

  • the Cardiff Bay and Swansea Waterfront redevelopments
  • the development of business parks
  • improvements in public transport
  • refurbishment of old industrial buildings

Growth of business parks in MEDCs

Traditionally, most retail outlets were located in the CBD. The centre of town was a logical place for shops because it was the most accessible part of a town and transport links radiate out from this point.

In the late 20th century, traffic congestion reduced accessibility to inner cities. This led to out of town locations becoming favoured for the retail industry. They are close to the suburbs and are accessible for many people via ring roads and motorways. Land is also cheaper in this part of a settlement, making it attractive to retailers.

A Next store in Hemel Hempstead, Herts

A Next store in Hemel Hempstead, Herts


The result of this is that more people shop out of town, rather than in a CBD. The reduction in profits in the CBD can cause smaller branches of chain stores to close down, eg Next in St Albans has recently closed in favour of the larger out of town store at the nearby Colney Fields retail park. Colney Fields benefits from free parking and easy access to the M25, giving it a wider sphere of influence than the smaller town centre store. Can you think of an example in your local area?

If this becomes widespread, areas in the centre of town can become derelict and unattractive, further discouraging people from shopping there. Also, unless bus or rail links are adequate, people without cars have limited access to shopping facilities.


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