The Northern Powerhouse needs more thought
The Northern Powerhouse is welcome, but it does not go far enough to drive the investment and growth needed to re-balance the UK economy.
Congratulations goes to Tim Farron this week who has been named in Vince Cable’s shadow cabinet as the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on DEFRA and the North.
It goes without saying that Tim took control of the Party in an incredibly difficult moment in 2015 and managed to keep us a float and drive our membership to record levels. I believe he’ll be a brilliant asset on the front bench, particularly when taking on the Government over its Northern Powerhouse agenda.
There are, of course, things I would like to see Tim take on in this new role. For me, the Northern Powerhouse is an incredible opportunity and needs to be championed, however it also needs reform to be truly successful.
For those not fully aware of the policy programme, the Northern Powerhouse has one major aim – to rebalance the UK economy so that we are not as reliant on London and the South East. To do this, the North (a region with huge economic potential) needs to work better together. Cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle need to become better connected, better and bigger housing supplies are needed to house workers, whilst business and industry needs the correct infrastructure to deliver growth and job creation.
So far, the Northern Powerhouse agenda has mainly focused on transport. With the creation of Transport for the North, (an organisation that hopes to become a sub-national transport body that can control the priorities of transport investment in the North) rail, road, freight and air-travel have all dominated the debate.
During the Conservative conference, Phillip Hammond announced a £400m package to improve transport infrastructure in the region which was rightly welcomed by politicians across the political spectrum. Such investment will see improvements to rail links between Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester and around 33 new major road schemes, helping to cut down journey times between our economic hubs.
All well and good… or is it?
There is, in my view, a real and present danger that the Northern Powehouse is becoming nothing more than a Northern Transport Strategy.
Whilst transport seems to have dominated the headlines and finances of the Powerhouse agenda, other vital sectors have been almost ignored. Energy, for example has had very little coverage or thought, whereas water infrastructure and high-speed broadband even less so.
The Northern Powerhouse requires business and people to thrive. Yes we need to connect our cities and towns with better transport links, but it is vital that we utilise our resources in a sustainable and strategic way. We need housing and commercial development in strategic areas close to cities and other economic hubs, we need better energy and water infrastructure to serve this demand, and we need to ensure our environment is protected from this new development.
So, what would my Northern Powerhouse include?
- Reform of the planning system and investment into planning authorities to ensure the correct properties are being development to meet demand and drive growth
- The creation of a strategic body tasked with overseeing the development of energy and water networks to make sure our new homes and businesses can function
- Investment into green energy which will help sustain growth and protect our environment for generations
Only with the above will we have the beginning of a Northern Powerhouse fit for purpose and only with the above will we see true growth.