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Driving the North West economy

Alan Butler

Back in February ICE North West hosted its annual presidential visit, with the centrepiece featuring a high profile debate on the theme of “Construction as a Driver of Economic Regeneration”.

An audience of 80 senior civil engineers and other industry representatives heard exactly what they’d always suspected - that construction really does keep the wheels of commerce turning, and turning on two levels.

Projects such as Mersey Gateway, Manchester Airport City and Liverpool2 Container Port require small armies of labour, providing medium and long term employment for our region.

And when completed, these schemes will expand import and export capacity by sea, road, rail and air.

Add strategic supporting infrastructure schemes such as the Northern Hub rail project, and the region which was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution is once again delivering innovation.

So it’s fitting that the first Construction Summit to be held outside London has been staged within this region and hosted by Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

Around three hundred business leaders heard from high profile speakers including former ICE President Peter Hansford, now the government’s chief construction advisor.

Hansford’s address focused on explaining the aims of Construction 2025, the industrial strategy for the sector, which sets out a vision of where we want the industry to be by 2025 and how to get there, with the construction industry driving growth across the whole economy.

The vision included four bold ambitions: a 33% reduction in costs, a 50% reduction in greenhouse emissions, a 50% reduction in the trade gap with more products sourced and manufactured in Britain and 50% faster delivery times.

These aspirations are to be applauded, and it is important that current and future regional projects seek to incorporate these goals as far as practicable into their design and construction briefs.Greater Manchester already has one of the largest economies in the UK, so it was perhaps no surprise to hear the Chamber’s chief economist John Ashcroft deliver an optimistic forecast.

Ashcroft anticipates growth of around 3%, with an encouraging rider about continuing strong growth in manufacturing and construction.

So link this economic optimism with the number and sheer scale of projects currently under construction and it might be easy to assume North West PLC is firing on all cylinders.

The reality of course is somewhat different.

Most of the region’s major construction activity is focused along the axis of the M62 corridor, with the growing economies of Liverpool and Manchester, its principal beneficiaries.

Closer working relationships between all our regional authorities - including Local Enterprise Partnerships - is essential to ensure communities throughout our region reap the economic benefits which will flow from these infrastructure hubs.

I hope this notion might find its way on to the agenda when Manchester hosts its second Construction Summit next year.

  • Alan Butler is, ICE North West regional director

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