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Devolution crucial to infrastructure delivery

London skyline

Devolution of power to London will be crucial for the delivery of major infrastructure projects like Crossrail 2, according to London Chamber of Commerce chief executive Colin Stanbridge.

Speaking at the Mipim international property fair, Stanbridge said he is hopeful the topic of devolution will be included in the chancellor’s Budget 2016 announcement tomorrow.

“Not only does it [investment in transport infrastructure] unlock economic growth, housing and development – all of the things we are talking about at this year’s Mipim – but hopefully tomorrow we will hear some very good news about Crossrail 2 and we hope that it might stimulate devolution to London,” he said. “We know that stamp duty has risen along Crossrail 1 and it will rise along Crossrail 2, so maybe that could be devolved to the London mayor and the boroughs to help fund various other projects.”

Chancellor George Osborne has today pledged to introduce a Crossrail 2 development Bill in this parliament and said he intends to commit funding tot the scheme in tomorrow’s Budget.

Also speaking at the event, Fiona Fletcher-Smith, executive director – development, enterprise, environment at the Greater London Authority, agreed that stamp duty receipt is a key issue that must be resolved by government. She said: “The thing that we really need to shift is the stamp duty issue and how we collectively lobby on that. How does that work technically where you’re trying to draw a red line around the city and how does that work around fringe areas?

“There have to be solutions to this. There have to be international examples that we need to look at. We really need to get some of the greatest minds in London working on this and at the same time using people at the Chamber of Commerce and others to help us lobby, particularly on the transfer tax.”

Asked whether it was “pie in the sky” to expect government to transfer property tax funds to the capital, Crossrail 2 Growth Commission chairman Merrick Cockell urged London to be as ambitious as the cities involved in the Northern Powerhouse in putting forward its case for decentralisation of power. “London has to have its own distinctive bid to Treasury in the same way that the Northern Powerhouse and others are putting together,” he said. “If you haven’t got ambition and you go in meekly and mildly about what’s doable, then you will never break boundaries. Manchester and others are showing that you can come in and outperform on proposals.”

The agreement between government and Manchester City Council has seen the city take a lead in the growth of its local economy and reformation of public services.

Manchester council chief executive Howard Bernstein said: “Manchester is fortunate to be the first city region to reach an agreement with government on the devolved power of resources in late 2014. Since then, we have had three further agreements which we hope will see more to come over the coming weeks and months.

“Housing, skills, business, strategic support, planning and new investment models are all key aspects of the agreement. From next week, we will also take responsibility for health and social care reform.”

Despite government relinquishing some of its power in Manchester, PwC north west chairman Iwan Griffiths believed further devolution was needed for the success of the Northern Powerhouse and other UK infrastructure projects. “Putting decision making powers closer to where those decisions need to be made is a good focus,” he said. “The UK is too centralised an economy by far. The devolution of the deals arranged or just additional devolved powers to the right authorities would be a good message for this project and future projects.”

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