The ICE has long advocated the need for the UK to invest in 21st century infrastructure.
We know that infrastructure is an enabler for economic growth and thriving communities; however, we continue to see underinvestment which inhibits balanced growth around the UK. This is particularly true in the north of England, where investment lags behind other parts of the UK, with economic growth being stifled by poor connectivity.
Taken together, the Northern Powerhouse regions have a population comparable with that of London; however, labour productivity is £17k per worker lower than in London. The connectivity challenge means congested networks and slow rail journeys – currently 32 minutes from Liverpool to Manchester, 87 mins from Newcastle to Leeds and 49 mins from Leeds to Manchester.
A report by Frontier Economics for the National Infrastructure Commission found that inter-city transport improvements can unlock gains in productivity, particularly where investments are targeted on overcrowded and congested routes that are heavily used by commuters, freight and business travellers.
Former chancellor George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse initiative provides an opportunity to begin to rebalance the UK economy, not least through investment in infrastructure.
Last year the ICE set up a Northern Powerhouse Panel, chaired by KPMG head of infrastructure, building and construction Richard Threlfall to provide a focus for our policy work across the north.
The work of this group centres on the need to turn the Northern Powerhouse concept into a reality.
The panel from across the three northern regions has embarked on an ambitious programme of work to develop a Northern Infrastructure Strategy.
It will build upon the valuable work that has already been undertaken by the ICE and others, including the 2016 State of the Nation: Devolution and National Needs Assessment, and the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review.
Our strategy will not just focus on identifying areas where new infrastructure really can make a difference, but will adopt a whole-life approach and explore how we obtain best use of our existing assets.
Our strategy will be aspirational, and will identify a programme of interventions to 2033 – the planned completion date of High Speed 2 Phase 2.
It will look across the broad range of infrastructure and consider what is required in transport, energy, digital technology and housing.
It will explore the key enabling themes of skills, funding and financing, enablers and blockers, and make recommendations.
We want to set out a vision for what we want the North to be, and how we think we can get there. We want to compete with the rest of the UK, with productivity at least equivalent to the UK average.
And we want it to be for the whole of the North, not just one or two cities. This is not about benefiting the North to the detriment of other regions, but making the UK more competitive globally – an aspiration set out in the government’s Modern Industrial Strategy.
- Penny Marshall is ICE North East regional director