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Viewpoint | Infrastructure - the lynchpin of Northern Powerhouse

Nick Ogden

Reinvigorating UK infrastructure is the lynchpin of the government’s Northern Powerhouse agenda.

Chancellor George Osborne’s headline grabbing commitments to cross-region connectivity may be applauded by those confident in UK regional devolution revolution.

But as Manchester gears up for its next mayoral election, the sceptics among us could be forgiven for demanding more from our esteemed central government leaders. Ambitious plans for new transport links may hit the spot, but how are we going to pay for it?

Osborne’s commitments to developing the Trans Pennine road tunnel and rail links across the North are a good start, but frankly this alone won’t cut it. There’s a significant funding gap that must be plugged, and attracting private investment will give these major devolution inspired projects the boost they need to be successful.

The UK has long been considered an attractive proposition for global investors. The appetite to upgrade and overhaul our ageing infrastructure presents a compelling opportunity for the private sector. But investors crave regulatory stability, decisive policies and above all a sensible return on their investments.

Northern Powerhouse rhetoric has inspired many who wish to see Westminster relinquish more powers to regional hubs. But until now the solid foundation on which investment into the essential infrastructure at the heart of devolution is somewhat lacking.

There of course has been progress. Transport for North, the body leading the charge on regional connectivity, is working to produce an integrated plan for essential improvements.

This is a positive move and no doubt such a review will be valuable as regional devolution gathers pace. But given that the report is expected at the end of 2017, frustration is mounting that investors and developers will be waiting too long for this critical intelligence. Such delays could be costly to the Northern Powerhouse vision.

We need long term perspective and decisive action to realise regional devolution ambitions.

This vision for the future of domestic infrastructure was tackled by industry leaders who gathered at Pinsent Masons’ Manchester office this week as part of the National Needs Assessment (NNA) led by the ICE.

Gathering evidence from across the industry, Pinsent Masons and 11 leading businesses and organisations are playing a central role in fleshing out the long term infrastructure requirements of all UK regions over the next 35 years as part of the NNA. This insight will help to identify options for how to deliver strategic projects covering energy, transport, communications, water, waste and flooding.

This discussion is pivotal to the Northern Powerhouse. Manchester is probably the UK’s most successful city at tapping in to the trend for equity investment into infrastructure assets and so is well placed to help drive the Northern Powerhouse vision. Strong leadership and sound management have proved that local authorities can be the right bodies to drive forward transformational infrastructure projects.

We need to replicate this structure across other regional hubs. That foundation will be the basis for fostering a genuinely attractive environment for investors who have the power and financial backing to make the Northern Powerhouse a success.

  • Nick Ogden is infrastructure partner at law firm Pinsent Masons

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