Last year, the ICE’s three northern regions came together to produce recommendations for the North in our document Delivering a Northern Infrastructure Strategy.
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This February, we took our recommendations to the heart of government at a reception for MPs, ICE members and industry guests in Portcullis House. We used the opportunity to reinforce our message that we must unlock the economic potential of the North of England through the provision of 21st century infrastructure.
Effective infrastructure supports thriving, sustainable societies, and local communities have the best understanding of their own transport, energy, housing and utility needs. Giving the North the power to take control of its development remains fundamental to ensuring we close the productivity and skills gap with the rest of the UK. But we need an overarching plan and a single voice to ensure that our messages are heard.
A coherent transport network would do much to improve economic prosperity in the North. While the arrival of High Speed 2 in Manchester and Leeds will improve some north-south journey times, agglomeration benefits will only be delivered when intercity trips within the North are comparable with similar journeys in the South East. The 72km trip from Manchester to Leeds can still take more than 90 minutes by rail, whereas the 64km from Stevenage or Reading to London can be covered in less than half an hour. As a result, northern cities end up competing with one another, rather than working together as components of a successful North.
Joined up approach
A joined up approach to spatial planning across the North is necessary to guide and coordinate infrastructure development to create balanced growth and increase productivity. But we have been talking about this for many years. What we need is action.
The ICE suggests that coordination should take the form of a Council for the North: bringing together senior decision makers from across the regions to develop a spatial plan, agree an infrastructure strategy and provide strategic direction for the North.
To deliver the plan, the North needs the power to fund growth through revenue-raising and borrowing. It needs to be in a position where industry has the confidence to attract private investment. It needs the support of successive central governments willing to commit to and maintain long-term development.
All of this is affordable and achievable. Transport for the North believes an additional investment, equivalent to only £50 per person per year until 2030 has the potential to deliver 800,000 new jobs and generate £100bn in additional growth.
By linking up centres of manufacturing, unlocking renewable energy potential and putting cities at the forefront of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles, opportunities can be built, lives can be improved and prosperity increased.
But this is not just about the North. Unlocking the potential of the North is key to improving the prosperity of the UK as a whole.
- Penny Marshall, is ICE regional director, North East and Yorkshire & Humber