Northern Powerhouse lacks vision for housing
Northern Powerhouse, the governmentbacked initiative to boost economic growth in the north of England, is still being talked about as a great policy that will see cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool become more akin to their southern counterparts such as Birmingham and London.
It has a shiny new website, it has partners, it is going to be creating jobs, joining up cities with new infrastructure, boost education in what is described as ‘a show of force for the North’, yet the most up to date piece of news on this website was published on December 6.
There will be GBP 13 bln spent on transport, 3.3 bln on ‘growth deals’ and 70 mln on a schools strategy, but there is nothing about housing. It makes you wonder where people will live when the great projects mentioned get underway and what plans there are for boosting the number of homes in the region.
In other parts of the country, various infrastructure funds are being allocated to boost home building – as we all know new homes need new roads, new schools, etc. – but there does not seem to be much joined up writing and you have to ask where the local consultation is.
It is well known that lack of infrastructure or major delays holds up home building and a report earlier this year from the Housing and Finance Institute highlighted this issue. It seems that one of the problems is that housing as part of a regeneration vision is left at a very local level and at this point communication breaks down.
It is all very well that the government has a strategy that it published in its Housing White Paper earlier this year, and even then it was delayed by several months. Since then, the housing minister has changed, Brexit has become all-consuming and we are still left to wonder how housing will be incorporated into the great Northern Powerhouse vision.
The answer lies in communication. Take the Swiss for example. They have infrastructure projects that involve building massive tunnels through mountains, they have to deal with rural areas that are becoming ghost towns as young professionals move to cities for jobs and they have a form of government, often described as being as close to direct democracy that is possible, where citizens may challenge any law voted by the Federal Assembly and where referendums are almost two a penny.
There are lessons that can be learned from the Swiss in terms of launching major infrastructure policies that are not only supported by local people but also make a difference. The UK government’s high speed rail projects have seen a swathe of opposition and what makes the headlines is how badly local people are affected in terms of homes, roads, and jobs, rather than the good points.
There is one example currently underway in Switzerland that perhaps shows how it should be done. Andermatt in the Swiss Alps was dying, young people were leaving in droves for jobs elsewhere, the Swiss Army left, taking with them jobs and revenue that supported the town and tourism numbers had dropped.
Along came a wealthy developer with a vision. He proposed almost doubling the size of the town, linking up its small ski area with the one in the next valley by building new lifts and pistes and bringing four and five star hotel accommodation to the town as well as creating a golf course to attract people all year round.
There were a lot of obstacles such as wildlife, the locals, buying land that the Army no longer used, strengthening roads into the town and a more delicate question of who would buy the 500 apartments being proposed as part of the project. Switzerland has laws that restrict the construction of second homes to 20% of a development project and Lex Koller, which means that an overseas buyer must apply for a permit to purchase and is restricted in selling terms too.
If this had been the UK, the project would never have gotten off the ground with opposition on housing planning grounds, environmental grounds and talk of why so much was being poured into what was in effect a rural backwater.
But the Andermatt Swiss Alps project is proving to be an example of a wealthy developer, locals, and the government working together to fulfil a vision. The project was able to secure an exemption from Lex Koller and the second home law, the first time this has been done in Switzerland, got the backing of 96% of locals in a poll, provided much needed local jobs and is attracting buyers from all over the world.
British Chancellor Philip Hammond met last week with Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, Liverpool’s Steve Rotheram and the new mayor of Tees Valley Ben Houchen to discuss investment in the north, including new transport funding.
Ahead of the visit, the Chancellor said that the Northern Powerhouse needed to reach its full potential. “Boosting productivity in the North is at the very heart of the Government’s ambition to build an economy that works for everyone. As we prepare to leave the European Union it is even more important that we support the Northern Powerhouse to reach its full potential. That’s why we are investing record amounts in infrastructure, and working with metro mayors to encourage growth and create opportunities throughout the North,” he said.
But you dedication difference.
A report published a couple of days ago by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) North East highlighted the need to align the Northern Powerhouse strategy alongside regional co-ordination and an ambitious investment programme.
It made two important recommendations, namely that the north must adopt a more proactive and ambitious approach to encourage private investment and to address the north’s housing shortage; local authorities should put in place standard approaches to assessing need and have access to flexible funding arrangements for new developments. Perhaps they should have a jolly to Switzerland to see how it can be done. have there to wonder how much really is to making a