North needs spa­tial plan to trans­form its econ­omy

Yorkshire Post - - OPINION - Sir Hugh Sykes Sir Hugh Sykes is chair of the One Pow­er­house Con­sor­tium and for­mer chair of Sh­effield De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion.

It is well un­der­stood that coun­tries and re­gions around the world have used spa­tial plan­ning to fo­cus po­lit­i­cal will, eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and so­cial re­form to great ef­fect.

THROUGH­OUT MY long ca­reer in busi­ness, never have the for­tunes of the north of Eng­land felt so im­por­tant in de­cid­ing the re­sult of a gen­eral elec­tion.

This is why the Power Up the North cam­paign – led by our re­gion’s news­pa­pers and sup­ported by busi­nesses and lo­cal politi­cians of ev­ery hue – re­mains so im­por­tant in the fi­nal days be­fore we all cast our votes.

There is, of course, a po­lit­i­cal logic that shows that North­ern vot­ers – around a quar­ter of the UK’s pop­u­la­tion – will be crit­i­cal in de­cid­ing the out­come of the elec­tion, es­pe­cially in the so-called “North­ern line” of Leave-lean­ing Labourheld seats which could swing to the Con­ser­va­tives.

But as a busi­ness­man, it is the eco­nomic logic that is just as im­por­tant. I am in­cred­i­bly con­cerned about the ris­ing lev­els of re­gional in­equal­ity and I be­lieve that, with the right con­di­tions, North­ern busi­nesses – small, medium and large – can put this right.

This is why I formed the One Pow­er­house Con­sor­tium – an or­gan­i­sa­tion that be­lieves that a healthy na­tional econ­omy is one that fires on all cylin­ders and ur­gently needs a new ap­proach to re­gional de­vel­op­ment and a spa­tial plan for ev­ery ma­jor re­gion in Eng­land.

In the run-up to the elec­tion, the One Pow­er­house Con­sor­tium, work­ing closely with the RSA (Royal So­ci­ety for the en­cour­age­ment of Arts, Man­u­fac­tures and Com­merce), has com­mis­sioned a Pop­u­lus sur­vey to test the views of North­ern vot­ers on some of the key is­sues con­cern­ing eco­nomic growth here.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, 70 per cent of those we sur­veyed think that the North gets a bad deal from gov­ern­ment, with only 11 per cent be­liev­ing that the North gets its fair share of cash.

Prospec­tive can­di­dates should take note that 55 per cent of North­ern­ers say they are more likely to vote for can­di­dates who pledge more in­vest­ment in the North.

We also found that there was huge sup­port for nearly all of the de­mands be­ing made by the Power Up the North cam­paign:

■ 73 per cent of North­ern­ers said they agreed we need to over­haul the re­gion’s road and rail net­work with de­volved fund­ing and pow­ers to run lo­cal buses and trains;

■ 75 per cent said we need to ac­cel­er­ate in­vest­ment in the North’s dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture, par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral ar­eas, and sup­port cre­ative in­dus­tries.

■ 78 per cent said gov­ern­ment must make ad­di­tional in­vest­ment avail­able for the North’s schools, col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties to boost skills train­ing.

While in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture projects is vi­tal, it might not solve all our chal­lenges. In our sur­vey, 74 per cent of re­spon­dents said gov­ern­ment must put its full weight be­hind a be­spoke In­dus­trial Strat­egy for the north of Eng­land to en­able ev­ery sec­tor of the econ­omy, from man­u­fac­tur­ing to farm­ing, to flour­ish.

And 66 per cent think the econ­omy would be stronger if we had a re­gional strat­egy for eco­nomic growth. The One Pow­er­house Con­sor­tium be­lieves firmly in the trans­for­ma­tive po­ten­tial of re­gional spa­tial plan­ning.

Spa­tial plan­ning is the “where” of decisions. It looks at a de­fined geo­graph­i­cal area and makes an as­sess­ment of ev­ery­thing con­tained in that area – towns, cities, hous­ing, schools, uni­ver­si­ties, roads, rail, air­ports, of­fices, fac­to­ries, hos­pi­tals, en­ergy sources, mu­se­ums, parks and leisure ac­tiv­i­ties – and makes a plan to de­velop those as­sets for the ben­e­fit of the peo­ple who live in that re­gion, now and for the fu­ture.

It is well un­der­stood that coun­tries and re­gions around the world have used spa­tial plan­ning to fo­cus po­lit­i­cal will, eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and so­cial re­form to great ef­fect. No­table ex­am­ples in­clude Ger­many’s Rhine-Ruhr, Hol­land’s Rand­stad and New York City’s Re­gional Plan As­so­ci­a­tion.

Scot­land, Wales and North­ern Ire­land all have spa­tial eco­nomic strategies that guide in­vest­ment and de­vel­op­ment and Greater Lon­don ben­e­fits from this ap­proach too. A proper spa­tial plan for the North – and in­deed for the Mid­lands, South East and South West – has po­ten­tial to pro­vide a solid ba­sis for re­ally am­bi­tious eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. De­vel­op­ment that has op­por­tu­nity and sus­tain­abil­ity at its heart. And it is surely here that any Brexit div­i­dend must be di­rected.

Our re­gional news­pa­pers get it. Our lo­cal politi­cians and busi­nesses get it. Our sur­vey shows that the pub­lic gets it too. All that re­mains is for na­tional politi­cians to em­brace a new, bot­tom-up ap­proach to re­gional de­vel­op­ment and to stump up the long-promised cash. As the clock counts down to elec­tion day, na­tional par­ties’ par­lia­men­tary can­di­dates should take note.

■ Fur­ther in­for­ma­tion about the One Pow­er­house Con­sor­tium can be found at www.onepow­er­house­c­on­sor­tium.co.uk

PIC­TURE: OWEN HUMPHREYS

IN­VEST­MENT: The ‘Power Up The North’ cam­paign has called for a new ap­proach to re­gional de­vel­op­ment to re­bal­ance the UK’s econ­omy.

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