The Prime Minister’s promise to back Northern Powerhouse Rail is welcome but there’s still much more to be done to support the North, particularly outside the cities, writes Henry Brooks of Tatton Group.
The last time Boris Johnson was in Manchester was head-to-head in a hustings with Jeremy Hunt. When asked questions about their favourite places in the North of England, both gave near identical, bland answers about the Midland Hotel opposite, resulting in an understandable nervousness about the new Prime Minister’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse.
Fortunately, just hours after taking office, the PM was here again making a speech – and announcements – at the Museum of Science and Industry, a key part not only the North’s but the UK’s and the World’s history, which has been greeted with cautious optimism.
He has rightly been praised for committing to investment in northern infrastructure, which recently has been more promise than delivery, but there is much more than that to do. At the hustings he was worryingly weak on how to solve the housing crisis – his London experience perhaps unhelpful in making him think brownfield land can be the sole solution, especially in areas where there simply isn’t any available – but very positively he did commit to more devolution, specifically offering Andy Burnham some of the fare-box.
Cities however are not the only – or even the largest – drivers of the Northern Powerhouse or its growth. Wider conurbations, towns, villages and the hugely vibrant economy in rural areas are absolutely key.
Cheshire and Warrington has been the most productive economy in the UK according to the Office of National Statistics – despite have only one city, Chester, within its boundaries. Devolution in areas like Cheshire & Warrington, and proper cross-boundary, spatial and infrastructure plans are essential to delivering the rebalancing and potential this country desperately needs and deserves.
The Manchester Airport Growth Corridor in particular will be a litmus test for this government, especially Chancellor, Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, and for housing, Robert Jenrick. There are still not enough northern MPs in cabinet, so the voices of Jake Berry and Esther McVey (both “attending”) for our share of growth, investment and policy support will be essential.
The need and opportunity to look north of the Oxford-Cambridge corridor is huge for UK PLC. It is disappointing that the Northern Powerhouse Rail announcement today stops at the buffers of Manchester Piccadilly and doesn’t reach Manchester Airport – the only place to serve more destinations than London Heathrow.
The report card therefore perhaps reads: “A promising start but much, much more to do.”
Here at Tatton Group we look forward to working with this Government and for them to prove their true commitment to work with the public and private sector to deliver for the whole country before, during and after Brexit.