In its latest edition, The Economist makes “the pragmatic case for moving Britain’s capital to Manchester”, in order to decentralise decision making and spending, and create two rival centres of power in the UK.
Estimates are rising as to how much it’s going to cost to restore the Houses of Parliament in London, with a £4bn price tag if the House of Commons and House of Lords both entirely vacate for eight years, or a £5.7bn cost if the restoration is done incrementally over three decades.
In response, in its Bagehot column The Economist suggests using “the dire state of the Palace of Westminster” as an excuse for relocating the UK’s decision-making centre from London to Manchester. Manchester Central Conference Centre is suggested as a potential location, with “more than enough room to house the two houses of Parliament”.
The article continues: “Manchester is full of, and surrounded by, unused or underused former mills whose excellent connections to the centre make them perfect venues for government departments. The sale of ministerial buildings in central London would surely cover most or all of the costs of their conversion.”
The Economist cites Manchester’s housing expansion plans, the £1bn investment at Airport City, and “better infrastructure than Birmingham” as making it capable of becoming the UK’s new civic centre.
“Economists agree that one of the major reasons for Britain’s dismally low productivity is that it has too few big cities: London sucks investment and talent away from regional hubs that might one day develop into conurbations of its size.
“The point of the exercise should be to create two rival centres of the establishment. That demands a city with the attractions and capacity to counterbalance London; one capable of attracting government departments and their staff, the media, think-tanks, international investors and some businesses.”
The project would aim to create two centres of power in the UK, turning London into “a Barcelona to Manchester’s Madrid”.
“The shift would of course put pressure on Manchester. The city would have to accommodate many thousands of new residents. House prices would rise, the transport network would have to grow. Yet more than any other big city in Britain it has a record of dynamic civic leadership—hence George Osborne’s decision, as chancellor, to make it the hub of his ‘Northern Powerhouse’.”