The first day of the MIPIM UK conference programme in London was dominated by talk of the Northern Powerhouse, with panel debates formed of council and businesses leaders delivering positive messages about the opportunities on offer.
Any initial scepticism about the Government’s intention to deliver on its promise to rebalance the London-centric UK economy seems to have disappeared. Representatives from Newcastle and Leeds joined with those from Greater Manchester and Liverpool to enthuse about the unprecedented level of support received from senior ministers.
Kicking off the morning at a Northern Powerhouse panel sponsored by JLL, Jackie Sadek, chief executive of developer UK Regeneration and former policy advisor to cities minister Greg Clark, said that it was the first time that she had heard the North talked about as a serious investment proposition.
“For years I was working in regeneration and watching askance,” she said. “Let’s be honest, London saved us in the downturn, but it just wasn’t equitable. There was the development of this extraordinary economy in London and the South East, with frankly a third world country hanging off its arse.
“With the Northern Powerhouse, I have never seen a policy pulled together so fast. Make no mistake, these people are on a bloody mission. The Chancellor has promised a Northern Powerhouse and there will be a Northern Powerhouse. They have their entire careers staked on it.”
Speaking alongside Sadek on the panel, Eamonn Boylan, chief executive of Stockport Council, agreed that the Northern Powerhouse is “profoundly different, backed by and supported by central government in a way that Northern initiatives haven’t been before. The challenge for us is now to step up and make the most of the assets that already exist, as there’s an opportunity to move forward with speed and scale.”
Bilfinger GVA also hosted a panel discussion which brought together the chief executives of Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Barnsley, alongside the chairman of the Leeds city region LEP to look at how the Powerhouse could drive private sector investment.
Manchester City Council’s chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein challenged the North to raise its ambitions about what it could deliver to the nation’s productivity. “This is not just about how we rebalance the national economy, but how we grow it. The UK economy will not achieve its full potential unless we invest outside of London and the South East.
“If you put the economies of the big city regions together we’d be one of the top 30 economies in the world. We need to rise to that challenge.”
According to Roger Marsh, chairman of the Leeds City Region LEP, “the North is the solution not the problem. We’ve done ourselves a disservice, over generations and generations we’ve developed a ‘this isn’t fair’ approach and haven’t been leading the agenda. If you don’t know where you’re going don’t be surprised about where you end up.
“Different parts of the North are at different stages, and operating at different speeds which is part of the challenge. Businesses need to hold us to account, and ask us ‘are you playing as collaboratively as you could be?’”
Nicola Rigby, director of Bilfinger GVA’s planning, development and regeneration team in Manchester, said: “The chancellor’s visit to Manchester with the Chinese President is an encouraging statement of intent, and follows on from his visit to China where he with Northern Powerhouse partners introduced the scale of investment opportunity across the north. What was really interesting in the discussion today was the amount of time we spent talking about the ‘the north’ as a real entity and investment opportunity. Clearly the City Regions will have to establish their own economic strategy to sit behind this, but the Northern narrative is gaining pace and prominence – and rightly so if we want to attract genuine international investment.”
MIPIM UK is taking place in London’s Olympia, and is the domestic version of the annual property convention held in Cannes each March.