NW 2015: Rising damper

After 2014's exuberance, most economic commentators expect the next 12 months to be a little trickier. While few are predicting another downturn, there is an increasing body of evidence that suggests activity will slow next year, if only just a little. Ricky Ambury, director at Citypress, writes.

This might not mean so much for Manchester, which has had an excellent 2014 by all accounts, but it could have a greater impact elsewhere in the region where things haven't quite reached lift-off yet.

The North West has become a patchwork quilt of different local and sector markets, where the best are booming and the rest still suffering a recessionary hangover. In these slower moving pockets, it's vital that the recovery doesn't lose momentum.

David Cameron's 'red lights on the dashboard' comments from the G20 summit last month – echoed by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement – has put the global economy's challenges onto the mainstream agenda. Look past the headlines around the UK's own remarkable recent growth and there are plenty of pockets of gloomier news elsewhere – not least from the Eurozone, Japan and many emerging markets.

Then there are tw UK-specific events that are making many in the market uncertain.

A General Election could once again dramatically alter the political landscape in the UK, though this time through the rise of the protest party. Investors and developers will be cautious in their plans until the make-up of a Parliament that will see out the remainder of this decade becomes clear. The thorny issue of an in-or-out EU referendum will play on overseas investors' minds in particular. There is already talk (though unrelated) that the huge weight of money trying to find a home in the capital – which has in turn driven investors to the North West – could be starting to thin out.

Of course when the election is done there could be some good news on infrastructure. HS2 should begin to look a lot more real and we could see firmer plans put in place for HS3. As many of the region's business leaders suggest, both projects will do much for the North West's long-term prospects.

The second factor is the impeding (or not) rise in interest rates. Property has benefited greatly from the UK's low rate environment, which has prevailed for the thick end of a decade, but an upward shift will change the dynamics for investors hunting for the best returns.

There is a chance that we may get a stay of execution on this front, particularly if the economy is made ever more fragile by events abroad and inflation remains low. If a rate rise came at the back end of 2015, as many now expect, then the effect on the market will be negligible.

After a year of almost endless optimism there are now enough question marks on the horizon to suggest that 2015 will be more challenging. But there is little to suggest that it will be a disaster and with a fair wind and a few sensible political decisions it could even end up being another strong year for the region.

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