Next year promises to be a turning point for connectivity in the UK, writes Annette Mcdonald, deputy managing director of Tatton Group. The Government will test 5G technology in three cities, ushering in a new era of super-fast, super responsive mobile data streaming.
It’s a vital step if this country is to achieve its ambition of becoming a 5G world leader but, if we truly want to be a global economic powerhouse with connectivity to match, the sub-standard digital infrastructure of all our rural areas needs to be addressed urgently.
The universal high-speed broadband promised by the Government is not due to arrive before 2020, after Brexit, which is too late even if on time. For the multitude of thriving businesses and organisations that make up the UK rural economy, digital connectivity is now critical.
Fit-for-purpose infrastructure is essential to protect the massive economic contribution and potential our countryside provides. Rural Britain is key to helping to rebalance the economy and making the Industrial Strategy a reality.
Rural areas are much stronger than we realise. Cheshire and Warrington, for example, is an economic powerhouse, with its output per head 20% higher than the UK average and the second highest of any sub-region outside of London, according to ONS figures.
Cheshire is the ultimate illustration of how much economic punch and potential rural areas can have. It is not only a dormitory for our big neighbours Manchester and Liverpool, it’s also a net importer of workers. We have the expected strength in agriculture; indeed, we account for around 10% of the UK dairy industry, and our heritage is now acting as the basis of an advanced agri-tech cluster, serving a global market. However, this is not the complete picture – we are also a richly diverse region, home to a wealth of highly entrepreneurial enterprises, from science and innovation to arts and creative, as well as a forward-thinking agri-tech scene and a booming visitor economy.
Cheshire is also currently benefitting from an explosion of interest from the film and TV industry and to meet this growing demand, we at Tatton Locations have recently opened the North Range – a new workspace for the industry at our Tatton Studios in Altrincham. And with the imminent arrival of Netflix to the UK, Tatton Locations is working with Media City to provide a Northern Powerhouse creative and media offering to rival the South’s.
A jewel in Cheshire’s crown is the internationally-renowned science corridor which has some of the most significant and globally important science-based assets in the north. Tatton Estate is adding to that mix, supporting Manchester Metropolitan University to bring forward the multi-million-pound Cheshire Advanced Manufacturing Centre, converting a derelict farm on the M56/A556 junction which will help support the future of UK manufacturing and create jobs and wealth.
The centre will drive innovation and provide the skilled highly-paid jobs needed if we are to retain our young talent. However jobs alone are not enough, millennials are looking for a work environment more akin to Media City than traditional rural office developments, with excellent transport links, affordable housing and a vibrant commercial and leisure offer. This all points to the need for an integrated spatial strategy with new mixed-use developments. This is the time where the refresh of Cheshire East’s local plan and the LEP’s Local Industrial Strategy can help close the productivity gap and maximise the potential of the economy in our rural areas.
Diverse rural economies, such as ours, hold just as much potential for bolstering the UK’s overall economic performance as successful cities. Set against this context therefore, ensuring rural digital infrastructure is up-to-speed becomes just as important as delving into any 5G possibilities.