Communicating the Northern Powerhouse
The development of better regional infrastructure across the North of England is currently high on the national and regional agenda. In the last fortnight alone, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Forum for the Built Environment have each held events in Manchester focusing on infrastructure planning, making clear the attention the subject commands. The depth and duration of the focus on the issue is such that it carries the prospect of significant improvements.
Promisingly, there is clear evidence of cross-party will to make the necessary investments. This week's Autumn Statement gave the Chancellor another opportunity to promote his efforts to build a "Northern Powerhouse" – bringing together cities across the region to exploit better their combined economic potential. In part, the Chancellor's enthusiasm built on August's One North report, which recommended better transport links to connect the North's big cities. That reflected the determination of civic leaders across the North to work collaboratively, rather than competitively, to secure investment. As Sir Howard Bernstein has pointed out, the best way for the region to be "heard in the corridors of power is to speak with a single concerted voice."
This cross-party backing for regional infrastructure reflects the significant benefits it could bring. The Treasury estimates that the proposals could increase Northern gross value added by more than £40 billion by 2030, a prize worth having. The business community is similarly supportive, with widespread enthusiasm for the proposals evident at recent conferences. Warren Marshall, Group Head of Port Planning at Peel Ports, described it at the FBE event as "the resurrection of thinking big in the North," and thinking big, and committing to seeing it through, will be necessary if we are to make the most of the opportunity presented.
Ensuring that the lofty aspirations to invest in Northern infrastructure become concrete realities will need a lot of effort. It will require closer working relationships between different regional businesses and politicians, as well as between the public and private sectors more generally. It will mean maintaining the focus on delivering the necessary funding, and careful planning against the distracting drumbeat of election season. If this can be achieved, then there is the real prospect of a much sounder basis for future growth across the North.
For all the benefits that Northern infrastructure investment will bring, the first tangible opportunities will be for those of us working in property and development. Infrastructure upgrades bring significant benefits, but rarely pass without disruption. They will have to be underpinned by carefully considered, effective communications to ensure that stakeholders and residents understand why work is being carried out and what it will mean for them, both during construction and in the longer term. Each and every one of us in the property sector should be thinking about what we can do to realise the goal of a Northern Powerhouse. How the journey will be communicated must be a part of the consideration from the very start.
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