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A New Vision for the Northern Powerhouse?

  • United Kingdom
  • Real estate planning
  • Real estate planning - Devolution

29-11-2016

At the same time he delivered his (final) Autumn Statement the Chancellor also issued a strategy document to advance one of his predecessor’s key policy aims - the Northern Powerhouse.

For those who support the notion of the North providing a counterbalance to an overheating economy in London and the South East, the fact that a separate strategy for the Northern Powerhouse has been announced is encouraging in itself. The early pronouncements from the post-Brexit national administration had hinted at a shift of emphasis away from targeted investment in the city regions of the North and the Midlands to a less geographically focused policy of encouraging growth away from London. However, the case for harnessing the potential of a well-established economic hub where considerable strides have already been taken towards fiscal and functional devolution appears to have been accepted by government.

So how does Philip Hammond’s approach to the Northern Powerhouse compare to his predecessor? On first inspection, the strategy does appear to be a continuation of the range of policy tools which featured during George Osborne’s tenure. Much of the document is taken up by a recap of earlier initiatives and a review of the progress that has been achieved to date. This has included the establishment of Transport for the North and the formulation of mayoral devolution deals together with planned investment in a range of measures across the northern regions. Turning to the further advancement of devolved powers, the signs are encouraging for two city regions in particular. In the “Enterprise and Innovation’ section of the strategy there is reference to discussions with Liverpool and Greater Manchester on pilot schemes to achieve 100% business rates retention from 2017. What this section does highlight, however, is the relatively fragmented and piecemeal approach to the implementation of the Northern Powerhouse project to date with different City Regions moving at different speeds and pursuing their own distinct agendas. With this in mind, what still appears to be lacking from the strategy is a spatial element – a plan or prospectus for the North which sets out the roles and responsibilities of the towns and cities and how they can work together in a more coordinated way. Such a document would also assist with one of the policy aims in the “Trade and Investment” section – namely to play a role in building international understanding of the ‘northern offer’ with a view to facilitating foreign direct investment.

In ‘Engagement’, the final section in the Northern Powerhouse strategy, the government confirms its commitment to delivery and identifies four areas of focus, including strengthening connectivity between and within city regions. Once more, a Great North Plan could play an important role in articulating the policy links necessary to achieve this laudable aim.

 

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