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Businesses urged to take the lead in Great North Plan

Words: Simon Wicks
Northerm economy map

The RTPI and think tank IPPR North have called for business leaders to take the lead in creating a ‘Great North Plan’ that will turn the concept of a Northern Powerhouse into a reality.

The two organisations jointly launched their Blueprint for a Great North Plan in Leeds today (Friday 17 June), arguing that efforts to transform the north of England into an economic powerhouse cannot succeed without a “coherent approach to economic planning”, with regional businesses at the centre of the endeavour.

Businesses have been invited to pledge their time and resources to the project. But planners, too, have a vital role to play in creating a vision for the North and co-ordinating the region’s planning and development in four key areas of transport, economics, energy and population, the two organisations argue.

The blueprint, produced after months of roundtables and a summit in northern cities, lays out the scheme for the production of an overarching plan for the region. This ‘Great North Plan’ would incorporate a vision, strategies for the four key areas, a regional investment prospectus and a delivery plan.

"Planning can play a vital role in fostering the vision, collaboration and flexibility necessary to deliver the economic, social, technological and environmental benefits across the whole of the north of England"

RTPI Yorkshire chair Phil Crabtree, who spoke at the launch of the blueprint this morning, said: “The Great North Plan blueprint document shows how planning can play a vital role in fostering the vision, collaboration and flexibility necessary to deliver the economic, social, technological and environmental benefits across the whole of the north of England.”

He added: “Local authorities in particular need to use their combined planning, economic development and regeneration powers to guide private sector investment and to lead the process of change.”

IPPR North director Ed Cox stressed that a plan for the Powerhouse had to be created and delivered locally. “Letting it be driven by Whitehall rather than northern businesses risks taking us in the wrong direction with a piecemeal, partial and parochial approach,” he said.

“The Powerhouse has got to go beyond reducing travel times between Leeds and Manchester, important as this is. Businesses and foreign investors have told us that they want to see a more coherent approach to economic planning, with the kind of framework found in London, Scotland and most European regions.”

The blueprint was created after 93 per cent of attendees at 11 roundtables and a summit in six Northern cities indicated they were in favour of a strategic plan to reshape the region in an era of city devolution. Attendees at the events included businesses and business leaders, local authority representatives, politicians, academics and other civic leaders.

"When the regional economy is prosperous, many Northern firms will benefit from a more interesting pipeline of opportunities"

The blueprint insists that a Great North Plan should be “high-level, strategic and brief”, and focus on four industries where the North can create competitive advantages: advanced manufacturing, energy, health innovation and digital.

Business North director Chris Hearld said: “When the regional economy is prosperous, many Northern firms will benefit from a more interesting pipeline of opportunities; when connectivity is improved, employers stand to benefit from a wider talent pool and more efficient logistics; when the appeal of the region is stronger, our businesses will benefit from being able to attract some of the talent currently drawn to London and consequently strengthen our growth prospects.”

The two leading organisations (RTPI and IPPR North) have invited Northern businesses to pledge time, expertise and resources to help turn the blueprint into a workable plan. Pledges can be made via the Great North Plan website.

Images | IPPR North

Transport map for the NorthThe blueprint: The details

Blueprint for a Great North Plan was created following 11 roundtables and a summit in six Northern cities in which participants were asked about how the North could become the much-vaunted Northern Powerhouse.

Some 93 per cent of participants in the events felt a ‘Great North Plan’, offering a coherent vision for the region and formulating a means of achieving that vision, would be desirable.

Other favoured principles that emerged from the meetings included a desire to create a “competitive North in the national and global economy” and a need to “maximise opportunities for people of all ages across the North”.

The blueprint proposes a plan that would:

  • be “high-level, strategic and brief”, though supported by a suite of other plans and documents at a local level
  • offer “an ambitious long-term vision” for the north of England
  • be “evolutionary and collaborative” and will “speak to all places across the North”
  • “recognise the importance of the big cities” while also acknowledging the  “vital hinterlands that serve them”.

The blueprint suggests seven steps in the creation of a plan for the North:

Population map for the North1.    Agreement on a vision for the region

This would be followed by development of four specific strategies:

2.    Economic – building on the forthcoming Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review
3.    Transport – taking the current Northern Transport Strategy as a starting point and marrying connectivity with business hubs and Labour markets
4.    Environment – making the most of opportunities afforded by green infrastructure, and incorporating concerns about flood risk and the wider environment
5.    Population and place – planning for current and future population hubs, labour market geographies, recognising the distinctiveness of cities, town and areas, understanding quality-of-life issues.

The combined vision and strategies will feed into:

6.    A prospectus for investment – presenting economic, social and environmental opportunities to potential investors with the aim of attracting the investment that will enable the region to achieve its vision

The final step in the proposed plan is:

7.    A programme for action - a plan for delivery that “brings together a wide range of stakeholders and designated resources, with clear workstreams, leadership and time frames for completion of actions”.

The RTPI and IPPR North have invited the five Northern core cities (Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle) – working closely with Transport for the North, Business North and central government – to kick-start the process of turning the blueprint into a plan.

"This should include engagement with businesses, universities, their wider city-regions, and the many smaller towns and cities that lie outside city region boundaries,” the blueprint says.

You can download the full blueprint for a Great North Plan (Pdf) from the IPPR website