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Osborne sets out plan for Northern powerhouse

Words: Sam Waddicor

Chancellor George Osborne has outlined his vision for a third high-speed railway that would provide better links between Northern cities.

The chancellor said he wished to see the North become a powerhouse of the British economy. He said individually Northern cities were strong, but collectively they weren’t strong enough.

Speaking at the Power Hall of Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, he set out a four-part plan to create a stronger North. The first is to create better transport links between the larger cities, thereby joining them together. He put forward a plan for a third high-speed railway between Manchester and Leeds and said the proposals could feed into the David Higgins review of HS2’s second phase.

Richard Pendlebury, policy and networks adviser at the RTPI, and co-author of the RTPI paper Transport Infrastructure Investment: Capturing the Wider Benefits of Investment in Transport Infrastructure, told The Planner: “In the initial promotion of HS2 there was quite a lot of fumbling around in the dark about why do we really want to do this and the policy priorities from government went from being first of all about improving journey times and then about improving capacity.

"We think more of the focus should have been around things on what it’s going to mean to places in which it’s being delivered. The HS2 growth taskforce are making calls for local areas that are going to be getting a station, or even those that aren’t, to put together strategic plans about how they are going to connect the network, how they are going to use the network to regenerate places and how they are going to use the connectivity to build more housing.

"If we are going to go down the route of HS3 to get the most out of it we need to start with this approach.”

University challenge

The next part of Osborne’s plan is to provide support for the universities in the North as they are leading the way on science and innovation, as well as increased co-operation between academe and industry. He referenced the £7 billion of scientific investment that would come in the next Parliament and challenged Northern universities to “rise to the challenge” and create “transformative long-term ideas” for outstanding science in the North.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said: “Nobody will believe the Tories can deliver the jobs, growth and investment we need for the North of England.

“Regional growth divides have widened markedly since 2010. The Tories scrapped Labour’s successful regional development agencies, failed to implement Lord Heseltine’s growth report and are planning to cut infrastructure investment next year. And the important work of implementing the Northern Way taskforce agenda also ground to a halt when the RDAs were abolished.

“On high-speed rail, we said months ago that we need value for money for the taxpayer and to improve the existing plans to maximise the benefits for the whole country and strengthen the links between Northern cities. Ministers need finally to start listening.”

Northern soul

Part three of the chancellor’s approach is to build up the thriving Northern cultural scene. He made specific reference to a new theatre tax credit designed to help theatre outside of the capital to be announced in September.

Finally, Osborne said that the city councils could become more powerful by increasing the level of devolved powers and bringing in democratically elected mayors with powers similar to London’s mayor, Boris Johnson. He said he thought the improvements to London’s transport had been a direct result of a strong leader being able to integrate the different forms of transport.

Chair of the Cities Commission, Jim O’Neil, said: “This is a really important speech by the chancellor, opening up the path to genuine devolution of power and ideas to our Northern cities and, in my role as chair of the independent Cities Commission, I welcome his boldness in calling for many of these developments, ranging from faster, more effective communications between key located cities that will allow them to operate as large economic hub, to encouraging our best universities to reach for grander ideas to benefit from their ongoing leadership in scientific research. These are all areas that our research and evidence-building at the commission show are necessary to not only give more balanced growth, but to lay the groundwork for possibly boosting the country’s growth potential in the long term.”

The British Chamber of Commerce’s executive director of policy, Adam Marshall, said: “Businesses have seen many proposals for better links between Northern cities over the years. The prospect of a high-speed east-west rail link across the North is a good start if it materialises, but we would like to see more thought given towards connecting all the core cities there, not just Manchester and Leeds.

“While the chancellor’s ambition for a northern ‘HS3’ is positive, the government must focus on getting HS2 on the statute books and into construction first  and on vital road and rail improvements throughout the UK. Businesses like this sort of ambitious thinking, but will be far more impressed if the government’s existing list of infrastructure commitments are delivered.”