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A plan for the powerhouse

Northern industry

Does the regeneration of northern England require a strateigc plan? Yes, argues IPPR North's Anna Round

The Great North Plan project was conceived separately from the government’s Northern Powerhouse agenda, but both projects share roots in a growing body of work that identifies the benefits of treating the north of England as a polycentric but integrated economic region.

This includes the 2012 report of the Northern Economic Futures Commission and the newly formed remit of Transport for the North. Since the first roundtable in Sheffield 10 months ago, the potential of a Great North Plan to define, shape and enhance the Northern Powerhouse has become clearer at every step.

We found huge enthusiasm for a Great North Plan that drives economic growth and social benefits.

Many in these discussions were professional planners. But the emerging vision is not of a ‘Plan’ in the conventional, statutory sense – it is a framework that brings together the elements of professional planning that most usefully apply at a ‘pan-northern’ scale alongside insights from other areas of expertise.

For example, planning will guide the treatment of place, which is crucial for many of those who have given their views on the Great North Plan. This casts the North as a diverse but united region in which cities, towns, rural areas and coasts offer distinctive contributions to its economic and social development, and where genuine collaboration will lead to the greatest gains.

A Great North Plan will add value to local plans and strategic economic plans, working spatially and thematically to draw out the potential of connections between places to attract and use investment, and to tackle common concerns (e.g. environmental sustainability and equitable growth).

"We need to find innovative ways to win buy-in and consensus"

These documents will inform its first iteration, and in time may be themselves influenced by a Great North Plan. But these documents are not set up to apply to a region extending from the Borders to the Pennines and the North Sea to the Irish Sea, or to address broad social and economic issues.

This demands innovation and learning from best practice in countries that use bold and holistic plans for polycentric regions cutting across established geographies. And as we don’t have a legislative body for the whole of the North that would own the Plan, we also need to find ways to win buy-in and consensus (on the one hand) and to give it traction and ‘teeth’ (on the other). These may well evolve with more devolution. The potential rewards of a new approach to northern growth are immense. A successful Great North Plan would result in something that could qute legitimately be called a ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

Read about the Great North Plan at www.greatnorthplan.com/

Anna Round is senior research fellow at IPPR North



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