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19/02/2016

The pull of a plan for the North

Devolution provides the North with the opportunity to take control of its future, writes Judith Barnes. To achieve this, what should be in the Great North Plan?

As a Northern lass, I am very interested in the North and the notion of a Great North Plan, fuelled by the Northern Powerhouse. Having worked with many local authorities over the years, I am well aware that every local authority and every area is different and we should be doing our best to promote the strengths and diversity of each part of the North, from the North-West across to Humberside, down to Sheffield and up to Scotland, (especially to inward investors).

Yet our cities underperform in comparison to our international counterparts. Lord Heseltine at the recent Northern Summit hosted by RTPI and IPPR North suggested that an elected mayor who can deliver strong leadership may provide the opportunities to help to secure the growth and improved productivity needed to enable the North to compete better on a global stage.

“Devolution presents the opportunity for the North to take far greater control of its future”

Devolution presents the North’s chance to take far greater control of its future. Combined authority mayors will be a democratically elected, powerful voice for the North.

Th e summit took place on the cusp of Royal Assent for one of the most signifi cant pieces of local government legislation for decades – the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016.

Let’s hope it will deliver on its promises. There is far too much prescription and control through secondary legislation and most of the enabling powers in the bill could sensibly be left to local authorities to determine.

We can only hope that the secondary legislation allows local areas freedoms and flexibilities to deliver on the aims of the legislation, and that the government plays ball on devolving power.

We should review our strengths to help focus on what should be in the Great North Plan, whether that is the green economy, digital, assets, investment in health R&D, advanced manufacturing supply chains, culture, heritage or international professional services.

Most people at the summit were agreed on the need to:

  • Establish a vision;
  • Attract investment through a prospectus;
  • Enhance collaboration through sustainable developments; and
  • Galvanise action through a clear action plan

Local authorities are pivotal; they have wide powers to buy, sell and develop land and powers over housing strategy and delivery. Perhaps if local government had been more adventurous, we might not be where we are now. A bold leap of faith is required to make the greatest part of the UK even greater.

Judith Barnes is a partner at law firm Bevan Brittan LLP

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