From devolution to construction – why it’s time for a #GreatNorthPlan

25 Jun 15

The North of England needs infrastructure projects capable of genuinely transforming its economy. This requires leadership and a long-term strategy.

The government deserves great credit for the momentum it has given to the Northern Powerhouse agenda, with £13bn committed in the Conservative manifesto to northern transport investment and the Cities Devolution Bill paving the way for further devolution to the region.

But there is a long way to go before we see the Northern economy firing on all cylinders – as our charts show, the region lags far behind when it comes to transformational infrastructure projects. And the region’s infrastructure needs to go beyond transport, and start looking at wider assets such as innovation, skills and higher education.


investment infographic

The arguments are well rehearsed: investing in infrastructure is essential to competing in the global economy and driving economic growth. It also boosts productivity and good connections widen the pool of talent available to employers.

The North of England needs infrastructure projects capable of genuinely transforming the northern economy as it makes the journey from an industrial past to a more connected future. At the moment, eyes are trained on devolution. But to make the North’s economy a driver of growth, we need to move to construction, building the foundations for a Northern Powerhouse. Given the country’s patchy record in delivering big projects and the focus on the London and South East, what is the best way forward?

We have seen encouraging signs in the way the North has organised itself and worked in partnership over transport already. The Rail North initiative – a group of 30 local authority leaders working in partnership with the Department for Transport – will see rail franchises co-managed in Leeds, while plans for a Transport for the North body (to emulate and better Transport for London) are afoot.

What if this collaboration were to go beyond transport, and seek to transform the region’s wider economic prospects? That’s why IPPR North and the Royal Town Planning Institute are asking professionals and leaders in the North to help us assess the support and scope for a Great North Plan. As Jonathan House from PwC put it: “This is the evolution of devolution.”

The work is to explore the opportunities for the region’s infrastructure, planning and economic development. It will answer two key questions: First:

What should be the nature and scope of a strategic spatial planning framework for the north of England?

This means exploring what the key components of a plan should include, looking at issues such as land use, energy, transport, water and population. What geography should the plan cover and how could it fit into the plans of local authorities?


What might be the process and timetable for the development of such a framework?

For example, how long would it take to develop a Great North Plan, how would it be funded and how should such a plan be branded and promoted?

We need a long-term strategy to create a successful, resilient Northern economy. This must be built on an economy with higher skills, higher productivity and higher wages for people living here. A joined up infrastructure plan for the North can be the foundation for this goal. To achieve that, we need leaders in the North of England to galvanise their efforts to develop and promote transformational infrastructure projects in the North, to bring them to Whitehall’s attention. 

Our Great North Plan consultation will help shape this thinking. We urge the best and brightest minds to put their proposals forward, come together and shape the destiny of the North’s economy.

Submissions to the Great North Plan can be made here

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