We’ve seen quite a lot of David Cameron and George Osborne in the North West over the last few months.
The prime minister and (as I’m tempted to call him) chancellor of t’Exchequer were here again last week, this time setting out their plans to turn the northern cities into “the British equivalent of Los Angeles or Chicago” – though hopefully without the associated crime rates.
This is all part of their Northern Powerhouse initiative – which aims to connect the great northern towns and cities to form an economic super-conurbation.
To be frank, it isn’t really news in the sense of being new: the proposals were variously announced numerous times last year.
Indeed, the concept itself is far from original, being based on ideas put forward by renowned architect Will Alsop in his 2004 book Supercity, and latched onto by the then deputy prime minister John Prescott.
“A promise to build 25,000 more homes in the region over the course of a parliament pales into insignificance given the national need is more like 300,000 per year”
Of course, an element of recycling and spin can be forgiven in an election year. The truth is that most northerners (like me) don’t so much care about who’s idea it was or that it has been re-launched several times over; we just want to see it done.
So what will be done?
Well, much of last week’s announcements centred on better quality of life, more homes and better schools.
All well and good, but the standard generic fare you’d expect ahead of an election, and in some cases a little underwhelming.
A promise to build 25,000 more homes in the region over the course of a parliament pales into insignificance given the national need is more like 300,000 per year.
“Our policymakers need some innovative thinking in order to attract that cash to the North of England”
But most of what they said was good news. The bigger issue is how this is going to be achieved given that their plans will necessitate massive long-term investment in the region’s infrastructure, at a time when public spending will be significantly cut.
Longer term international finance conditions – including potential Chinese investment – would seem to offer good opportunities, but our policymakers need some innovative thinking in order to attract that cash to the North of England.
The need to rebalance the economy is a national need. It is for the benefit of those in London and the South just as much as those in the North.
Let’s hope that it does not fall victim to the inevitable political manoeuvring over the next few months and that all political parties can provide a credible plan to make this happen.
Chris Hallam is infrastructure partner at Pinsent Masons