05 Sep 2017
Yesterday, the Chancellor convened the first meeting of the Government and the three Northern Metro Mayors to discuss regional growth, housing, and infrastructure. While employment in the North may be at a record high, Ministers believe that more can be done and will ask the region to continue to build upon its £102 billion economy.
However, with all three mayors only being elected earlier this year, followed by a general election which delivered uncertainty especially around the direction of Brexit negotiations, have they had enough time to truly show the benefits of not only their role, but the measures they have already taken to boost productivity and growth?
While the built environment is not a huge contributor to economic growth it can be one of the biggest factors in holding it back. Under the NPPF, local authorities were required to update their local plans, however, many of these plans failed to look strategically at other needs that support housing including infrastructure. Metro Mayors are required to implement strategic plans for their regions which allows for housing needs to be met and decided at a regional level, as well as infrastructure, commercial and employment land planning.
The North may not have the same affordability pressures that London and the South East have, but housing affordability and availability is an issue still felt strongly within these regions, particularly as they grow.
It is welcome that the Chancellor will be visiting a housing development in the Leeds region. While Leeds did not secure a devolution deal, it is a great example of the housing needs of the region and the ways in which authorities are trying to meet the demand across all tenures. While affordability and availability are not as pressing as in the South, the North does have a higher use of selective licensing. However, the difference in fees and implementation of selective licensing across the UK highlights a need for central Government to implement a private rented sector scheme to give transparency, certainty and stability to the industry including landlords and tenants.
One of the most vital elements of growth is connectivity; while the Government has been strong in its support for transport to the North, including ambitions for HS2, east-west rail is needed to truly open-up the region to growth. Links to London are important, but links between the Northern regions can help growth in the devolved regions and those, such as Leeds, that have not received devolved powers yet.
The Chancellor will be inspecting the progress on Ordsall Chord, which will help Manchester’s connectivity, especially to the airport. The lessons from Ordsall Chord can be implemented on a wider scale, reducing commuting times and speeding-up links between markets, which could boost productivity across the North. Transport is not the only infrastructure issue, digital infrastructure is a priority issue highlighted by all three mayors as vital to economic growth and development and attracting business and investment.
As the regions begin to try to attract investors and deliver infrastructure, standards become vital, creating what is essentially a universal language for investors, developers, government and the community. International Construction Measurement Standards (ICMS) allows Governments, investors, contractors and other stakeholders to accurately assess and benchmark value for money, project construction costs, and report national and international statistics on construction output. This is fundamental to understanding how it compares with other projects within the region, the UK and outside the UK market.
We welcome the Chancellors visit to the North, however, time must be treated as vital to allow for local decisions made to reflect local need and be allowed to bear fruit. Too much interference counteracts the principles that devolution was established for. It must also be acknowledged that all regions of the UK are interlinked and vital to each other. Government's focus should be for all regions of the UK to increase in productivity, so that we don’t have a whole that is less than the sum of its parts.
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