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News & opinion

1 AUG 2019

PM’s rail pledge will empower the people of the North

Geoff White RICS

Geoff White

Policy Manager (North & Midlands)

Newcastle, UK


The fact that one of Boris Johnson's first acts as prime minister was to set out a domestic agenda to turbo-charge UK regional growth and prosperity will find a cautious welcome from those outside London and the South East.

Many will ask if this pledge on new intercity rail routes, with Manchester to Leeds being first on the list, is a significant step in rebalancing the UK economy or simply an eye catching early announcement from a new PM? We are optimistic at the RICS that it is the former.

Mr Johnson's statement that 'I want to be the PM who does with Northern Powerhouse Rail what we did with Crossrail in London' chimes with what then-chancellor George Osborne said, also in Manchester, when launching the Northern Powerhouse just over five years ago.

While that clearly caught the imagination of the North and sparked much more cooperation across the region, it has not (yet) seen much difference on the ground. The wider northern region is still much poorer than the south, in terms of housing, economic growth, wage levels, inward investment and transport infrastructure.

While some may shrug and say, "we've heard this before", it would be hasty to dismiss the prime minister's statement – in fact, it is a strong signal that the political will is there to see the promises of the Northern Powerhouse delivered.

It was good to see Boris Johnson at the weekend striding alongside Barry White, chief executive of Transport for the North (TfN), a key authority in the development of plans to improve the east-west road and rail networks.

RICS support the work of TfN and the transport infrastructure blueprint they have produced, especially the £39bn plan for Northern Powerhouse Rail to link up Liverpool and Manchester to Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and Hull.

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Why are HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail so important for the North of England?

The arguments for investment in better transport connectivity across the region would seem to be obvious – but Parag Khanna, founder and managing partner of FutureMap, a data and scenario based strategic advisory firm, summed it up well in his keynote speech at this year's RICS World Built Environment Forum.

The international bestselling author and holder of a PhD from the London School of Economics described connectivity as the most important asset class of the 21st century. He said, today infrastructure and supply chains are more important than nations and borders and the world is no longer defined by countries but by mega-cities.

Stressing that this does not mean there should be less investment outside of mega-cities, he said there are currently 4 billion people in the world that are under-served by their government. One of the reasons for this is that governments forget that infrastructure doesn't make money in itself, it rather provides the opportunity for others to make money.

It is this that needs funding and the prime minister made a clear commitment to deliver it with detailed plans to be published in the autumn – albeit after a review of HS2.

The negativity around HS2 is worrying. Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and other regional leaders have stressed that HS2 must be completed and integrated with Northern Powerhouse Rail to achieve the maximum benefits.

Regarding future infrastructure building, RICS will be pressing government and all organisations involved to adopt the highest professional standards.

The work of RICS and other professional bodies involved in the International Construction Measurement Standards Coalition has already been picked up by Network Rail and Highways England, two of the main partners involved with HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

The RICS-backed International Construction Measurement Standards (ICMS) has been developed by a group of more than 40 professional and not-for-profit organisations from around the world, working together to develop and implement international standards for benchmarking, measuring and reporting construction project cost.

Geoff White RICS

Geoff White

Policy Manager (North & Midlands)

Newcastle, UK


Geoff is part of the RICS UK External Affairs team which addresses policy, public affairs and press activity to support the organisation’s aims of building influence, credibility and profile to gain recognition of professional standards. Working closely with RICS members, Geoff identifies the challenges and opportunities facing those working in the profession in order to support the delivery, within a public interest mandate, of a vibrant and sustainable land, property and construction sector.

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