The event, held at the Renaissance Manchester City Centre Hotel, was ran by British political and cultural magazine, The New Statesman, and explored a plethora of themes ranging from green growth, investment and transport in the North.
There were over 15 presentations, interviews and panel discussion throughout the course of the day from leading political and business figures such as Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool; Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council; Andrew Gwynne MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Chi Onwurah, Member of Parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne, all offering insight and discussions into the key political and economic issues surrounding the Northern Powerhouse initiative, and how it has truly affected the North.
HS2 & Northern Powerhouse Rail
The first period of the conference saw a lot of emphasis on the controversial HS2 project and how it is expected to integrate with the current rail network. The Minister for HS2, Northern Powerhouse rail and the Transpennine Route Upgrade, Andrew Stephenson, began proceedings with his opening keynote before Anoosh Chakelian, Britain Editor for New Statesman; Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region and Councillor Nick Forbes MBE, Leader of Newcastle City Council delved even further into the topic.
The much maligned HS2 project is set to have a massive effect on the UK economy. The new line aims to drastically improve connectivity for those throughout the country by linking London Euston to Birmingham, and in the second phase – Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and eventually Scotland. The project will help to create thousands of jobs, will be better for the climate, level up the investment in the North and hope to meet the UK’s ever-growing transport demand. The plan for the Northern section of the development is to find a way to work with the Midland region in order to see how both can work together to optimise travel links between the two. However, how will the introduction of HS2 affect the existing rail network?
Well, after decades of under investment, the government is finally being urged to improve the existing rail network in addition to the upcoming HS2 project, and finally invest in the North. Steve Rotheram’s analysis of how the government measures the cost benefit of investment with only the South in mind, as opposed to looking at each individual region was infuriating for those from the North, highlighting the need to change the centralisation we have seen over the years. Rotheram said, “If any government is genuine about rebalancing the UK economy, we need to be connected to the North”. Nick Forbes echoed this sentiment about the lack of support and authority in the North, stating “cities in communist china have more power than cities in the UK”.
Green Growth and Sustainability
Another key topic that was touched upon numerous times throughout the day was green growth and sustainability in the North. In the first panel discussion regarding clean energy growth, John Bernstein, Former Deputy Editor for New Statesman; Peter Whitton, Vice Chair of The Carbon Capture and Storage Association; Anna Round, Senior Research Fellow at IPPR North; Lord Ravensdale, Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nuclear Energy; Alan Woods, Director, Strategy and Business Development- SMR, Rolls Royce and Jamie Reed, Head of Corporate Affairs, Sellafield argued that the Government should be looking to the North when it comes to clean energy growth. The North is currently paving the way when it comes to transitioning from fossil fuels and is the home to the majority of the UK’s capabilities when it comes to clean energy – including BAE’s new nuclear power station that is currently in construction. Northern regions can pioneer the energy revolution – with de-carbonisation in the North having already improved – however the lack of funding from the government could hinder the progress. There was an interesting interjection from an audience member during the panel who argued that the UK as a whole need to look to combat the current energy demand as opposed to looking for ways to convert to clean energy. The overall consensus from the panel was that the two can work in conjunction – with a lessened demand towards clean energy being the perfect outcome.
In the final panel of the day, Andrew Gwynne MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool took to the stage to discuss green growth and sustainability in the North. The two both agreed with the earlier panels’ sentiment that the North could pioneer the ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, and even lead the way for both national and global change. Anderson quite rightly questioned the main vision from central government, arguing that an increase in green growth would bring more businesses, jobs and increase the economical growth as a whole. He also revealed that for years, Liverpool council had enforced landlords to ensure their properties were environmentally safe and conscious; however, they were no longer allowed to. The lack of vision from the central government has plagued not just green growth but overall economic growth in the North for too long, and something needs to change.
It was interesting to hear a lot of the same rhetoric throughout the day when it came to the key issues that are concerning our industry and the UK economy as a whole - i.e. growth, sustainability, growing prosperous communities and upskilling. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely any of this will change until Whitehall finally step up and take notice of the Northern regions, recognising that for the UK economy to grow, devolution is the only way forward, and there is no better place to start than the North. Movements such as ‘Power up the North’ and the ‘Manifesto for the North’ have previously demonstrated the impact that regional media can have on the local economy, it’s now time for the government to take these voices into account and move forward in a way that beneficial for all.