• Time for Liverpool & the North to grab the chance for growth

    As the last day of MIPIM in Cannes starts on an “Investing in the Northern Powerhouse” note, the north’s five major cities stand together on the brink of a potentially momentous government investment.

    Times look like they could be set to change dramatically for connectivity in the northern regions as Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle late last year launched their One North plan.

    Under the TransNorth connectivity plan, Liverpool in the west would be connected to the north, south and east by fast and efficient transport, making the Newcastle of tomorrow what second-city Birmingham is to us today, while – should it be given the green light – you can expect to see many more Sheffielders around our city in the years to come. You can also say goodbye to Pacers and traffic jams, and hello to new, revitalised and upgraded city region transport networks that are an asset to businesses from Chester to Barnsley and everywhere inbetween.

    With HS2 (the government’s railway into London) being launched to much fanfare about “speed” and luxury, to us in the north it was inevitable that people would soon start making the comparison between the time it takes to get to London today (2 hours, give or take) with the sluggish time it takes to get to Newcastle (following recent improvements, 3 hours), and the decrepit nature of many local trains. The “One North” report is the culmination of the collective public irritation that appears to have struck a chord with local political leaders across the region, and subsequently with a government waking up to the reality that perhaps Adonis’ HS2 as initially sketched didn’t quite cut the mustard for many.

    While some might might ask if it was an error not to prioritise these connections in the first place, the main thing that will matter to people in the north is that they do so now.

    One North isn’t just an east-west railway line but instead a whole package of infrastructure improvements from the east coast to here in the west, ranging from ports being enabled to help ramp up exports and lower the cost of imports, through to new road interventions, and money ploughed into creating, upgrading and expanding local transport networks. As a major city with a growing SuperPort, and the truly excellent but not-quite-finished Merseyrail network that is yet to reach the city’s airport and eastern suburbs, this really could be something exciting, where – finally – Liverpool gets properly tooled up to perform at its A-game.

    Liverpool, as we know, is already a pretty impressive city. So too are Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle. And a light bulb seems to have gone on, somewhere, about this string of pearls lacking just a bit of shine and a thread.

    From 20 Miles More perspective of course the prime excitement comes from the prospect of hooking Liverpool up to the High Speed rail network through an enhanced connection, meaning more faster trains to more destinations – that connectivity meaning business and jobs. Although this isn’t to say that the other aspects on offer are any less exciting or impactful. It is clear from the One North report that both national and local connectivity need to be delivered together to reap maximum results..

    Undoubtedly there’ll be some in the city raising an eyebrow at the government’s formation of “Transport for the North”. The city’s businesses and people alike will certainly want to ensure that Liverpool’s interests are promoted and protected, with Merseytravel always having equal and fair access to resources to carry out their proposals, and true local determination as to what those priorities are (such as our city needing better connections to, and around, our wider area including North Wales). That is devolution, after all.

    As to the prize, all of the north’s major cities currently have economic output below the norm, yet even so today collectively form one of Europe’s largest economies. Just taking the north-west’s Greater Manchester and wider Liverpool City Region, combined they each contribute half towards a £100bn in economic output pumped into the UK economy each year. What can we achieve when we enable each other to outperform?

    For investors buying into the northern region right now, this represents a strong potential for growth from north to south and east to west. And this is no academic exercise; at the heart of the story behind the north’s present day economic output lie areas – in each and every city – where there is much need for jobs, investment and, fundamentally, for the people born there to have good things to realistically aim for in life. We’ve every incentive to be as invested in this venture emotionally as any business investor has monetarily.

    This ambitious plan is a work in progress at this very moment, with the cities working with the government aiming for a March reveal. Word is that they’re not quite there yet with an apparent gap between the government’s “Northern Powerhouse” catchphrases and what it will actually commit to delivering. They will surely get there in the end: These investments aren’t just important to the northern cities, but with economic uplift estimates ranging from £67bn to £130bn (depending on how far the investments go) they’re truly valuable to the whole of the UK.

    At the close of MIPIM Cannes 2015 it’s appropriate to talk about this, there being a clear and direct correlation between the government investing for success in our cities and businesses doing likewise. For a chancellor keen to see receipts go up and structural outgoings go down, the low billions asked for seem more like a bargain.

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