ICE Northern Powerhouse steering group chair Richard Threlfall reflects on ICE’s Delivering A Northern Infrastructure Strategy recommendations and calls for continued support from industry and political leaders.
ICE’s Delivering a Northern Infrastructure Strategy report is a manifesto for what ICE believes the North could achieve if it invests in the infrastructure and skills needed for the future and if it has the vision, the leadership, and the confidence to take control of its own destiny.
Our aspiration with this report was not simply for the North to catch up the rest of the UK, to close the 11% productivity gap with the rest of the country, or the 16% skills gap – it was to match the best in class in the world.
My vision for the Northern Powerhouse is a region that has the ambition, confidence and capability to wield both economic power and presence on the world stage and combines that with an enviable quality of life.
It is easy to be sceptical. But why not? The North was once the economic powerhouse of the world. And I believe it can be again.
Taken in aggregate, the North already has the potential to become an economic powerhouse. It has a population of 15 million, 1 million businesses, 8 major ports and 30 universities. The North is a net exporter and its economy is worth more than £300bn.
But the problem is we don’t think, let alone act, as one economy. The power of the North is no more and no less than the sum of its parts.
We could be so much more powerful if we really operated together. It is a long established economic fact that we raise productivity by better connecting population centres and jobs. If the North operated as if it were one city – a multi-centric mega city – it would be the 7th biggest city in the world. It would also be the 7th richest city in the world.
But the North’s economic centres are disconnected despite being so close together. It is a huge opportunity that must not be missed.
Devolution of infrastructure policy to drive local growth
So how do we solve the problem? ICE supports the devolution of infrastructure policy. As outlined in our State of the Nation: Devolution report, devolution helps to drive local growth and means key decisions can be taken closer to the people that are affected and on a greater understanding of local needs.
It would enable the North to take greater responsibility for the planning and delivery of its infrastructure networks. Therefore, it is important that a coherent strategy is put in place to ensure that this is done effectively.
We need to set up the institutions to coordinate a one-North approach and invest in best-in-class infrastructure and skills.
ICE supports the idea put forward by IPPR North to establish a Council for the North. Such a body should have both business and political representation, with a pan-northern remit that prioritises the investment necessary to take optimal decisions for the whole region.
To ensure the North’s balanced growth and improved productivity a Northern Infrastructure Strategy should be developed alongside a Northern Spatial Plan to guide and coordinate integrated infrastructure development.
The report also recommends a series of strategies for improving the North’s infrastructure, including addressing the region’s housing shortage, developing new energy and transport technologies and enhancing both transport and digital connectivity.
ICE provided the Delivering a Northern Infrastructure Strategy report recommendations to the Manchester, Liverpool and Tees Valley metro mayors and we are continuing to engage with regional leaders and decision-makers.
I hope those who live and work in the North will get behind our recommendations and work together towards making them a reality. We cannot afford to lose momentum.
The prize is a region that is more successful than the sum of its parts, that’s attractive and successful for all its residents and can drive the UK’s economic success, not chase it.
Richard addressed this week’s ICE-hosted All Party Parliamentary Group for Infrastructure about ICE’s Delivering a Northern Infrastructure Strategy report.