The Northern Powerhouse was a phrase coined by David Cameron’s Conservative Government to announce new measures; to redress the balance between the prosperous South East and the poor relation in the North of England. This same campaign was enthusiastically supported by the then Chancellor George Osborne; and it seemed to be aimed very much at Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield.
Part of the Northern Powerhouse campaign was the introduction of a Mayor for Greater Manchester. Someone who would have the power over large budgets for the City and the surrounding area. The Mayor of Manchester in the original proposal would have £3.4Bn in finances for growth, a £70m targeted schools budget and £13Bn for transport infrastructure.
We are presently in the honeymoon period for the Manchester area’s Northern Powerhouse dream; and are in the hands of the Labour Mayor Andy Burnham. Mr Burnham’s leadership experience is limited to his short time in roles as Secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport and Secretary of State for Health under Gordon Brown. Following his failed bid to become leader of the Labour Party he set his sights firmly on the position of Manchester Mayor and won with a significant majority, unsurprisingly. An absolute must for him is to lead the way and fly the flag for the Northern Powerhouse.
Northern Powerhouse What’s in the Pipeline
Probably the most interesting of recent transport proposals for the Northern Powerhouse is the Maglev train; which would run from Liverpool to Hull via Manchester and Leeds. This would apparently travel at speeds approaching 350 miles per hour, reducing travel time from Manchester to Liverpool to a mere 7 minutes. With a total journey time for the entire journey to Hull just 29 minutes. A revolution in public transport that would possibly change the dynamic of the entire region; and if taken seriously would negate the requirement of electrification of the railway between Manchester and Leeds.
Local Projects in our own Ashton under Lyne include a new government funded Transport Interchange and ongoing improvements to local railway infrastructure. This has seen railway bridges improved or reconstructed around the Town Centre and some improvements to the Charlestown Railway Station. Right up to 1968 Ashton under Lyne had in fact three railway stations or possibly four if the Park Bridge Station is included. Ashton under Lyne will play a small part in the greater scheme of the Northern Powerhouse as will the Tameside area. We can only hope it improves the future of this once northern powerhouse of the industrial revolution.
Other projects that will directly affect our region include HS2 which will improve greatly commuting times between the North West and the South East. What we cannot be certain of is whether this will improve the prosperity of the region; or whether the opposite will be true. The status quo in the south east could just as easily be maintained or even improved upon by the introduction of a new high-speed railway.
Northern Powerhouse the Regional Supply Chain
What can be difficult for small and medium size suppliers where bigger projects are involved; is getting the opportunity to even quote the work. Our business operates in Tameside and is allowed very few opportunities to supply material for the contracts that are happening around us.
Tameside Council are using Carillion to build the latest phase for Vision Tameside, and past contracts have given very little in supply opportunities to ours or any other local companies. Even Tameside’s biggest builder of social housing uses national suppliers rather than looking to local companies for material.
If this is the case in Tameside how will the Northern Powerhouse benefit the region’s army of small and medium size companies. How do they become part of the supply chain for contracts within their own area? Achieving this would bring new jobs and opportunities to the Greater Manchester area.
The solution we believe lies with local and national government to ensure that local businesses are given greater opportunities. As we have a regional Mayor, maybe his office should look how they can protect jobs in the Manchester area. This could be addressed by introducing some regulation in public service contracts; that ensured a fair percentage of material and labour had to be sourced regionally.
Northern Powerhouse Greater Manchester or Exclusive Manchester
Although the original Greater Manchester no longer exists, it is still how the surrounding area is referred to. This concept started in the 1970s with the official launch of the authority in 1974. The boundaries of this huge shadow authority stretched from Hazel Grove to Bolton and from Diggle to Altrincham. What is not certain in the future is whether the area or the City of Manchester will improve under the Northern Powerhouse concept.
If the city of Manchester grows in stature over the coming decades it could mean that instead of social inclusion. We could see the cost of housing rise in the surrounding areas; which could result in the less well-off being pushed to the fringes. Even now in the current climate, areas like Gorton which have been relatively poor for decades; are seeing the beginnings of gentrification.
As the City of Manchester continues to grow and thrive; outlying areas such as Tameside will see the requirement for more and more social housing. As poorer families are pushed out of their traditional communities. The last time this happened was in the late 1940s and early 1950s when the Manchester slum clearances created huge housing estates like Hattersley. I know this slow change to the area cannot be compared to the slum clearances, but the result could be similar.
In terms of housing in the city centre and close surrounding areas, you only have to look at the rented properties in areas like the Northern Quarter and New Islington. The rents for even a one-bedroom apartment are out of the reach of the low paid already and these properties will only increase in price in the future. So, although Manchester may grow under the auspices of the Northern Powerhouse, instead of becoming inclusive it may well become exclusive.
Northern Powerhouse an Opportunity
Grand ideas by politicians over the decades have often fallen flat, David Cameron’s big society was the latest to be lauded and discarded. The latest trend is the socialist utopia being presented to us by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, and the truth is all these grand schemes fall on their rears. The Northern Powerhouse is another grand scheme, which is an opportunity for the politicians to work together for a common goal. The present Government and Manchester’s Labour Mayor could achieve a great deal by putting their political differences aside.
By building new infrastructure and better transport links, cities all over the Northwest could grow and prosper. This will bring new investment, allowing existing businesses to expand and new businesses to open their doors. So, without trying to sound like a politician; Manchester could offer greater opportunities to its residents to grow with it.
For once it would be a refreshing change for a grand idea to succeed and not fall by the wayside. The success of the Northern Powerhouse concept will be measured by its inclusivity and not by the wealth it creates. A good start to achieving this is to put aside political beliefs and work together to achieve a common goal; so, the Northern Powerhouse does result in a Greater Manchester.