Mott MacDonald has published its second report into the role of rail projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail in the delivery of the UK government’s levelling up agenda.
The Polycentric Powerhouse report calls for the implementation of a model in which cities and towns across the Northern Powerhouse region can harness and play to their specialist strengths in business, culture and public services, trading with one another through upgraded transport, digital and other links.
“Improving access between towns and cities will deliver the biggest possible uplift in economic activity, closing the productivity gap between the north and London and the south east, and delivering on the promise of levelling up,” said Cathy Travers, executive board member at Mott MacDonald and managing director of its UK and Europe business.
The north of England is characterised by having many urban centres that are within short distances of each other yet separate. This polycentric morphology was established during the industrial revolution, with each town and city centred around a local specialism.
The new report claims a new ‘polycentric powerhouse’ would recreate that historic interdependency in a modern form. Better transport and digital connectivity offers the opportunity for northern towns and cities to thrive in markets where they have competitive advantages whilst enjoying scale beyond their local area. Specialist manufacturers and service providers could access bigger sales and labour markets and benefit from stronger supply chains.
As an example of what this could mean, the report highlights that pursuing this model could significantly improve job density in Sheffield city region. If this rose to the level of Greater Manchester then approximately 80,000 new jobs could be created.
“As a business with strong roots in the north of England, focused on innovative approaches to planning, economic development and better social outcomes, Mott MacDonald is ready to support the realisation of this vision,” said Travers. “The prize for all of us who care about this region is great.”
Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said: “The original vision of the Northern Powerhouse was to fuse the collective economic forces of our city regions through transport and digital infrastructure to create a whole greater than the sum of our parts. As this vital new report from Mott MacDonald shows, this would encourage specialisms to cluster in various parts of the north, such as the booming health innovation sector in Leeds’ emerging innovation district and the Oxford Road corridor in Manchester.
“In this way, we are able to sell the north as a single entity with coherent smart specialisms by city and town regions, making it far more attractive to foreign investors. At the same time, we can open up the labour market to more people across the north, levelling up opportunity and raising productivity.”
Beckie Hart, CBI Yorkshire & Humber director, said: “Business is a key driver of economic impetus and can be the catalyst for levelling-up. Private sector investment has the potential to turbocharge innovation, build wealth and opportunity, and renew pride of place – but it is incumbent upon regional and national leaders to deliver the requisite culture and infrastructure which enables this to happen. High quality transport networks are a fundamental need for business success, opening doors to new connections and opportunities, increasing access to skills and enabling collaboration between and within sectors.
“Now is the time to move away from short-term, centralised, and siloed decision-making. Government policy and funding should support local authorities to develop multi-year programmes of investments that will drive local jobs, growth and quality of life, consistent with net zero and levelling-up objectives. Transport should be at the centre of these programmes, integrated with spatial planning, housing and place-making strategies.”