Debate has opened up on the future configuration of the Northern Powerhouse under Theresa May’s government. Should the project be less focused on our cities and cover a wider canvas? Will we play second fiddle to the Midlands Engine? What is the key to providing sustainable jobs in the middle of this century?

On the latter point, the Centre For Cities think tank have opened an interesting debate suggesting in the words of their Chief Executive “the calls of some politicians to recreate the North’s glory days by focusing on a resurgence in manufacturing will not be sufficient to transform the North’s economy.”

Does Alexandra Jones have a point? I felt a wave of pride this week when Sir David Attenborough was present at the keel laying ceremony for the first large ship to be built at Cammell Laird’s yard in Birkenhead for many years. It was a reminder of a past era when Birkenhead made ships, Manchester spun textiles and Sheffield forged steel and sold the products round the world. There is something special about making things. Flying sparks, liquid metal, the clatter of weaving machines will always beat the tap on the keyboard and the silent transfer of information from one computer screen to another. Much of this is sentimental tosh when considering what the North needs to do to make the Northern Powerhouse a reality.

Centre For Cities is right to focus our attention on what happened to London which used to be a major centre for manufacturing with its docks nearby. It transformed into a hi tech and service based economy with excellent communications and high skills. That is what we need to do, particularly the latter.

But there needs to be a balance. A major apprentice fair was held in Manchester this week where youngsters were being urged to get skilled up not just for hi tech and service industry jobs but ones involving construction and hydraulics. There will still be a place for manufacturing in the North if we can identify the opportunities in sectors like energy and aerospace.


A third runway at Heathrow has been under consideration since 1968. It is pathetic that the Prime Minister, who came in stressing the need for a new industrial strategy based on infrastructure spending, is delaying a final decision for another year.

It is pretty clear that Heathrow will get the nod over Gatwick. Why else would these elaborate plans be drawn up to allow Cabinet ministers like Boris Johnson to express their continued opposition and remain in the Cabinet?

The Davies Commission should have backed a regional expansion strategy, particularly with HS2 in mind, but with only Gatwick and Heathrow on the table, the North has to choose which to back.

Gatwick is simply on the wrong side of London for most of the country with Heathrow offering much better connection to the North.

But we need to get on with infrastructure spending on HS2, housing and Heathrow and if people find it too noisy and congested in West London then come North where the quality of life is infinitely better!

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