A couple of weeks ago I questioned the excessive concentration on cities in rebuilding the economy of the North. I stand by what I said but two events I have attended in the last few days have shown that the scale of networking possible in Manchester and Liverpool is bearing fruit.
The launch of the Heseltine Institute at Liverpool University and the range of inspirational speakers at our own Downtown Smart City event in Manchester pointed to a more optimistic future. That optimism extends to Preston which hopes to build on its success attracting private sector jobs with plans for new developments in a central business district, the markets and around the bus station, not forgetting elegant Winckley Square. Then there is Leeds. The opening of Trinity Leeds retail development and the First Direct Arena is to be followed by another major retail scheme at Victoria Gate while the Aire Valley Enterprise Zone is expecting to benefit from the upturn in the economy.
But Manchester leads the way in the North, a fact acknowledged by Emma Jones of Enterprise Nation when she spoke at our Smart City conference. She seemed slightly irritated that there was any question that London didn’t take Manchester seriously. However it was the contribution of Mike Emmerich that made the biggest impression on me. He is boss of the New Economy. It’s a think tank going research into the Greater Manchester economy. He was talking about how his organisation, Manchester City Council and Manchester University were all working to exploit the isolation of the wonder product graphene on campus in 2004 . One atom thick, the product’s strength and potential for use in displays, electronics and energy storage is going to be truly revolutionary. But is it going to follow most of the other great discoveries made in this country and be exploited elsewhere? Not if Mike and Nancy Rothwell (Vice Chancellor of Manchester University) have their way. But think tanks, councils and universities can only do so much. Jobs have to be created by private firms moving in. Well, there’s good news on that front.
The decision by graphene manufacturer Bluestone to locate on the campus in a £5m research partnership is great news for the city’s economy especially when one bears in mind they could have located anywhere in the world.
Manchester city centre is sorted in terms of regeneration but what about the zone between the city and the suburbs? Gavin Eliot of BDP Architects told the Smart City conference that this was the fragmented zone and outlined its potential. He pointed in particular to the developments around the City Of Manchester Stadium.
Finally, if there are any climate change deniers left after the Philippines storm, they should listen to Vincent Walsh. His Biospheric Foundation offers Manchester a chance to recycle virtually everything to produce food and heat.
THE HEZZA INSTITUTE.
Liverpool University have taken the brilliant decision to set this up before the grim reaper takes Tarzan from us.
In the gritty surroundings of the Camp and Furnace arts space in the city’s Baltic Quarter Lord Heseltine reflected on his 35 year association with the city. In the words of its director Prof. Alan Harding the Institute will be drawing on experience from round the world and applying them to the practical problems of how places operate to try and make them better for us all.
It will sound a bit pie in the sky until it produces some solutions for us but Liverpool Council’s Chief Executive was there and it is another example of a city bringing together its experts to look to the future for the North in the 21st century.
I suggested their first report could be into the way England is governed. With Wales getting more power and Scotland being bribed to stay in the UK, we need to look at the mess around English governance. Two tier councils, Combined Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), talk of localism whilst centralising much decision making, let the Heseltine Institute get its teeth into that!
Lord Heseltine told me afterwards he regretted the government’s abolition of the Government Office North West which he had set up, but felt now efforts should be directed to beefing up the LEPs. He remained convinced of the importance of northern cities which he believed created our wealth in the nineteenth century and could do again.