ILKLEY MOOR BAR HELMET
What a week for the North of England! Pride of place must go to the people of Yorkshire for the magnificent response to the Tour de France. From Leeds to the wonderfully named Buttertubs and all locations in between they came out in their thousands. The effort that was put in to make sure that every mile was decorated with bunting and yellow painted bikes was truly impressive.
Let’s hope that the Dales tourist industry gets the legacy benefit it deserves. God’s Own Country was on show to the world and Yorkshire seized its opportunity. Manchester’s Commonwealth Games put that city on the map, Yorkshire deserves no less.
MONEY MONEY MONEY
Then there were the announcements of infrastructure support from the Regional Growth Fund for projects across the North. You can tell the economy is improving and an election is coming.
However the public sector strikes this week lends some support to Labour’s claim that not everyone is sharing in the recovery. Since 2010 public sector pay has gone up 6.7% whilst prices have risen by 16%. The UK deficit is £107bn and the National Debt £1.3 trillion.
But can Labour win the election by pointing this out or will they be seen either as moaning minnies at the party or be held responsible for past economic errors? The party’s efforts to win public support are not being helped by continuing internal criticism of Ed Miliband’s leadership.
So with the cycling and the extra cash why do we need a Northern Revolution? That question was explored at a Downtown conference where the Chief Executive of Manchester City Council gave a very frank interview to a frank interviewer called Frank.
In a straight talking session with Downtown’s CEO Frank McKenna, Sir Howard Bernstein called for the abolition of the Highways Agency, praised Liverpool’s port but not its airport, forecast that the issue of congestion charging would return in Manchester, claimed John Prescott never “got” his plan for the city and was happy to have a debate on an elected mayor for the Greater Manchester sub region.
The interview came in the wake of similar pledges from the Conservative and labour parties on devolution of money and powers to northern cities. Sir Howard felt the promises were for real this time. This was because Scotland would be getting more influence over its own affairs whatever happened in the independence vote and because national delivery models didn’t work.
On the concept of a linear urban powerhouse from Liverpool to Leeds, Sir Howard welcomed the expansion of Liverpool’s port facilities and the Omega development near Warrington. Manchester needed to concentrate on the Northern Hub which would also help with connectivity to Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle.
He did not favour the recreation of a Northern Way organisation but admitted it had helped turn the regeneration of Piccadilly Station from a local project into one starting to properly connect the North through the Hub. However the spending on transport in London was still ten times that of the north and Sir Howard forecast that the £20bn Crossrail 2 would soon be approved.
On airports, Sir Howard was in no doubt that Manchester was unambiguously the North’s main air hub. He claimed that the surge in low cost flights at Liverpool Airport was “artificial” caused by Manchester taking its eye off the ball. The market would decide the role of Liverpool, Blackpool, Leeds and Doncaster. In the latter case, any bid for improved rail links would need to be evidence based. He said the plans for Airport City had been ahead of their time but would now provide an ideal location for global companies.
Voters rejection of plans for congestion charging in Manchester in 2008 had been a rare setback for Sir Howard and council leader Sir Richard Leese but the Chief Executive said the issue would have to be revisited. The city also needed another inner ring road.
He was highly critical of the way the Highways Agency failed to connect with local government and felt its powers should be given to organisations like Transport for Greater Manchester.
Up to now there has been scepticism about elected mayors from officers and politicians in Manchester, but when asked about the Chancellor’s backing for an elected mayor covering the Greater Manchester Combined Authority area, Sir Howard said it was not an unreasonable question. He forecast that with increased powers the model on relying on ten part time political leaders might not have a future. He felt the politicians would know when it was time for change but it must not be imposed from above. It also should not be based on the London model where the boroughs were not integrated with Boris Johnson.
It is no secret that Manchester resented John Prescott’s regional policy,.Sir Howard believed that the former Deputy Prime Minister never appreciated the city’s model for regeneration and resented the fact that local Labour politicians had worked with Tories like Michael Heseltine and Michael Portillo on schemes like Metrolink.