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24 Feb
Angel Of The North 2

Powering the Powerhouse

In preparation for “the biggest commercial conversation in a generation” at the UK Northern Powerhouse Conference, NJL’s Nick Lee has written the following blog.  Several representatives from NJL will be attending the conference at Manchester Central.

Leeds Streetscape

The Northern Powerhouse is rapidly becoming a brand - but what exactly does it mean?

In a nutshell, the Northern Powerhouse is a government initiative that seeks to focus a raft of improvements to the north. Such enhancements include investment in transport and other forms of infrastructure, science, innovation and the devolution of powers to city-regions. The concept is wrapped in the devolution debate and originally wrapped in major infrastructure projects. Those in the development industry use it to sell their own projects and fair enough as long as its significant enough to make a difference.

One MEN journalist recently slated the initiative as an ‘empty slogan’ – do they have a point?

Confidence in the Northern Powerhouse shifted earlier this year when it was announced that the Department of Business and Skills, who is heavily involved in the Northern Powerhouse project, admitted it was shifting nearly 250 jobs to London and closing its Sheffield office.

However, Jim O'Neill, commercial secretary at the Treasury, was quick to defend the scheme, stating that the plans to build a Northern Powerhouse are not even two years old yet. Simply put, it’s a long-term plan for a country serious about its long-term economic future – and it can’t be built overnight.

The bedrock

As the core of the Northern Powerhouse must be about connectivity – both internationally and regionally - and critical schemes such as expansion at Manchester Airport and the high speed rail are clearly the bedrock areas.

The High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link seeks to efficiently connect London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds. Journey times will be cut in half, which means travelling between London and Manchester would take just 1 hour and 8 minutes. Its sister project, HS3, plans to go further, connecting Liverpool and Hull.

Not only will the High speed rail schemes create faster and more frequent train journeys, it will undoubtedly help bridge the north-south divide, boosting job creation in the short-term and making investment more viable for businesses that are looking to set up outside the capital.  This is one way that Liverpool, Sheffield, Hull, Newcastle and other cities come into play.


Another game changer for the region is Liverpool2, a new deep water container terminal due to open in phased approaches throughout 2016.  Liverpool2 will be able to accommodate 95% of the world’s container ships and handle some of the world’s largest ships. Not only will it be able to house vessels from China and across Asia, it means goods will get to market more quickly, ensuring a more efficient supply chain. It has been deemed to have ‘more of an impact than the HS2.’ Liverpool2 will be a game changer for the whole region and its impacts on the distribution market are simply not prepared for. Logistics and supply chain needs will not be able to improve without radical planning policy shift – most likely involving the release of green belt land.


Key zones

The key city centres are Manchester and Leeds with consequent major investment zones within them- notably emerging around the high speed rail hubs.

While Manchester city centre is the driving force of the Northern Powerhouse, other zones that must be seen as crucial are MediaCity and Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District, as well as the other notable cities in the North of England.  The N8 Research Partnership, the collaboration of the eight most research intensive Universities in the North of England, is also a key consideration with regards to recognising and maintaining strong links between these establishments to demonstrate yet another major asset in achieving a genuine powerhouse status.

University Of Manchester

With ‘core cities’ such as Manchester and Liverpool hogging the limelight of devolution and being the focus of many initiatives that fall under the Northern Powerhouse scheme, there is a concern that small cities like Chester are at risk of being left behind.

To efficiently power the Northern Powerhouse, all those involved in the development industry must see how they play their role in delivering the scheme. This critically includes the planning profession at all levels. A key example of this is Manchester's new City Centre Strategy. The plan outlines the approach being taken to further grow and develop the city centre as a key economic hub of the city region and the North West. Other cities need to not just follow this approach, but also take the lead in their own right on the critical projects.

In Conclusion...

Here at NJL we have a unique oversight of the spatial dimension of the Northern Powerhouse having worked on a range projects across the region and it is clear there is currently a great deal of support for the concept. These projects include our work at Superport, Airport City, MediaCity, the Advanced Manufacturing District in Sheffield, and a wide range of other schemes in city centres and out of centre locations. To read more about these, please click this link.

We’ve only scraped the surface on what the Northern Powerhouse means for the region. So if you've got any thoughts you'd like to share, or want to quiz us about anything we've touched on above – be sure to call, leave us a comment or get in touch via Twitter.



Photographs sourced from: 

Angel of the North - ADTeasdale via flickr

Train at Manchester Piccadilly - Joshua Brown via flickr

Leeds streetscape - Tim Green via flickr

University of Manchester - Mikey

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