What do Northern cities need to do to realise funding for their infrastructure projects? How will Salford ensure road connections support the growth of the city port? Will future skills training meet the needs of the Northern Powerhouse? These were some of the questions that were tackled at our forum in Liverpool last week.
Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership Henri Murison joined a discussion with Shelagh McNerney, Head of Development at Salford City Council, and Liam Harrison, Market Director - Infrastructure at SNC-Lavalin Atkins, at RIBA North on best strategies for re-balancing the North-South divide.
Henri was emphatic that the North needs to raise its skill levels, and stop being parochial if it is to attract significant government and private investment.
He commented: 'It's an economic project.....over the last five years the main cities have had a resurgence but the North is still as a region much weaker than the South. There is a £7,000 average annual income gap, and the challenge with employment in the north of England is that we are not creating enough high pay and high skill jobs, despite the region being great for health sciences, digital, manufacturing and energy industries. This is concerning. That's why five years ago George Osborne launched the Northern Powerhouse project.'
Lack of joined-up planning in making the case for light rail connections was also cited by Henri as holding the North's infrastructure back. This was echoed in questions from the audience at RIBA North which remarked that Liverpool John Lennon Airport does not connect properly to the Waterfront destinations. You can watch Henri' discussing this in the video below.
Shelagh McNerney, when asked about the investment needed to make transport and logistics in the North work well and the opportunity for ports, said: 'Port Salford, as the first inland tri-modal port in the UK, has so much opportunity to grow, but we all know the motorway networks around Manchester are very congested. This affects productivity, and the port does need investment in road and rail infrastructure - this needs collaboration between the government, local bodies like Transport for Greater Manchester and the private sector.
She said that rivalry between cities and within cities was not holding the North back, and she cited how the spatial planning framework had been carried out in Greater Manchester involving ten local authorities. Shelagh emphasised that a shortage of skills, not just investment, could delay development. Please listen to Shelagh below.
SNC-Lavalin's Market Director for Infrastructure, Liam Harrison talked about how important planning and place-making was around stations as gate-ways to northern cities. Atkins has been appointed to work on improving Newcastle's main station's public realm, access and connection to the Stephenson Quarter where development will add an estimated 2,340 jobs and a net £97 million annual GVA contribution to the city economy. The firm's work preparing for the arrival of HS2 at Leeds is pivotal for opening up visitor flow into the emerging South Bank district which is a huge project for the Yorkshire city. Liam remarked that Liverpool has essential work to do joining visitor arrival at Lime Street station to the attractions and hotels on the Liverpool waterfront. Listen to him below talking about why people will be attracted to live around station hubs in the future.
Liam also reflected on the education debate around devolved power to regional councils and said that Atkins has been putting greater focus on apprenticeships: 'We are looking at parity now between graduate intake and apprenticeships. Our approach is that we encourage 'earn while you learn' as every apprentice has the chance to go on and take a degree.'