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Maximising the benefits of infrastructure investment in the North

Jon Guest | 21 Mar 2017 | Comments

Over the next four years, the Government has committed to invest £13 billion in transport in the Northern Powerhouse with an ambition to change the trajectory of the region and in particular, its cities.

Building upon this investment is paramount and the North of England is configuring itself to seek further benefit from investment in transport and infrastructure investment proposals. There clearly needs to be a vision but how can the benefits be maximised? There are several areas which need to be considered:

  1. Regeneration and place making

    Investment in infrastructure will have different inputs and outputs in each city. Making the most of the regeneration and place making outcomes from transport investment is highly valuable, but having an identikit solution is not the answer. Consider HS2 investment. The overarching goal for each city is to create distinctive, connected, mixed-use development areas that attract occupiers and sustain development. However, the solution should be tailored to the opportunities, needs and characteristics of each individual location. For example, the main pedestrian gateway to Leeds railway station, which sees approximately 24,000 people per day is described as “very congested”, “not inviting” and “dark and cluttered”. The wider environment also has limited retail offer.

    Whilst Manchester Piccadilly has a differing set of characteristics and needs, in extending the city centre north and east, enhancing the tram interchange and providing more public space. These stations can be compared to the most high profile station redevelopment of recent times; Birmingham New Street. This station now provides an “airy, clean and efficient” hub which has significant retail offer and has revitalised that part of the city centre, responding to the area’s character and previous limitations. HS2 provides the chance to unlock significant regeneration and place making changes in cities, capitalising on city centre vibrancy, the functions of the station and the welcome that a station provides to visitors.
  2. Economic alignment

    Infrastructure investment can unlock further benefits if the outcomes are considered in line with some of the key or growth sectors. Investment in renewable energy across Teesside or the Humber has the potential to draw upon and enhance existing sector strengths including chemical and process industries, logistics and ports. Outlining a plan for key sectors following infrastructure investment (or vice versa) has the benefit of bringing together stakeholders (e.g. businesses, public sector organisations, education and training providers) around a route-map for future economic development.
  3. Wider benefits to people

    Infrastructure investment should also consider wider cultural, social and environmental benefits for people and local areas. There are several opportunities to maximise skills development from transport investment. Procurement, pooling public investment and establishing business and education sector collaborations are some of the tools which can be used to support skills developments in a local area. For instance, following investment in the nuclear industry in Cumbria, measures included using procurement to support apprenticeship take-up and improving careers advice for STEM. These are seeing wider benefits to the productivity and workforces of other local industries (notably manufacturing, engineering and other technical sectors).

    The commitment to investment in transport in the North of England is the start of the process. Further committed investments in energy, water or digital infrastructure can also similarly unlock wider economic benefits. However, it is important to consider that infrastructure itself is not the sole driver for economic growth, it is a conduit and driver. The real value comes from connecting up infrastructure investment with the conditions for sustainable economic growth; skills development, enterprising communities and attractive locations for living and working.