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Power towns can energise the Northern Powerhouse to success

Lisa Knowles | 21 Mar 2017 | Comments

A true Powerhouse needs to work for everyone, not just those in the largest urban areas. It can often be interpreted that the concept of the Northern Powerhouse only involves the big cities, such as Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool. But smaller towns can’t be overlooked. They too are where people live, work, and contribute to our wider growing economy; they have a key part to play in the Northern Powerhouse story.

Research by think-tank IPPR highlights that there are approximately 20 towns in the North with populations of more than 75,000. These towns represent nearly one-third of the North’s economy (£82 billion) and a similar amount of its population.

Towns are a focal point for education, employment and cultural activities. This is highlighted by travel to work area geographies, highlighting the importance of UK towns (and surrounding districts) as self-contained labour market areas (e.g. where most people both live and work), and highlighting that cities are not the sole focus for jobs and economic activity.

Steven Broomhead, CEO, Warrington Borough Council, understands and acknowledges the importance of successful towns in contributing to the wider productivity drive in the North of England.  

Warrington has seen rapid economic and population growth. It has traditionally been overshadowed by its M62 neighbours to the East (Manchester) and West (Liverpool), but its location alongside the M6 provides a potential focus. Steven is developing the idea of bringing together several key towns along the M6 corridor to pool expertise and knowledge, drive economic growth, support each other, maximise inward investment and ensure that jobs and homes are available for local people.  The idea is to focus upon improvements required by collective areas, including connectivity, planning, public transport, roads, rail and housing. This proposal is being labelled ‘Northern Power Towns’.

Bringing these Power Towns together rather than operating as single entities will improve productivity across the area. This requires the common areas and themes to be established. This includes:  economic development through the wider power towns opening up new markets for SME’s; improved infrastructure development and land management with joint transport solutions, and moving from bilateral developments between two authorities to macro developments across the Power Towns. The Governance and resourcing of this concept will be key to its success.

These smaller towns have a key role to play in supporting their bigger neighbours and helping deliver a true Northern Powerhouse that works for everyone. There is a strong enthusiasm from local authorities and with strong leadership and a spirit of collaboration there is a great opportunity to make it happen.