Policy Exchange Is Wrong – Northern Cities Do Have A Bright Future

I’m normally a fan of the work of Policy Exchange.  They have contributed some impressive additions to our policy thinking in the past few years.  However, this morning they have published a report seemingly dedicated more to the art of headline grabbing than realistic policy formulation.  The gist of their argument is that regeneration of Northern towns, they take Bradford, Sunderland and Liverpool as examples is a pointless exercise and people should be encouraged to move to the South East of England.  Counter intuitive it may be but the report is also just plain wrong.  The author of the report says that people might denounce his ideas as “unworkable, unreasonable and just plain barmy” – in that and that alone he is spot on.

Of course the logical conclusion of the barmy PX argument  is that Northern cities would be left as ghost towns while the population of the North floods South Eastwards.  It is not clear how the already overstretched infrastructure aroundLondon would cope with this surge of humanity.  Nor is it clear how we should deal with the devastating social consequences of effectively giving up on a number of Northern cities.  This report is wrong-headed and I am pleased that the Conservative leadership have immediately repudiated its findings.  Modern Conservatives can not be in the business of defeatism.  Hope rather than despair needs to be our message.

As a proud Consett boy I do find the sneering tone of much of the report offensive anyhow.  The report fails to make much of the successful regeneration of parts of Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester and other Northern cities – offering examples of good practice for future waves of regeneration. It fails to point out that Universities including Durham,Newcastle, Hull, Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester offer international research facilities that match or better those in Oxbridge in a number of disciplines – offering strong hubs around which urban renewal can be focused.  The authors of this report would have been well served if they had looked at the more complex and interesting thinking about regeneration from the likes of Richard Florida.  Florida shows that cities such as Albuquerque (which the authors of this report would probably have encouraged a mass exodus from a decade ago) have reinvented themselves as “creative”, “clever” cities and are reaping the economic benefits.  The number of high class universities in the North, allied with a lower cost of living and a higher quality of living means that Northern cities, written off by PX can be the core of urban renewal and Northern cities discovering a new raison d’etre.

The report also fails to point out that New Labour has felt safe ignoring its heartlands and not replicating the kind of regeneration pushed through by Michael Heseltine in the 1980s.  As Conservatives we need to show that we are serious about turning round cities that have been in decline – making them attractive places to live in, work in and do business in.  We need to create conditions to encourage the private sector; facilitate business focused research networks between academia and business. Culture, creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit should be forged.  Look at the urban regeneration overseen by great Tories such as Joseph Chamberlain in the latter Victorian period and great Tories such as Heseltine in more recent years for inspiration.  As a truly one nation party we cannot accept a deliberate and calculated creation of two nations. Instead, we should use the debate created by the report to show that we are the Party that is most serious about reinvigorating Northern cities and correcting regional imbalances.

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4 Responses to Policy Exchange Is Wrong – Northern Cities Do Have A Bright Future

  1. Anon says:

    Absolutely right. I have just read the exec summary. On that analysis, it is both offensive and wrong. This reports wants a boring middle class world where everyone is homogenized into identical commuter suburbs with exactly 2.4 children, a Mondeo and job at the local branch of HSBC! What about regional diversity? Both the authors of this report went to the LSE, I see. I am glad I turned down my opportunity to go there!

  2. David Skelton says:

    Quite. Interesting that Tim Leunig (one of the main authors of this report) is a senior Lib Dem thinker. Something not mentioned when this report was being spun as David Cameron’s favourite think tank.

    I think that the authors forget: 1) The importance of strong visionary civic and national leadership; 2) The determination and spirit of the Northern people; 3) The growth of the new, post polytechnic universities. These institutions are, in many cases, beginning to compete against the Russell Group in terms of research and teaching. They, as well, as the older Northern universities can work with Government and the public sector to stimulate renewal.

  3. Anon says:

    You are kidding yourselves here. Joseph Chamberlain was mayor of Birmingham when Britain was the industrial powerhouse of the world and cities like Birmingham and Liverpool were at the heart of that process. That is simply no longer true. The population of Liverpool has shrunk dramatically since the 1980’s as people (especially younger people) have left in search of opportunity. Heseltine’s intervations were mere sticking plaster: I went to the Liverpool garden festival in the 1980’s – the site is now derelict.

  4. Anon says:

    So what about the site of the Glasgow garden festival? Depends on how much the local authorities/local businesses/local people are prepared to put in themselves; government can’t do it all!

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