The idea of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ was first proposed in 2014 by then-Chancellor George Osborne, in an effort to promote economic growth in the north of England, in light of increasing inequality between the North and South. Cities featured in the proposal included Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle.
Now, four years on and BBC Panorama have recently aired ‘Exposed: Northern Dreams, Failed Schemes’, evaluating the success of the Northern Powerhouse.
Sadly, the programme revealed that many proposed developments, including blocks of flats, student accommodation and art galleries, have been left incomplete, and up to 30 of these projects are said to have stalled.
Of course, a major aspect of the Northern Powerhouse is the HS2 rail infrastructure project, which proposed a new line between London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester with a total projected cost of £55 billion. The project is now £7bn over budget and a year behind schedule, meaning it may not open until December 2027. With problems mounting, opponents of the already controversial plan have much to resent, and for some, it has become a symbol of the failings of the whole proposal thus far.
So, with this in mind, could we restart the ‘Northern Powerhouse’? To do this, we could adopt a strategy which stands to benefit northern cities greatly – moving the location of Central Government.
When it was first reported that the Houses of Parliament required huge reconstruction works, there were calls from some for MPs and peers to remain in the Houses of Parliament while works took place, costing £5.7bn and taking 35 years.
However, in January of this year, MPs voted to move out of Parliament to Whitehall to allow the reconstruction, (instead costing £3.5bn and taking six years to complete).
However, they have missed a golden opportunity.
After all, why was the option to move Government to a northern city not considered? According to the Office of National Statistics, in March 2018 3.1 million people were employed by Central Government. The effect on local economies if this employment were to move to cities such as Sheffield, plus the associated media attention and business interests which Parliament generates, would surely be a benefit, both economically and otherwise.
Guardian writer Stephen Moss agrees. He argued in 2014 that moving the government to Lancaster would empower northern voices, as well as manufacturing and agricultural industries. Moss also suggested Coventry as a possible location, being as it is in the centre of the country. In his view, the current Houses of Parliament should become a luxury hotel.
In 2016 Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley and Broughton in the North West, suggested that the Government should move to Manchester and the Houses of Parliament become a democracy museum.
Springer and Moss are amongst a growing number of people championing what is undoubtedly an important opportunity – to really give power to a Northern voice, and finally reinvigorate the region – perhaps only then will we truly witness the creation of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
Image: Flickr, altogetherfool