Back in September, One North – a group of 5 cities in the North of England – produced a proposal for the economic and infrastructural future of the North, based on the inter-connectivity of those five city regions; Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield.
The report puts forward a lot of positive proposals for the North, and I would agree with the vast majority of what is contained in the proposal. It offers an excellent basis for economic growth in the North and a coherent plan for the North is something that has been missing for a long time (with the exception of Lord Prescott's Northern Way)
However I represent an area of the sizeable region of East Lancashire (and indeed Lancashire), and it is right that when a proposal is put forward which involved the spending of billions of pounds worth of taxpayers’ money on a project for ‘the north’, that I ask how it will benefit my constituents?
As the report states, the North of England has a population of 15,000,000, however the numbers of people who will be ‘covered’ by this are significantly lower. And unfortunately, the report doesn’t appear to offer much to Lancashire (the word ‘Lancashire’ only appears in the report once), the largest and one of the most populated local authorities in England.
The plan essentially looks after transport links for the five city regions suggesting that £billions should be invested in these five cities regions. It clearly doesn't involve the 530,000 in East Lancashire who still remain with a train less rail line, just 18 miles from city centre Manchester.
I believe it would be possible to maintain the clarity and direction of the proposal, but to make it more inclusive of areas of the North like Lancashire, or Teeside or East Yorkshire. All areas with huge populations and a massive contribution to make to the economic future of the North of England, which deserve to be given much greater thought and prominence.
It is easy to defend the report by saying, that the purpose of the report is connectivity between these 5 cities, and not something wider. But we should not miss an opportunity for the whole of the North. As it stands we have a document which looks at the north through the perspective of 5 cities, and then joins them up with a plan that fits this perspective.
Half a plan based on the five cities is a start. We now need to a comprehensive plan and I would argue, some kind of fair, stable and democratic underpinning to ensure it's success.