Bernard Ginns: Imagining great cities from a tree house in Yorkshire

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I HAD a three-course lunch in a tree house on Friday.

Perched in ancient woodland on the Bowcliffe Estate, the Blackburn Wing is one of the most imaginative new buildings I have seen in Yorkshire. The food was great, too.

The copper and glass building, carefully constructed in the shape of an aircraft wing, pays tribute to Robert Blackburn, the Yorkshire aviation pioneer who introduced the first scheduled air service in Great Britain and designed and built one of the first powered aeroplanes.

Congratulations to the man responsible for it, Jonathan Turner, chief executive of the Bayford Group, which is based at Bowcliffe Hall.

You’ll be seeing more from Mr Turner later this year when he guest edits these business pages.

Lunch was hosted by EY for Yorkshire business leaders to discuss the Northern Powerhouse and featured a presentation from Mark Gregory, chief economist for the accountancy firm in the UK and Ireland.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Gregory told me how Yorkshire’s cities could learn from places like Boston and Barcelona if they want to build world-class economies.

He said the world’s great cities have succeeded through differentiation and specialisation.

Boston, for example, has used its strengths in education - it is home to Harvard and the Massachussetts Institute of Technology - to establish a world-leading reputation for healthcare innovation.

It has also developed a strong cultural scene, helped by major development of the city’s waterfront, added Mr Gregory.

He also rates Barcelona as an up-and-coming city, which has risen up through the rankings in attractiveness to international investors and people’s perceptions.

“There are elements of lifestyle with a beach and a football team, it has become a big tourist destination, the infrastructure is in place and it has businesses and great communications,” said Mr Gregory.

Great cities are differentiated, specialised and integrated with good housing and schools, he concluded, and “it requires a degree of coordination and vision to make that happen”.

It would be nice to see a little more vision in Yorkshire of the kind on show at Bowcliffe Hall.

* Aside from the human costs of the refugee crisis engulfing Europe, the tragedy could soon hit wealthy countries where it hurts - in their economies.

Tensions over the refugee crisis threaten a tightening of borders could severely disrupt European trade, according to financial services firm AES International.

Ashley Owen, head of investment strategies, said: “The tightening of border controls in parts of Eastern Europe, as a consequence of the refugee crisis, could be the start of a worrying trend which may damage European GDP.

“The Schengen agreement allows free movement of people and goods through the majority of the European Union, and its economic impact is hard to accurately measure.

“However, it is fair to assume, that intercontinental trade is significantly boosted by the close country ties the agreement has enabled and that any threat to that would have consequences.

“The political friction could further threaten import and exports between European countries and put trade ties under pressure. This would unduly hit small to medium size companies which do business within Europe.

“All of this is very disappointing as the influx of such high numbers of people at working age should provide a real economic boost over the coming decades if handled correctly.”

He is right. Britain’s ageing population means that one in four people will be aged 65 and over by 2050. We need some political decision-making that focuses less on tomorrow’s headlines and more on the long- term needs of our country.