A clear plan for the North to unleash growth for all and overcome Brexit – Michael Heseltine

WHEN I wrote No Stone Unturned in 2012, the country was still dealing with the aftermath of the worst economic crisis ?of modern times.

Michael Heseltine is a Tory peer and former Deputy Prime Minister.

My report called for those in power to rise to the challenges we faced, and in doing so improve living conditions, create the conditions for stable growth, and unleash this country’s energy and ability.

We are now faced with new challenges.

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With or without Brexit, in an ever more competitive world we need to understand the importance of empowering our regions and giving them the tools they need to meet the problems of today, and embrace the opportunities of the future.

And why does this matter?

Because economic growth does not occur in a vacuum.

It takes place in real places – our cities, towns and villages.

They need the powers and funding to develop long-term visions, in collaboration with local people and establish the necessary policies, plans and strategies to realise that vision.

This in turn creates the stability needed to attract investment.

Planning is central to this process. This is a lesson I learnt during my time in Liverpool in the early 1980s.

Tough action and appropriate support, delivered in a co-ordinated manner, was essential in driving the regeneration needed to tackle the deep-seated social and economic problems facing the city.

Almost 40 years later, its transformation has been incredible.

By establishing similar Urban Development Corporations in Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle during that decade, I’m proud to have played my part in improving the fortunes of other major Northern cities.

But we know that serious social and economic problems still persist in the North.

The EU referendum showed what happens when communities feel excluded from important decisions about their future, and when national investment consistently neglects parts of the country.

Inequality breeds a legitimate resentment with the status quo. It must be tackled head-on.

The North is home to great engines of industrial growth, incredible landscapes and cultural assets, and a growing, diverse population.

But if we want to create a true Northern Powerhouse, then that vision must be transformational for all people and places across the North, not just the key cities.

There is widespread recognition 
that enhanced, inclusive and sustainable economic growth is fundamental to improving the prospects for the North.

And by such growth we can enhance the North’s local pride and independence, and make sure that it is a region 
that is much greater than the sum of 
its parts.

In 2016, I spoke at the launch of a Blueprint for a Great North Plan, developed by IPPR North and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), which set out the foundations for a more collaborative approach to thinking about the future of the North.

It proposed a series of pan-Northern strategies for the economy, transport, nature, people and place: areas where greater co-operation make sense.

Since then there has been progress. With the Northern Powerhouse championed by George Osborne in the Treasury, we saw Transport for the North take root and publish their first Strategic Transport Plan.

The Convention of the North held its first meeting in 2018, the 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships are working together to co-ordinate economic development, while the metro mayors are advancing integrated strategies for combined authorities.

However, this agenda must not slow. A leisurely pace is not enough to solve the challenges we face.

It is critical that this progress continues and that these strategies deliver real improvements to places 
and quality of life, tackling problems 
like high street decline and poverty, 
and responding effectively to demographic change and the need for decarbonisation.

Planning is a critical way to engage local communities in these discussions, and make sure that the benefits of economic growth and major infrastructure investment are felt across the North.

This requires investment in ambitious and transformative planning, new models for collaborative working, and greater devolution.

Today I am speaking at a conference organised by the RTPI, where they are setting out recommendations for a more joined-up approach to planning.

This approach is necessary to draw together the North and build on its 
great strengths.

In doing so this can achieve our desire to create a more productive, inclusive 
and resilient North.

Lord Heseltine is a Tory peer and former 
Deputy Prime Minister.