Grasp these opportunities Boris Johnson if you want to Power Up The North – Tony Lodge

UNDER-USED ports, under-invested railways, closed power stations, out of date airports, planning blockages…the charge sheet goes on and on.

Ports like Hull have huge economic potential, writes Tony Lodge.

However this is not a list proclaiming the decline of the North but quite the opposite.

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It highlights the huge potential of the North so long as the right policies quickly now emerge from the new Boris Johnson government to unlock growth, create jobs and deliver long overdue investment.

Policy expert ony Lodge has explained how the Northern Powerhouse can be turbo-charged.

For years policies supposedly designed for the North, channelled through the so called ‘Northern Powerhouse’, have rather patronisingly sought to reassure the millions who live in Yorkshire and its neighbouring counties that something strategic, visionary and significant was forthcoming.

Junior ministers have been and gone with countless speeches on what the Northern Powerhouse is meant to be and what it can achieve; locals have been reassured their lot will improve and that policymakers in London appreciate their economic worth. They are still waiting.

Tony Lodge says ports, like Hull, hold the key to a successful Brexit.

Here are some key priorities and deliverables for the new Government:

Free Ports across the North

Free ports are designated areas around a shipping port or airport which are separate for customs purposes. This allows goods to be imported and exported without paying tariffs.

Will Boris Johnson be a good Prime Minsiter for the North?

Around the world, around 3,500 free ports already exist but we don’t have a single one in the UK. Outside the EU then, new free ports on the east coast at Hull and Teesport must be a priority along with another which combines Grimsby, Immingham and Killingholme in North Lincolnshire.

By combining them with Enterprise Zones to create ‘Supercharged Free Ports’, we create a powerful force for economic growth and huge job creation. This would make significant steps to addressing the North-South divide and allow them to compete with Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg, Europe’s three biggest ports.

On the west coast then Liverpool is an obvious candidate along with Manchester Airport.

Re-balancing the economy to correct the North-South divide is a mission of every government but we have yet to achieve it.

The trans-Pennine railway should be electrified, says Tony Lodge.

In 2016 the Northern economy created £330bn of economic output but, had North and South been balanced, this would have been around £400bn. That’s £70bn more – equivalent to £1,500 per northern household.

A free port programme would, by default, target areas of high unemployment and deprivation. Areas ranked in the bottom quarter of deprived areas, such as these large east coast ports, would benefit immensely from the boost in investment that this policy would create.

It must be backed in the new Prime Minister’s first budget.

Brexit is crucial to deliver free ports and a more competitive Britain. Inside the EU, the Germans, Dutch and Belgians would move fast to render them impotent citing EU anti-competition and state aid rules. They would fight hard to stop Britain undercutting continental ports which is why Theresa May’s flawed Brexit deal couldn’t work.

Railways

The North’s railways are not fit for purpose and this in turn restricts growth and investment.

Why does it still take one and a half hours on packed diesel trains to travel on the fastest service between Leeds and Manchester Airport?

This should be a maximum 45 minute journey; similarly 25 minutes between Leeds and Manchester city centre.

Priority should be given to the HS3 plan to better connect the North West with the North East with a new fast line. This must take priority over HS2.

In advance of this, the existing trans-Pennine railway needs to be electrified quickly so it can take more and faster trains, both passenger and freight.

More rail freight must be a priority if we are to better serve our ports and move freight faster to its customers.

This is where the vast former coal-fired power station sites at Eggborough and Ferrybridge could play a crucial part.

They would make excellent rail freight hubs where imports and exports could be prepared for despatch and collection as they enjoy excellent rail and road links.

A better coast to coast railway remains crucial; that it takes biomass trains from Liverpool over 10 hours to travel just 100 miles (due to track congestion) to reach its customer at Drax power station near Selby sums up this unacceptable failure to improve region’s rail infrastructure.

Natural resources

Northern England enjoys significant natural resources. The billions being invested in the Sirius potash mine near Whitby are an important example.

But why is Whitehall preventing new coal mines in the North from proceeding even though they have the full support of their local councils?

This is coal for the steel, cement and manufacturing sectors as well as popular local steam railways. Ministers need to let these applications proceed as they will create and secure thousands of jobs.

If they block them, then the UK will simply import foreign coal which carries a huge transport pollution footprint as it will travel thousands of miles from Russia, Columbia, America and elsewhere.

The North needs a dedicated Ministry, can-do ministers and real action. Boris Johnson’s first budget will be crucial but so will the announcements of the next few days; Conservatives won’t be orgiven for getting this wrong again.

Tony Lodge is Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies. ‘A Growth Budget to Boost the British Economy’ was published this month by the CPS.