Imagine a scenario when High Speed Rail gets built. That the cities of the North have still lagged behind. That Scotland has a generous corporation tax regime that draws in ambitious technology businesses to Glasgow and to Silicon Glen. And that London continues its inexorable rise as a global powerhouse.
A new train line that can take people from Manchester to the centre of London, to a newly built Euston station (pictured), in just over an hour, does just that. It draws people in. Just that. There is no reason for the traffic to be two ways – few other meaningful businesses have followed the BBC to MediaCity and the public sector is still the biggest employer in large swathes of the North.
It simply can’t happen. It simply can’t be allowed to happen. And if we needed any further impetus to get political leaders in the cities to dig in for greater autonomy and power to have serious control over government budgets in an effective way for our urban economies, then this is it.
Geoff Muirhead, the former CEO of Manchester Airports Group made these points and more at our Northern Revolution conference yesterday.
This is the one that sharpens our senses though. If you accept the arguments that HS2 is going to happen, then we recognise it presents a challenge to the North as much as it does an opportunity. The prize is double edged – just relying on it and becoming a far flung suburb of London would be a disaster. It has to be more than that.
Any successful city has to create its own magnetism – a reason to draw people in, retain the talented and mobile, and provide a living and a quality of life for its people. And that’s the challenge of all of us.
Mike Emmerich, chief executive of new economy, an articulate and wise servant of the city who has experience of working in Whitehall, made the good point that public and economic policy needs to work on what is organically there. Otherwise it will fail. There is plenty of evidence of that all around us of abandoned schemes to dream a shiny new building into a rundown town and hope the investment will follow. It’s harder than that. It’s about economic performance, people then place. In that order.
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