Friday, 14 March 2014

Let's Regenerate the North

A reflection on the BBC documentary 'Mind the Gap'

Evan Davis' documentary looks at the threat the capital imposes on the rest of the UK. London as  a major world city, if not the major world city has earned the capability of attracting investment and business from all corners of the world. However in doing so, it has managed to cast a shadow over the rest of the UK. The city sucks the best qualified professionals, not only from across the country, but the whole world to work for the most attractive, flashy businesses that are all based in London.

Why? They want to live in the busy, evolving, cultural centre that is London, and work for the best people they can, who are also in London. It's a vicious circle. The capital marries two key features which make it so successful, it is both a fashionable place to live, and a productive place to work. Along with a wealth of history, diversity and art, it has truly become one of the most attractive city in the world to live, work, and play.

As well as this threat, the country does owe a lot to the city, which vitally acts as the poster boy for the country, generating wealth that does, to some extent, dissipate across the rest of the country. Even if the majority remains in London.

I don't think there is an opportunity for any of our cities to grow into a real competitor to London. But like the documentary says in the second episode, there is an opportunity for cities like Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds to develop into something similar.

These northern cities all have an industrial background, that is historically important to the development of how they look, and their culture. People love this old industrial feel that they offer, and when regenerated the old docks, mills, and factories become trendy and cool places to live and work. Take for instance the Albert Docks in Liverpool, once derelict docks, now a beautiful and thriving commercial zone in the city centre. We need to encourage investment in these cities, to capitalise on these opportunities.

These sort of redevelopment areas are especially attractive to the younger generation, they're trendy places to be and to live, They're also cheaper alternatives to London, but still in a city centre with lots to do. That's one of the attractive aspects of redeveloping old industrial buildings, they're often central.

Albert Docks - example of successful redevelopment
We also need to encourage business in these cities. And I don't doubt that with more investment from the government, and from the private sector, this can be done. I personally think this would be done most successfully, if the local governments where given more money to invest themselves, or even if a committee was set up for investment in the north, containing council representatives, constituency MPs, and representatives of local business of the areas mentioned, in order to come up with large-scale plans for investment, and put them forward to  both Westminster, and private investors in a similar fashion to the London Docklands Development Corporation of the 1980s. But with some representation from local government.

With investment, there is no reason why these cities can't become a hub for the north of England, and make more of a reputation for themselves on the international stage. Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds all have unique, rich cultures and histories that ought to be taken advantage of.

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