The chancellor has a real opportunity today to empower business across the north of England and charge this vibrant part of the country with becoming the industrial powerhouse it once was.
The One North proposals, devised and proposed by five forward-thinking local authorities earlier this year, include £15bn investment in transport and connectivity infrastructure over the next 16 years.
The proposal, which included a 125mph trans-Pennine rail link, a faster link to Newcastle and better access to Manchester Airport, received a fairly warm welcome from the Chancellor, who indicated he would respond to the proposals in his Autumn statement today.
So I was proud to add my name to a letter, signed by the chief executives of six chambers of commerce – north east, Hull and Humber, Liverpool and Sefton, Sheffield, and West and North Yorkshire – representing more than 12,000 businesses, backing proposals included in the plan.
Our members are very much behind the principle of improved connectivity across the north of England, which will unlock the huge assets within the northern economy, and a united northern chambers network stands ready to work with our local authorities and the government to ensure this initiative delivers benefits across the north and meets businesses’ expectations.
While transport is by no means the sole concern of our members, it is consistently a high priority across all of our organisations. As such, we are urging rapid progress to ensure the opportunity to deliver these investments is not missed.
But while the chambers involved in producing this response represent businesses in the five cities involved in developing the One North plan – that’s Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield – they also represent geographies that go well beyond those cities. It is critical that support for this project expands beyond the boundaries of the local authorities concerned, and that the strategy that is delivered produces benefits more widely across the north.
We welcome the announcements made this week, particularly the upgrades to the A1 north of Newcastle, A19 in Teesside and the feasibility studies announced for the A69 and A66.
However, it must not be forgotten that the north east is still a long way short of receiving the levels of infrastructure investment that will help to unlock further growth and job creation relative to other areas of the country. It is only by levelling the playing field in this way that we can be assured the private sector can reach its full potential in a region with enormous capacity for further growth and also extend the benefits beyond the boundaries of the One North partnership.
The north has the capacity to support much greater levels of economic activity. There is available land for development here, at a cheaper cost than in many parts of the south. Development can also be delivered here without putting the same pressure on environmental resources, such as water.
In supporting One North, the northern chambers of commerce are calling on other organisations across the north to work together, to ensure the opportunity to transform connectivity across the north of England is grasped.
We expect the strategy to be given a high priority by local authorities and by the government with chambers ready to play a part in articulating business views on proposals and helping to develop projects further.
And we want to see a strong commitment to deliver this strategy should be made in today’s Autumn Statement, receiving cross-party support to give confidence that a 15-year investment plan will be seen through by any future governments over that period.
James Ramsbotham is chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce. You can follow him on Twitter @NECCTwiTer
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