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Powerhouse perspective: Leena Gillespie

Leena Gillespie, Senior development manager at Public Sector Plc, outlines what the initiative means to her, the benefits of devolution and the need to create more thriving places in the North of England.

What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?
I believe the Northern Powerhouse is about opportunities and partnership. By working in partnership – instead of competing against each other – we improve the quality and quantity of opportunities available to more than 15 million people who call the North home. From working for a business which signs partnerships with councils across the region some of our main objectives we work to reduce the disparity between the North and the South and enable our towns and cities to fund opportunities which deliver sustainable regeneration and create new income streams for local authorities. This spirit of partnership needs to work across local and combined authorities and between the public and private sector to create a thriving region for our people.

Six years have passed since the phrase 'Northern Powerhouse' was first coined. Has enough happened since then?
There's a saying that people overestimate what they can achieve in one year but underestimate what they can achieve in five years. The same principal applies to regional transformation, but the timescales take longer. The Northern Powerhouse agenda has waxed and waned depending on who has been in charge of the government. However, there has been a real push with the introduction of the combined authorities across the North and the commitment from the city mayors to work together to deliver infrastructure and regeneration to create diverse and thriving communities. The vocal support for the Northern Powerhouse from local government has helped to keep it top of mind for the current administration which seems to be committed to levelling up the country and investing more in the Northern Powerhouse.

How is the appointment of metro mayors starting to help the initiative?
The UK is one of the most centralised countries in the world. We need metro mayors to help champion their combined authority areas and pool resources to help deliver better and more prosperous towns and cities across the Northern Powerhouse. To this end, it was heartening to see the mayor for the Sheffield City Region, Dan Jarvis, secure a devolution deal through Parliament giving the city region new powers over transport, strategic planning and skills in the region, plus £900m over 30 years.

What must the government do to re-energise the Northern Powerhouse?
The government could re-energise the Northern Powerhouse more centrally. However, the most powerful thing that the government could do is to give the leaders of the North the power to do things for themselves. We have to give metro mayors and local government more devolutionary powers to empower areas to recover their economies and rebuild their communities more quickly from the impact of Covid-19. We can all see the benefits of this devolution from the recovery plans that Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham have put forward.

What is the single main issue you would like to see dominate the Northern Powerhouse agenda?
Place-making. We need to create more thriving places in the North of England along the lines of Liverpool, Sheffield, Chester and Greater Manchester where people want to live, work and visit. We need to improve the quality and breadth of housing stock across the Northern Powerhouse to create more good quality homes for people to live in at all levels of society so that we create more varied and more vibrant communities. There also needs to be serious and sustained investment in infrastructure in the regions including road, trains, trams and broadband.

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on businesses and homes in the North. However, it has also shown that we are all able to improvise at short notice. To helps areas thrive in the new normal the public realm, cycle network and broadband networks should be expanded and upgraded.

Is there enough collaboration between towns and cities across the North?
No. However, often there is not enough collaboration between communities within towns and cities either. As a business helping council partners to collaborate the length and breadth of England, we believe more can be done to encourage collaboration locally and across the North of England.

How would the success of the Northern Powerhouse agenda benefit your business?
The success of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership creates more prosperous towns and cities in the north delivering more opportunities for property, regeneration and investment. As a business which delivers zero carbon homes along with industrial, commercial and mixed-use development we were heartened to see how metro mayors like Andy Burnham are embracing the net zero carbon agenda to ensure that all new buildings created in Greater Manchester are net zero carbon by 2028. Without a successful devolution and Northern Powerhouse agenda these progressive and positive business opportunities and societal changes would not be forthcoming.