Basing plans for the Northern Powerhouse on improved transport connections is misguided, according to a new report.
Northern cities like Leeds punch below their weight
The Centre for Cities says there is a case for improving transport between cities in the North but warns that ‘the allure of a "grand projet" should not divert attention from improving the places it is designed to link’.
Building the Northern Powerhouse - Lessons from the Rhine Ruhr and Randstad says that while the concept was inspired by two similar areas of Northern Europe their success ‘does not appear to be based on the strength of their transport links’.
Commuting between city regions in the Randstad in the Netherlands and Rhine-Ruhr in Germany ‘is not significantly greater than across city regions in the North of England, nor are train links much quicker’, the report says.
It adds that: ‘There is no clear policy lesson for the Northern Powerhouse from the proximity of or the links between the cities in the two areas – they just happen to be close together.’
The author of the report, economist Paul Swinney, argues that the main lesson from the two areas is that ‘strong regional economies require strongly performing cities at their heart…because the benefits of a large economy are only achieved when combined with the concentration of economic activity in specific places, specifically cities’.
He points out that while the economy of the North is also concentrated in its cities they ‘punch well below their weight in terms of their contribution to the national economy’.
According to Mr Swinney: ‘It is this underperformance that primarily explains the underperformance of the North as a whole, rather than the weakness of intercity transport links.’
To improve the performance of the North, the report recommends that policy makers prioritise supporting the growth of its cities, including:
- Increasing the density of cities
- Managing the costs of density
- Increasing the size of the pool of skilled workers
- Making decisions about economic policy at the lowest level appropriate.