Report back on Northern Powerhouse meeting with Sean Anstee
Chapel en le Frith Golf Club Friday January 27th 2017
The golfers might have been freezing outside, but 25 business people tucked into hot coffee, warm pastries and bacon baps at the first breakfast meeting of the year of the High Peak Business Club. The debate fair sizzled too, as our speaker Sean Anstee from Trafford (pic attached) was to find out.
Just before, the Prime Minister held a Cabinet meeting in Warrington where the new industrial strategy was unveiled. The BBC was enthusiastic: “Business leaders and politicians have welcomed a newly-allocated cash injection of £556m for the government’s Northern Powerhouse project. The money will fund flood defences in Yorkshire, a £10m innovation fund for businesses in Manchester and Cheshire, and regeneration in Hull city centre.” The money will be handed to 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships across the north. Greater Manchester will get £130m, Liverpool £72m, Leeds City Region £67.5m. The Guardian moaned that Leeds (3m population) was short changed compared to Manchester (currently 2.6m), but then it’s not the Manchester Guardian any more, is it?
Greater Manchester is changing, as 10 councils come together. The idea originated up here, Sean insisted, not in Westminster, though it’ll always be seen as George Osborne’s baby. As in the Netherlands and Germany, cities situated only a few miles apart should develop fast transport and commercial links as a driver for growth throughout the region. As Donald Trump might say, it’ll be HYUUUGE.
“Think like this, “ Sean explained. “The road doesn’t stop at Trafford or Bolton or Wigan -” (or Glossop or Buxton, as his audience were quick to point out). “If you’re looking for a job, you’re not bothered where it is, only on how to get there. It’s the economic footprint that matters, not the administrative boundaries.”
It began to make sense. “Yes, we get the inward investment, like Metrolink – Greater Manchester has a good track record on delivery. But much central government effort has had little impact; there are still huge income equalities throughout the region. It needs thinking through. Can I get to work? That’s transport. When I get there, can I progress through my work? Too many jobs are entry level, low paid, with people staying in them all their working lives. That’s a need for skills. When I head home, will I be stuck in a traffic jam? That’s a congestion issue. My home – is it safe? Secure? Can I afford it? That’s the need for housing, a lot more of it. And what about health, social care, the services which my family needs?” So it is all interconnected.
Problems over the years, Sean said wryly, include both poor planning, and “the big stuff takes AGES,” in which every objection can stymie good intentions. We tend to get “a race to the bottom… in which people focus on defending green space at the expense of everything else, so we get a really poor record on growth.” A big row has blown up about the extra homes needed, but, Sean insisted, if Greater Manchester is to grow by 300,000 in the next 20 years, they must go somewhere. That could cost him the mayoralty in May, but perhaps by 2020 (the next one) they’ll be in the new houses and voting for him. Who knows?
Members piled in. One complained that it takes so darn long to get into central Manchester that he prefers to drive to Macclesfield, catch the fast train and shop in London. It’s over an hour to the nearest motorway; the airport link road at Poynton, soon to be opened, will cut that. But a recent jobs fair at Manchester airport was so popular, with thousands of cars bunging up approach roads and car parks, that travellers missed their planes. Not exactly joined-up thinking.
“When are we going to get our Gothard Tunnel?” one member demanded. That’s up to central government, with three possible routes identified including a 18-mile road tunnel – which would be the world’s longest. How’s that for a tourist attraction? “We’re not ambitious enough,” Sean urged. “Everyone’s thinking, it’d be a traditional twin track rail, probably not ready till I’m 60!” (he’s currently 29). “We should look round the world, see the latest developments.” So could it be a Maglev to Sheffield? A dual road/rail route? Why not?
As for getting more and better trains out to Buxton, Glossop and Hope, it used to be that even changing the frequency would need a Whitehall decision. Now we have TfN, Transport for the North, so development should be quicker. Ask me about that in 5 years’ time, perhaps?