Jeannine Gavaghan, an associate at HLM Architects in Tudor Square, Sheffield, takes a designer’s view of Yorkshire’s economic revival and its part in the Northern Powerhouse.
Why is China so crucial to the development of the Northern Powerhouse? By 2030, China is expected to be the world’s largest economy. Its growth story has been remarkable. Every two years it creates an economy that is the same size as that of Australia. Even if China’s growth slows it will still be a crucial engine for the world economy with clear opportunities for businesses in the North.
Whilst Manchester is one of the four anchor cities of the Northern Powerhouse, how does Yorkshire fit into the region’s strategy for growth? The Chancellor unveiled the Northern Powerhouse around a year ago, and its launch Osborne stated: “The cities of the North are individually strong, but collectively not strong enough. The whole is less than the sum of its parts.”
The broad aim of the Northern Powerhouse is to try to redress the economic imbalance between the North and the South, with a view to attracting investment into the northern towns and cities. According to Ed Cox of think tank IPPR North: “To win business and public investment, I too often have to go to London, but this is insane; each city in the north is too small to fight against that. We can only drag some of that investment northwards if we work together.
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“If the people of Wigan, Pontefract and County Durham are better off commuting to Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Newcastle then that’s what has to happen. So many
young people in those places currently leave. A Northern Powerhouse gives them an option to stay.”
Northern cities collectively need to concentrate their existing centres with high quality retail, office and residential developments and to improve their transport infrastructure. Our universities need to play an integral role with new talent, fresh ideas and innovation. We have more than 70 universities across the North.
To boost the economy of the towns and cities across Yorkshire a strategy is needed to build on their unique qualities to enhance as well as their existing strengths. Creative industries in Liverpool, media in Manchester, legal and financial in Leeds, advance manufacturing in Sheffield, software in Newcastle and energy in Hull. To help achieve this concentration we need to address transport links and infrastructure at a strategic level.
For cities to succeed, an integrated transport authority is required. For example the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) Plan brings together councils from Bradford, Kirklees, Calderdale, Leeds, Wakefield and York together with the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership as a combined force for economic growth. The £1bn fund will be targeted at reducing congestion, improving the flow of freight and making it easier for people to commute to and from expected major growth areas.
Cities need places and spaces to provide experience, character and journey experience. Good design contributes to this through quality buildings, façades, street scenes, attractive public squares and parks, and first class leisure facilities. The out-of-town car-dependent model of urban regeneration in several cases has not worked and in recent years the focus has been to reverse the planning model that left city centres like ghost towns after 6pm.
While certain out-of-town leisure complexes remain popular however we need to continue to re-energise our city centres to become destinations for evening and weekend leisure activities, as well as providing a first class retail shopping experience.
Trinity Leeds was built during the last recession. It is a million square foot shopping and leisure development in the heart of Leeds city centre and opened in March 2013. Leeds rose in CACI’s UK Retail Rankings for 2013 to become the sixth largest shopping location in the UK after London’s West End, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool. By regenerating Leeds city centre it has become a premium destination.
Coast-to-coast and north-south transport links are desperately needed to help re-balance the Yorkshire economy. It takes around an hour by train from Manchester to get to Sheffield — a journey which should only take 35 to 40 minutes. Having a regular, quicker, more integrated and better-connected public transport infrastructure — linking city with city and town— would help the economy of Yorkshire to develop, boosting employment, investment and improving the quality of life for all.
Town and city councils also need to address the situation that has resulted in many acres of prime city centre land that is given over to car parking. With city centres needing more space for development land for residential, retail and commercial schemes where will we park our cars? Park and ride schemes are now beginning to offer a viable alternative to parking in the city reducing congestion and taking cars out of the city. Leeds recently opened its Elland Road 800 space Park and Ride. It is a collaboration between the council, First Bus and the WYCA. The scheme is set to double in size with another park and ride at Temple Newsome.
Sheffield’s Tram system recently celebrated its 21st birthday. Designers need to assess current and future skills and workforce business trends based around their immediate location, local strategies need to be developed (each city doing the same thing won’t work), specialist, growth markets and deficits in provision.
Good design — for both buildings and urban and green space — can contribute to the creation of distinct characterful areas and identities, such as Little Kelham, Sheffield; the Antiques Quarter and Match Works in Liverpool. In time, such quartiers become self-developing as more individuals identify with an area and move to live or work there.
Also, Green Infrastructure presents a way to address the complex interactions between various elements of modern life while unlocking additional benefits for local communities. This can be defined as the network of natural and semi-natural features, green spaces, rivers and lakes referred to individually as GI assets and the roles which they play are defined as GI functions. Green Infrastructure approach benefits from maximising land utilisation and the provision of sustainable transport links within and between towns or cities. This includes:
Place making with public realm, parks, facilities and green infrastructure all integrated as part of a single multifunctional design space to create robust and pleasant places to live work and play. Investing in landscape to benefit businesses and communities will:
It was recently announced that the Sheffield city region will follow Greater Manchester with an elected mayor in 2017. George Osborne said: “Sheffield is forging ahead in the Northern Powerhouse, which this historic deal proves is taking shape”.
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“It has the power to change the shape of local government in the region in a way that would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago. For local people, it will mean the decisions that affect them being taken locally”.
“Manchester is not a one-off – far from it. In becoming the second great northern city to sign up to managing its own affairs with this ambitious agreement, Sheffield city region is playing a vital part in helping to build the northern powerhouse.”
Councils in the North-East and Tees Valley recently became the latest group to agree devolution deals with the Chancellor, but the West Yorkshire wrangles continue. West Yorkshire councils want a Leeds City Region deal covering their authorities together with Harrogate, Selby, York and Craven. Other authorities however want a single devolution agreement - known as Greater Yorkshire - covering North, East and West Yorkshire.
Should we not just create one brand – “Yorkshire”? Yorkshire needs to have a far more joined-up approach to economic development, which is underpinned with good urban planning with high quality buildings and a truly integrated transport infrastructure.
Can Yorkshire (effectively four Yorkshires) operate as a unified body when each region has its own economic imperatives which are essentially competing with each other? My feeling is that Yorkshire has great potential to become its own economic powerhouse, but until a unified vision for Yorkshire takes shape then we are likely to continue to see piece-meal and uncoordinated developments continue.
The pull of London is only set to increase and that would be a missed opportunity for all the people of Yorkshire.