Outlook 2019: Investment in inter-regional connectivity needed to bolster economic success

Senior business leaders across the north and in the West Midlands have called for further investment in connectivity within and between cities and city regions to ensure that the regional economics succeed. 

Vivienne Clements, director at Henry Boot Developments

Talking at TheBusinessDesk.com’s Outlook 2019 seminars, in conjunction with DLA Piper, Vivienne Clements, director at Henry Boot Developments discussed her concerns over the HS2 being the focal point rather than connecting cities across the north.

She said: “I know there has been a lot of focus on HS2, but in reality if you look across the northern base, especially the Manchester City Region and the wider Yorkshire region, there would be a lot more economic growth if connectivity improved across these regions.

“I think, in my view, I’d rather have better connectivity across the north than the HS2, because I see the HS2 as creating a dormitory for the South East. We have really good quality industry up here, and we need to focus on linking up between all the devolved areas in the north and focus on creating something which is a single asset in its own right.”  

John Mothersole, Chief Executive at Sheffield City Council

John Mothersole, Chief Executive at Sheffield City Council, said he believed that the north deserved the best transport infrastructure as possible, and must force the government to deliver what they promised.

He said: “I don’t think we should have a discussion about do we want HS2 or do we want northern connectivity, I think we want both. Our task now is to hold the government to account to make sure they deliver what they said they will deliver.

“We don’t need to win the argument as to why we need better connectivity anymore, we’ve got to hold the government to account for the deliver, and quite simply go ballistic if we see any sense of that drifting away.

“This can be done with a whole business and northern voice, it’s about being a collective and we all have to be quite vigilant and noisy on this.”

Paul Forrest, West Midlands Economic Forum, echoed this viewpoint during the Birmingham seminar, reiterating how crucial regional connectivity is.  He said: “The key thing for the West Midlands is that we need effective regional transport infrastructure. If travel times can be reduced, especially getting into Birmingham, then this will have an big impact on productivity.

“The problem is, we are building a transport infrastructure to meet the potential needs of HS2, but we aren’t actually looking at the real needs of the West Midlands economy. If it only took 45 minutes to go from Birmingham to a London interchange, then that would put the region in closer proximity to export markets.”

Huw Dolphin, Birmingham office managing partner for DLA Piper

Huw Dolphin, the Birmingham Office Managing Partner for DLA Piper UK, addressed his concerns over the lack of efficient transport infrastructure around the region ahead of Birmingham hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022.

He added: “The day-to-day experience of travelling in and out of Birmingham at the moment isn’t great, and it’s even worse to get form one part of West midlands to another if you don’t travel into Birmingham.

“The rail issues we see now are the same that we were faced with when I started commuting into the city 24 years ago, and I think it’s because they are short on staff and that won’t be resolved in the short-term. So I’d like to think that when the Commonwealth Games come there will be some significant changes, mainly on the experience of moving in and out of the region.”

Better connecting the city and surrounding areas was also a bid discussion point at both the Manchester and Liverpool seminars.

Tom Kelsall, partner at the Manchester office of DLA Piper

Tom Kelsall, partner at the Manchester office of DLA Piper UK, said: “I think that the biggest task Manchester and the Combined Authorities have ahead of them is to improve transport and connectivity. I think we should aim to better connect areas on the outskirts of the region, and help putting places like Rochdale on the map, by linking in those areas with the city.”

Chris Brown, director of Marketing Liverpool, added: “We are so far behind on transport. We realise the importance of HS2 and the connectivity that goes with that, but we can’t underestimate the importance of the connectivity between the East and West.

“The concept of living and working in different cities should be an automatic option, especially for young people. We need to be able to provide people across the north a lot of options as to where they live and where they work. But we can’t do that at the moment.”

Sue Grindrod, chief executive of Royal Albert Dock

Sue Grindrod, chief executive of Royal Albert Dock, said: “The problem is that the city region is not all joined up yet. We have an agenda of also trying to encourage people to move around the region, so in order of us to do this transport has to improve.

“Although the city has grown, it doesn’t connect together well. Liverpool is expanding so quickly, there is a danger of isolating certain pockets.”

During the Leeds seminar, Kersten England, chief executive at Bradford Council, said that she is really excited about Bradford being firmly in the sights of Northern Powerhouse Rail for a new ‘high-speed’ railway station in the city centre. She also highlighted her “concerns about investment in long-term infrastructure.” England said: “I think we really need to see HS2 come to Leeds for all our sakes.”

Allison Page, Leeds office managing partner at DLA Piper

Allison Page, Leeds office managing partner at DLA Piper UK, assured the delegates that “progress is continuing” on major infrastructure projects. 

She said: “Investment in infrastructure hasn’t stopped. From my own perspective, I’m working on a number of big infrastructure projects, and I can say that progress is continuing on HS2 as it is on other major multi-billion pound projects. I think this is absolutely key.”

Further coverage  of topics discussed  throughout the Outlook 2019 series is to follow.

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