25 Lost Years – Why the Northern Way Failed

in 1994 John Prescott launched the ‘Northern Way’ programme. It was rumored at the time the North needed to have something like the Thames Gateway. In 2010 it was abolished by the incoming conservative government. Yet its aim are very similar to the Northern Powerhouse as launched by George Osborne.

Why did it fail?

Some observations:

  1. Its funding was tiny, 100 million over 10 years equivalent to 150 million today. By comparison this was 10% of the funding for New Deal for Communities. At the time the Treasury kept strict rules on investment, and when it finally did undo the taps it was focused on the NHS. The budget had to be sliced from the DCLG budget rather than in the past regional policy being run from the department of industry, which since the 1970s had seen massive cuts in its share of national budget.
  2. It was driven by Regional Development Agencies. Which had a business and property. City Region government outside London had been abolished. Though the Northern Way focused on functional city regions, these had no mayoral seat at the table. Also the weft of the trans Pennine belt conurbations was watered down by including isolated towns such as Hull, which have limited potential for increases in productivity through increased agglomeration and very rural areas, which required different solutions than a national corridor/cluster based strategy. Of course we see much the same mistake in the powerhouse where we see what the Irish call an ‘something for every crossroads town approach’ something for everywhere rather than focusing on growth corridors, which again we see in the silly arguments for ‘gods own country’ Yorkshire government, which would be as disastrous as James Palmers focus on the fens approach in Cambridgeshire. This is not a argument against investment in rural areas and remote towns, rather a national programme focused on corridors and clusters should not stray outside these areas. Other areas need different funding streams and different governance. Otherwise you just get a great watering down with big lines running everywhere – which means investment focussed nowhere, as you see in the TfN transport strategy. Which is why I say Northern Powerhouse should be focussed on the trans Pennine corridor and not stray north to the Yorkshire Dales and North or East of the A1M
  3. There was no analysis of why there was a GDP output gap and its causes – in other words why it needed levelling up. You read policy documents focussing on strengths but not weaknesses or threats. Also there was no analysis of the economics of agglomeration or of productivity.
  4. There was limited, little or any, study of capital improvements to improve corridor connectivity. For example a transport prospectus from 1995 had no maps and no proposals other than a vaugue injunction to improve connectivity between trans Pennine cities. Sadly you also get the same deflation looking at regional strategies of the period, vague wordy documents of objectives without seriously studies and visonary spatial proposals. Without a visionary and very expensive capital project which had serious political support it was never too big to cancel. Small plans are easily cancelled.