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Government support for HS3 rail link reignites debate over city devolution

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The government’s decision to back a new High Speed 3 (HS3) rail link between Manchester and Leeds has reignited the debate over the devolution of power to cities outside London

Earlier this week, David Cameron and George Osborne threw their weight behind proposals for a £7 billion cross-Pennine railway scheme, put forward in a report by HS2 chairman David Higgins.

The project is part of the chancellor’s wider proposals to create a ‘northern powerhouse’ across the M62 corridor – a vision similar to plans drawn up in 2004 by architect Will Alsop for a northern super-city.

The government is also looking at how to devolve a range of taxes, such as stamp duty, to allow city and county regions ‘to take more control over their economic destiny’. This follows July’s Communities and Local Government Committee report entitled Devolution in England: the Case for Local Government.

Terry Hodgkinson, former chair of Yorkshire Forward, said the HS3 announcement was ‘very welcome’. Considered alongside the renewed focus on devolution, he said: ‘Differentiation of regions can be a great strength, but connectivity is a critical element almost as the glue that holds together a good performing economy.’

Christian Gilham, director at Leach Rhodes Walker, also applauded the HS3 link, but added: ‘[Any] devolution would need some control so that it is not in the power of a minority but in the best interests of the majority.’

Meanwhile Neil Taylor, partner at Newcastle-based FaulknerBrowns said any plans for devolution should be ‘a regional response, rather than a city-only one’.

He added: ‘If we’re not careful we’ll just repeat the city rivalry which for a region like the North-East is not beneficial overall.’

Comment: David Matthews, Fuse Architects (Manchester and Leeds)

David Matthews

‘The London economic engine has been running with the needle in the red zone for years – with barely a misfire during the recession.

‘By contrast, even though the northern cities are surging forward again, they are barely ticking over.  There is an enormous and largely untapped potential for expansion of the UK economy away from the capital – especially in the North.

‘But devolution to individual cities is not the answer. Their vibrant energy should not be wasted competing with each other. Power should only be devolved when they unite to form a genuine city region.  The UK desperately needs the ‘northern powerhouse’ George Osborne talked during the summer.

‘Part of that unification must be an utter transformation of the connectivity between the cities.  HS3 is not only essential, but it should be built either at the same time as HS2 – or, ideally, before. It can’t happen soon enough.’

Comment: Ian Simpson, Ian Simpson Architects (Manchester and London)

Ian Simpson

‘‘Devo Manc’ is a phrase that has been used extensively around Manchester. A degree of devolution to the Greater Manchester region would be highly beneficial in sustaining growth and job creation.

‘Manchester has the experience and political stability to allow long-term plans to succeed. It is surely more beneficial if decision making is controlled locally, and directed towards the real needs of the city and wider region.

‘In my mind, Manchester is the city best positioned to trial devolution, and while there may be opportunities for other cities in the future, I think it is important that the initial experience of devolution should be a positive one.

‘Efforts, energy and funding should focus on Manchester and let this be the catalyst for change. The concept and values would thereafter ripple out and allow other cities in the North to express themselves, and control their own destiny.’


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