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Vote ‘yes’ for city mayors

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City mayors could replace icon-building as the drivers of regeneration, writes Christine Murray

You should join Richard Rogers in welcoming Liverpool’s decision to elect its first city mayor in May - especially after another week of dreary market predictions. It’s a bold new paradigm that could ultimately do more for cities than icon-led regeneration.

This week, Moody’s ratings agency put the UK on a ‘negative outlook’, retaining its AAA-rating but warning that the country’s status is under review. The reasons given: knock-on effects of the eurozone debt crisis, specifically its effect on ‘trade, the financial sector
and consumer and investor confidence’, and continued austerity measures.

Moody’s review sharply elbows the government in the ribs, telling them it’s time to invest in growth.

Moody’s pop at the UK will hopefully focus the government on the dire need for stimulus. What we need is ambition (a major house-building programme would do), the kind of project that captures the imagination, backed by the solid investment only sovereign wealth can promise, to inspire investor confidence. The government has to stop hoping the private sector will step into the breach - even if they would, the banks are still hesitant to lend.

But fresh powers devolved to new city mayors such as Liverpool’s could prove an instrumental work-around. The UK needs visionaries - which is why Liverpool was right to bypass a city-wide referendum and unilaterally create the new post without consulting its citizens - they will ultimately elect the mayor anyway.

Along with a new mayor, Liverpool will gain the first Mayoral Development Corporation outside London, and a single-investment cash pot of £130 million initially (including £75 million of new money from the government), with the potential to grow to £1 billion.

The mayor will also act as the chair of a new investment board, under which all of the city’s land, commercial and residential buildings, including those owned by the Northwest Regional Development Agency, will be brought together. Yes, Liverpool will be developed according to its mayor’s whims, but at least under this new regime, it will be developed. As Richard Simmons, former CABE chief executive and visiting professor at the University of Greenwich, says: ‘Mayors always want to leave a powerful legacy.’

And where the city mayor leads, businesses will follow. Nick Bentley, director of Liverpool-based architectural visualisation firm Uniform, says: ‘Developers and investors will be attracted if the city region is dynamic and can make things happen.’

In May, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield will go to the polls to decide whether or not they’ll be joining Liverpool in appointing a city mayor.

I urge them to do so. The economic and regenerative challenges facing each of these cities is unique, but all will benefit from the singular vision, identity, confidence and cash that an elected mayor will bring.

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