Bringing a new culture of creativity and energy to key northern cities is vital if the Northern Powerhouse is to succeed, says Gensler’s Hiro Aso
The prospects for the Northern Powerhouse have been boosted by the government’s decision to give Transport for the North most of the functions and powers requested. The new authority is set to have the ability to make its won key decision in both road and rail investment processes will develop and deliver strategic transport infrastructure across the North of England.
For the Powerhouse to succeed, first and foremost we need a united north of England with the key cities working together to achieve the promised economic potential, so this decision is vital.
A report recently presented to Leeds City Council’s executive board explained that until now ‘the North has had no way of agreeing strategic priorities, with the responsibility for transport divided over many organisations at different geographical levels. This has made it hard to properly consider and prioritise the right strategic transport interventions to transform economic growth at the regional scale. For the first time, a united north of England will have a say in the transport priorities which can transform the fortunes of the whole region for the long term.’
But while a united North is vital, with the cities working together to develop a robust regional economy, each city also needs to establish its own unique position in the market.
This key piece of the puzzle is unlikely to be a priority for central government, so northern cities will need to create their own identity and cultural legacy, engaging the business community and unlocking the economic potential – estimated at over £1 billion.
If we are serious as a nation about investing in the North, it is essential to agree that connectivity is needed to deliver the economic plan – the cities need to connect and collaborate with each other both physically, economically and culturally in order to comprise a true Northern Powerhouse, with a dynamic infrastructure existing alongside the development of culture, science and skills.
atkins gensler leeds station 2
In the key northern cities of Leeds, York and Manchester, Gensler, along with other architects, designers and engineers, is working to address these questions. We’ve seen first-hand that when foreign investors look to the Northern Powerhouse, they are not only interested in investing in a city with genuine potential to grow, but also in cities that embrace the essential elements of a vibrant community: connected, resilient, inspiring and healthy. Social and transport connectivity need to be of equal standing in a city’s infrastructural agenda, producing buoyant cities that are inspiring and healthy for all.
Leeds City Council has been focused on a blueprint for the future of its station transforming it into a ‘world class gateway’ at the very heart of the Northern Powerhouse, which will boost regional connectivity, create an integrated transport hub and maximise the benefits of HS2 in the city.
Gensler’s work as the primary architect on the Leeds Station Masterplan demonstrates how infrastructure can also fuse historic identity with a future vision to create unique and dynamic places. Tapping into the station’s Victorian heritage, we are incorporating features such as the original brick arches into a 21st-century design and including the river that runs through the city into our masterplan. Traditionally the railway cut the city into two with a thriving north – and a more dormant south. We plan to unite the two. Our ambition is that new businesses, retailers, restaurants and, of course, design and architecture practices will begin to populate the hitherto neglected south, bringing a new culture of creativity and energy to the city, particularly significant with Leeds’s bid for European Capital of Culture 2023 now well underway. So, the new railway station will unite both Leeds itself and the cities that comprise the Powerhouse, making journey times easier, collaboration more efficient and growth more likely.
For architects and architectural practices, there should be significant benefits. It is anticipated that the population of the city is set to double to 1.5 million, which will in itself lead to a demand for new housing, shops, hospitals and schools. We hope Leeds will source architects and designers from its own community, perhaps stemming the flow of graduates from the highly renowned Leeds School of Architecture who leave to work in London, itself now overly expensive and overcrowded for young architects at the start of their careers. We would also hope that more southern practices will see the potential of opening new regional offices in Leeds, bringing a new power and energy to this great northern city.
Hiro Aso is head of transport and infrastructure at Gensler