There is no doubt that a new sense of confidence has taken hold in the North West. The narrative of the region has evolved dramatically over the past two decades, from one of regeneration and recovery to one of growth, independence and ambition. The rise of the Northern Powerhouse movement is emblematic of this.
As part of our recently published North West Ambitions report, we took a closer look at areas that will be central to the region becoming a true economic powerhouse and the actions that are needed to make this a reality.
Infrastructure is just one theme explored within the report. With projects such as HS2 and HS3 commanding the headlines, it has been a dominant discussion point in the Northern Powerhouse debate for the past two years. Infrastructure will inevitably play a key role in the future growth of the North West. However, HS2 is years away from providing meaningful impact. In the meantime, and possibly of greater significance in any event, considerable sums of private sector investment are already being ploughed into the North’s infrastructure – Liverpool2, Peel Ports’ new deep-water terminal is nearing completion.
Liverpool2 forms part of the Superport initiative, a group of logistics assets located across the Port of Liverpool’s hinterland, including Stobart’s multi-modal gateway (3MG) in Halton, the Manchester Ship Canal and a range of business and distribution parks such as Miller Developments’ 575-acre Omega Warrington. As such it represents investment in the region’s infrastructure on a scale that is unprecedented in the context of the last few decades.
In contrast, there is an inherent imbalance in UK public infrastructure spending and according to analysis carried out by the think tank IPPR North, spend per head on infrastructure improvements in the North West is around a tenth of that in London and the South East. It’s this context that helps to define why the huge private-sector investments that are part of the Superport initiative, such as Liverpool2, are so important for the region in the long term.
By using the combined weight of these assets to create a shift in the UK’s distribution supply chain, there is a chance to establish the North West as the key cluster for distribution activity from Birmingham northwards. By increasing the capacity of the Port of Liverpool, Liverpool2 is enabling seismic structural change on a scale we have never seen before. Distribution not only enables goods to reach their markets in the UK, but also products manufactured here in the UK to find their markets elsewhere. The new Liverpool2 terminal, is a major opportunity to attract more manufacturing to the North West, with the job and wealth creation that comes with that.
This is a huge selling point for the North West, and presents an immediate opportunity that must be capitalised upon. However, it won’t sell itself. We need developers and landholders from across the public and private sectors to create the space and oven-ready development sites that are needed now.
So far the pace of progress isn’t adequate. The supply of high quality industrial and distribution space in the region is chronically low and, according to statistics from property consultants Savills, we’re lagging behind the Midlands and the South East in terms of speculative development. There’s a genuine risk that other regions could steal a march on the North West in capitalising on the growth opportunity offered by Liverpool2.
To ensure the North West is not left behind, businesses and policyholders must react now to the opportunities Liverpool2 is creating. The potential to create a significant shift in UK distribution activity must be seized with policies and development that attract more investment to the region. A key part of this will be increasing the visibility of Liverpool2 and Superport in the Northern Powerhouse campaign on a national level.
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