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Power up t’ North: Understanding the power of local government


On Monday, 33 newspapers in stands, coffee shops and the hands of commuters across the north of England all looked remarkably similar. They all carried the same headline: Power up the North.

This has been a saga ever since George Osbourne introduced the Northern Powerhouse in 2014. The north has since called for further devolution, greater funding and transport investment, with initiatives such as HS2 and HS3 having been touted. Whilst Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse vision is yet to be fully realised, it did start a long overdue national conversation about the imbalances between the south east and the rest of the country, inspiring features like the Guardian’s recent ‘London Versus…’ series.

Although the Northern Powerhouse covers a whole range of policy areas, we are mostly interested in housing and planning and we will assess this movement on this basis.
The country has a housing crisis with London at its apex. This has seen the well-documented increase of renters in inner-London alongside the move of house-buyers into outer London boroughs and into the Home Counties. More people are moving to commuter belts, and more places are being consumed by the commuter belt. The lack of realistic house-buying options has also made people consider leaving the south east altogether.

Whilst this is obviously not a death-knell for housebuilding in the Capital, an increased demand in London’s surrounding region and beyond does create opportunities for more placemaking in the UK’s regions – just look at Basildon’s plans for its town centre – with more local authorities adopting sometimes radical strategies. Towns and cities in the south east don’t want to only be defined by their proximity to the capital, and with the debate around HS2 neither do some across the country – they want to grow and attract people and businesses as places in their own right. With that comes almost endless opportunity for willing private partners.

Genuine partnership demands knowledge of how councils outside London work. Businesses must navigate counties, districts, towns and parishes, unitary and combined authorities, and the differing political contexts of each region. This is where Cratus comes in: our world is local, with knowledge and unrivalled experience of local government. Get in touch if any of our teams can help you.