The Vinden Partnership’s managing director, Peter Vinden, examines how the Autumn Statement can affect the north of the country.
A lot can happen in a year, especially for an economy that is on the mend. As 2014 comes to a close, the Autumn Statement provides an opportunity to reflect on the year’s progress and assess the government’s goals for the election year.
This necessitates paying close attention to the construction industry, which has been hit hard by the recession. It was given a lifeline in the Spring Budget with new housing initiatives and a greater emphasis on training its dwindling workforce, but the full impact of these changes has yet to be seen.
Despite what could have been an underwhelming return to growth, construction has made steady progress, hampered only by some bad weather at the start of the year. With improved job prospects, more people are turning to construction for viable career paths, leaving us with the task of providing strong training programmes and employer incentives.
In terms of construction projects, HS2 was, in many ways, a diversionary preoccupation that diverted attention away from the critical improvements to local infrastructure, transportation, and regional planning. This could change with yesterday’s Autumn Statement, as the government shifts its focus to the north.
With a devolution deal for Manchester and promises of an inter-city transport network linking Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, and Liverpool, 2014 has already been a year of transformative change for the North West. Osborne has championed the ‘Northern Powerhouse,’ recognising that investing in major regional economies is necessary for the UK to thrive.
I’m hoping that the announcements in the Autumn Statement will help to kick this plan into high gear in 2015. This includes increased investment in local rails and roads to improve access for the growing number of commuters who live and work in the regions (there are a lot of us! ), as well as the “HS3” northern rail links progressing quickly and providing critical support to their communities as well as the collective North.
We have the opportunity to unify sectors and regions that have been neglected during the economic downturn through strategic planning that benefits everyone. Substantial urban regeneration in the Big Six UK cities is a critical component of the Northern Powerhouse and the return of construction to full health, bringing with it significant opportunities for national economic growth.
In addition to plans to address the housing shortage, it would be beneficial to see new initiatives for city living, such as the construction of homes that can be an asset to city centres. Promoting the many towns and cities that make this country so diverse and exciting should be high on the agenda, providing not only support to their communities but also strengthening our international appeal.
Though construction may have been slowed this year due to a few unforeseen factors, the scale of the Spring Budget’s ambitions should be commended and continued next year. Similarly, the current momentum enjoyed by the northern regions should be maintained in 2015, laying the groundwork for a well-rounded, prosperous nation.
While yesterday’s Autumn Statement reflected on this year’s successes, in reality, 2014 has seen a return to growth for construction, infrastructure, transportation, and regeneration, which is only getting started. We must now look forward to a future in which everything is on the line, paving the way for even more significant changes over the next twelve months.