Come back John Prescott, all is forgiven! You probably never thought you’d hear such a plea
But whatever your view of the former deputy prime minister, under the previous regime the North of England had its very own regeneration champion at the Cabinet table. If New Labour’s construction policy was marked by the creation of sustainable communities, regional devolution and a much needed shot in the arm for the nation’s cities - then the coalition’s austerity measures have put the country’s gear stick firmly into reverse in these areas. Just think back a few years to a time when the likes of Will Alsop could afford to put forward audacious proposals to reinvent Barnsley as a Tuscan town.
Infrastructure expenditure will dominate over the next decade, with the lion’s share of it channelled into London and the South-east
Well, those days are truly over. The data presented on page 45 reveals a deeply depressing picture of the current divide in workload between the North and the South. And you’ve only got to read the account of Tim Walker, managing director of Wildgoose Construction (page 44), to bring these statistics to life and fully understand the battle for survival facing contractors in northern England. So has the coalition government forgotten about the North?
Well, should you take a glance at its social housing diktats then you could be forgiven for thinking that fairness was not the top priority behind government policy. Cutting grants to social landlords on the basis they’re allowed to charge more rent means development outside of high-rent areas - London and the South - is unlikely to be viable. And doing so while replacing £7bn of regeneration funding from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and the regional development agencies with a £1.4bn regional growth fund means they will be hit harder.
So far the great hope of the regeneration sector - local economic partnerships - looks rather disappointing as far as the construction industry is concerned; largely focused around job growth, not development, and without funding.
And then there is PFI - once trumpeted for bringing parity across the land, it is being put on the back burner while other funding options are considered. George Osborne is either suspicious of PFI’s inflexibility or the financial sleights of hand on the part of some interested parties. This week the HCA cut funding for £1.9bn of PFI projects to build 5,000 homes across 13 councils - perhaps another nail in the coffin for the funding mechanism that fuelled a generation of projects.
Stand back and it is clear that it will be major infrastructure expenditure that will dominate development over the next decade, with the lion’s share of it channelled into London and the South-east. Crossrail, the Olympic regeneration areas, Thameslink, commercial office demand and the tube upgrade all point to where the government’s priorities lie.
Depending on where you are in the country, of course, will probably determine how you feel about this. But if the impact of such a policy is to create a divided nation and an unbalanced economy, it’s not going to be good for anyone, anywhere.
Tom Broughton, brand director