17th Feb 2016
Westminster Social Policy Review Paper
Westminster Social Policy Forum Keynote Seminar:
Developing regional powerhouses in England - Infrastructure, skills and economic growth
Thursday 14th January 2016
Short Article – Dr Geoffrey Purves, Chairman, Northumberland & Newcastle Society
I was pleased to attend this seminar on behalf of a north east amenity society which examines and comments on many aspects of the environment, rural economy and a very diverse natural environment and cultural heritage. By probing and questioning government policy in the region we seek to influence and develop our quality of life which is underpinned by our administrative structures, good employment opportunities and the development of economic resources. Hence we support the development of a concept of developing regional powerhouses in England.
However, an essential component of these policies must be that regional characteristics are reflected in government policy. The geographical characteristics, scale of the landscape, population patterns and diversity of economic activity are probably more varied and complex in Northumberland and the Tyneside conurbation than in some other parts of the country. Areas of Northumberland are very sparsely populated and areas of Durham and south east Northumberland have seen many earlier efforts to regenerate economic activity with varying success.
Questions were raised from the floor of the seminar asking if the special qualities of the north east, its rural economy and cultural assets were to be recognised in the consultation processes, of which this seminar is a part in the development of government policy. It is recognised that the primary driving factors will necessarily be building the appropriate administrative structures, moving more power to the region as well as adding additional economic resources, will be central for these ideas to be successful.
We believe that organisations such as the Northumberland & Newcastle Society can contribute to this debate. For example, it was noted by others during the seminar that planning departments are under resourced and that the planning system is based on a ‘rules philosophy’. Professor Tony Travers noted that lightening the load of planning, more like American cities, could lead to more flexible and imaginative solutions.
We would also argue that the qualities of life, a sense of wellness, as well as economic well-being, are all psychological and qualitative factors which can lead to economic advantages and greatly add to the attractiveness of a region. The government should be encouraged to include these factors to the more quantitate issues which formed the core of today’s seminar.
An example of the work the Northumberland & Newcastle Society is currently engaged with is its debate with Northumberland County Council planning department. We are working with them on formulating the next stages and details of the Core Strategy paperwork as regards renewables. In October 2014 we organised a discussion about windfarms in Northumberland with various cross bench Lords highlighting our concerns about the proliferation of wind turbines, culminating in a debate in the House of Lords, with an assurance by the government’s minister that the issues raised would be brought to the attention of the appropriate departments. Whilst looking at the renewables section of the core Policy we have worked closely with the local North East Council for the Protection of Rural England (NE CPRE) representatives giving strength to our comments. We have met with Northumberland County Council policy makers (both elected members and officers) and established a good relationship engaging professionals to look at some aspects of the Core strategy that required in depth knowledge. As a result of our work Northumberland County Council said in 2015:
‘We do value and appreciate the input the Northumberland and Newcastle Society have provided to the emerging Core Strategy and we have made amendments to reflect some of your concerns.’
Whilst the Core strategy is in its final stages of completion we are continuing to monitor the Northumberland County Council progress and developments as regards renewables.
In conclusion the Northumberland & Newcastle Society welcomes this opportunity to contribute to the wider debate and to underpin heritage and cultural values within the core economic regeneration of the Northern Powerhouse concept.
Geoffrey Purves, Chairman, Northumberland & Newcastle Society
20 January 2016