Blogs - 14 November 2014

David Ralph – The Future of… East Midlands 2050

Over the recent half-term break, I read the Foresight report “The Future of Rail 2050” compiled by Arup which I picked up at the East Midlands Rail Summit a couple of weeks ago.

The report concludes “the future of rail appears to be a bright one, rising demand for passenger and freight capacity along with global concern about climate change, is leading to something of a rail renaissance globally.”

Also in the news recently, the UN Commission reiterated, as it seems to do every few years, the call for the abandonment of fossil fuels – by 2100 in response to man made climate change and the US and China have signed a shared endeavour to reduce carbon.

All very laudable but my fear is that with dates such as 2050 and 2100, we are perhaps pushing responsibility to others, rather than action ourselves.

I have been very clear that the immediate priorities for LEPs are quite short term – a response to the economic slowdown. A 10 year strategy with clear intermediate goals to instil business confidence and growth, drive infrastructure forward, promote investment, create jobs and facilitate a step change in skills.

Post Scotland referendum, we are also seeing a coordinated call for devolvement of powers and funding to local areas. Decentralisation- ‘whatever happened to localism?’ – is the current mantra although the devil is really in the detail.

Some argue for an English Parliament, some for reallocation to city-regions, some for additional powers to local authorities and all in the context of ‘Power to the People’ – something I would probably argue is not delivered by any of the above.

Whilst I am an absolute decentralist and advocate for regions (based on feasible economic geographies) I am concerned that we spend more time and energy talking about structures and should keep our focus on delivering growth.

Many of the old bottom drawer schemes are resurfacing through the LEP Growth Deals but perhaps strategically the UK and the East Midlands should have a plan for 2050:

  • HS2: Yes; 
  • Further Trent Crossing: Yes; 
  • Regional Airport growth: Yes
  • Additional M1 Access? : Yes
  •  Smart Cities? : Yes 
  • More Affordable Housing? : Yes

Perhaps the key question for both decentralisation and growth is not the ideology of devolved powers but what we would actually do with those powers – perhaps we need to be clearer on the what through a long term plan for the East Midlands rather than the jump immediately to the how.

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