New lease of life

Manchester and Liverpool are undergoing massive transformations as regeneration projects take off across the North West region. Karl Jackson reports.

The North West is benefiting from a flurry of regeneration work, marked by such notable projects as the Liverpool Arena and Convention Centre in the city’s King’s Dock. This trend is sure to develop following the publication of a regional economic strategy (RES), which sets out the economic direction for the region, while four Pathfinder Housing Market Renewal Areas also fall within the region.

The background
It is 10 years since the IRA bomb in the centre of Manchester, now seen as a catalyst for change in the city centre. Much has happened in that decade and Manchester’s city centre is almost unrecognisable, with new developments of homes, shops and offices.

But the revival of the North West was already happening as an inevitable consequence of the decline in heavy industry and a refocus on manufacturing outlets. The changing industrial landscape left the region with a quarter of the entire country’s derelict land – around 8,428 hectares. And yet 80 per cent of the North West is rural and sparsely populated, creating different sorts of problems.

Of England’s nine Pathfinder Housing Market Renewal Areas, four are in the North West – Manchester and Salford, Merseyside, Oldham and Rochdale, and East Lancashire. Regeneration plans are addressing the problems of the housing market in these areas of low demand, which include the abandonment of current housing stock.

Public sector funding is flowing into the region through central government, local authorities and a series of different regeneration agencies. These funds are being matched with investment by private developers and, in the past 15 years, Manchester has been transformed.

A particular boost for Manchester was clinching the Commonwealth Games in 2002, setting off a chain of regeneration projects in the east of the city. A similar transformation is underway in Liverpool as it prepares for 2008 and its launch as the European Capital of Culture. This is on top of major regeneration efforts since the Merseyside region acquired European Objective One status in 1994. This year the second – and last – round of Objective One funding officially comes to an end, although projects have another two years to draw down allocated funds.

The region qualified for Objective One by falling into the bracket of one of the poorest regions within an EU member state, with an average gross domestic product of less than 75 per cent of the EU average. It has now climbed out of that bracket and the challenge for Merseyside is to continue the upward trend without the European support. With investors such as Grosvenor creating a new landmark shopping centre, A1, in Liverpool’s Paradise Street, and with the King’s Dock conference centre, retail and leisure development well underway, the mood is confident. Unemployment has plummeted and Objective One statistics show that 37,000 jobs have been created in the past six years.

A key target is to provide the skilled workforce from the local population to take advantage of the increasing job opportunities – and maintain the momentum.

Sustainability is the number one regeneration buzzword. The success of King’s Dock will be judged not just on the quality of the buildings and the roads, but on the income generated after the developers, funders, planners and lawyers have packed up and left the site.

The future direction
The future economic direction for the North West is spelled out in the RES, covering the next 20 years and, in particular, the years up to 2009.

King’s Dock hits the spot in terms of the RES by developing high-quality employment sites and premises, securing new uses for brownfield land and creating high-quality and diverse housing stock. Other aims include improving and better managing the region’s road and rail infrastructure and developing the airports and ports.

In particular, the strategy lays out its priorities for the region, which will be a useful guide for all those involved in planning and delivering projects – and also in providing legal and other professional services.

The three major drivers behind the RES are to improve productivity and grow the market; to grow the size and capability of the workforce in the region; and to achieve sustainable growth.

The strategy calls for improved motorways and road access to Liverpool; the growth of Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool airports and the ports of Liverpool and Heysham; development of phase three of Manchester’s Metrolink; effective mass transit for Liverpool; implementation of the economic plans for East Lancashire and West Cumbria; and implementation of the master plans for Blackpool and Barrow.

This strategy has yet to be endorsed by the Government, but it gives us a close view of how public regeneration policy will be taken forward. This strategy, produced by the North West Development Agency (NWDA) and combined with the NWDA’s Corporate Plan 2005-08, is essential reading to anyone who wants to understand how the region’s regeneration policy will deliver sustainable growth to reduce the economic gap which even now still exists with the rest of England.

The North West also falls within the ambit of ‘The Northern Way’, which is a collaboration between the NWDA, Yorkshire Forward and One North East. The Northern Way Business Plan 2005-08 also aims to close the £30bn economic divide between the North and the rest of England, and it too sets out a 20-year programme to increase economic development and regeneration.

The RES, the NWDA Corporate Plan and The Northern Way Business Plan together provide the way forward for a successful economy in the region.

The North West needs to continue to attract private investment; I believe it can do this through strong public sector leadership (as seen in Manchester) and creative partnerships with funders and developers.

Liverpudlians face the biggest opportunities presented to the city in a long while. With its 700th birthday next year and its status as European Capital of Culture in 2008 rounding off 10 years of Objective One support, the city’s civic and business leaders cannot afford to get it wrong.

From the private sector there is a need for patience, plus a recognition that it has an important role to play in bringing forward the vision of the region’s strategists.

Karl Jackson is head of real estate at Mace & Jones