Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Liverpool is wasting its time and money on regeneration - Policy Exchange report

Policy Exchange Think-Tank advocates mass internal migration towards the South-East and away from northern cities like Liverpool and Manchester.

This story has caused big ripples right round the country today.

As well as being the front page story in the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo tonight, it has been all over the Financial Times, the BBC, The Guardian, and countless other news outlets

I have also had a phone call from my Mum in Stockton on Tees and my Dad in Cornwall who have both also picked up the story.

So, what does it all mean and what do I make of it?

The report suggests, essentially, that the efforts to regenerate northern cities are doomed because they can never catch up with the south-east and the writer, Dr Tim Leunig, suggests that we should instead concentrate on building 3 million new homes in London, Oxford and Cambridge and encourage northern residents to move there.

He says of Liverpool in particular that without the docks, the one-time vital part of our economy, and because we are in an isolated position on the north-west coast, at the end of the motorway, the end of the railway line and facing America instead of Europe, we can never aspire to catch up with the rich south-east.

The report has been attacked vociferously on all sides, by everyone, by every commentator and particularly by the Tory leader who must wish that his favourite think-tank had taken a long holiday in foreign parts this summer instead of publishing this report.

It has been described as insane, barmy, tosh and rubbish.

I think his conclusions are deeply flawed and patronising and lack any understanding of the advances made in the north. He says for instance that the money spent on regeneration in Liverpool would have been better spent by giving residents a plasma TV. First of all this is patronising and snobbish. Plasma TVs are seen as something that pacifies the masses, no self-respecting middle-class Oxford dweller would dream of having a Plasma TV. He might as well as have said we could spend the money on greyhounds, beer and fags. He clearly thinks that Scousers have little aspiration or ambition.

His conclusion that we should encourage the motivated Scouser to do the Tebbit equivalent of getting on their bikes by moving to the dreaming spires cities for a better chance of wealth and a decent future, denies the advances that northern cities have made since 1997.

And it is typical of the mentality of the southerners, who believe that their end of the country is the best and that everything north of the proverbial Watford Gap is not worth visiting (Here lie monsters)- and Brian Sewell who believes that art is "too good for northerners"

My answer to the southern snobbery has tended towards thinking that it should be encouraged, that we dont want them coming to our cities and our art galleries and our wonderful buildings and seeing how well we are doing in the north. Don't tell them, then they wont come and it will be all the better for us, not having to associate with them.

But of course we do benefit from tourism so I have reluctantly accepted over the last five years that a certain amount of southerners ought to be encouraged to visit, if only so that we can get lots of tourism pounds out of them to help pay for our regeneration!

I note that Doctor Leunig didn't bother to visit before he wrote his report - which is typical of the behaviour I criticised above. He probably thinks we still have Ricky Tomlinson standing with a megaphone outside building sites, or John Prescott doing the same with the National Union of Seamen.

However, I do have to say that I do agree with the guy about one thing.

It is a very difficult task we face in Liverpool to regenerate, and to deny that, to suggest that it is easy and we are all doing very well thank you, is to seriously underestimate the size and scale of the problems we do face with regenerating this wonderful city.

It is absolutely true that we are at the end of the motorway network and that Liverpool consequently faces a battle to draw businesses towards us. It is true that we are at the end of the railway line too. I think of smaller cities - Hull and Carlisle for instance, also in the north, who are equally placed at the coast and who also suffer from not being "on the way to" anywhere else. If you come to Liverpool it is because you meant to, not because you were on the way to elsewhere and got off at the station for a cup of tea and realised what a great place it was.

We dismiss the extra challenges this bring at our peril.

I also accept that as a west-coast city we lose out to east and south-coast ports. The biggest port in the country is at Felixstowe in Suffolk. Some people may be surprised by that, but it is in the best position to take in cargo from all over Europe and Africa.

The port of Liverpool continues to develop and grow and is currently working on a deep-water dock to allow us to take in bigger cargo ships with larger numbers of containers on them but even then we will still be behind Felixstowe, Southampton and Immingham (Hull). (If this is wrong then please can you correct me but it is what I recall from a Port Health Authority trip to the Port of Liverpool).

The fact is that we started from a low base here in the north. Chris Grayling, the shadow minister for Liverpool (and the shadows are the best place for him in my view, ideally under a rock somewhere) has dared to say of the report that "I'm not allowed to say what I really think of it on a family website" but we northerners are fully aware that the problems in the North are mainly of his party's making. The Conservatives have always despised the North, much as Dr Leunig clearly does, and it was their William the Conqueror like slash and burn "harrying of the North" that created the problems in the first place. Maggie Thatcher was quite happy to lay waste to huge areas of the North, throwing people on the dole, closing pit villages down, shutting heavy manufacturing, ship-building, as punishment for returning Labour MPs.

It took a Labour Government in 1997, encouraged by the Faith in the City report of 1985 to put their money where their mouth was and develop massive regeneration policies across the urban landscape - and don't forget that Bishop David Sheppard of Liverpool was one of the authors.

Kensington Regeneration will have received £62million by the end of its ten year new-deal programme, entirely thanks to our Labour Government, but even a sum as big as that is not enough for an area containing only 6000 houses. The poverty is severe, the physical environment is poor, the job opportunities are few, public health is desparate, people die 10 years before their southern counterparts - things are slowly improving but we still have a very long way to go and the road will continue to be rocky.

It is absolutely true that regeneration is hard in Liverpool, that it is expensive, that we have a long way to go and that we started from a low base. I would concede all of those points.

But I do not agree with the premise that it is therefore a waste of money and that we should not try.

I won't bother to repeat the litany of all the regeneration that has already taken place in northern cities, and especially in Liverpool, or the fact that the Duke of Westminster believes that Liverpool is a city worth investing £900 million of his own pounds in.

Liverpool is regenerating, slowly, as are the other northern cities, and that is no thanks to the Tories or their right-wing think-tanks, or the southern elitists who appear to think we should turn all northern regions over to fallow grazing.

It is a hard fight but northern people are worth it, we deserve the best and it is the job of northern representatives to fight for our cities and our people and ensure that the North will rise again!


Jimmy P said...

Dr Tim Leunig is just one of the many nasty pieces of work that advise the conservative party on policies.
And while I'm thinking about these evil bastards, as for giving Thatcher a state funeral, I would just open one of the many coal pits she closed and throw her down one of the old lift shafts, before she's dead!

UK has no future! said...

Americans seek jobs and better lifestyles, in other parts of their country and this makes for an efficient and dynamic economy, but Britain is not the individualistic US. The divide and conquer stratagem of the ruling British elite has created a country of ghettos where identity is based on the wholly artificial construct of region and class. America is a democracy ruled by an elected leader, potentially from any state or class background whereas we are ruled by an upper class aristocrat from London and her peers, the Lords.

scouseboy said...

All this and dodgy Dave in the region today. I hope the people he meets (especially in the "public" meeting tonight in the Wirral,) tell him to stuff the report of his favourite think tank where the sun don't shine!!!!

scouseboy said...

In response to Jimmy P., I take a slightly different view on a Thatcher state funeral. I would hold a nationwide raffle,and funds raised going to help the needy, with the winner pouring a pint of diesel oil over her coffin and lighting a match, while a loudspeaker plays "ding dong the witch is dead" That would be the signal for nationwide street parties and much rejoicing !!!

Geoffrey Crayon said...

Seems Leunig is a LibDem.

Make of that what you will.