Professor Alan Harding is Director of the Heseltine Institute for Public Policy and Practice
“I watched the second part of Evan Davis’ ‘Mind the Gap’ series last night after travelling back to Liverpool from a day in London. The BBC economist is in awe of our national capital. He spent much of his first programme last week marvelling at its magic, none of which was ever planned, he told us.
“The glory that is London is simply the natural result of smart, creative people flocking to a place that is overflowing with opportunity, sparking off one another in radically unpredictable ways and producing a modern, high productivity form of alchemy.
“It is not much of a consolation to any of them that Crossrail, the rail tunnel under the capital for which the taxpayer is stumping up £5b, will come on stream in three years’ time in an attempt to lower the daily price for the city’s success, because by that time the megaprojects that are emerging in Kings Cross, Old Street, the Elephant and Castle, Stratford and a variety of other capital places will have swelled their numbers by tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands.
“Davis’ second programme was nominally about ‘the rest’ of non-London England.
“It told us what we already know: that, to the extent that there is any prospect of a serious counterweight to London, it is to be found in the area of northern England that starts where we spend our working days and continues, through northern Cheshire and Greater Manchester, over to Leeds and Sheffield.
“The challenge, of course, is to harness the potential of this diffuse northern metropolis in an era in which the clamour to feed the London beast seemingly leaves little time or resources for any other national priorities.
“What Davis did not point out is that we have slowly redesigned our institutions of government and our major policy frameworks so that they respond to the pressures of growth in southern England and rarely see what happens beyond. We have a national policy regime that not only does not mind the gap, it extends it. At a time when London is groaning under the weight of its own success and parts of its vast commuter hinterland is in danger of returning to the sea, the long-term sustainability of a strategy built on the idea that the London effect will eventually refresh all the parts of England it has not yet reached is questioned by everyone other than Boris Johnson.
“The challenge for those of us who care about the North is to give the alternative narrative that Evan Davis struggled to articulate some real substance and to help make that potential counterweight real.”