Think-tank: ‘Forget regenerating the north – only build homes in the south’
Tory leader David Cameron is today beginning a two-day visit to the north west of England as a leading conservative think tank said northern cities such as Liverpool are beyond revival and their residents should move to London and the south east.
The Tories distanced themselves from the analysis by Policy Exchange, which said a mass internal migration was the only answer to a decade of failed efforts to concentrate regeneration cash on other parts of the country.
All of the three million new homes planned by the Government should be shared equally between the capital city, Oxford and Cambridge, it concluded in a radical report published today.
And money currently being pumped into renewal projects and back-to-work schemes should instead be given directly to councils according to local wage levels to spend on regeneration measures.
In conclusions the authors conceded might be viewed as ‘barmy’, they said coastal cities like Liverpool and Sunderland had ‘lost much of their raison d’etre’ with the decline of shipping and had ‘little prospect of offering their residents the standard of living to which they aspire’.
It was time to be ‘realistic about the ability of cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle to regenerate struggling nearby towns such as Liverpool, Bradford and Sunderland.
‘No one is suggesting that residents should be forced to move, but we do argue that they should be told the reality of the position: regeneration, in the sense of convergence, will not happen, because it is not possible,’ it concluded.
Mr Cameron is spending two days visiting Tory target seats in the north west, including several around Liverpool.
And Conservative frontbencher Chris Grayling, shadow minister for Liverpool, said the report did ‘not reflect’ party policy and that the Tories did not agree with the conclusions.
‘We wholeheartedly support the regeneration of northern cities,’ he added.
The report’s authors said restrictions on house-building in the south east should be lifted to lower house prices and stop people on low incomes being ‘trapped’ in less prosperous parts of the country.
Land earmarked for industrial use should be released for housing, it said, suggesting that adding a minute’s journey time to the edge of London’s suburbs would make room for a million more people.
And the resulting price increase for industrial land would force some firms to relocate to cheaper areas, meaning more jobs for people in struggling towns and cities.
The university cities of Oxford and Cambridge were well placed to become the economic power-houses of the 21st century, it argued, like the industrial north more than a century ago.
The authors included Tim Leunig, a lecturer in economic history at the London School of Economics. who said: ‘No doubt some people will claim that these proposals are unworkable, unreasonable and perhaps plain barmy.
‘But the issue is clear: current regeneration policies are failing the very people they are supposed to be helping and there is no evidence that the trend will be reversed without radical changes. Internal migration has always been an important part of a dynamic economy.’
But Peter Kilfoyle, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, said the report ‘is bizarre, it is unrealistic, and it is untrue’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The reality of today is that the regeneration of cities – and I can only speak for Liverpool – but it’s certainly improving by leaps and bounds.
‘A dry statistical analysis does show that we are behind the south of England but what it also shows is that we are improving almost on a daily basis.’
He said there was a good record of private firms ploughing money into places like his own constituency, adding: ‘The whole thing is riddled with errors. It goes on about Liverpool being a coastal port and that it was in decline.
‘Well, I have to tell the authors it may be in decline compared to the figures they produce for Dover and Felixstowe, it’s not in decline compared to it’s own record – it puts a bigger tonnage out, and is more profitable now than it has ever been.’
The Government also rejected the report’s arguments.
A spokesperson for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: ‘We totally disagree with the conclusions of this report.
‘No Government has done more to turn around decades of neglect, and since 1997 cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle have benefited from thousands of new jobs, lower crime rates and better living standards thanks to our sustained commitment to regeneration, and investment in public services.
‘It’s alarming that this ‘think tank’ is labelling our great cities as ‘beyond revival’ and arguing that we should target less effort on them, when those areas that have received regeneration funding have shown the greatest improvements.’
Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, said her city was a shining example of regeneration.
‘This report from David Cameron’s favourite think tank has just dismissed a huge area of the country as worthless,’ she said.
‘Is it any wonder there are no Tory councillors in Liverpool when for all their warm words they have not changed a bit?
‘Liverpool is an excellent example of a city regenerating fast – with unemployment halved and increasing inward investment in the year we celebrate being European capital of culture, we should be talking up our city not doing it down.’
John Battle, Labour MP for Leeds West, invited the report’s authors to visit his city.
Mr Battle said: ‘Instead of dreaming up ideas in London, David Cameron’s ignorant chums at Policy Exchange should let me show them round Leeds – the city with the fastest growing economy in the country.
‘Instead they have just reverted to type by dismissing millions of hard-working people in the North.
‘The Tories have very few friends in the North as it is and this is hardly likely to endear them to many more.’
Ms Ellman added: ‘This is a council of despair and ignorance, harking back to the Tory days of Margaret Thatcher when Norman Lamont told people in the north to pack their bags and leave.
‘We have made vast improvements since then and the Policy Exchange would do better to recognise success rather than to send people down to the overcrowded South East.
‘I hope David Cameron distances himself from this report otherwise he will find himself aligned to the worst excesses of Thatcher.’