1. Governance
June 17, 2016

If the government wants to build the Northern Powerhouse, it needs more and better maps

By Richard Blyth

“I like maps; I have them all over the office. I just don’t like sticking pins in them.”

The former planning minister Nick Boles – heavily paraphrased here, I should add – was responding to the view often expressed in some quarters that, if central government wants to see a lot more housing being built, it should get on and say where.

Yet in practice government does stick pins in maps.  In 2012, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) found that there are 95 government policies and programmes for England that have a map dimension, either explicitly or (often) implicitly.

The problem is, you can’t see these all in once place to see how they affect where you live – nor how they might combine with each other to generate quite strong cumulative effects.

Move on to 2016, and we are in the midst of fairly fresh government initiatives which do apply to particular parts of the country – the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine. The temptation is to see these ideas as simply about lines on maps – “HS3”, or a new road connection.

The RTPI and IPPR North think tank have got together to look at the broader matters which cooperation across the North of England could – and maybe should – involve. After a series of roundtables held in cities across the North in 2015 and a “Summit” in Leeds with over 100 people, we’ve drawn up a blueprint “Great North Plan”, which does two things:

  1. It sets out the key resources of the North ( in – yes – maps );
  2. It calls on central and local government, business and civil society to lead and participate .

This is not a top down ivory tower production which would trespass on the role of localities and their own planning, but a call to be involved in a clear and inclusive process to address challenge of the wider issues of economy, the environment, and the population across the North. It would comprise

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  • A vision;
  • An investment prospectus;
  • A clutch of sector strategies;
  • And programme for action.

The blueprint was launched in Leeds at an event courtesy of KPMG on 17 June. Here are some of the maps it contains. (You can click to expand them.)

So, anyone reading this who likes maps and is already personally invested in the North in government, business or the voluntary sector? Perhaps you’d like to get stuck in.

Richard Blyth is head of policy at the Royal Town Planning Institute.


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