“Inclusive investment is the foundation of a global city region”

Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram on the day of his victory in 2017. Image: Getty.

The Labour mayor of the Liverpool City region on its £500m new Strategic Investment Fund.

Devolution can be a complex topic. But at its root is a concept that could not be simpler – that the people who live in a place are best placed to make decisions about it.

Whilst the pace of devolution has arguably slowed of late, those decisions are increasingly about how we spend our money. And as we enter an uncertain, post-Brexit world, devolution gives us the opportunity to decide to use our resources in ways that benefit and protect our residents and communities.

That is why I am announcing a £500m fund to help transform the city region’s economy, creating high-quality jobs and boosting living standards for local people in the Liverpool City Region.

The new Strategic Investment Fund will feature a new approach to how our Combined Authority funds projects, which recognises the importance of building resilient communities, and puts the creation of social value at the heart of what we do. Some £100m will be available in the first year of the fund, rising to £500m over four years.


Our key purpose as a Combined Authority is to improve our residents’ lives, by creating the right ecosystems for our economy to thrive, while ensuring that growth benefits everyone through well paid local jobs and increased living standards.

Through the Strategic Investment Fund we will have £500m available to support projects in areas such transport infrastructure, economic development, skills, culture and housing.

Devolution gives us the opportunity to do things differently – and one of the ways we will do that is by making clear to applicants that they will have a better chance of success if their bids demonstrate positive social impact.

So, for example, we will consider their bid more favourably if they pay the living wage, refuse to use zero hour contracts, create apprenticeships and use local supply chains and labour to deliver their projects.

We are determined to ensure that, in an uncertain, post-Brexit world, this funding delivers the maximum possible benefit to the people of the Liverpool City Region.

As a Combined Authority we have already identified projects which can receive support from the fund, including:

  • Ultra-fast broadband for every borough, delivered by building a fibre superspine, that will connect all six of our constituent districts, and see digital exchanges created throughout the city region;
  •  A new smart ticketing system as part of our move towards a truly integrated public transport system; 
  • Help for our high streets, through a £5m Town Centre Fund that will help regenerate towns throughout our city region;
  • And a new generation of Mersey Ferries.

We know the difference that we can make as a Combined Authority from projects supported even before the adoption of this new approach.

Through our previous Single Investment Fund we have allocated £400m for investments across the city region, money which has enabled us to leverage in another £500m of additional investments.

We know that this investment will support around £1.7bn of economic activity, and directly create 9000 jobs and 5,500 apprenticeships, through supporting a wide range of projects, including:

  • £19m for the Newton-le-Willows interchange;
  • £13m for a new station at Maghull North;
  • £20m for a new Cruise Liner Terminal;
  • £2.5m for Blackburne House in Liverpool 8, one of the country’s leading educational centres for women;
  • £3.4 million for Alstom for a state-of-the-art train maintenance and repair facility, creating hundreds of local jobs and apprenticeships;
  • £30m for 40 skills projects in local colleges;
  • £12m for Paddington Village in the Knowledge Quarter;
  • £14million from its Single Investment Fund for the Shakespeare North Playhouse and a Rail Interchange project in Prescot.

In addition to making additional funding available, the new Strategic Investment Fund recognises the need to improve our capacity to develop high-impact investment-ready projects. So we will provide pre-development funding to help expand and improve the pipeline of projects, by providing support to prospective applicants to help analyse markets, identify opportunities and develop projects.

At the last election, Labour’s manifesto committed to a National Transformation Fund, which would increase levels of public investment in much needed infrastructure, R&D and job training.

I believe what we are creating here today is a city region version of that – our own local transformation fund.

It not only shows only the public that devolution and having a metro mayor is delivering significant benefits to our region; but also the difference that Labour in power can make.

Steve Rotheram is Labour mayor of the Liverpool City Region.

 
 
 
 

So why is Peterborough growing so quickly?

Peterborough Cathedral. Image: Jules & Jenny/Flickr/creative commons.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.  

The 2001 census put the population of Peterborough at 156,000. Some time before next spring, it’s projected to pass 200,000. That, for those keeping score, is an increase of about 28 per cent. Whether this makes it the fastest growing city in Britain or merely the second or the fourth – the vagueness of Britain’s boundaries means that different reports reach different conclusions – doesn’t really matter. This is a staggering rate of growth.

Oh, and since austerity kicked in, the city council has had its grant from central government cut by 80 percent.

Expansion on this scale and at this rate is the sort of thing that’d have a lot of councils in our NIMBY-ish political culture breaking out in hives; that seems to go double for Tory-run ones in Leave-voting areas. This lot, though, seem to be thriving on it. “I think the opportunity in Peterborough is fantastic,” says Dave Anderson, the city’s interim planning director. “We’re looking at growing to 235,000 by the mid-2030s.”

More striking still is that the Conservative council leader John Holdich agrees. “I’m a believer in ‘WIMBY’: what in my back yard?” he says. He’s responsible, he says, not just to his electorate, but “to our future kids, and grandkids” too – plus, at that rate of growth, a lot of incomers, too.

All this raises two questions. Why is Peterborough growing so quickly? And what can it do to prepare itself?

If you’re a little uncertain exactly where Peterborough is, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Until 1889, the “Soke of Peterborough” was an unlikely east-ward extrusion from Northamptonshire, far to its south west. Then it was a county in its own right; then part of the now-defunct Huntingdonshire. Today it’s in Cambridgeshire, with which it shares a metro mayor, the Conservative James Palmer. When I ask Holdich, who’s giving me a whistlestop tour of the city’s cathedral quarter, to explain all this, he just shrugs. “They keep moving us about.”

Sitting on the edge of the Fens, Peterborough is, officially, a part of the East of England region; but it’s just up the road from East Midlands cities including Leicester and Nottingham. I’d mentally pigeonholed it as a London-commuter town, albeit a far flung one; but when I actually looked it up, I was surprised to discover it was closer to Birmingham (70 miles) than London (75), and halfway up to Hull (81).


The more flattering interpretation of all this is that it’s on a bit of a crossroads: between capital and north, East Anglia and the Midlands. On the road network, that’s literally true – it’s where the A1 meets the A47, the main east-west road at this latitude – and railway lines extend in all directions, too.

All of which makes Peterborough a pretty nifty place to be if you’re, say, a large logistics firm.

This has clearly contributed to the city’s growth. “It has access to lots of land and cheaper labour than anywhere else in the Greater South East,” says Paul Swinney, director of policy at the Centre for Cities. “Those attributes appeal to land hungry, low-skilled business as opposed to higher-skilled more knowledge-based ones.”

That alone would point to a similar economy to a lot of northern cities – but there’s another thing driving Peterborough’s development. Despite being 70 miles from the capital, the East Coast Main Line means it’s well under an hour away by train.

In 1967, what’s more, the ancient cathedral city was designated a new town, to house London’s overspill population. The development corporation which owned the land and built the new town upon it, evolved into a development agency; today the same role is played by bodies like Opportunity Peterborough and the Peterborough Investment Partnership.

The city also offers relatively cheap housing: you can get a four-bed family home for not much over £200,000. That’s fuelled growth further as London-based workers scratch around for the increasingly tiny pool of places that are both commutable and affordable.

The housing affordability ratio shows average house prices as a multiple of average incomes. Peterborough is notably more affordable than Cambridge, London and the national average. Image: Centre for Cities data tool.

It’s made it attractive to service businesses, too. “London has probably played quite a big role in the city’s development,” says Swinney. “If you don’t want to move too far out, it’s probably one of the cheapest places to move to.”

The result of all this is that it has an unusually mixed economy. There’s light industry and logistics, in the office and warehouse parks that line the dual-carriageways (“parkways”) of the city. But there are also financial services and digital media companies moving in, bringing better paying jobs. In a country where most city economies are built on either high value services or land-hungry warehousing businesses, Peterborough has somehow managed to create a mixed economy.

Peterborough’s industrial profile: more services and less manufacturing, and more private and fewer public sector jobs, than the national average. Image: Centre for Cities.

At the moment, if people think of Peterborough at all, they’re likely to imagine a large town, rather than the fair-size regional city it’s on course to become. Its glorious 12th century cathedral – the hallmark of an ancient city, and at 44m still by far the highest spot on the horizon for miles around – is stunning. But it’s barely known to outsiders, and at least twice on my tour, the council’s communications officer proudly announces that the Telegraph named her patch as one of the best towns to live in within an hour of London, before adding, “even though we’re a city”. 

So part of the council’s current mission is to ensure that Peterborough has all the amenities people would expect from a settlement on this scale. “What the city needs to do is to adopt the mind-set of a slightly larger city,” says Anderson. Slightly smaller Swansea is developing a new music arena, of the sort Peterborough doesn’t have and needs. He frets, too, about retail spend “leaking” to Cambridge or Leicester. “Retail is now seen as a leisure activity: in the core of the city it’s important that offer is there.”

To that end, the early 1980s Queensgate shopping centre is being redeveloped, with John Lewis giving up a chunk of space to provide a new city centre cinema. (At present, the area only has road-side suburban multiplexes.) There’s major office, retail and housing development underway at North Westgate, as well as work to improve the walking route between the station and the commercial centre, in a similar manner to Coventry.

Fletton Quays. Image: Peterborough Investment Partnership.

Then there’s the city’s underused riverside. The council recently moved to new digs, in Fletton Quays, on the far bank of the River Nene from the centre. Across the river from the Embankment, the city centre’s largest green space, it’s a pretty lovely spot, of the sort where one might expect riverside pubs or restaurants with outdoor seating – but at the moment the space is largely empty. The Fletton Quays development will change all that, bringing more retail space and yes, new homes, too.

Jobs in Peterborough are unusually distributed around town: in many cities, most jobs are in the central business district. Image: Centre for Cities.

The big thing everyone agrees is missing, though, is a university. It already has the University Centre Peterborough, where degrees are provided by Anglia Ruskin University. The plan is for the site – a joint venture between ARU and Peterborough Regional College – to go its own way as an independent institution, the University of Peterborough, in autumn 2022. That should help provide the skills that the city needs to grow. A growing student population should also bring life and cash to the city centre. 

How big could Peterborough get? Could its enviable combination of good location and cheap housing and grand ambitions combine to make it the modern equivalent of Manchester or Liverpool – one of the great cities of the 21st century?

Well, probably not: “I think the optimum size for a city is probably about 250,000,” says Holdich. But that’s still a whole quarter bigger than now, and the council leader even discusses the possibility of refitting his dual-carriageway-based-city with some kind of light rail network to service that growing population. Peterborough’s not done growing yet.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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