Challenging London – the Northern Supercity
As a recent newcomer to Yorkshire, I’m intrigued to learn that my current abode might one day be part of a Northern supercity. I first heard of this via Jim O’Neill, the ex-Goldman Sachs guy who spawned the ubiquitous acronym, ‘BRICS‘. Turns out he had an even worse term up his sleeve: ManSheffLeedsPool. His vision was to unite Leeds (my home), Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool to create a powerful new metropolis. A Fantastic Four of English cities, as it were. If realised, it would reportedly boost the Northern economy to the tune of £18 billion.
Charmless name aside, the idea of ManSheffLeedsPool is exciting. Since moving to the North (the South, really, since I used to live in Edinburgh), I’ve discovered how much it has to offer. Manchester is still at the forefront of new music, after decades of attracting established and up-and-coming bands. Both Manchester and Leeds have a growing financial sector, while the banking sector in Leeds is second only to London. Personally, I also like how diverse Leeds is – it makes a nice change from the stiff upper lip of Edinburgh’s financial district. Not that Leeds is perfect. Based on the multiplying craft-ale outlets and bearded dudes in jumpers, we have a hipster community that could easily out-smug Shoreditch. (And I just cannot come to terms with the Yorkshire puddings obsession. I’ve seen people eating these for lunch, in sweltering heat – while drinking Pimm’s.)
Sheffield, meanwhile, is a far cry from stereotypes of the neglected ‘Steel City’ (the place must have moved on since Jarvis Cocker’s day). Instead, the area beside Sheffield train station has been redeveloped from a car park to a 90-metre-long water-and-steel sculpture, greeting new visitors stepping off the train. The results of Northern investment are staring you in the face. And to the west, Liverpool is the unlikely home of world-class art, including ‘Another Place’ by Antony Gormley, a series of 100 cast-iron sculptures scattered across Crosby Beach.
On that basis, I reckon the North certainly has the potential to square up to London. But making the Northern dream a reality will need investment and political will. Moreover, each of the Northern cities has its own regional identity, allegiances and rivalries. Can you really just lump them together to create a shiny new city? That question is just one of the prickly problems facing the newly appointed Northern Powerhouse minister, James Wharton.
His job looked hard enough when he was appointed in May – before the much-anticipated upgrade to the York-Manchester train route was binned. As a few folks have remarked, trundling between cities on ancient, creaking railway stock is hardly the hallmark of an economic powerhouse. And, infrastructure issues aside, there’s still the desperately tricky business of obtaining devolved powers from Westminster.
But since these aren’t insurmountable barriers, I’ll live in hope that, one day, I’ll be a ManSheffLeedsPool-er. We would definitely need to work on the name, though. Suggestions anyone?