North 'not worth saving'?

bdaily is moving to London. We've decided to beat the rush predicted by the Policy Exchange think tank and head to the greener pastures of the South East, where the air is clean, the houses are cheap, and the commute is a doddle.

Maybe not...

Alternatively, we'll trust our own eyes, ears, and instincts, and stay in the North East. The think tank's radical (to put it mildly) report claimed that regeneration policies in the North are only going to make things worse, and that abandoning the top half of the country would solve the problem. Policy Exchange said a mass internal migration was the only solution to a decade of failed efforts to revive failing cities such as Sunderland and Bradford.

The report does highlight some successes, naming Newcastle, Liverpool, and Manchester among them. But while it gives with one hand it takes away with the other, saying that although these cities have seen an upturn in their fortunes over the last ten years, "they are not successful enough to deliver prosperity to neighbouring towns in the way that London is able to support relatively poor communities in North Kent and South Essex." It particularly singles out Sunderland, saying that it will forever be in Newcastle's shadow.

"Pointless" Northern cities

Conceding that their findings might be seen as "plain barmy", the report authors said that coastal cities like Liverpool and Sunderland had "lost much of their raison d'etre" with the decline of shipping.

These places apparently had "little prospect of offering their residents the standard of living to which they aspire", the report added.

"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.

Right to reply

The report's author, Tim Leunig, a lecturer in economics at the London School of Economics, has been arguing his case on the Guardian's website (perhaps not the best place to gain support for this particular policy proposal). It has to be said that, despite the report's negative view of much of the North, it may well start a new and more informed discussion around the purpose, targets, and use of regeneration funding.

It's also worth noting that Policy Exchange are an independent body, and that the Conservative Party has already distanced itself from the report's recommendations. Make of that what you will...

If you want to let us know what you think, just go to and leave your comments.

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Reader’s comments

  1. liz bassnett

    9:10 14 Aug 2008

    I was quite angry and embarrassed to be a southerner when I heard these comments yesterday.

    The North East is a thriving hub and the best place I have lived in 38 years - the opportunities here include as we all know; Great environment, warm people and an inspiring business community.

    Regarding standard of living - I have a much better life here for me and my family.

    At least the idiots won't want to move here for their second homes and we can keep this little gem to ourselves.

    From a southerner who is proud to call the North East 'HOME'.

  2. Rob Charlton CEO _space Architecture and Management

    9:22 14 Aug 2008

    It is totally illogical to think that we need to give upon northern cities as the Think Tank report suggests.

    In my view we need to focus on the bigger picture and engage the people of entire North East in a shared vision for our future; as a whole region we need united leadership to make us stronger. The benefits in places such as Greater London and Greater Manchester, where there is a strong and visible figurehead for the area, are clear.

    We need to focus our energy on ensuring that we are a strong, healthy and just society, living within environmental limits, and that we work to achieve a sustainable economy.

    Bringing together the many strands of what makes our region great will form the basis of our future sustainability. But we have challenges ahead of us. There is still a lack of joined up thinking across the region, even though we now operate in a global economy and have a greater need than ever to speak with a single voice.

    We should have – and we deserve – the same level of leadership if we want to put our region on the global map. We have some fantastic natural assets such as great countryside and coastlines, supported by sound air, rail and road network linkages and a magnificent heritage to share with the world.

    Like many others I am proud of the North East and rather than turning our backs on it we should do everything we can to make it an even better and more prosperous region, made up of many sustainable communities that work together for future generations.

  3. James Johnston

    10:15 14 Aug 2008

    I am dumfounded that people would come to this sort of conclusion but lets look at the facts. One Oxford, one from London and one from Germany. I'm constantly amazed and concerned about the London-centric view that South Easterners have about the rest of the country. Graduates from Northern universities would never have come to these conclusions.

    There are of course significant issues about current regional development funding , but if we look at the quality of life for the NE and the opportuities available for developing our towns, this region, like most of the North, has huge benefits. This sort of conclusion is not helping anybody, least of all the Conservative Party and I think us Northerners really need to take a stand.

    I draw readers to a recent edition of Monocle Magazine which argues the case for looking at some of the World's most successful cities and the ways in which communities, planners, local councils and designers work together to improve the life of residents. This is the sort of model we should be pursuing.

    Take a look:


  4. Paul

    11:03 14 Aug 2008

    I'm going to reserve judgement until I've read the report in its entirety.

    Although I do think some of the ideas in it sound very dodgy, I also get the impression that the 'London-centric' media has just latched onto the most sensationalist ideas (and dare I say it mught even be enjoying the controversy they have caused)!

    Unfortunately, no matter how much money is pumped into regeneration projects (which are all fantastic), you can't argue with the fact that people will move to where the jobs are and at present, most of these are in London and the South East. This is proven each year by the huge number of university graduates who leave the North East in search of employment.

    Perhaps the author does have a point that it is futile to believe that just because you are born in a certain place where job prospects and facilities are poor means that you can never leave. Human beings are highly mobile things and populations of towns and cities have always grown and shrunk in size throughout history as and when new industries have sprung up. Mind you, instead of telling people to move to London and the South East, more big businesses / employers should be forced/cajoled/paid to move to the North (like the BBC is doing in Manchester) but will only do so if transport links are improved and if they realise that it makes economic sense.

    Sadly, I'm afraid this news story will just undermine all the brilliant work that is going on in the North of England to keep our young and talented people here, enterprise support work by the likes of the PNE Group (formerly Project North East) and others, having some of the UK's leading universities in the region, and considerable amount of work by the Regional Development Agencies to attract businesses and tourists to the area.

  5. Pauline Fraser

    11:49 14 Aug 2008

    Perhaps someone should let the producers of this report know that Ben Elton's "Blind Faith" was a work of fiction. This report sounds like the mad scientists way of turning fantasy into fact!

    To say that it is now meant as a way of opening the discussion on regeneration is nothing more than a means of avoiding the embarrassing backlash. Any meaningful discussion could start with opening the discussions on underfunding of infrastructure in the north, rather than over payment in terms of regeneration.

    I would suggest that the next study shoud be on migration around the UK. Those that come from the south to the north east don't appear to want to leave. Those who go south get back here as quickly as possible. Perhaps its just sour grapes on the part of Tim Leunig that he simply doesn't get it!

  6. Pez at bdaily

    11:54 14 Aug 2008Pez

    Thanks for your contributions, everyone. We've had a huge response from people across the region on this issue, and it's interesting to hear the different points of view.

    Paul - I'd be interested to hear your views once you've read the report. Some media reports have exaggerated the situation slightly, obviously hoping to get a rise from the Northerners. However, the report itself is inflammatory enough - the section on Sunderland in particular is quite pessimistic, to put it mildly.

    The report does raise some interesting points, and if it opens up a dialogue around regional development and the North's potential it can only be a good thing. I'm not sure if the forced relocation of big businesses is the right way to go about it - the BBC hasn't had much success getting its staff to move to Manchester. Time will tell...

    I actually want young people in the North will hear about this and prove the conclusions wrong - hopefully they will take pride in their region and stay here to help combat these potentially harmful proposals.

    Edited to add: I missed Pauline's comment... I would suggest that the next report not be conducted by Policy Exchange.

  7. Brenda Boyd

    17:33 14 Aug 2008

    I should like to know the following:-
    The names of the people who wrote the report.
    Where they live (town).
    Their qualifications to prepare such a report.
    Whether they've ever had a proper job in the real world or just gone straight from Oxbridge/LSE into thinktanks.
    What research they actually did and where their statistics (if there were any) came from.
    Where the money comes from to pay their wages and the costs of running their "think tank".

    Then we'd be in a much better position to decide where or not they should be taken seriously.

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