Following our letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier this year, on Monday 5th December, the Eastern Powerhouse met with Minister for Housing, Lee Rowley MP, and Minister for Levelling UP, Jacob Young MP. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss two projects.
Firstly, the delivery of an independent economic review for the east. Whilst similar pieces of work have been funded and delivered through the Northern Powerhouse, Western Gateway and Midlands Engine, there has never been an economic review for the east. One was delivered by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority but whilst that document gave a clear documentation of the economy in Cambridgeshire, it was hardly representative of the east as a whole.
So, you would expect that given the department had been so keen to fund similar pieces of work for other parts of the country, they would want a high quality document for the east to breakdown the strengths of our economy? Well not exactly. Strangely the Eastern Powerhouse representatives were told that Cambridge didn’t need an Eastern Powerhouse because it had the Greater Cambridge Partnership, The Combined Authority and the OxCam Arc. This odd statement preferencing a city of 120 000 residents over a region of 7m people underlined the problems the east has had over many decades. More of which later.
Our second ask was for a non-statutory spatial plan (NSSP). An NSSP would be a significant game changer for the region. It would allow business to plan ahead with the knowledge that government had a vision for the entire region. It would also act as a guide to local authorities as they delivered local and transport plans over the coming years. Finally, it would allow international investors the confidence that the east of England had an established plan for economic development. I know the department are keen on NSSP’s, part of my remit as Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough was to deliver one for the Combined Authority, so we should have been on fertile ground. NSSP’s are almost impossible to deliver through local government as self-interest of councils always derails a comprehensive solution. Therefore, the Eastern Powerhouse is perfectly placed to deliver a NSSP for the region. To give credit to Lee Rowley, as housing Minister he could see the benefits of what we were proposing, and the discussion went on to how granular the plan would be. A decision for the department of course but the Eastern Powerhouse has the capacity and experience to deliver what the government need.
The meeting was short but left an important impression of the Levelling Up Department and there are questions that need to be answered. Why is the department prepared to invest time and money on setting up similar organisations to the Eastern Powerhouse in other parts of the country yet diametrically opposed to one in the east? Why is the department prepared to fund independent economic reviews in other parts of the country but has no intention to do so in the east and why did the department mention Cambridge and yet had no interest in the other parts of the region or other vital industries?
The Eastern Powerhouse will continue advocating for our region, as we know fully well the potential that exists for future growth. A regional approach is truly needed, and we are here to support any initiative that can help drive this agenda forward.