Why the East needs a unifying vision
The East of England is one of the most economically successful regions in England. Despite not containing any of the top 20 urban areas in the UK, the East of England contains a number of leading businesses in key sectors that have helped to make the region an economic success story, and the 4th most prosperous part of the county.
The East of England has a combination of world class physical and institutional assets that include:
World-leading research-intensive universities, knowledge hubs, and tech clusters
Specialisations in high-value, knowledge intensive services, particularly in the professional, technical and scientific services and information and communication sectors
Complementary specialisms, in agri-food, offshore renewables, health, tourism and construction, as well as some niche high value manufacturing
Significant international gateways, including high-capacity freight and passenger terminals serving the European mainland
A high quality of life, with a mix of smaller “liveable” cities with significant cultural heritage.
Yet, the region has the potential to achieve so much more, with the ability to play a leading role in driving the UK economy forward over the long term, as well as being able to solve numerous social inequalities, within the region, while being at the forefront of global environmental issues.
There are, however, significant constraints currently holding back future growth prospects including:
The ability to provide affordable housing and commercial space
Transport connectivity and the ability to efficiently move people and goods around the region, particularly in peripheral areas
Difficulties in attracting suitably skilled people and upskilling existing workers
Economic cold spots, containing disadvantaged communities in urban, rural and coastal areas.
Individual partners within the East of England do not lack for ambition and local authorities have identified their priorities for development. There is, however, no unifying overall vision for the region, such as the ‘Powerhouse’ for the North of England and the ‘Engine’ for the Midlands. This means that the East of England is at risk of losing out to other regions in the competition for political attention and funding. The recent budget underlines this point. The announcement of a £6bn fund for transport schemes across six combined authorities in England, did not include Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Government is investing in the economy – including infrastructure and human capital – as part of its levelling up agenda. Just not in the East.
An overarching spatial vision for the region is urgently needed. One that can connect the many various places, nodes, and corridors of economic growth but which is not simultaneously restricted to these areas. To effectively address the problems holding back the region’s potential, better coordination and collaboration within the region is key. The Eastern Powerhouse will provide a unified strategy representing the region as a whole. This will advocate shared agendas while avoiding contradictory policies, to identify priorities and solve problems faster and more efficiently, to fully unlock the region’s potential.