What Difference could a Proper City Region Make to Greater Birmingham today

No sooner than I had posted my post on the City Region than  I noticed a twitter quote from Mike Emmerich from Manchester New Economy (MNE) saying that Local Authorities will need to work much closer together in the future and Local Authority boundaries are irrelevant. That comes from one of the key people at the heart of joint working in Manchester. (He is CEO of MNE). I was also looking through old EU Project reports and I came across a path breaking COMPETE project, a project focussed on City Competitiveness, which a colleague of mine took part in from Birmingham City Council. Looking at it, and it was lead by Sheffield, there was a whole section on leadership of cities from Robert Kerslake including an early description  (and promotion of the benefits) of City Region working in Sheffield and Manchester. Now Robert Kerslake is now the Head of the Home Civil Service, and importantly the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government.  So key people are signed up to this way of thinking. So I began to fantasise about how it might make a difference; if a Greater Birmingham view was taken into account in decisions being made now. Well lets try and illustrate what difference this could make. (These are illustrations only as I am not close enough to all of these areas to know in detail the issues that need consideration)

  • Building in the Greenbelt in Sutton: It is hoped that major progress will be made this year on Birmingham’s new Development Plan. It may be that the proposals in it for the possible taking of greenbelt in Sutton Coldfield may not then need to go ahead because in a City Region approach that may not be necessary – there may be non greenbelt land elsewhere; or there may be environmentally less damaging greenbelt areas elsewhere in the conurbation. This would imply planning for big decisions at the City Region level and unlike the current spatial planning exercise where as I understand it the LEP Spatial Strategy is just a sum of the parts; this would be fundamentally different and the top level planning  would be able to influence individual Council plans.
  • UKCentral: As a result the UKCentral plans put forward by Solihull might not all seem sense to go forward looking at them in this wider dimension as this I believe involves some development on Greenbelt.
  • Wholesale Markets: Decisions to be taken this year like the location of the Wholesale Markets would be informed by a search for  sites both inside and outside of Birmingham as it might make sense to put the markets possibly somewhere in the Black Country. The site search wouldn’t need to be tied to Birmingham. 
  • Advanced Manufacturing Hub: Birmingham’s plans for a Life Science’s hub as proposed around the Queens Medical Centre and the University of Birmingham would proceed as there is little to compete with it but plans for an Advanced Manufacturing hub (depending what is envisaged on it) might recognise the real centre of expertise in research and development in this field particular the automotive sector is in Coventry and Warwickshire area with the new Manufacturing Technology Centre and the new National Automotive Innovation Campus and an ambitious Motor Industry Research Association ; so the sense of trying to target such activity on the site in question might be seen in a wider City Region light, so this might lead to a reconsideration of its designation or potentially a really strengthened offer by linking to these facilities in Coventry and Warwickshire. The important issue is it wouldn’t come forward in isolation.
  • Airports: Similarly the issue of Birmingham Airport and Coventry Airport could be considered jointly and not separately and in isolation.
  • HS2: The issue of HS2 connectivity would be considered at the City region level to ensure fast access to stations from Coventry and Wolverhampton would be maintained and improved.
  • Transport Planning: Of course a real benefit would flow from proper transport planning,  and perhaps then bigger decisions like congestion charging or workplace levies might be able to be considered seriously to provide an independent income for long term investments
  • External Funding: The new single local growth budget and EU funds could be managed at a City Region level.

These are just a few ideas, but in the longer term, with the need for savings, the scope for more joint working, sharing of resources and expertise would undoubtedly grow. Lets hope we can this year  move towards this way of working. 

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