Small cities are key to Northern Powerhouse success, says think tank IPPR

 
James Nickerson
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A sculpture entitled 'Angel of the North
The report calls on the government to identify the unique roles played by SMCs (Source: Getty)

The government's ambition to create a Northern Powerhouse is dependent on small and medium sized cities (SMCs), a new report has warned.

A report by IPPR North has found that SMCs are essential to boosting growth in the north of England, with smaller cities representing a third of the Northern economy and play a key role supporting growth of their bigger neighbours.

A key role is played in vital strands of the government's strategy, in sectors such as advanced manufacturing, energy and logistics, it added.

Given the key role SMCs play, the IPPR has called on the government to recognise the unique strengths each play in order to overcome the challenges of realising the region's potential.

Read more: Northern Powerhouse is dependent on productivity, not links to other cities, says Centre for Cities report

The government's aim is to transform Northern growth, rebalance the country’s economy and establish the North as a global powerhouse.

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said: "The latest academic research is asking some big questions about the big city story and it is about time policy-makers recognised this.

"In the same way small and medium businesses are now seen as vital to the British economy and the success of our big companies, we need to refocus policy on the North’s small and medium towns and cities, and not just the big cities – vital as they are.

"The evidence shows this is not ‘jam-spreading’ resources thinly but economically the right thing to do: Manchester needs a prosperous Wigan to succeed, and vice-versa."

Read more: Lord Heseltine wants Teeside to become an economic powerhouse

The report goes on to recommend the recognition of roles played by SMCs as part of broader "city systems" to avoid housing and congestion of the like found in London.

But these cities, such as Wigan, Doncaster, Burnley and Wakefield, have found challenges from not being better connected to bigger cities, a problem that can be overcome if they are treated in a similar way to how the government treats SMEs - with bespoke support to foster local strengths.

A more European attitude should also be taken to how "we plan our economy, instead of following US city-thinking which is more suited to countries with large distances between cities – European cities tend to be much more interconnected than American cities".

It also urges the government to review the London-centric system of transport funding which favours major cities, to a system which takes more understanding of the emerging evidence on the role of smaller cities in the wider "urban ecosystem".

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