THE BLOG

Creating a National Powerhouse

30/04/2015 15:19 BST | Updated 29/06/2015 10:59 BST

2015-04-29-1430304584-6403059-BristolCorporationBusesBristolTempleMeads1926FlickrPaulTownsend.jpg

Mark Twain once said "Buy land, they're not making it anymore" he was right of course, but does it matter?

In fact land isn't really scarce at all! The whole of the American population would fit into Texas and allow each home to have an acre of land. Quite an eye opener that - isn't it!

In the UK, London property can sell for £55,000/sqm. That's an eye opener too in my opinion. For many young people attempting to buy or rent homes, it can be a tear jerker as well.

Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds are like many other cities around the world, in that their problems lie more so in land allocation than lack of it. It's the way we manage our land provision that causes high values and lack of supply.

Cities by their nature should be vibrant places, but we cannot have it all ways. If we can't build out, we surely must build up! The gravitational pull of the 'City' has returned after many years of urban/suburban sprawl, much of which is linked by inadequate public transport. In the process, values of inner city homes and offices have skyrocketed. Especially in areas like Bristol's historic waterfront which has emerged as a world class area of recreation.

People love cities- a reason why less than 10% of the UK is built on. We like living closely. It's not just green belt getting in the way. We like living in clusters. That 10% includes all the houses, airports, railway stations, roads, schools, in fact everything! Over 90% of the land in one of Europe's most densely populated countries has nothing built on it at all.

Why does any of this matter to businesses? Well for businesses' to prosper they need two fundamental things. Firstly somewhere to operate from and secondly, workers! Without those two ingredients, there is no business, it's simple.

In Victorian times, people working in manufacturing would mostly live and work in the city. Often living in one road and working in the next. Walking to work was easy. Overcrowding was a big issue, with living conditions similar to those experienced in many third world cities today. Transport links didn't exist to provide "commuters' with easy access between town and country. The term "commuter' didn't find its place in everyday vocabulary until the early 1960s when cities like Newcastle, Birmingham, Plymouth and Nottingham, were linked to their hinterland by the mass use of private cars, bus and rail routes.

If we are to create an environment where our cities can grow, and be clean, vibrant places in which to live and work, we must create more available space and manage what we have better than in the past.

Tall buildings can provide the space for new homes and offices, but this is only part of the solution. Providing reliable, green and essentially cleaner transport links, mean people living in satellite towns and villages surrounding major conurbations would have a more enjoyable trip to work, the cinema, or going shopping. Therefore doing it more often, creating economic activity.

London's economic growth and disproportionate economic power would not be so great had its underground system not been built. Our great regional capital cities such as Bristol and Cardiff have suffered from poor public transport links for far too long.

In London it is common for someone using the tube, living in Ealing to pop over for supper in Islington. A shop worker in Chiswick might well stop off for a drink with a friend in Paddington before going home to Pimlico. This type of interaction between areas within most of our regional cities using public transport is unthinkable.

Locals to Bristol can't imagine working in one part of the city, visiting three friends in three separate city areas all on the same evening using public transport. It's the easy and reliable public bus and rail systems that has proved London's economic driver, as much as its status as our capital city.

Everyone uses the London tube, bankers, shoppers, school children, MPs and business people. That simply doesn't happen on the same scale in most of our great regional cities, even places like Hull, Sheffield or Plymouth.

We need a better understanding of how our cities work in themselves, and interact with the countryside. We must provide more homes for our people. Not just homes to buy, but homes available on long term secure tenancies too.

Government must take the lead on infrastructure. Creating thought out, integrated transport links within our top ten cities would be a start. Turning each into a mini London in terms of linking remote areas of each city.

It's about time we created a national powerhouse, rather than a southern, northern or London one.