Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Common sense on the north south divide

I saw a great piece on the long running and thorny issue of the North / South divide here in Mondays Guardian

As anyone who has lived in the south and the south east in particular can tell you there has been a problem for many years and over the years these problems have only got worse.

Local authorities are constantly being given housing allocations which they have to make provision for in their local plans even though they know that the infrastructure in their area can barely cope as it is.

Water and sewage systems are creaking and overloaded, the local road networks cannot cope and the local authority will have to make provision for a whole host of additional services for these new residents from schools to refuse disposal.

In the long run the cost of most of those additional services will not be covered by any planning gain agreements and the cost will have to be picked up by existing and new council tax payers or through cuts in other services.

Central government will also need to deal with the demands for other essential services such as Doctors, Dentists and Hospitals.

How about the problems with water supply in the South East this summer? There is plenty of water in the north but where are we going to be with water supplies in the south in 10 or 20 years time. If rainfall drops off because of global warming, we continue to have hotter and longer summers and usage continues to rise as more and more business and people are crammed into the south east corner of the country.

Public transport is also creaking in some areas, yes there are many areas where public transport is almost non existent but travel into London on most of the commuter lines and you can see that there is not much more capacity available.

Meanwhile less and less jobs are available in the north where unemployment is generally higher and allegedly whole streets in some of the most run down areas can be picked up for a few quid.

I have always felt that this is an issue that could only be tackled successfully through central government intervention. Of course you cannot force people to move from the South to the North but you only have to look at the North / South motorway network on Friday and Sunday evenings to see that there are a large number of people who work / live in the South who want to spend a lot of their leisure time in the North – primarily because that is where they are from originally and where many of their friends and relatives continue to reside. With the right incentives, jobs and infrastructure many of these people would be delighted to move North again instead of travelling backwards and forwards at weekends.

Who knows perhaps the government could invest in all these run down streets which are available at a cheap price and refurbish them to let or sell at a future date as demand for property in the North rises again once the infrastructure and jobs are in place.


Tristan said...

Being a liberal the though of central government action makes me shudder.

Any action should be locally led, although funding will probably have to come from central funds...

As for the government buying up and renovating housing, I can't think of anything less likely to result in the desired ends. We should make it easier for private concerns to take this on. Government's place is in ensuring the incentives are there.
The same goes for business in the north, the incentives for businesses to locate there need to be created, this requires local not central action and greater control by local government over its own area.

Central government action may sound reasonable, but it rarely works. Its best and more liberal to devolve power as close to the individual as possible.

Tony Ferguson said...

I sympathise with your instinctive reaction to central government and the idea that centralising is the solution. However, I guess I am coming from the perspective that things should be devolved to the level at which they can be dealt with effectively and I am not convinced that engineering such a demographic shift can best be handled at a local level. There would undoubtedly be elements of such a strategy that could be delivered far better at local level but in terms of developing the policy framework, the strategy and in terms of providing the funding and incentives I feel that much of this would be better done centrally.

I totally agree with your comment about the government buying up and renovating housing - my comment was meant to be slightly tongue in cheek in implying that the government could make some profit to help pay for the incentives required to achieve this demographic shift

Liberal Neil said...

Don't assume that the current trends are not a result of Government policy.

The Government have strongly supported growth in the south east, seeing it as the 'engine room' of the UK economy, whilst comprehensively failing to invest in the necessary infrastructure.

Tony Ferguson said...

I entirely agree that current government policies are not solving this problem and indeed have exacerbated it. They appear to accept and encourage the drift to the south east without accepting that there are huge consequences for our quality of life long term