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Business leaders welcome Levelling Up plan to shift power away from Whitehall to regions

Clockwise: Jo Robison, Lee Powell, Rosemary du Rose, Ian Gilthorpe, Angus White and Ian McElroy

Business leaders across the North East and Yorkshire have welcomed the Levelling Up plan unveiled today by Michael Gove.

The Levelling Up Secretary said the strategy – which aims to ensure funding is spent on local priorities – will take until 2030.

It will see the “biggest shift of power from Whitehall to local leaders,” with creation of more regional mayors, such as Ben Houchen, who currently represents the Tees Valley, and Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester.

Every English region will have access to “London-style powers’ and a mayor if they wish.

All existing initiatives will be combined into 12 ‘national missions’, which include pledges to refocus education spending in disadvantaged areas, improve public transport and deliver 5G broadband to most households.

Mr Gove added: “This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.”

Derelict urban sites in 20 towns and cites will also be targeted for redevelopment to encourage the creation of more high-quality jobs.

Jo Robison, director of DPP Planning – which has offices in Newcastle and Leeds – said: “The policy of devolving central government money to mayoral combined authorities has proved effective.

“Expanding this could release energy, ideas, and leadership where it is needed most, particularly in the regeneration of urban areas. Properly executed planning policies, devolved funds and borrowing powers can put growth and renewal at the heart of decision making. Rolling out this model to more areas of the country should help to stimulate local economies in places that are in greatest need.”

Lee Powell, chief executive officer of GMI Construction Group, which operates in Yorkshire, the North East, North West and the Midlands, said: “Construction will be a big winner from the Levelling Up policy. New buildings are needed to house the modern factories, distribution centres and offices that will be driving our growth in the years ahead.

“The economy is already gearing up for a post-pandemic recovery; the confirmation of the intention to add levelling up stimulus to less prosperous areas of the UK will turbo-charge projects and ensure the gains are spread more evenly than during normal periods of growth.”

Rosemary Du Rose, chief executive of Beyond Housing, which provides 15,000 homes and a range of services to more than 30,000 customers across the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire, said: “Levelling Up must focus on the opportunities to improve people’s lives in areas of the UK that are remote from big cities and economic growth hubs.

“Housing and communities that have been left behind in previous periods of economic growth need to be enhanced and regenerated. So far, we have seen success in Tees Valley, and the early wins need to be followed up with more of the same to make them permanent. Housing is such a vital component of levelling up and the early announcement of funds to regenerate brownfield sites will help deliver the right housing mix to stimulate the growth of existing and new communities.”

Ian Gilthorpe, senior partner at Square One Law, which has offices in Newcastle, Leeds and Darlington, said: “We are already starting to see the early effects of Levelling Up in terms of highly qualified people returning to the North. The policies announced can help us to make the North East and Yorkshire the first choice for our talent professionals to work.

“If local leaders have the opportunity for more local decision making, enhanced funding and borrowing powers, along with the freedom to innovate, they will then be able to offer effective change to areas that need it most. It’s really important that the Government follows through on its commitments.”

Angus White, partner at North East property specialists Naylors Gavin Black, said: “The North East is already seeing a significant increase in post-pandemic property investment. The Levelling Up agenda is underway here and the announcement this week is an important confirmation of the policy after a period of political uncertainty. Tees Valley and the North East Combined Authority are rightly being championed as areas that are benefitting from these policies, with investments which are creating jobs and providing bright long-term economic prospects. It’s important that the smaller towns also benefit from replicating the governance and financing policies which have been to be successful in these areas.”

Ian McElroy, chief executive of Newcastle-based Tier One Capital added: “I’m pleased that the Government is starting to think more radically about the way we can make the best use of existing resources. The idea that massive pension funds of local authorities can be encouraged to invest in the areas the money comes from is a good one; Michael Gove said at the weekend up to £16billion could be redirected away from investments in foreign-owned corporations, into our local areas.

“Our own business has demonstrated early success through our management of the Property Backed Lending Trust (PBLT), which has raised £75m to loan to development projects in the North East. This type of trust should be able to attract money from our local authorities as they demonstrate faith in the areas they are seeking to renew.”