For too long the media and often the politicians and the residents of regions and cities have been bemoaning the perceived dominance of London. But there is a wind of change which looks likely to become a storm. The Scottish independence referendum of 2014 and Nicola Sturgeons confident handling of the SNP agenda for devolution of power is without doubt going to result in changes after this General Election.
I am currently working on a large scale cultural project in Liverpool and am enjoying visiting and overnighting in a city that is confident in the fact that it is moving forward on so many levels. Liverpool Culture along with all the cultural institutions are doing a wonderful job as are the planners in encouraging brave modern architecture and interesting public spaces. And its creative sector is also responding in the Baltic Quarter creating an exciting district that is akin to the early days of the Mitte in Berlin with its DIY aesthetic and “absence of government”. No wonder the city has entered the top five visited cities in the UK.
Birmingham, never a city to be brash, is looking increasingly like a confident large scale European city and if the media is to be believed is attracting aspirational young people who find London just too expensive.
Bristol, under a “can do” and free thinking mayor, George Ferguson, increasingly feels like an independent green state. This new found “belief” is washing down to smaller towns. Blackburn, the town where I grew up and where I am working on Blackburn is Open is starting to change its language from “decline” to “opportunity”.
I would like to think that we have played a small role (via our Boscombe Overstrand project) in what is going on in once sleepy Bournemouth. The town is now bucking the trend as one of only two towns in the UK where the average age of its population is getting younger as it becomes a centre for technology industries and bringing the cool café’s, bars and clubs with it. As I have written before, London’s unaffordability for many fuels opportunity outside the capital, but what is happening is more than this. People are sick and tired of negativity about their towns and cities and are taking positivity into their own hands.
This wind of change is very likely to result in central government “devolving” some of its tax take locally. In Manchester, this is already planned with £1 billion of public money earmarked to be to be controlled by its elected mayor as part of what has been christened “Devo Manc”.
Manchester almost certainly has the skills at the top and through the ranks to spend this money wisely but I fear that many of the smaller councils would struggle to spend locally generated public money to the best effect.
I think I will be returning to this subject in the next few months.