Global thinking on local issues: Sir Howard Bernstein

Even the thick snow which beset the North of England at the end of January was not enough to prevent a full house from attending the Forum for the Built Environment (FBE) breakfast briefing with Sir Howard Bernstein.

Sir Howard Bernstein

Regional director of the FBE and director of environment, health and safety at 1000 strong consultant RSK, Warren Percival spoke to Sir Howard to find out more about plans for the city region from investment in housing and attracting foreign investors to planning for high speed 2 and 3.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has been quoted as saying that Birmingham is in danger of losing its second city status to Manchester for good. What is your view?

Birmingham lost its second city status 20 years ago and is now fighting that out with London! At the end of the day we can all have a view about our cities but what matters is what the market thinks. It is what global investors and international occupiers think. In the last 10-20 years Manchester has continued to move forward and show itself as progressive, business community that can expand its base and make sound investment decisions. 

Sport has been very important as a regeneration catalyst. Is that still core to development in the city region?

There is a lot more to come on and off the field. We recognise that football is worth £300M per year to the Greater Manchester economy. That is the equivalent of hosting an Olympic Games every 4 years. The number of jobs associated with that are phenomenal and football is fundamental to our economic success. What we have to do is build on these opportunities and what is happening in the Etihad campus [where the council signed a 10 year deal to build 6000 homes] is unprecedented anywhere in the world and there is more to come. 

The devolution deal proposes £300M for housing over 10 years with 10,000-15,000 new homes in the city. Could you give us a view on housing?

People have heard me say for a long time that if you look at various national housing initiatives which this and previous governments have implemented they were not always relevant to the particular circumstances of Greater Manchester. If we are to grow our economy we need the capacity to intervene in markets that have failed and that is about acquiring the sites, remediating brownfield sites, and handing them over to the private sector to build housing for sale or for rent. 

In the Summer George Osborne was in Manchester talking about the need for better and more integrated transport. After the General Election do you see plans for HS3 moving forward?

I think that the current government’s commitment to One North is absolutely clear. The next Higgins report is due at end of February in time for the March budget. I am hoping we will see something in the budget to give more clarity on the formal government position. I think we are in a good place. 

One North is more than HS3. There is a whole range of different options that need to be addressed but the one thing that is absolutely clear is that we need more fast trains between Manchester and Leeds. But it is more than that. We need our port facilities in Liverpool connected to our rail freight and road systems. At the moment they aren’t which is extraordinary. We need to ensure that we are joined up with Hull and the North East and in Manchester we have to ensure that the Northern Hub is brought forward and delivered as efficiently as possible and secure the access to the commuter services serving Manchester and the wider region as soon as possible.

Fundamentally we have to create the framework within which those activities over next 10-20 years can comfortably progress. We have got to sequence these interventions in a much better way and that will be quite challenging because we are thinking about public expenditure incurred over 3 or 4 Comprehensive Spending Review periods. We have got to think about what happens first in order to use this hugely significant transport investment over the next 10-15 years as a positive platform for growth.

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