Conference: New Statesman Northern Powerhouse Spotlight, Leeds Town Hall

In February I attended New Statesman's Northern Powerhouse Spotlight Conference at Leeds Town Hall. The event brought together a large body of members involved in the development of the Northern Powerhouse agenda, including a significant amount of local and regional government employees and researchers.

The event began with opening speeches by Lord Heseltine and Lord Prescott, the latter of which spearheaded the predecessor to the Northern Powerhouse - the Northern Way. Both speeches were very inspiring, with a significant emphasis on the need for improvement in both education and transport. Lord Prescott critiqued the Northern Powerhouse proposal and claimed that it was very much an agenda where any possible powers or control offered to the regions was still under the thumb of Whitehall.


“The government abolished the Northern Way proposals on the basis that they don’t like regions… What seems to have come from this [current devolution] framework is almost a centralisation of decentralisation because the powers for the transport body [Transport for the North] have to be cleared by the Department for Transport and they have to be cleared by the Treasury… But in London they raise their own resources, they have their own powers, they make their own decisions.” - Lord Prescott


Further panel discussions throughout the day covered Reskilling the Workforce, Digital Infrastructure, An Engine for Inclusive Growth and Mobility in the Northern Powerhouse. The latter was the most interesting for me as Sadie Morgan (Partner of DRMM Architects) was on the panel. She emphasised that if any of the infrastructure projects highlighted throughout the day are to leave the imaginary in which they currently exist they need to begin to be considered not only at a 1:500 and 1:2000 scale but most importantly at a 1:1 scale - how will they knit into the city? As she reiterated this there seemed to be a lot of confused faces in the audience -  this to me only made her argument and the reason why architects should be interested in these schemes more imperative.

During an intermission, I was asked by a councilor why I was there and what it was that I was interested in - I replied by asking 'why wouldn't I be interested? The conversations throughout the day covered place-making, production and quality of buildings in addition to numerous new types of transport infrastructure. Architects possess the skills to be able to understand how we can start to think about these ideas on a built scale. By the end of the day I wasn't sure as to whether or not anyone in attendance genuinely believed any of the infrastructure suggested would begin to be put in place anytime soon but it was very evident that decisions needed to start to be made at a local scale rather than from Whitehall.

Looking forward the discussions held at this event will definitely inform the forthcoming pilot thesis and I have made contacts for further conferences covering devolution and I hope to somehow begin to understand why many of these events fail to go beyond a spatial imaginary into considering how these ideas could play out at a built scale.




Tom Ardron