Manchester – the UK’s ‘capital of the North’?
Over the past year there’s been a lot of talk about the UK’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ initiative. While much of the investment into the region has been centred on the core cities of Manchester, Salford, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield; it is Manchester that has emerged as the leading force in the economic expansion of the north. It was on a trip to Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry that Chancellor George Osborne first coined the phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’; foreshadowing the focus that the initiative would take in its early years.
Herb Kim, the founder of the Thinking Digital Conference, who has hosted TEDx conferences throughout the Northern Powerhouse, labelled Manchester as "The assumed capital of the north” and this has become increasingly evident with the level of focus the city has received since the initiative began. In February, Manchester was given power over its own health budget while, from 2017, Greater Manchester will be run by its own elected mayor, as part of plans to devolve fiscal power closer to the point of spending.
Greater Manchester has also been subject to growing investment from overseas. A significant amount of new property in Manchester and Salford is being built with investment from wealthy Chinese nationals. This influx of overseas investment is boosting Manchester’s economy, as well as that of the Northern Powerhouse as a whole.
Some people have objected to the focus on investment in Manchester – claiming that focusing on the North’s biggest urban area will ultimately lead to a smaller-scale version of the current imbalance between the north and London. For Rob Johnson of Cumbria's Chamber of Commerce, however, a focus on major northern cities like Manchester and Liverpool is a significant improvement on the government’s longstanding focus on London. He points out that, despite the physical distances between the cities, investment into the larger, ‘core’ cities and upcoming improvements to transportation in the region should see northern economies improve their ability to collaborate as a single cohesive force under the Northern Powerhouse banner.
"We're looking at world markets here," he says. "When you put it in the context of travelling worldwide, Manchester's not that far away."
Tom Forth, an associate at ODILeeds, part of the Open Data Institute, believes that the Northern Powerhouse’s focus on the core cities will contribute to the region’s ability to display the level of strength necessary to entice young professionals away from the capital. He says "If the people of Wigan, Pontefract and County Durham are better off commuting to Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Newcastle then that's what has to happen. So many young people in those places currently leave. A Northern Powerhouse gives them an option to stay."
Young professionals remaining in the region embodies both a cause and a consequence of the increasing number of businesses taking up residency in the Northern Powerhouse. Salford’s MediaCity development is already home to media giants BBC and ITV, as well as Salford University’s Media campus and 50 other businesses from all over the world. As more businesses set up in the north, it will mean increased numbers of professionals living and working throughout the region. Improvements to transportation links, such as the HS2 high speed rail network, means those working in Salford’s MediaCity, for example, could feasibly be commuting from anywhere in the Northern Powerhouse.
Those considering investment property in Manchester would be wise to also consider Liverpool, Leeds and even the smaller communities within the Northern Powerhouse. While Manchester has received the bulk of investment thus far, Liverpool’s property market is also seeing significant growth, with increasing property prices and numerous new developments currently under construction. According to the City Residential's Q1 2016 report, Liverpool’s property prices have seen a year-on-year increase of 3.98%, while letting prices saw annual growth of 3.46%. As the Northern Powerhouse initiative gains traction, more investment will undoubtedly trickle into all of the region’s towns and cities, presenting even more opportunity for investors to benefit from the North’s tremendous capital appreciation potential.