By Paul Chatterton, University of Leeds
When you write an academic article, it’s always useful to watch out for contemporary events to connect to. On 17th June 2016 I had that opportunity when a Blueprint for the Great North Plan (for the north of England that is) was launched. The idea for a Great North Plan has been building momentum for a number of years, especially on the back of the now-defunct Northern Way . The whole context for this current great North plan is a desire to see economic devolution and elected Metro mayors under the brand of the Northern Powerhouse, a strategy led by the UK Government Treasury that aims to re-balance economic growth between the South East/London and the rest of the UK. The Blueprint for the Great North and was launched by the Institute for Public Policy Research North (IPPR), along with the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). While it began largely as a transport strategy, its purpose has grown into laying out a vision for the North and a set of collaborative strategies around the economy, transport, environment population and place.
On one level it could be read as a business-led economic growth and inward investment strategy.But, from the position of the recent article that I wrote in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, this whole process raises a fascinating example of the complexities and contradictions in future transitioning, and the potential of advocating for an embedding more radical options beyond the capitalist present.
The Great North Plan represents a desire from various stakeholders to undertake some kind of socio-technical transition to a more socially, environmentally and economically sustainable future. What kind of plan actually emerges over the next few decades will largely be determined by the extent to which stakeholders are prepared to experiment with novel, and often uncomfortable forms of development, and take leaps into the unknown. If a region like the north of England is genuinely serious about reducing its carbon footprint by 80% and making headway in reducing persistent levels of multiple deprivation, then, this kind of risky innovation and experimentation will be key.
Moreover, this will need to be underpinned by novel meso-level institutional forms (linking bottom-up and top-down processes) that bring together civil society, universities, government and business can come together to co-produce solutions. A Great Plan for the North would also need to avoid lock-in to options that yield weak gains.
To embark upon what I call ‘post-capitalist transitions’, a Great North Plan would need to tackle many difficult and uncomfortable issues such as automobile dependency, critical levels of air pollution, dependency on outdated and centralised energy provision, and climate vulnerability. It would need to have an open, honest debate about some of the real limitations and negative consequences of the contemporary, pro-growth free-market society we live in. A realistic assessment of these challenges would free is up to explore more creative and durable solutions that could deliver brought prosperity and sustainability.
Geographers like myself who are taking part in these debates, have a key role to play in advocating for novel and disruptive policy solutions, reminding stakeholders of the profound level of the challenges we face, as well is process level innovations such as co-production and participatory research. Given our often pragmatic yet critical approach to societal challenges, geographers can help steer the future trajectories of our localities in very positive ways.
About the author: Paul Chatterton is Professor of Urban Futures in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds.
Blueprint for a Great North plan http://www.greatnorthplan.com/
Chatterton P 2016 Building transitions to post-capitalist urban commons. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/tran.12139
Institute for Public Policy Research North http://www.ippr.org/north
Northern Way Transport Compact http://www.northernwaytransportcompact.com/
Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) http://www.rtpi.org.uk/
UK Northern Powerhouse https://www.uk-northern-powerhouse.com/