Stephen Woodall, partner and head of commercial at FDR Law
Richard Bell

North West views: FDR Law’s Stephen Woodall on the Northern Powerhouse

With the government’s vision of creating a Northern Powerhouse commanding the attention of the North West business community, particularly in the wake of the UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference & Exhibition, at Bdaily we’ve decided to run a new series of interviews to establish just what the region’s business leaders think of the plans.

Is the North West set for an overhaul in the coming years – one to turn the region into a true example of economic empowerment through business growth, job creation and prosperity?

Today we caught up with Stephen Woodall, a partner and head of commercial at Warrington-based FDR Law

What does the Northern Powerhouse mean to you?

It’s about working together to make our region a force to be reckoned with. Although the idea that the North could compete with the southern London powerhouse might have originally seemed overly optimistic, there is now a very high level of confidence, locally and regionally.

It’s about being proud of our past. London’s current pre-eminence was originally built and sustained by the industrial revolution which of course started in the North. We need to use this to propel us forward.

Are there signs of the Northern Powerhouse starting to bear fruit in the region?

Absolutely. Look at the success and relocation of the BBC’s sports, children and news divisions. The region is also at the forefront of the United Kingdom’s nuclear industry and its spinoff specialist manufacturing capability, and several international companies such as Kellogg’s, Adidas and Siemens also have their UK headquarters in Manchester.

Combined with investment from Hitachi, Nissan and Rolls-Royce in the North East, Siemens in Hull and East Yorkshire, and a new deepwater port in Liverpool, there is a strong belief in the cities of the North.

Has the government done enough to convince you of its commitment to Osborne’s vision?

Yes, I believe so. It’s not a coincidence that confidence in commerce is returning to the North. This has been bolstered by the reality of a Conservative government offering a pro-business approach until at least 2020.

There is currently the highest demand for commercial property in the North since 1998 and here at FDR Law, we have seen confidence returning in the commercial property market in the North West over the last 18 months.

Transport improvement is intrinsic to the Northern Powerhouse. Do you believe that spending billions on infrastructure will improve Northern productivity?

Most definitely. The industrial revolution would not have happened without strong transport links.

The government’s Transport for the North (TFN) investment which will see the introduction of High Speed 2 (HS2), connecting eight of the ten largest UK cities, including Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, will improve business travel both to the capital and within the northern hub cities.

Although there have been set backs such as the delay regarding the electrification of the Trans Pennine route, Manchester Airport also plays a big role and we need to remember that no great commercial centre was ever built in a day; not even Rome or indeed London!

Are there any other areas on which you believe money should be spent, ahead of transport?

The Atlantic Gateway project is an excellent example of collaboration for a number of different organisations across the region and potentially has the ability to create some 250k new jobs and up to £14bn of new investment. Projects like this are critical to attracting people to live and work in the region.

While Manchester is a key city in the government’s vision, do you think enough is being done to cater for other important North West towns and cities?

If we’re to make the Northern Powerhouse a reality, we need to play to our strengths and come together with a single identity. Rather than Leeds competing against Liverpool and Sheffield, with Manchester trying to outdo them all, the great Northern cities must offer a clear and distinct identity for what we expect the Northern Powerhouse to be and collaborate to make it a reality.

Through its geography and recent history the North has some excellent success stories on which it can build.

For all our latest Northern Powerhouse news and views, click here. Share your views and get involved with our latest interview series by contacting North West editor Richard at richard.bell@bdaily.co.uk

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