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What’s holding fast-growing Norwich back?

08:58 08 March 2016

The busy Norwich Market in fron of City Hall. Picture: Denise Bradley

The busy Norwich Market in fron of City Hall. Picture: Denise Bradley

copyright Archant Photographic 2011

Norwich’s poor transport and skills and housing shortages are being overlooked by Westminster because its economy continues to thrive.

The Centre for Cities – a respected think tank – said future growth could be thwarted and businesses could relocate if the government does not address the issues.

It found that national policy and debate has focused on the so-called “northern powerhouse” and bigger “core” cities, at the expense of the smaller fast-growing cities such as Norwich.

Chris Starkie, managing director of business and council-led New Anglia local enterprise partnership, said the report provided further evidence that government should not just focus on the big cities, but the crucial role that cities such as Norwich and Cambridge played in creating high value jobs and increasing productivity and growth for UK plc.

“The message is simple, invest in us and we will deliver,” he added.

But the government insisted it did recognise the vital role played by growing cities across the country in boosting growth, building new homes and creating a balanced economy, claiming “city deals” in Norwich and Cambridge gave the cities the opportunity to identify the tools to drive economic growth.

“We are in active discussions with many places, including the growing cities highlighted in this report, about devolving the powers they need to build on their success.”

Leaders from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire are currently locked in talks with the Treasury over a potential £1bn deal to hand over power, including over transport, housing and skills.

Alan Waters, leader of Norwich City Council, said he was pleased to see Norwich was being recognised as a prosperous city, with high levels of business entrepreneurialism and innovation, as well as being a great place to live and work.

“Against a backdrop of cuts enforced by national government, 
we are investing in the city by supporting local businesses to 
create well-paid jobs, promoting the living wage and building the infrastructure required to reduce inequality between different parts of the city.”

The report, which also looked in-depth at the challenges facing Cambridge, Oxford, Milton Keynes, and Swindon, found that workers in Norwich were more productive than the average and also contributed more to Treasury coffers per head than those in “northern powerhouse” cities such as Manchester and Birmingham.

Norwich has an employment 
rate of 75.5pc, compared to the UK average of 73pc, and is also among the top UK cities for the number of patents granted locally, and its level of high-skilled private sector jobs.

But the report said housing was an increasing problem for the so-called “fast growth cities”, which was proving a major barrier to recruiting and retaining workers.

The think tank said the cities should be given more borrowing powers to allow them to provide more of the affordable housing they need.

Mr Waters said: “A strong mixed housing tenure across the city is 
one of the key drivers of sustainable economic growth. The report 
highlights the need to build new council homes using income from council rents, which we have been doing in recent years to address 
the shortage of genuinely affordable housing in the city. Our ambitions 
to deliver on new council homes, 
a strong role in skills training 
and better transport links have formed a major part of devolution discussions with the government.”

The report also warns that government funding for transport infrastructure was too short term to enable the Fast Growth Cities to address this issue, and calls for longer-term funding commitments, like the ones available to northern powerhouse cities such as Manchester and Sheffield.

It said cities were facing skills shortages with Norwich recording a lower than average proportion of people with degree equivalent qualifications.

Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “The government’s devolution agenda has understandably focused on boosting growth in some of the UK’s biggest city economies, many of which are punching below their weight economically. However, for the government to realise its ambitions of building a more productive and higher-wage economy across the country, it’s crucial that it does not overlook the challenges facing Norwich and other ‘fast growth’ cities, which are among the most economically vibrant and innovative places in the UK.”

“For these cities to continue to grow, it’s vital that they receive the kind of tailored policy support the government is putting in place for cities like Greater Manchester and Sheffield.

“It’s also important that any devolution deals involving the ‘fast growth’ cities respond to the specific obstacles and opportunities they face. If they are included in wider regional deals, those agreements should retain a strong urban focus, to make the most of the economic characteristics and strengths of these cities. This should be a key consideration for the government as it extends its devolution agenda in the coming years.”

Are you contributing to Norwich’s growth? Email business editor mark.shields@archant.co.uk

8 comments

  • If commerce does well in Norwich it is despite the City Council's efforts...........not because of them.

    Report this comment

    Diss man

    Tuesday, March 8, 2016

  • The migration from London and the South mentioned by Sylvia is due to the growing differential in cost of housing, in other words Norwich is dirt cheap compared to the South. London properties have increased in value nearly 3 times faster than ours which are stumbling along in line with inflation. You can sell your property in the South, buy a bigger one in Norwich and retire on the difference. Alternatively if you live in state supported accommodation it makes sense for you to be shifted up here like it or not. This partly explains the lack of degree qualified people in the area. The problems mentioned in the article regarding infrastructure are valid we have also seen businesses driven away by the City Council when councils in other parts of the country including those of the same colour gave subsidies. This explains so many private sector jobs moving to less productive parts of the country in the past few decades. Look at the words of the Council leader and see whether he is bothered about the region as a whole or just a very small number.

    Report this comment

    JohnnyH

    Tuesday, March 8, 2016

  • Steely Dan -Any particular group of people you'd like to mention? As for Bus lanes? what's the problem? I love sitting in a trafic queue for half an hour never to see a bus on the bus lane. This council has never had a 'keep traffic flowing' policy prefering to jar the drivers off so they keep away I think they expected people to use the overpriced and underfunded buses on the empty bus lanes.

    Report this comment

    Jonno65

    Tuesday, March 8, 2016

  • Norwich is overcrowded enough as it is. How much more do they want to build? The UEA keeps building student residence blocks non-stop. And the solution seems to be to keep building uncontrollably. Till when? till we build more houses and schools and hospitals that we reach London? Norwich is a unique city, incredibly special with a lovely character but in the last five years or so has changed beyond recognition. I have specially noticed immigration from southerners and Londoners. Funnily enough the tables have turned now, because years ago Norfolk was always regarded as a place for farmers and scorned by many Londoners. Now everybody wants to be there. A balance should be kept between making the economy work for Norwich without turning it into another little London. If they try they will find a way, but respect nature and respect the character of this city. I guess Norwich is doing fine, nothing is holding it back, just the ambition of some to make it what it's not. Norwich is different and it will manage if they allow it. A lovely medium city that should be immensely proud of its heritage and that does not need to be like other cities in the UK. Accept it and be happy with it.

    Report this comment

    sylvia Multiple

    Tuesday, March 8, 2016

  • For a better way of life we need less people moving here and a reduction in house building.

    Report this comment

    Steely Dan

    Tuesday, March 8, 2016

  • At the next council elections we need a candidate or group of candidates that have a "Get Norwich Moving Again" agenda. Basically they will get the traffic moving in and out of the City as freely and effectively as possible. Free up some of the bus lanes for general traffic, reduce the traffic lights and lane closures etc. etc. Public transport will never get the funding to be the best solution for everyone so stop deluding yourselves on that one. People won't give up their cars, all they will do is go elsewhere or sit there belching fumes as they sit stuck in traffic. A lose lose situation. Get the traffic moving and I'll vote for you. Traffic and its free flow is the lifeblood of a City. Norwich has had its arteries well and truly blocked by a misguided few trying to build a personal legacy.

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    Resident Smith

    Tuesday, March 8, 2016

  • Right On!! Resident Smith. I totally agree.........

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    FredJ

    Tuesday, March 8, 2016

  • At the moment it's the traffic policy or should I say the Anti_traffic policy. Trying to get anywhere in Norwich now is a real trial. The other thing that's holding the City back is the Council. We need a total change there. Far too much dead wood clogging it all up and wasting money on badly thought out projects.

    Report this comment

    Resident Smith

    Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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