This article was written for the News & Star.
Over the last couple of weeks there has been a lot of discussion about concepts like the Northern Powerhouse and Levelling Up. This will only intensify as we head toward the next General Election (and quite rightly!). It would be a big mistake to think that these concepts have nothing to do with Carlisle. Indeed, it could be argued that Carlisle is a prime example of where economically-focused public investment has happened, is happening, and will happen in the future.
For many years in Carlisle there was little appetite to attract or encourage public or private money into our city. How this has changed. I think things changed first when our city lobbied hard to have an Enterprise Zone – still one of only 48 in England. Kingmoor Park was given Enterprise Zone status in 2016, and long before the words “Levelling Up” were a thing we saw new investment and economic activity follow.
Around the same time came the Conservative manifesto commitment of 2015 to develop a Borderlands Growth Deal. This deal will ultimately bring over £450million into the region – including through the refurbishment of Carlisle Citadel Station (about to start) and the University of Cumbria receiving £50m to help build a new University Campus around the Citadels.
Whist this was going on, the Government was looking to create a number of Garden Villages – with one designated for St Cuthberts here in Carlisle. It was on the back of this that I was able to be heavily involved in attracting and ultimately securing £220 million for the southern link road (which is now under construction) as part of the Conservative Government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund.
Then there have been the developments at the Hospital where a new cancer unit costing £30 million has been built, with the unit now up and running. This of course is good news, but the really exciting development is the new Medical School at the University of Cumbria which will open in 2025 and will turn out new locally trained doctors from 2029. This was facilitated by the Government with Imperial College in London coming to an agreement with our university.
All of this is on top of the the £20 million allocated under the Towns Fund and the £9 million under the High Street fund – two initiatives of the Conservative Government which will make a difference to our city centre in the coming years.
This is all serious investment in our city which we should be proud of. Building on this is the private sector investment that will help drive the prosperity of the city.
Carlisle once used to think of itself as the Border City. We are much more than that now. With the boosting of the university, the station, and transport links we are a true regional capital. And that, after all, is what levelling up is all about!