This article was written for the News & Star.
There has been much discussion about the Levelling Up Agenda. Clearly the concept and the vision behind it, that there are parts of the UK that need to be economically rebalanced, is one that most people would support. However, the challenge has not been the why, but the how.
Changing a place or region cannot happen overnight. Indeed, many of the projects and investments themselves will take many years to go from the initial concept to planning, to building, and to conclusion. This means thinking in the medium and the long term – not something that always happens in politics where there is always an impatience to get things done.
However, here in Carlisle we have had patience – and the fruits of that are starting to be borne out. In many respects, I believe that Carlisle has grounds to consider itself the country’s levelling up case study as we start to see the Levelling Up Agenda in action.
It all goes back a few years – before the words “levelling up” were on Ministers’ lips – when new ideas started to emerge. The Borderlands Growth Initiative, a Garden Village, a ring road, a Town Deal, a new cancer centre, and University of Cumbria development. Today a number of these projects have been completed, and we are now well underway or into the planning stages of others.
We have seen the Sands Centre development completed and the new cancer unit open, as well as important flood defence works finished. Over the next few months, the ring road construction will start, as will the refurbishment of our train station. Not far behind should be the university development (which will include a new medical school) in the town centre. Then there will be the £20 million pounds Towns Deal Investment and the £9 million High Street Funding – and in the longer term, the development of the Garden Village itself.
Of course, there is more to be done and we have to make sure that this is just the beginning of the investments in our city – but I think we can say that Carlisle is showing the way forward and demonstrating what it is to be an area that is levelling up. This means substantial public sector investment in education, health, housing, connectivity, and infrastructure.
But this is not the final part of levelling up. Because for levelling up to truly be a success, all of this has to be followed by private sector investment and long-term economic growth. This is what I want to see in our city, and this is how Carlisle will become a true positive case study in the concept of levelling up!