Significant NW house price growth, HS2 concerns and North Westerners feel less anxious

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Unemployment in the NW decreased by 2,000 to 148,000 between June and August, which left the overall rate at 4.1%.

The South West continued to record the lowest rate at 2.4% with the UK rate at 3.9%. The highest rate was 5.8% which was recorded in the North East.

The South West also had the highest employment rate at 81.0% which compared with 74.5% in the NW. UK employment was estimated at 75.9%.

NW average property prices increased by 1.3% to £168,221, which took annual growth to 3.1%, which was the second highest in England. In comparison, UK prices grew by 0.8% to £234,853 during August, an annual growth rate of 1.3%.

Analysis by the BBC has found workers living in seaside areas in Great Britain earn on average £1,600 less per year than those living inland. Since 2010 wages fell by c25% in real terms in Wirral West, the biggest drop in the UK.

Overall, in coastal constituencies median wages were £22,104 compared with £23,785 in non-coastal areas. Despite this, average pay in the Wirral is c£30,000, close to the UK average and higher than the regional norm.

The ONS’s Personal Well-being (or Happiness) Index has ranked the NW third out of the 12 UK ‘regions’, only Londoners and Geordies’ happiness improved more. Average anxiety has also improved most in the NW over the last six years.

Overall though, the Northern Irish were still the happiest in the UK with Londoners still the most miserable.

Development

A National Audit Office (‘NAO’) report has highlighted that rolling out fracking in England has been slower than expected. In 2016, the government forecast that up to 20 wells would be fracked by mid-2020, but only three have been operational. Two of the functioning wells are in Lancashire.

The industry told the NAO that slow progress on fracking was partly due to the need to halt fracking activity if there is a tremor greater than 0.5 on the Richter scale. This compares with 4.0 in the US where the technology has revolutionised the US energy industry.

A key scientific assessment of recent industry data by the Oil and Gas Authority is highly anticipated. The UK has spent £32.7m supporting fracking since 2011.

Nothing highlights the need for regeneration more than a derelict theme park, and the deserted Frontierland in Morecambe is no exception. Plans to set up a £17m retail park, hotel and pub were approved in 2015 but now Lancaster City Council has asked developers their intentions after time to complete the project expired.

In Manchester, plans to create the first public park for more than 90 years have been submitted to the city council. Mayfield Park would be a 6.5 acre public space close to Piccadilly station and part of a £1.4bn plan to regenerate a run-down area south of Fairfield Street. Work is expected to start in 2020 and will take up to 15 years to complete.

If a derelict theme park signals a regeneration need, does a city obtaining its first Michelin star restaurant suggest ‘job done?’ Manchester now has its first Michelin star restaurant in more than 40 years. The French, in The Midland Hotel, had a star from 1974 until 1977, but now Mana, in Ancoats, has been awarded one.

Transport

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership’s Independent review into HS2 ‘HS2 North’ was introduced in Parliament this month by the Northern Powerhouse All Party Parliamentary Group.

The key recommendation of the report is the establishment of HS2 North, a private sector special purpose vehicle modelled on the Olympic Delivery Authority which would integrate HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail.

HS2 North would be arms-length from government, contracting with private sector delivery partners and Network Rail, and overseen by Transport for the North.

Whilst no one doubts that HS2 will bring significant benefits to the Northern economy, this report, and a second Northern Powerhouse Partnership report, ‘HS2 and the Economy of the North’, identifies that further detailed work needs to be undertaken to pin down the economic benefits that the new line would bring.

Separately, CBI East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, London, the North East and North West regional directors also urged the government to build the HS2 rail project in full.

However, a paper by the Adam Smith Institute, also released this month, claims that HS2 will deliver limited benefits and that some Northern cities could lose direct trains to London.

The instead recommends upgrading existing routes with new signalling, doubling the number of tracks, reopening mothballed lines, building new sections of railway and targeting bottlenecks at key junctions.

Also on the trains, the government is considering whether the management of Northern Rail should be taken into public hands. The Department for Transport confirmed it was developing contingency plans with either a new short-term management contract with Northern or the Operator of Last Resort (‘OLR’) (effectively the Government).

The OLR is currently in charge of London North East Railway, the East Coast Mainline intercity franchise. Northern is a large, more complex commuter network, so the government is likely to take-on a more supervisory role, with Northern still able to run day-to-day services and take the blame.

In a bad month for Northern, politicians demanded that passengers still having to use the 1980s-built rail-buses called Pacer trains, should be offered reduced fares. Northern had planned to withdraw them all by the end of this year but some will be retained into 2020 as a result of delays in the construction and delivery of new trains from manufacturer CAF.

The Pacers, a joint venture between British Rail and British Leyland, were originally constructed from the body of a bus and were intended to have a maximum lifespan of 20 years. In fairness though, the Pacer is a survivor, other British Leyland vehicles from the 1980s like the Austin Maxi and Morris Marina have long gone.

Jobs

Plans to redevelop Santander’s Bootle base into a £75m complex have been approved. The Merseyside site will become the bank’s contact centre and UK operations hub from 2022, employing more than 2,500 staff.

The existing Bootle site, originally GiroBank’s HQ from 1968, will be demolished to make way for the environmentally sustainable complex which will accommodate sporting and social facilities.

In Blackpool, c100 staff at The Silver Line, a charity set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in 2013 to combat loneliness among the over-65s, have been safeguarded following a merger with Age UK.

The Silver Line receives over 10,000 calls a week, and its befriending services support 2,000 older people.

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