By Baroness Quin - 6th February 2012
Baroness Quin argues that former coalfield areas are left isolated with few economic opportunities.
In recent years the concept of ‘city regions’ has gained favour in government and political circles. Cities are seen as engines of economic growth, drawing people in from surrounding areas for work, shopping, entertainment and recreation.
Politically the focus on city regions has largely replaced the previous interest in regionalism and elected regional government – understandable, perhaps, particularly in the light of the crushing majority against the proposal for elected regional government in the North-East of England in 2004. The trend towards city regions was already evident in the last years of the Labour government and, if anything, has strengthened under the coalition.
There is little doubt that our towns and cities can be dynamic economic forces and we have seen many examples of successful economic regeneration and innovative entrepreneurialism across the country as a result. I mention my own town of Gateshead with huge pride, whose contribution to the wider region through its extraordinary range of projects including the iconic Angel of the North, the award-winning Gateshead Millennium Bridge over the Tyne, the BALTIC art gallery and the Sage Music venue is truly remarkable.
However, I have concerns about the consequences of focusing too much on ‘city regions’ – particularly as regards the use of available regional funding – as I believe that some areas of the country with real needs, but lying outside the boundaries of such regions, are in danger of being overlooked.
This is particularly true of some of the former coalfield areas in the North of England which are not close to an urban centre and are not linked to such centres by effective public transport. These areas have become, with the closure of the pits, a semi-industrial/rural mix where communities are often isolated and where economic opportunities are few. Fears that their needs will not be addressed have prompted my question in the House of Lords today.
One of the strengths of the Regional Development Agencies – now abolished by the government – was that they could direct their funds to any part of their region where need was perceived. This meant in effect that country-wide coverage was achieved. It is not clear to me how any gaps created by their abolition will be filled. We need, in my view, a formal commitment from the government that areas of real need, wherever they may be, will not be forgotten.
Baroness Quinraised to life peerage in 2006 and is the vice-chair of the European Union Group 2010