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Place and culture are key to levelling up the north

3 min read

Even before Constantine was acclaimed Roman Emperor in York, the capital of lower Britain in 306AD, the north of England was an integral and important part, albeit a distinct one, of what is now the UK.

Over the centuries the ebb and flow of power and wealth has moved across this island, but it has not dissolved the idiosyncratic distinctions between the different parts of our country.

Two years ago, the NP11 (the collective of the eleven north of England local enterprise partnerships) adopted “placemaking” as a priority workstream. With support from central government, the NP11 convened a cross-sector strategic partnership, bringing together business and enterprise leaders with key culture and nature partners, including Arts Council England, Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Environment Agency. The partnership has since worked collaboratively to progress and co-fund development of a pan-northern strategy for place.

A consultation around the resulting strategy was launched at the recent Convention of the North event in Liverpool, where Michael Gove delivered the keynote. The interim draft and further detail about the consultation process can be accessed here.

Place holds emotional and sentimental value, and is based as much on human relationships and attachments as geographical boundaries

Initiated with the discrete, but interconnected objectives to support and strengthen the north of England’s culture and nature sectors, to amplify the economic potency of the north’s extensive arts, cultural, heritage and environmental assets, and to stimulate an improvement in the north’s socio-economic, environmental and wellbeing condition, which is an essential precondition of creativity, innovation and growth, the work has to some extent anticipated “Mission 9” of the levelling up agenda, “pride in place”.

The strategy builds on a broad scope programme of stakeholder engagement. It presents 12 “oven ready” propositions for investment in and across the north, and in so doing represents a rapid response to the levelling up white paper and Gove’s clarion call. These propositions have been generated by the north, in the north and for the north.

The strategy identifies a prize of £2.7bn in GVA for optimised place performance, additional to the £10.4bn in GVA already generated by the north’s arts, culture and heritage sectors, but acknowledges that the place agenda is about much more than hard economic outcomes.

People, and by extension culture, are at the heart of the place agenda and levelling up.

Place, for which the strategic partnership has adopted the working definition of “location plus meaning”, holds emotional and sentimental value, and is based as much, or more so, on human relationships and attachments as geographical or administrative boundaries.

Place in practice is a series of connections, links, synergies, cultural affinities, memories, complementarities and interdependencies between people, identities and communities. Culture is the mortar which joins them all together.

The variable geometry which now surrounds local and national government adds further complexity and means that there can be no prescriptive template to take the place agenda forward.

This is not a piece of work which can be captured as a conventional check list and action plan. It must be a process which contributes to a recalibration of the intellectual, administrative, emotional, ethical, human and administrative frameworks within which decisions affecting these matters are taken. LEPs are not in a position to execute many of these kinds of things. That is a role for others.

Investment in place through culture, using the latter in a broad sense, presents ample and tangible opportunities for levelling up, which at its heart is about people.


Lord Inglewood is a Conservative peer and chair of the Cumbria LEP.

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