Metro mayors to shake up regional regeneration plans

Last week, voters in six combined authorities across the UK headed to the polls to elect new metro mayors.

In the North West, Greater Manchester voted in ex-Labour MP Andy Burnham, who claimed 63% of the vote. The Liverpool City Region also elected a former Labour MP in Steve Rotheram, who won 59%.

The race was tighter in the West Midlands, where Conservative Andy Street, the former managing director of John Lewis, took just 1% more of the first-preference votes than his Labour rival Siôn Simon.

The three remaining authorities, West of England, Tees Valley and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, also elected Conservative mayors in local politicians Tim Bowles, Ben Houchen and James Palmer. So what can their respective regions expect from the new mayors?

Although their individual remits will vary, all of the mayors will have some degree of power over housing, planning or regeneration - areas of especially great importance in the major city regions surrounding Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

Wealth imperative

Perhaps unsurprisingly given his retail background, Street has cited regenerating high streets in the West Midlands as a priority. “He understands the need to create wealth to drive improvements in our lives,” says Peter Deeley, managing director of Coventry-based development and construction firm Deeley Group.

A major coup would be attracting Channel 4 to Birmingham, which Street pledged in his manifesto. The broadcaster is under government pressure to move out of London.

On housing, Street has mooted a ‘brownfield first’ policy to ensure all other options are explored before green-belt land is developed. However, he has also supported denser housing where appropriate, as well as the conversion of unused office buildings to residential, to help reach his target of 25,000 new homes.

In Burnham, Greater Manchester has gained a leader with “a superb range of experience and a valuable rolodex of high-level political contacts”, according to Dan Crossley, partner at Manchester-based property consultancy WHR.

Burnham has pledged to increase the proportion of affordable housing and to prioritise “higher-density residential developments in brownfield areas” above large standalone homes for private sale.

“He definitely understands the need for a new approach to infrastructure, design and new homes,” says Tim Heatley, the co-founder of North West developer Capital & Centric.

Developers in the region are also hoping that he will support its burgeoning technology, media and communications industries. “Andy gets the importance of tech and the need to create clusters,” says Heatley.

Focused on infrastructure

In Liverpool, Rotheram - who ran his own construction company in the 1980s - is expected to be more focused on infrastructure.

“He needs to make sure the city region takes advantage of the development of [container terminal extension] Liverpool2,” says Andy Delaney, head of Colliers International’s Liverpool office. “Road and rail infrastructure needs to be improved for when the ships start coming in there.”

Despite having links to Labour’s far-left wing, Rotheram has promised to support the region’s business community.

“The fear in the background is that he has been Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary private secretary, so it could be a way for the hard left to get a grip in the city region again, but he has [said] he is business friendly,” notes Delaney.

The North West’s new Labour mayors, who are personal friends, could also foster greater collaboration between Liverpool and Manchester.

“The proximity of the two cities and the relationship between the two individuals can be leveraged,” Heatley says.

Whatever their policies, the one thing the mayors have in common is the opportunity to change the face of their cities. Whether they succeed is yet to be seen.

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