I had a truly excellent meeting with the Northern Gateway partners and Sir Ed Lister of the Homes and Communities Agency and his team from HCA and Communities and Local Government first thing yesterday.
We are developing a very exciting project together, which Stoke will lead for the whole Northern Gateway Development Zone. It is radical. It is bold. It is disruptive. But my lips are sealed. You’ll need to wait till MIPIM to hear any more about it.
Sir Ed was on great form. He will be much in evidence at MIPIM and you can judge for yourself, but from where I’m sitting he is clearly well into his stride at the HCA. Under his stewardship the agency is shifting significantly in response to the Housing White Paper, with the new HCA chief executive joining this week, some new board members (clearly selected in the main to try to crack the tough London situation) and certainly a more streamlined relationship between the HCA and CLG. All to the good I reckon. There is much work to do.
The lovely Stoke people in the Northern Gateway Partnership are clearly a bit weary after the travails of last week, but they still got themselves into Westminster for 9am on a Monday morning, bright eyed and raring to go. You can’t fault the commitment. And it gave the lie to the demoralised image of Stoke painted by the press last week, with their lazy one-dimensional treatment of this proud city, hell bent on labelling Stoke as “the Brexit Capital of Britain” (clearly entirely down to the fact that the UKIP chap had a chance of winning, which he did NOT).
The Stoke I know is progressive and changing, it is go-ahead and creative. You just could not recognise it in the election coverage fixated on the “left behind” working class, the aftershocks of the referendum, and the contrast between the city’s glorious industrial past and its supposedly grim present.
Hardly any of the press accounts proffered any recognition of Stoke’s collective push for regeneration and renewal. So it was hardly surprising that local people greeted the press reports with a mixture of anger and anxiety. As our friends at the Stoke Sentinel commented “It’s hard not to conclude that most commentators do little more than make a quick leap off and on the train while searching out a small corner of bleakness that confirms views purloined from other idly compiled articles of a similar ilk,”.
Clearly, Stoke-on-Trent (with its six constituent towns of Hanley, Burslem, Fenton, Longton, Stoke and Tunstall) has some serious social and economic difficulties. These are difficulties that we all collectively, central government, local government, local business, the community – and not least the Northern Gateway Partnership of course (on the back of the HS2 investment) – are determined to address.
The forces of good are seriously being mobilised. Stoke is a classic urban regeneration project, with a rich industrial heritage and the symptoms of subsequent urban decline, notably too many empty buildings and low-paid jobs. But a new-found ambition is being nurtured. The fretful portrayals of hopelessness and despair that we have seen in the media have precious little to do with Stoke’s reality. The city is moving on. There is everything to play for. As you will see at MIPIM in a couple of weeks. Stoke is radical. Stoke is bold. Stoke is prepared to be disruptive.