Confidence and commitment across Leeds City Region

Last month, I led the Leeds City Region’s largest and most ambitious delegation to MIPIM.

The week long international property and investment forum reiterated to me how investor confidence in the UK is high, but more importantly how confidence in the regions, particularly our own and those of our Northern Powerhouse neighbours, is continuing to grow.

This year, not only did we have our largest delegation to date but also our busiest programme which featured 18 events across three days. This activity was all designed around the theme of good growth in a smart City Region, something which the current refresh of our Strategic Economic Plan also focuses on.

During the week, there were a number of major announcements from our partners, including CEG confirming the first tenants for Kirkstall Forge, Wellington Place announcing No.6 as fully let, St Paul’s Developments confirming it was starting on the next phase of its 10 acre former Oxiris chemical works site in Knottingley; and Extra MSA Group releasing the first images of its new concept motorway service area. The City Region’s MIPIM programme also saw Leeds City Council announcing its ambitions for the city to be the exemplar of how to approach development around railway stations in the 21st century.

Our programme covered a diverse range of projects, themes and thought leadership opportunities on topics including mobility orientated development (MODe) and the future of UK transport; alongside the popular subjects of the Northern Powerhouse and Brexit. The latter two themes were highly topical, with myself, Sir Howard Bernstein, Ged Fitzgerald, Pat Richie and Sir Nigel Knowles repeatedly questioned on devolution and our feelings on the uncertainty of Britain’s membership of the European Union during our panel session together to an audience of over 600 international property decision makers.

It speaks volumes that while activity was continuing at MIPIM, we rallied such tremendous support from a range of business figures in our region, calling on the Chancellor ahead of the budget to complete the missing piece in the devolution jigsaw. 65 local business leaders, from organisations including Yorkshire Building Society, Asda and the Leeds Chamber of Commerce, signed an open letter to Mr Osborne published in the Yorkshire Post, showing the united business voice that is committed to getting the right deal done, and fast. Leeds City Region is already the recipient of the UK’s largest Growth Deal and with that the LEP has already started to make a real impact; an additional 2,300 work opportunities have been created for young people, 4,300 business have been supported to grow and £491million in private sector investment has been unlocked for the region – and we know this is just the start.

It’s from my own experience that uncertainty, both around devolution and Brexit, could prove not just to be a challenge to our economic ambitions but also be the undoing of the progress that we as a City Region are making. I do however remain confident that through ongoing discussions a deal can be achieved, to ensure our region is not left behind at the detriment to the whole northern powerhouse initiative.

It is important that we have a presence at international events such as MIPIM, because we are part of a global economy and in order to attract investment and transform our economy for the benefit of future generations we must engage with other cities not just nationally but internationally. With that in mind I was delighted that the LEP was able to play a significant role in securing the investment by Legal and General into Selby recently, creating over 400 jobs, and that our trade and investment team continue to work with existing investors in the region while also looking to new markets at home and overseas, to help deliver upon our economic ambitions, through activity such as our ongoing campaign in India and China as part of the GREAT UK Challenge Fund.

Having now returned from MIPIM, our next challenge is to further build on the confidence that I and others experienced over the week - locally, nationally and internationally - and harness the commitment of our business leaders to further the growth of our region. We are in a strong position but, we’ve still got more to give, more to deliver and more to achieve.