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Ambitions for the North: People and Place

There is broad agreement among stakeholders in the north of England that we need a 'Great North Plan'. The latest phase of this project seeks to develop a set of shared ambitions to advance strategic planning and governance across the North, which:

  • Promote co-operation beyond traditional boundaries

  • Create a joined-up approach that helps Northern towns, cities and rural areas develop sustainably

  • Ensures that prosperity generated by the Northern Powerhouse is shared as widely as possible, not just in the key cities


Our ambitions will now be launched in Leeds on Thursday 30 May 2019. To find out more about the launch event and register, please click here.



Far from being an under-performing part of the country, the North of England comes from a position of strength, diversity and opportunity.  It currently is home to over a quarter of England's population (15 million people); contains over a quarter of England's workforce (7.2 million people); achieves £304 billion annual Gross Value Added (if the North was a country, this would make it Europe's 9th largest economy ahead of Norway and Austria); contains five of the eight English 'core cities', and five of the 10 English National Parks; and contains many of the country's most affordable cities.

The Great North Plan project outlined issues that need to be tackled in the North, including social and economic inequality, relatively low skills and educational attainment, historic lack of infrastructure and transport investment, and the legacy of post-industrial change. These issues are now being taken forward by a range of organisations, including Transport for the North, the Department for International Trade and IPPR North.

These are all important building blocks for the Northern Powerhouse, but they need to be knitted into how people want to live, both now and in the future. From our side, the RTPI's northern regions have commissioned Peter Brett Associates and Newcastle University to develop a set of shared ambitions for improving places and quality of life across the North. This will add much needed insight into people's needs and aspirations, helping to inform big, vital decisions ahead.


The roundtables

During January 2019, the Institute held a series of roundtables in Northern towns and cities. Through lively and informed debate, delegates helped to create a set of shared ambitions to advance strategic planning and governance to inform the Northern Powerhouse agenda. Our six roundtables explored the following themes:

1. Demographic change (Bradford)

Major demographic trends are transforming the North. In Bradford we considered how planners and others should respond to patterns of rural-urban migration, the 'brain drain' of graduates to the South, the challenges of an ageing population, and the future of communities which have been 'left behind' by industrial and technological change.

2. Housing quality and affordability (Newcastle)

Housing demand is linked to economic opportunity, but job growth is increasingly clustered in a handful of cities. We want plans to deliver healthier, happier and more sustainable communities, and in Newcastle we explored the affordability and quality of housing; the number and quality of jobs; the impact that changing transport and digital connectivity has on housing choices and settlement patterns; and how investment in new transport corridors might affect future spatial development choices.

3. Commerce, jobs and the fourth Industrial Revolution (Manchester)

How can we provide secure and productive employment for the future residents of all Northern cities, towns and villages over the next 30 years? In Manchester we explored what improved productivity looks like in a Northern context; how smarter strategic planning and infrastructure decisions can narrow the performance gap between places; improving graduate retention; and the role of existing and future transport corridors in delivering improved productivity.

4. Rural and coastal (Blackpool)

What are the similarities and differences between rural and coastal places across the North? In Bradford we explored issues of social deprivation and seasonality, rural and costal industries (including tourism and natural beauty) and the imapcts of the digital economy.

5. The future of town centres (Sheffield)

How can we ensure the sustainability and viability of town centres? In Sheffield we examined the growing divide between larger and smaller centres, existential threats and alternative options for vulnerable centres, and successful lessons in ways to redefine the cultural, leisure and tourism offer of centres.

6. Northern assets (Darlington)

What natural, cultural and infrastructure 'assets' are distinctly Northern? In Darlington we explored ways to exploit the relative affordability of the North as a place to live, and consider the availability of previously developed sites and Enterprise Zones.


Call for evidence

We are keen that this spatial framework is well founded, and takes account of the latest thinking about spatial planning issues in the North in this strategic context. We are therefore calling for submissions from public and private sector organisations, and from members of civil society, to provide underpinning evidence in support of the spatial framework.

These submissions may be references to existing documents and proposals (to make sure that the project team has taken these into account in its work), or original thinking about possible pan-northern spatial planning propositions that would support the aim of shaping progressive spatial planning which will support the building of prosperous, healthy and sustainable communities across the Northern Powerhouse. These may be:

  • Key cross border investments and strategies that need to accounted for in spatial planning
  • Common policies that might be adopted consistently across the North to deliver good growth
  • Planning and delivery methodologies which can develop better, more competitive places

Please explain how any evidence or proposal relates to the key themes and cross-cutting issues set out in the call for evidence document below, and how they can influence future spatial planning outcomes in the North of England.

Download the call for evidence document

Responses to this call for evidence should be sent to The deadline for submissions is Friday 1st March, 2019 



Project background: the Blueprint for a Great North Plan


GNP Blueprint

The story so far...

In 2014 a number of organisations came together to hold two events in the North West under the banner 'Framing the Future'. At these, participants expressed a clear sense of frustration that, at a national level, matters of planning and economic development were not being given the attention that they deserved, and that spatial planning processes at the sub-national level were fragmented. There was agreement that, in the absence of any serious national spatial plan, the north of England needed a plan of its own.

In 2015 IPPR North and the RTPI issued a call for evidence, and organised 11 roundtable discussions in six northern cities. We also held a Northern Summit in January 2016, with debates and interactive voting. Through all of these activities we asked 'Do we need a Great North Plan?'. The response was an overwhelming 'yes' (93%); and, when asked about their more specific attitudes towards the Great North Plan, 58% of respondents said that, 'We need to get on and do it'.

This blueprint is not the Great North Plan itself – although its centrefold spread illustrates what part of the Great North Plan could look like. It represents the best ideas from over 350 people who fed into our thinking on the issue so far. It sets out a series of principles to guide how the Plan should be developed; identifies the suite of documents that might together comprise the Great North Plan; suggests different planning issues that need to be fitted together through collaborative action; and proposes a process for the next steps in moving from blueprint to plan.

Download full-size blueprint | Download A4 version | Read online