Leanne Tritton, founder and chair of ING, alongside minister for investment Lord Dominic Johnson at MIPIM. Credit: Place North

MIPIM | North’s green revolution opportunities are ‘going to be sensational’ says minister

Investors across the globe are eager to get involved in renewable energy technology – which is good news for the North, according to Lord Dominic Johnson, minister for investment at the Department for Business and Trade.

Johnson was speaking at MIPIM after a day of touring stands for the various city regions. Addressing a small audience at the Cannes conference, he described how most of the conversations he has had with investors have centred on the “green revolution”.

It is an area where the UK has had a head start in building up skills, particularly in carbon capture. Johnson described the work being done in that sector through Teeside’s East Coast Cluster and Liverpool City Region’s HyNet North West project as “pioneering”.

“The opportunities for us to take the skillset that we’ve built up in the North of England in terms of clean energy transition and to then export that to the rest of the world is absolutely enormous,” Johnson said. “The wealth creation in cities like Newcastle and Liverpool is going to be sensational.”

Regarding central government’s role in supporting this new realm of investment, Johnson said: “The cities of the North of England are doing the work themselves.

“As long as we ensure that the regulatory environment is there and the basic funding is there to kickstart some of these projects – combined with excellent civic leadership, which we have in people like [Liverpool City Region Mayor] Steve Rotheram and [Tees Valley Mayor] Ben Houchen, then we’ll succeed.”

London who?

The next day, Johnson elaborated more on the way his office views the North’s importance in attracting foreign direct investment.

“When I go around the world to meet investors, very rarely do I have a conversation about investing in London,” he told a group of reporters, estimating that 75% of the conversations he has are about investing outside the capital city.

“That’s what is so exciting,” he said. “Investors see very good value. They see civic leadership committed to them.

“They see the government support for the levelling up agenda and they see the skills and the hubs we’ve created in places you never would have thought of 20 years ago.”

He gave shout-outs to Newport and its semiconductor research, Edinburgh’s space cluster, and the research and design hubs of Manchester, Gateshead, and Birmingham.

“My single powerful message from this entire conference, and my work around the world, is the rebirth and renaissance of the British regional capitals,” Johnson said.

“These will become again household names around the world,” he continued.

Devolution ally

Johnson cited devolution as one of the main ways the government can assist Northern cities in realising their potential. These powers were recently expanded in Greater Manchester through the Spring Budget.

“I personally believe that making financial decisions as close to the point of reference as possible is the most desirable outcome,” he said. “It’s not right that central government should try to control all spending decisions – it does not seem to make sense to me.”

Johnson added that the current government has, in his mind, pursued a devolution agenda very successfully. Along those lines, he said there were several government policies that would assist in bringing investment to the city regions: freeports, enterprise zones, and investment zones.

Johnson also praised the mayoral model in particular.

“Combined authority mayors have provided a really valuable focus for those cities and regions and they have become household names,” he said.

“The power of that individual focal point in the North is important,” he continued. “It gives businesses a single window through which they can access those areas and it has made those places really proactive in terms of how they deal with real estate investors. That’s very valuable.”

Johnson described how you could feel the pride in place that these city regions have, something he saw during MIPIM while spending time at the Liverpool and Newcastle stands in particular.

“The civic leadership they are providing to create these amazing places to live, to work, to create wealth is just something that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes,” Johnson said. “It must be celebrated.”

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