The North of England has struggled to attract foreign direct investment because it has lacked a clear economic direction, according to a senior figure at a global infrastructure services firm.
Richard Green, the director for design, planning and economics, at AECOM, also claimed that the creation of a single elected mayor would not necessarily be the best way of driving economic growth in Yorkshire.
Mr Green made his comments as public sector and business leaders head to Manchester for the UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference. According to Mr Green, foreign direct investment (FDI) follows an economic rationale that is informed by “clear leadership and a well-articulated plan”.
He added: “To date, FDI has also focused upon developed economic centres that have a proven delivery legacy and high global visibility.
“Traditionally the North has suffered due to being unfamiliar territory to certain FDI markets. FDI investors in energy and infrastructure also want to understand the total economic offer, and long-term income stream , through a proven business plan. In some respects, there has not been a clear economic direction for the North in the past that is visible to FDI investors.
“This is a key challenge for the North.”
Mr Green said that investors back their best bet of getting a return.
He added: “The North has to compete for investment like any other potential recipient project in every country.
It is critical that transport infrastructure isn’t planned in a silo.
“Other important enablers such as housing, employment, schools and hospitals all play a crucial role in ensuring that people will want to live and work in an area.
“Real estate values will increase as a consequence, making infrastructure projects an attractive investment proposition.”
He said that the prospect of the different cities, towns and communities in Yorkshire working seamlessly across boundaries would help to break down barriers.
He added: “However, this must be balanced with the identity of the core cities and other communities in a way that will truly represent the diversity of places...The more successful mayoral and city regions are based around economic markets and travel to work areas rather than physical areas, and are inclusive in terms of the economy and community.
“Given how diverse Yorkshire is, and how many different economic areas it covers, a single elected mayor would not necessarily be the right solution to drive growth or investment.”
Mr Green said that the economic battleground is increasingly between cities rather than countries.
The UK winners will be cities that are connected to each other and their overseas counterparts, he said.
He added: “Large-scale transport infrastructure projects are a vital component of the Northern Powerhouse project – but in planning terms, they present many more challenges.
“This is why Transport for the North has such a vital role to play in bringing local transport authorities together – not only to speak with one voice to UK government, but also to potential foreign investors.”