10 August 2021

How to unlock the economic potential of the East Midlands

By Ben Bradley MP

My ambition is to rebuild the East Midlands. We can’t just be the place you pass on the train on your way to other parts of the country. We need to rebalance the region with the West Midlands – to get our Midlands Engine firing on all cylinders – and we are developing with the Government a solid and exciting plan in order to make this a reality.

The Government’s Levelling Up White Paper is vital to our plan. This strategy will be published later this year and is being led by the Prime Minister with bags of energy and enthusiasm.

The paper will set out how bold policy moves will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic. The White Paper will be wide-ranging, looking at improving living standards, growing the private sector and increasing and spreading opportunity. It needs to form this ‘Levelling Up’ agenda into something coherent that can make a lasting impact. 

This agenda is a really important part of my role as the MP for Mansfield – it is an incredible opportunity for us in the East Midlands to rebuild after the challenges of Covid-19 – and as the White Paper develops, I am making sure Nottinghamshire is seizing every chance to rebuild and regenerate our area in my other role as leader of the County Council. We want to make sure our county is a prime example of what the East Midlands can achieve if the vision is there.

I became Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council in May and my new administration has made a full-throttle start. We have secured £24.3m from the Department for Transport for major road improvements; pledged £48m of our own money for improvements to Nottinghamshire highways over the next year; £34m has been acquired for ultra-fast broadband and we’ve given the greenlight to building two new schools among other key priorities. In short, we’re not hanging about!

We have also been knocking on the door of the Treasury for further support for the area. For example, we have just put forward a bid for £12.6m from the Government’s new UK Community Renewal Fund. The £220m fund aims to help communities with the biggest need to improve skills to help people find work and support local business recovery following the pandemic. 

We should make an ambitious play for better infrastructure, improved opportunities and central government support.

In our blueprint for levelling up in Nottinghamshire, we have some huge regional projects. The new East Midlands Development Corporation (DevCo) is being delivered in conjunction with numerous stakeholders and partners, including the Midlands Engine and five neighbouring local authorities.  

First flagged in the Queen’s Speech in May, the DevCo is now taking shape following the appointment of a new Managing Director, Richard Carr.

The DevCo – the first in the country – will use new planning powers to regenerate and boost growth across several sites, each the size of the London Olympic Park, sitting on the borders of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.

The huge area contains the planned HS2 East Midlands Hub station at Toton, the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station and land around East Midlands Airport. This vital work will deliver greater, faster, more environmentally sustainable and inclusive growth.

The consistent preference for Toton as an HS2 hub has been the spark, causing a chain reaction leading to the creation of the DevCo. Further endorsement of the East Midlands Hub in the Integrated Rail Plan can help us to unlock an initial £3.5bn wave of private sector investment.

Working with Government we’re bringing these huge opportunities together to create a new economic powerhouse for our region and the rewards will be massive. We aim to generate 84,000 new jobs, 10,000 new homes and add billions in value to the East Midlands in the years to come.

Supported by regional businesses and universities, it will also work to secure funding to help support developments, speak to investors and developers to establish potential, and liaise with local communities about proposals.

The Freeport is supercharging this massive opportunity. The ‘East Midlands Global Gateway’ will unlock incentives from Treasury and HMRC for further opportunities and growth delivering high quality jobs and new and better skills.

Long term we aim to connect more than 20 towns, cities and villages across the Midlands to the HS2 station, the Development Corporation site and Freeport, so job opportunities and better skills are spread evenly. 

Levelling up is about deeds, not words – and the plan is being formulated in Whitehall as we speak. With our work in Nottinghamshire and the new East Midlands Development Corporation and Freeport all driving a new and exciting era for our region, we need to take this chance to not just react to Governments White Paper this Autumn, but to seek to shape it and find support in Whitehall for our agenda. 

We are giving a visible signal to communities in the East Midlands that levelling up means investment in the places they live.

The East Midlands is being galvanised, bringing together MPs, council leaders, public and private sectors and universities to deliver complementary development across the region – the strength of unanimity behind these plans is breath-taking.

This is a once in a generation opportunity, made even more pressing as we come out of the pandemic, and I will be doing everything in my power to make sure our plan for levelling up succeeds. 

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Ben Bradley is Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council and MP for Mansfield

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.