Relocation North?

by David Murray on 9 February 2011

in National Parks, Northern England

“Moving to the North of England?  Surely not!  Isn’t it all back-to-back houses and mill chimneys?”  Yes, that kind of conversation may be somewhat dated, but ignorance of the true character of Northern England is still a widespread problem south of Watford Gap.

Canal near Burnley

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I read in the Times of one organisation moving many of its staff to Manchester. Well, it was Salford actually; it’s an oft-forgotten fact that the latter is not merely a part of its more publicised neighbour.

Anyway, back to the theme of relocation north. Having been born and bred in the region I’ve always been aware of its mountains and moors, hills and valleys, rivers and lakes, not to mention its splendid beaches, its nature reserves and its stately homes and ancient castles. The photograph above was taken in January 2010 by the Leeds-Liverpool Canal on the outskirts of Burnley, with Pendle Hill in the background. This trans-Pennine waterway passes through some splendid countryside.

It was in the early 80s that I became forcibly aware that these impressions were not shared by the great majority of the southern population. As a management consultant I was involved in evaluating the performance of an organisation set up to attract business to the North West. In the course of that project I learned that one of the major barriers they confronted was an image of gloomy and decaying industrialisation in the minds of business executives considering relocation – and possibly even more influentially, in the minds of their wives.

Bolton Abbey, Wharfedale

Almost thirty years have now passed, and I’m sure that the situation is better than it was in those days.  Much of the worst of the dereliction caused by the decline of traditional northern industries, exacerbated in places by destruction from bombing raids during World War II, has now been cleared away.

Many towns and cities have gone through considerable programmes of renewal. Manchester and Salford provide examples of this. Then again, television programmes on the outdoors, series such as the current one on the Lakes and Michael Portillo’s train journeys have shown aspects of the North rarely seen so clearly on the small screen in past decades.

Maybe greater emphasis needs to be given now to the fact that, of the fifteen National Parks in the UK, five are in the North – the Peak District, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland, and the North York Moors. For certain types of clean, environmentally friendly business enterprise they themselves can provide attractive locations, but even in connection with types of inward investment that would be inappropriate to a national park there is an important regional role to play in promoting the attractions of the region in general. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that in addition to the four national parks there are seven nationally designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Of course, I’m not claiming that none of this is already being done, but “The Case for the North” has to be made ever more strongly.

Cliffs near Flamborough Head Lighthouse
Near Flamborough Head Lighthouse, Yorkshire Coast, April 2010
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