From Problems in the North to the Problematic North: Northern Devolution Through the Lens of History

  • Daryl MartinEmail author
  • Alex Schafran
  • Zac Taylor
Part of the Building a Sustainable Political Economy: SPERI Research & Policy book series (SPERIRP)


Current debates about Northern English cities and their role in national economic strategies cannot be read simply through the lens of contemporary politics. We therefore take the Northern Powerhouse as our starting point to trace a long history of policy and planning discourses about the North of England. We use Russell’s chronology of key historical moments in which Northern English cities hold a particular charge in cultural narratives of the nation to guide our analysis of contemporaneous tensions in debates about planning and governance. A focus on representations about the North of England over the last two centuries reveals four interlocking themes: the role of London in directing debates about the North; a tension between political and spatial approaches to planning; the characterisation of cities in the North as intrinsically problematic; and the continued issue of poverty in these cities.


Devolution History North of England Planning Poverty Urbanism 


  1. Alsop, W. 2005. Will Alsop’s supercity. Manchester: Urbis.Google Scholar
  2. Belchem, J. 2000. Merseypride: Essays in Liverpool exceptionalism. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bubb, S. 2012. ACEVO urges chancellor to work with third sector on devolution, public services, employment and extremism in pre-budget letter. ACEVO, July 8, 2015. Available from: Accessed 20 Sept 2016.
  4. Burnet, A. 2002. North to Elizabetha. Prospect, December 20. Available from: Accessed 12 Nov 2016.
  5. Caunce, S. 2003. Northern English industrial towns: Rivals or partners? Urban History 30 (3): 338–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Centre for Cities. 2014. A manifesto for a more prosperous urban Britain. London: Centre for Cities.Google Scholar
  7. Centre for London. 2014. The brightest star: A manifesto for London. London: Centre for London.Google Scholar
  8. Chadwick, E. 1965 [1842]. Report on the sanitary condition of the labouring population of Great Britain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [HL]. 2015–2016.Google Scholar
  10. Clifford, C. 1997. The rise and fall of the Department of Economic Affairs 1964–69: British government and indicative planning. Contemporary British History 11 (2): 94–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cockin, K. (ed.). 2012. The literary North. Palgrave: Houndmills.Google Scholar
  12. Core Cities. 2013. Keys to the city: Unlocking urban growth through devolution. Manchester: Core Cities.Google Scholar
  13. Daily Mash. 2015. Northern Powerhouse relocated to London. The Daily Mash.…/northern-powerhouse-relocated-to-london.
  14. Davies, R. 2016. Lord Heseltine outlines plans to regenerate Redcar steelworks site. The Guardian, February 19. Available from: Accessed 12 Nov 2016.
  15. Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. 2012. Closing the RDAs (Regional Development Agencies): Lessons from the RDA transition and closure programme. London: Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.Google Scholar
  16. Department for Communities and Local Government. 2010. National evaluation of the local enterprise growth initiative programme: Final report. London: Department for Communities and Local Government.Google Scholar
  17. Department of Economic Affairs. 1965. The North West: A regional study. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
  18. Department of Economic Affairs. 1966a. A review of Yorkshire and Humberside. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
  19. Department of Economic Affairs. 1966b. Challenge of the changing North. London: HMSO.Google Scholar
  20. Dickens, C. 2001 [1854]. Hard times: An authoritative text, contexts, criticism. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  21. Disraeli, B. 1998 [1845]. Sybil, or the two nations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Engels, F. 2009 [1892]. The condition of the working class in England. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Etherington, D., and M. Jones. 2016. The city-region chimera: The political economy of metagovernance failure in Britain. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 9 (2): 371–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Faulkner, W. 1975 [1951]. Requiem for a nun. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  25. Frost, D, and P. North. 2013. Militant Liverpool: A city on the edge. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gaskell, E. 1998 [1855]. North and South. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Giovannini, A. 2016. Towards a ‘new English regionalism’ in the North? The case of Yorkshire First. The Political Quarterly 87 (4): 590–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. González, S. 2006. The Northern Way: A celebration or a victim of the new city-regional government policy? Economic and Social Research Council.Google Scholar
  29. Goodchild, B., and P. Hickman. 2006. Towards a regional strategy for the North of England? An assessment of ‘The Northern Way’. Regional Studies 40 (1): 121–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Greenwood, W. 1969 [1933]. Love on the dole. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  31. Hatherley, O. 2010. A guide to the new ruins of Great Britain. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  32. Hebbert, M. 2000. Transpennine: Imaginative geographies of an interregional corridor. Transactions of British Geographers 25 (3): 379–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Heseltine, M. 2012. No stone left unturned in pursuit of growth. Independent report.Google Scholar
  34. Hill, J. 1986. Sex, class and realism: British cinema, 1956–1963. London: BFI.Google Scholar
  35. Hunt, T. 2004. Building Jerusalem: The rise and fall of the Victorian city. London: Phoenix.Google Scholar
  36. IPPR-North. 2014a. Transformational infrastructure for the North: Why we need a Great North Plan. Manchester: IPPR-North.Google Scholar
  37. IPPR-North. 2014b. Decentralisation decade: A plan for economic prosperity, public service transformation and democratic renewal in England. Manchester: IPPR-North.Google Scholar
  38. IPPR-North. 2015. Transport for the North: A blueprint for devolving and integrating transport powers in England. Manchester: IPPR-North.Google Scholar
  39. Jones, M., and G. MacLeod. 2004. Regional spaces, spaces of regionalism: Territory, insurgent politics and the English question. Transactions of British Geographers 29 (4): 433–452.Google Scholar
  40. Kay-Shuttleworth, J. 1970 [1832]. The moral and physical condition of the working classes employed in the cotton manufacture in Manchester. London: Cass.Google Scholar
  41. Kidd, A. 2006. Manchester: A history, 4th ed. Lancaster: Carnegie.Google Scholar
  42. Leunig, T., and J. Swaffield. 2008. Cities unlimited: Making urban regeneration work. London: Policy Exchange.Google Scholar
  43. Malpass, P. 2005. Housing and the welfare state. Basingstoke: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  44. Martin, D. 2010. Mobilities-based urban planning in the North of England. Mobilities 5 (1): 61–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Martin, R. 2015. Rebalancing the spatial economy: The challenge for regional theory. Territory, Politics, Governance 3 (3): 235–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Martin, R., A. Pike, P. Tyler, and B. Gardiner. 2016. Spatially rebalancing the UK economy: Towards a new policy model? Regional Studies 50 (2): 342–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Maxwell, J. 2014. Of course there is a North–South divide—And of course it matters. New Statesman, May 7. Available from: Accessed 12 Nov 2016.
  48. Milne, S. 1994. The enemy within: The secret war against the miners. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  49. New Economics Foundation. 2015. Democracy: The missing link in the devolution debate. London: New Economics Foundation.Google Scholar
  50. Northern Economic Futures Commission. 2012. Northern prosperity is national prosperity: A strategy for revitalising the UK’s economy. Manchester: IPPR-North.Google Scholar
  51. ODPM. 2004. Making it happen: The Northern Way. London: Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.Google Scholar
  52. One North. 2014. One North: A proposition for an interconnected North. Manchester: Manchester City Council.Google Scholar
  53. Orwell, G. 1937. The road to Wigan Pier. London: Gollancz.Google Scholar
  54. Osborne, G. 2014. We need a Northern Powerhouse. [Speech]. Manchester, June 23. Available from: Accessed 12 Nov 2016.
  55. Osborne, G. 2015. Building a Northern Powerhouse. [Speech]. Manchester, May 14. Available from: Accessed 12 Nov 2016.
  56. Parkinson, M. 2004. Competitive European cities: Where do the core cities stand? London: ODPM.Google Scholar
  57. Payling, D. 2014. ‘Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire’: Grassroots activism and left-wing solidarity in 1980s Sheffield. Twentieth Century British History 25 (4): 602–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Peck, J., and A. Tickell. 2007. Conceptualizing neoliberalism, thinking Thatcherism. In Contesting neoliberalism: Urban frontiers, ed. H. Leitner, J. Peck, and E. Sheppard, 26–50. New York: Guildford Press.Google Scholar
  59. Pilmott, B. 1981. The North-East: Back to the 1930s? The Political Quarterly 52 (1): 51–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Porter, T. 2010. Will Alsop: The noise. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  61. Raco, M. 2007. Building sustainable communities: Spatial policy and labour mobility in post-war Britain. Bristol: Policy Press.Google Scholar
  62. Raco, M., and R. Imrie (eds.). 2003. Urban renaissance? New Labour, community and urban policy. Bristol: Policy Press.Google Scholar
  63. Ravetz, A. 1974. Model estate: Planned housing at Quarry Hill, Leeds. London: Croom Helm.Google Scholar
  64. Rawnsley, S. 2000. Constructing ‘the North’: Space and a sense of place. In Northern identities, ed. Neville Kirk, 3–22. Hants: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  65. Robson, B. 2002. Mancunian ways: The politics of regeneration. In City of revolution: Restructuring Manchester, ed. J. Peck and K. Kevin Ward, 34–49. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Robson, B., J. Peck, and A. Holden. 2000. Regional agencies and area-based regeneration. Bristol: Policy Press.Google Scholar
  67. Russell, D. 2004. Looking North: Northern England and the national imagination. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  68. Savage, M., et al. 2015. Social class in the 21st century. London: Pelican.Google Scholar
  69. Simmons, J.R. 2005. Industrial and ‘condition of England’ novels. In A companion to the Victorian novel, ed. P. Brantlinger and W. Thesing, 336–352. Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sykes, O., et al. 2013. A city profile of Liverpool. Cities 35: 299–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Taylor, P. 1993. The meaning of the North: England’s ‘foreign country’ within? Political Geography 12 (2): 136–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Travis, A. 2011. Thatcher government toyed with evacuating Liverpool after 1981 riots. The Guardian, December 30. Available from: Accessed 12 Nov 2016.
  73. Wallace, A. 2010. Remaking community: New Labour and the governance of poor neighbourhoods. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  74. Ward, K., and A. Jonas. 2004. Competitive city-regions as a politics of space: A critical reinterpretation of the new regionalism. Environment and Planning A 36 (12): 2119–2139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Watt, N. 2008. Tories’ favourite thinktank brands Northern cities failures. The Guardian, August 13. Available from: Accessed 12 Nov 2016.
  76. Whillans-Welldrake, A.G. 2015. Don’t lose sight of devolution’s role to empower. New Start, May 28, 2015. Available from: Accessed 12 Nov 2016.
  77. Wilks-Heeg, S. 2003. From world city to pariah city? Liverpool and the global economy, 1850–2000. In Reinventing the city? Liverpool in comparative perspective, ed. R. Munck, 36–52. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Willett, J., and A. Giovannini. 2014. The uneven path of UK devolution: Top-down vs. bottom-up regionalism in England—Cornwall and the North-East compared. Political Studies 62 (2): 343–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Williams, R. 2004. The anxious city: English urbanism in the late twentieth century. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  80. Williams, Z. 2016. Think the North and the poor caused Brexit? Think again. The Guardian, August 7. Available from: Accessed 12 Nov 2016.
  81. Wyke, T. 1996. A hall for all seasons: A history of the Free Trade Hall. Manchester: Charles Hallé Foundation.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of YorkYorkUK
  2. 2.University of LeedsLeedsUK

Personalised recommendations