Blueprint for a Great North Plan

Published Fri 17 Jun 2016
There is broad agreement among stakeholders in the north of England that we need a 'Great North Plan' – and that we need to get on with drawing one up. This large-scale blueprint presents the best ideas to emerge on the issue, sets out principles for how the plan should be developed, illustrates the different layers of planning required, and proposes next steps for putting planning into action.

The Blueprint for a Great North Plan document is available to download in a special, A1-format fold-out format,* as well as in the A1 on-screen (pictured below), A4 PDF and e-book editions available via the buttons to the top-right of this page.

To take up our invitation to join other leading northern businesses and local authorities in making a 'powerhouse pledge' to help us take the plan forward, fill in the pledge card on the dedicated Great North Plan website.


In 2015 IPPR North and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) issued a call for evidence, and organised 11 roundtable discussions in six northern cities. We also held a Northern Summit in January 2016, with further plenary debates and interactive voting.1

Through all of these activities we asked the question, ‘Do we need a Great North Plan?’. The response was an overwhelming ‘yes’ (93 per cent); and, when asked about their more specific attitudes towards the Great North Plan, 58 per cent of respondents said that, ‘We need to get on and do it’.

A blueprint for a Great North Plan

This blueprint is not the Great North Plan itself – although its centrefold spread is illustrative of what part of the Great North Plan could look like. Instead, it represents the best of the ideas of the more than 350 people who have fed into our thinking on the issue so far. It sets out a series of principles to guide how the Plan should be developed; identifies the suite of documents that might together comprise the Great North Plan; suggests the different themes or ‘layers’ of planning that need to be fitted together through collaborative action involving many stakeholders; and proposes a process for the next steps in moving from blueprint to plan.

In summary, the core principles for collaborative action that would secure buy-in from diverse stakeholders are that a Great North Plan should be:

  • high-level, strategic and brief, neither statutory nor bland
  • an ambitious, long-term vision, but supported by clear actions in the short and medium terms
  • evolutionary and collaborative, but a framework and reference point for all
  • inclusive, speaking to all places across the North, but asymmetrical in its treatment of places and themes

We propose that the Great North Plan has four main ‘purposes’, which might be best set out as a suite of four interlinking documents:

  • A vision for the North.
  • A set of collaborative strategies.
  • A prospectus for investment.
  • A programme for action.

We also identify four broad areas for strategic collaboration and mapping.

  • Economy: Building on the Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review, further work must elaborate on the primary and enabling capabilities it identifies, including innovation hubs, supply chains, infrastructure sites and plans.
  • Transport and connectivity: The current Northern Transport Strategy and the work of Transport for the North offer a starting point and model for pan-northern collaboration.
  • Environment: The North’s natural environment affords it some vital ‘green’ infrastructure (energy, water, waste and so on), but we need a compelling strategy for making the most of the associated opportunities. This strategy must also consider areas of flood-risk and wider environmental concern.
  • Population and place: A strategy in this area must set out some of the key places within the North, including: current and future population growth hubs; labour market geographies; and the distinctive attributes of particular cities, towns and areas within the North. This might also cover quality-of-life issues such as culture, recreation and tourism.

Each of these themes could be sub-divided into more detailed planning processes, as in the Northern Transport Strategy; each of these will require supporting processes that spell out different levels of technicality and specificity. However, it is important that strategies within each theme or sub-theme are able to identify their high-level priorities and overall direction, and that they cohere both with the wider vision and with other plans.

Elements of these different co-ordinated plans could also be combined to provide a broadly defined ‘northern infrastructure plan’ that includes scenario modelling and indicative costs and benefits. These different ‘layers’ of planning could also be set out in a series of layered maps – a possibility illustrated in the main illustrated spread of this publication, 'The North's key resources, mapped'.

Finally, we identify some concrete next steps and clear milestones against which progress can be measured, which will be necessary if the Plan is to move forward.

Seven workstreams:

  • A vision for the North that sets the broad direction for the North and its economy up to 2050.

Four broad collaborative strategies:

  • A northern transport strategy

  • A northern economic strategy

  • A northern natural assets strategy

  • A people and place strategy

Together, these four workstreams need to feed into:

  • A prospectus for the North

And finally, we need a:

  • governance and delivery workstream

Next steps

We do not believe that producing a Great North Plan must be a long or complicated process. The key issue is the will to do it. In order to move the process forward we make the following three recommendations.

  • The five Core Cities in the north of England – working closely with TfN, Business North and central government – should identify and communicate a clear and inclusive process for much broader engagement in strategic planning for the northern powerhouse, along the lines of this blueprint.

  • As part of this process, a taskforce should be established for each of the seven workstreams identified above, other than transport.

  • Recognising that to date the Great North Plan has been a business-led initiative, businesses in the north of England should continue to support its development by pledging time, expertise and resources in relation to the different workstreams identified above. This can be done via the Great North Plan website, or by emailing

*How to fold your printed blueprint
1. Trim any white space around the outer borders of the image.
2. In landscape format, with the map artwork spread facing you, fold the top left and right corners over towards the bottom left and right corners respectively, giving you a horizontal fold.
3. Fold page 1 ('Background...') over from left to right, to show the 'Blueprint for a Great North Plan' front cover.
4. Fold that doubled-up page over backwards so that only pages 3 and 4 are visible.
5. Finally, fold page 3 leftwards onto page 4, so that the front cover is on top and you are left with a concertina that has page 7 ('How to take forward...') at the back.
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