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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Natural Assets North: the foundations of the Northern Powerhouse

Head North on the M6 over any bank holiday weekend and you’ll find that you are not alone-  because everyone knows that the North is where all the good stuff is – the highest mountains, the best scenery and the most spectacular waterfalls. That’s why IPPR North is developing a new project, ‘Natural Assets North’ to examine the challenges and opportunities for the future.

The North’s natural assets are arguably our most important ‘treasure’, a trove that includes two sea coasts, 4 national parks, 6 areas of outstanding natural beauty and more than 60 National Nature Reserves. These natural assets not only create a fantastic backdrop in which to live and work but they also deliver economic and social benefits including tourism, recreation, carbon storage as well as improvements to people’s heath, wellbeing and quality of place. Of course when we talk about natural assets, it’s not all about our national parks - behind the scenes, a great deal of work goes on to safeguard our environment, for example, through the water supply and treatment process. 

However, the value of our natural assets are often judged in terms of their costs rather than their benefits, conditional upon economic growth rather than the basis upon which to generate prosperity. But as research has consistently shown, natural assets are an essential component of ‘place-making’ and indeed the quality of a places’ natural assets is directly proportional to its economic vitality.    

Natural England have set out a comprehensive analysis of available evidence as to the economic, social and climate change value of investment in the Environment. For example, green walls in towns and cities in the UK were found to potentially reduce the concentration of pollutants as much as 15% and 23% respectively, with knock on economic and social benefits for health as a result of improved air quality. Meanwhile, a report by Sheffield Hallam University in 2013 showed that in terms of visitor spend, the Mersey Forest generated £252,000 (net gross value added). And a report by the Land Trust in 2018 on the economic impact of the Port Sunlight River Park on the Wirral suggested that based on the £3.4million investment to create and maintain the park in perpetuity, the park had added £7.8m to nearby properties in just 3 years. 

As part of our Natural Assets North project, IPPR North is inviting policy makers from across the North to pull on their wellingtons and their waterproofs and join us in the landscapes of the North which help to epitomise some of the opportunities and challenges for natural assets.

We hope that these events will help to raise the profile of everything that the North is made of, and inspire policy makers across the North to make the most of our natural assets for the future. Our first event takes place on the 27th June where we’ll have an unique opportunity to visit the Northern Forest at Smithills Estate near Bolton.

We have a number of other events coming up so please get in touch if you would like to participate.

Sarah Longlands is Director of IPPR North. She tweets @sarahlonglands.

This blog was originally published in the Quatro Northern Powerhouse weekly update.