Northern Lights: More ambition and vision required to continue trio of recent successes

The Olympic Legacy Park Sheffield, part of the City Region's Innovation District
The Olympic Legacy Park Sheffield, part of the City Region's Innovation District

They say all good things come in threes. Well, that is true in recent weeks for Sheffield.

The announcements of McLaren and Boeing investing in the Sheffield City Region and then Sheffield United being crowned champions and gaining promotion to the Sky Bet Championship. Great success for Sheffield’s manufacturing future and a few more Yorkshire football derbies next season.

What has been so striking and so refreshing is the enthusiasm, creativity, pride and ambition of these young people in what they are doing and how they see the future unfolding.

On the theme of sport, Sheffield has recently staged the 40th World Snooker Championship bringing into the city over those years in excess of £100 million and, perhaps more importantly, showcasing the city via 23 broadcasters to 330 million viewers in 100 countries around the world on an annual basis – “the power of sport”.

Sheffield was named City of Sport in 1995 and has continued to build on this reputation with its world- class facilities.

In the last few years Sheffield has taken this development of sport to new levels and has started widening its impact on the health and well-being agenda of the city.

With the strong partnership of the city council, our two great universities and the Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield Children’s Hospital and the private sector, we are bringing the data and intellectual property of sport at all levels and transferring it into new programmes that will improve the health and well-being of the city.

A recent example has been the Move More programme.

A significant step forward was when Sheffield was asked to participate in the London 2012 Olympic legacy through the National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine.

The development of the NCSEM at Graves and Concord Leisure Centres has seen the integration of NHS services with sport and physical exercise in a very creative and positive way, truly transforming people’s lives. This ongoing development has been endorsed as only one of seven projects recognised by the International Olympic Committee worldwide.

We have now taken this concept further in the development of the Olympic Legacy Park Sheffield, part of the City Region’s Innovation District.

The £14m development of the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre is at the heart of the OLP, working closely with the NCSEM, and is attracting major private sector interest and investment, using the knowledge and intellectual property, improving and creating new services, products and projects, jobs and wealth for the city.

While the OLP has some of the best sporting facilities in the country, accommodating all levels of participation up to the highest Olympic standard, it also has a University Technical College with 600 young people in the age range of 14 to 19 being taught life and sport sciences along with computing and digital skills.

These young people will be the workforce of the future and provide an opportunity for students from across the region from Nottingham to Barnsley.

The Oasis Academy (a through school taking two-to 18-year-olds from the Darnall and Attercliffe areas) is giving these young people a learning environment, second to none, with use of the 3G pitch and indoor facilities on a day-to-day basis – PE and sports curriculum alongside professional and elite athletes.

These activities mean more than 3,000 people a day will be on the OLP, either working or being educated – a far cry from the Don Valley Stadium.

The first 26 acres of the OLP should be completed in the next 18 months and, with the completion of the public realm, will be a credit to our city and people living in the east end of the city.

Looking to the future, we are moving on to develop a masterplan for surrounding plots with further Research and Innovation Centres of Excellence and investment opportunities for the private sector planned as the OLP expands.

However, is our ask for support of national government bold enough or ambitious enough? I think not.

Even though we are 12 months behind Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham in the Devolution Settlements, we should still be making an ambitious case for the City Region.

With a General Election just weeks away, we are in a position to make a case for this great city to the main political parties, showing the role it could play, if given the right level of investment and support in developing and expanding the manufacturing base of the nation and the vital role it will play in the economy of a post-Brexit Britain.

One thing is for sure “Brexit Britain” will need a “fit-for-purpose” manufacturing base.

Since leaving Parliament in 2010 it has been my privilege to work at the AMRC alongside some of the most talented people, many of them many years younger than myself. Also, to have led a team of committed people in the development of the first phase of the OLP, again many much younger than myself.

What has been so striking and so refreshing is the enthusiasm, creativity, pride and ambition of these young people in what they are doing and how they see the future unfolding.

We need to take this ambition and vision and use it in the development of our ask of central government. For instance, our Crossrail of the North joining Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and their conurbation should be given the same investment priority as London’s Crossrail.

Furthermore, our demand for research investment should be stepped up. While we welcome the investment into the AMRC and AWRC, this pales into insignificance when you consider the investment of over £700m with £100m running costs per year in the new Crick Centre, which I look on with envy every time the Sheffield train departs from St Pancras.