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Celebrating the North’s Rich Heritage, to Build a Brighter Future

by Andrew Percy MP, Minister for the Northern Powerhouse

The North of England has a proud history. Our cultural and industrial heritage is the envy of the world.

While parts of our region are already a magnet for tourists, we all know we could make more of our heritage, and that is a vital part of our ambition to create a Northern Powerhouse.  

Our plan has a simple aim:  to help the North thrive and create a country that works for everyone.

Since 2014 we've backed our idea with significant cash: whether the £3.4 billion invested through Growth Deals, £13 billion committed to transport, or the creation of a £70 million Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy.

But creating the Northern Powerhouse isn't just about good schools or jobs. It's about championing what makes our part of the country so special, and using that rich culture to make the North a better place to live and work.

Heritage is a huge part of this, and from Hadrian's Wall to York Minster we have scenic sights that are a match for anywhere in the world.

Research has shown that nearly half of overseas tourists to the UK visit a castle or historic house during their stay. Our great castles and forts were built to fight off invaders: whether Scottish, foreign or those from south of the Watford Gap. Now they are the main draws enticing visitors in. 

I know from working abroad in Australia and the US just how much people abroad appreciate our heritage highlights. In international surveys we are rated in the top five countries globally for places to see historic buildings.

This government is keen to safeguard that precious history. In recent months we have given £7.6 million towards urgent repairs of Wentworth Woodhouse Hall in South Yorkshire and put £14.5 million into repairing cathedrals, including those in Liverpool, Wakefield and Ripon.

Well-kept historic places add greatly to cultural life, but this isn't only about our castles, cathedrals and country homes. It applies just as much to our industrial heritage.

Wool, cotton and silk are woven into the landscape of much of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire. The legacy of our textile manufacturing can be easily seen in the grand factory buildings in many of our great northern towns and cities.

There is enormous untapped potential across the whole of the North: in our villages, old towns, and neighbourhoods. They are rich in industrial, cultural or faith heritage, but often overlooked and undervalued, by locals and visitors alike.

These areas don't just have to be forgotten fragments of our past.

There's another way. In places like Lister Mills in Bradford we've seen partnerships between the local council, Historic England (formerly English Heritage) and developers turn iconic sites into modern homes. Or the Red Brick Mill in Batley where a rag cloth factory has been converted into a centre for high end designers.

The government has also played its part in enhancing modern heritage by investing £78 million towards The Factory in Manchester - a new theatre and arts space that, when complete in 2019, will be a significant addition to the cultural offer of the region.

We want the North to make much more of its heritage, so I'd urge our great northern cities, towns and villages to get involved with Historic England's new Heritage Action Zone project.

Areas could benefit from advice on planning, guidance on how to repair historic businesses and grants to help get your economic heritage plans off the ground.

Ten Zones will be set up across the country over the next three years - with Appleby Conservation Area in the North West, Hull Old Town and the Earl's Village of Iron and Coal in Elsecar, both in Yorkshire, and Sunderland's Historic High Streets in the North East set to benefit in year one.

Many more places could get involved, and I'd urge them to think how they can benefit.

Visit the North today and you'll find a region bustling with ideas and creativity, but as a Northerner, I know we can also talk ourselves down. We shouldn't, because the North has some of the best people, heritage and businesses in the world.

So let's work together to create a Northern Powerhouse, celebrate the North's rich heritage, and use our past to build a brighter future.

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