If there is one thing that will set the North East apart from its competitor regions it will be connectivity. Of course I mean network connectivity rather than motorways, rail and air. These others are very important yet may take a little longer to get where we would like to be. We don’t have a motorway north of Newcastle, though dualling of the A1 has been talked about since as long as I’ve been driving, and we aren’t on any current plans to have a HS2 high speed train connection. We do have a strong regional airport however with good links to Europe, the States and Middle East, as well as the rest of the UK.
If there is one thing however that won’t set the North East apart from its competitors it will be connectivity. This is an area that everyone else is immersed in. Broadband Delivery UK has been supporting us from Central Government for a few years now. Our outcome in terms of properties with access to effective broadband will be up there with the best. We’ll be in the high ninety per cents yet the difference between us and the also rans will be a small number. This is hardly something that is going to set us apart.
Everyone is competing in the same field. Ubiquitous superfast, ultrafast and whatever fast comes next will be taken as read. All properties will eventually be connected. We’ll all be permanently attached to wireless or mobile data connections and so how is this going to set us apart?
Our focus has been on physical connectivity. Connectivity between settlements has been going on since mankind became organised. It is how we get things done. Footpaths bring people together. Waggon trails bring goods. The flow of people has allowed new ideas to spread across humanity and there is no real difference between that and digital connectivity.
If we are not careful we start to think of connectivity as a means to itself. It may seem obvious but it is not the connectivity that is important but rather what is connected. People make their way somewhere not for the journey but for the destination. The better the end point the more likely that people will travel. Yes better connectivity leads to more traffic (just check out the M25 or the Western bypass around Newcastle) but only if the trip is worthwhile.
So the connectivity that we really need to focus on is connecting people with people, businesses with customers, ideas with entrepreneurs, tourists with destinations and capital with markets. The purpose of our physical connectivity must be to ease the flow and grease the wheels of this kind of engagement, be it by road, rail, air or technology. We can invest all we like. We can build it and they may come yet it will be the interaction of people that will set the North East apart from its competitors.
This is the kind of connectivity that we need to focus on.