For many in the North of England, the commitment to ‘build back better’ centred on the extension of HS2 from Birmingham to Leeds, and so its cancellation in November last year came as something of a shock.

Sarah Cox

Sarah Cox

It was also hoped that the levelling-up white paper would bring some good news for the New Year, and its further postponement has been an additional disappointment.

If the HS2 decision is the reason for the delay, it is hoped that the government is reconsidering the package of reforms, with many pushing for announcements on the future of the regional transport system and revised plans for areas that were set to benefit.

Paradoxically, some certainty has been provided by the cancellation. Land once earmarked for the route now has the potential for alternative development; masterplanners no longer have to factor in the impact of the railway line, and distribution and logistics companies will consider locating around the road rather than rail networks.

However, there will be concern from local authorities: many have declared a climate emergency and viewed the switch from road to rail as a means of delivering sustainability. Preferably, compensation will come in the form of improved rail connectivity between Bradford and Leeds and along the Trans Pennine route, where towns suffer from poor links to cities.

The levelling-up white paper must also address brownfield redevelopment. In October, the government announced the distribution of £58m as part of the Brownfield Land Release Fund, yet the North received just 10%, despite some excellent examples of the regeneration of former industrial sites across the region.

Meeting sustainability goals and housing targets and updating an outdated local transport system requires immediate change – but also a long-term vision to replace the optimism that HS2 previously brought and to encourage investment in the North.

For the development sector throughout this substantial region of the UK, the white paper has great potential. Delay offers the opportunity to adjust its scope and to level-up not only the North/South divide but also internal disparities that exist in the North.

Sarah Cox is a partner at Carter Jonas