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Audacious Yorkshire steals Birmingham’s claim to be cradle of the Industrial Revolution

Audacious Yorkshire steals Birmingham’s claim to be cradle of the Industrial Revolution

🕔05.Dec 2013

Think of an English city and region that was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution but suffered a serious decline in manufacturing and is now desperately trying to reinvent itself in an age of globalisation and cheap imports.

This city is examining new ways of creating skilled jobs and has ambitions to be a world leader in emerging sectors such as healthcare and low carbon energy generation.

Political and business leaders accept that the region’s compelling history and story hasn’t been told very well in the past and that it must better market itself on the international stage.

Which city region could this possibly be?

Birmingham and the West Midlands you might suppose.

But you’d be wrong. Even though the narrative set out above fits exactly the storyline of this region, the script has in fact been stolen from under our very noses by Yorkshire.

To be precise, the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership is claiming to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in a bid to the government’s £2 billion Regional Growth Fund.

This will come as news to Birmingham, where a glistening gold statue depicting Boulton, Murdoch and Watt, generally regarded as founding fathers of the Industrial Revolution, stands in Broad Street.

Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire is the actual birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, at least according to UNESCO which awarded the site World Heritage status in 1986.

The Ironbridge website doesn’t pull any punches, and certainly doesn’t mention Leeds: “It was the achievements of pioneering industrialists including Abraham Darby, William Reynolds and John Wilkinson that led to the Ironbridge Gorge becoming by the close of the 18th century the most technologically advanced area in the world.

“The surviving built and natural environment with its museums, monuments and artefacts, including the world famous Iron Bridge of 1779, serve to remind us of this area’s unique contribution to the history and development of industrialised society.”

Not only is Leeds claiming bragging rights over the Industrial Revolution, it also insists that its city region is the largest financial centre in the country outside London, with a £54 billion economy.

Leeds City Region LEP chairman Roger Marsh has launched a public consultation asking for ideas about how best to tell “a compelling story about the region’s economy and support a bid for major new investment to create growth and jobs”.

In a document launching the consultation, the Leeds LEP says it is “seeking local people’s contributions to create a distinctive economic narrative about how the region’s economy has developed – from our proud heritage as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, to the opportunities we now have to be world leaders in areas such as healthcare innovation and low carbon energy generation.”

The Leeds City Region LEP includes 11 local authorities – Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield, York and North Yorkshire County Council.

Mr Marsh said: “Something that comes up time and time again when I meet with business people and public sector leaders is the need for our region to better tell its story on the national and international stage.

“This consultation is an opportunity for those who live, work and run businesses in the city region to help us shape that story and bring it to life – not just to help us secure the best possible Local Growth Deal for our area, but also to raise the region’s profile in markets globally.”

The Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP is insisting it will be the first local enterprise partnership in the country to enter a bid to the Regional Growth Fund and is expected to ask for up to £1 billion to support projects including UK Central, JLR and HS2.

Cover Image: Jas Sansi Photography

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