Across the Severn Estuary and beyond, our cities and rural communities have problems in common that need a combined solution. I was glad to host my fellow Western Gateway Partnership board members recently to discuss and agree our priorities for the future.
Council leaders from the West of England, Cardiff, Swansea and Gloucestershire gathered at City Hall on 13 October. alongside Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University, business, and LEP representatives with our chair, Katherine Bennett, now CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and formerly of Filton Airbus.
We agreed to place our joint focus on connecting our strategic transport plans and decarbonising our economy. This will include exploring all avenues to decarbonise energy production. In a week when we are seeing people and business facing soaring gas prices this couldn’t be more vital.
Historic problems with our combined transport network must be addressed to provide real travel options for people to get about easily. This means connecting our vision for a mass transit system in Bristol with the vision of our neighbours across the breadth and depth of the Western Gateway. It also means connecting us up via improved electrified intercity trains which speed up travel between Cardiff and Bristol, but also to London, Birmingham and Manchester. People across the Western Gateway geography should have access to affordable and easy transport links. By collating one big vision for the whole area we can start to make it a reality.
The Western Gateway Partnership is our pan-regional economic powerhouse which stretches from Swindon and Wiltshire to Swansea and Cardiff. The aim of the partnership is to use our combined strengths to promote our area at the highest levels and help deliver for the 4.4 million people who live here.
By convening local partners, the partnership has a strong role to play in helping us achieve our shared goals, helping to boost our economies and reach pockets of deprivation within our communities.
Already the partnership has led a bid to ensure that a site near Bristol is in the final selection for the first prototype nuclear fusion plant in the UK. This would mean thousands of jobs for the region and put our area on the front line globally for developing this green fuel.
We know our area has strong potential for future investment. Last month, the partnership published the second phase of its independent economic review, carried out by Deloitte LLP. This highlighted that, by overcoming shared barriers to productivity, our combined area could be providing at least an extra £34 billion for the UK economy each year by 2030.
This report also showed significant strengths in advanced mechanics and cyber that we share across our region. Ranking high for innovation, we have world leading tech manufacturing and cyber clusters right on our doorstep. The report also highlighted the natural resources and expertise in our area as proof of the role we can play in transitioning the UK towards green energy.
There are many priorities for the partnership including boosting local innovation even further and promoting Western Gateway on a global stage to draw in the ongoing investment we need as a city and region. With our chair, Katherine Bennett, at the helm, our partnership now has a clear direction to deliver as a key economic powerhouse for the UK.