Expert welcomes Great Western Powerhouse – but has doubts it will become a reality

Tim Davies, Head of the Bristol Office of commercial property specialist Colliers International

One of Bristol’s leading business figures has welcomed plans to create a new Great Western Powerhouse stretching from Swindon to Swansea – but says he is “sceptical” that the idea will ever become a reality.

Last week leaders from seven cities along the M4 and M5 unveiled proposals to promote the wider region and push for improvements and investment in an attempt to create a new economic area to rival the North, Midlands and South East.

The proposed Great Western Powerhouse region takes in Swansea, Cardiff and Newport in South Wales and Bristol, Bath, Swindon, Gloucester and Cheltenham in the West of England. The area is home to 4.4 million people and has a combined economy worth £107 billion, with a Gross Value Added per person that is higher than that of the North of England.

Leaders of the eight cities involved – including Bristol mayor Marvin Rees – want to improve transport connections across the M4-M5 stretch, increase trade and investment internationally and focus on creating more opportunities for urban and rural areas struggling with problems of deprivation and low skills.

Suggested transport improvements include:

  • putting on more trains between Bristol Temple Meads and Cardiff
  • speeding up train journeys between Bristol, Gloucester, Cheltenham and Birmingham
  • easing congestion on the M4
  • building a third Severn crossing

Tim Davies, head of South West and Wales at global real estate advisor Colliers International, believes the Great Western Powerhouse idea is laudable.

But he says he is sceptical about the potential for co-operation between councils in the West of England and South Wales – and that Bristol’s mayor has a questionable track record when it comes to delivering on major projects.

“At long last the West of England appears to be embracing the opportunities offered by the creation of a holistic economic area and news that several cities and major towns along the M4 and M5 have joined forces to develop the Great Western Powerhouse is very welcome.

“The aim of the concept is to leverage central government funding to develop, amongst other initiatives, infrastructure improvements that boost the regional economy. In principle the idea is laudable but I am sceptical that authorities from different sides of the Severn bridges will co-operate to drive this idea to fruition.

“Marvin Rees is promoting the scheme locally and his track record for achieving meaningful progress is questionable. What is clear is that any goals that are set need to be properly thought through and above all deliverable – otherwise this initiative will fall by the wayside.

“Looking ahead it is vital that key local stakeholders are encouraged to participate; their experience will be vital in driving this initiative forward.”

According to the Powerhouse for the West report, commissioned by Bristol City Council, Cardiff Council and Newport City Council, the eight-year spend on infrastructure construction per head in the region is £1,465. That figure is 26 per cent lower than the Northern Powerhouse area and less than half that of London levels.