Gloucestershire 2050 must not become a political football

Ian Mean
Director of Business West Gloucestershire | Business West
3rd April 2018

At the beginning of the year, I wrote enthusiastically about Gloucestershire 2050 - the vision of where this great county of ours might be headed.

I am still enthusiastic but I am now more convinced than ever that if the vision is going to be sustained, it must be a journey developed in a businesslike manner.

The last thing we need over the next 30 odd years is a train rumbling slowly along the tracks with carriages full of the 300 or so councillors which make up the six district councils in the county.

Bluntly, to make Gloucestershire 2050 have a life beyond the initial ambitions and ideas we need a complete overhaul of the governance of this county.

It is, in my view, senseless to try and come to decisions between six district councils - Gloucester, Cheltenham, Cotswold, Stroud, the Forest and Cotswold-plus, of course, the county council.

We need a unitary authority to cut out these layers of councillors and enable the county to have a clear, concise structured plan - not lots of little ones.

The politics is in the way, of course. If we have our eyes on the prize, change must happen.

That change - with government support through an elected Mayor has led Bristol, for instance, to getting a shed load of government funding for infrastructure and transport.

So, the big question to be asked is: how are we going to go forward as a county with so many decision making councils each with their own agendas?

And what about some of the initial half dozen ideas being put forward as a starter for ten to the 2050 vision?

1. Super City

Probably the best idea to bring the county capital of Gloucester and Cheltenham closer together.

It would involve a sell-off of Staverton Airport - jointly owned by the corporations of Gloucester and Cheltenham - with a new community being developed on the land with much needed new housing and a new hospital. But very difficult to achieve politically.

2. Cyber Park

The government has already given £22million towards what I think could be the development of a new, unique selling point for the county’s economy - alongside GCHQ and the revitalised University Business School being built at Oxstalls.

3. New Severn Bridge

Perhaps the best and most practical plan. Mooted for years, a new bridge would open up the Forest and create new communities in the Sharpness and Lydney areas.

4. A Cotswold Airport

To replace Staverton on the current Fairford site. My information is that it would be far too expensive and unrealistic because of its proximity to airports at Birmingham and Bristol.

5. Cotswold Waterpark

Interesting plan to develop it and create a major conference centre.

6. Regional Parks

Their development, particularly in the Cotswolds and the Forest, would expand the leisure offering but there would probably be opposition to any restriction on planning rules by residents.

These ideas are OK, but from a business point of view, we need to look at infrastructure and transport improvements to develop a practical backdrop to this 2050 vision.

And as I write this, I am thinking of those of us who will be still around in 30 years’ time.

If we are really serious about the 2050 vision, we must surely ensure that our young people own it.

We must look at a secondary school project to mine the ideas of our young people - to get their opinions on what the county really needs to be to make them stay.

At the same time, we must not ignore the wishes of our older population - we are actually a net importer of people wishing to spend their last days in this beautiful county.

I believe in 2050 as a project but I am afraid that it will need a sustainable business model to continue to develop over the years.

And that business model must have a corporate board dominated by the principal employers and people with vision for the whole county, not just particular areas. 

Gloucestershire 2050 must not become a political football - the vision is far too important.

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