For too long the Forest of Dean has been the Aunt Sally of Gloucestershire with a lot of assumptions about this lovely part of our county being hurled around with very little justification.
In terms of business, I now think the Forest is on the verge of turning the corner to make the area a very attractive proposition for companies to both move and set up there.
Why do I say that?
Simply because the Forest Economic Partnership (FEP) seems to be getting to grips with a clear vision of what the Forest should be in the future.
That vision is also very simple and ties neatly into the county’s 2050 project on which the public consultation has just ended.
It says: “In 2050, the Forest of Dean is an attractive, vibrant and dynamic destination to live, work and do business.”
I attended this week’s Forest Economic Partnership meeting at the Vantage Point conference centre in Mitcheldean and was blown away by the numbers of companies attending and their enthusiasm.
The mission of the partnership, like the vision is simple but concise: To deliver a thriving economy in the Forest of Dean by connecting businesses, councils, people, ideas and resources.
Simple but very difficult to achieve in the Forest, where I am afraid that decision making has hitherto been of variable quality from the councils.
Dispute and arguments have often dogged progress in the Forest where some councils have often been at loggerheads.
Now that seems to be fading and there is a realisation that this is an area that cannot live in the past if it is to go forward and attract business.
The FEP now has some real drive behind it through four working groups:
- Education and skills
- Transport and infrastructure
- Digital connectivity
- Severn & Wye Bridges/cross-border working
The new Gloucestershire College campus at Cinderford opens in September after several false dawns and some quite crazy opposition from people believing that the newt population, for instance, was more important than a vital new learning centre.
In my view, the new college will be one of the foundations needed to develop a far better education system for our young people in the Forest where social mobility is so poor - virtually at the bottom of the league of council areas in Britain.