With minimal fanfare, the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) published its first business plan in May 2018.
Since its formation in 2017, WECA and its Mayor Tim Bowles, have been building the foundations of devolved government. The devolution deal means it could deliver £1bn of investment into the region.
The region makes a net contribution to the national purse and is considered a centre of excellence for aerospace, engineering, digital technology and entrepreneurship. For many years the region has been calling for more to be done to maximise on the opportunity of more localised authority.
To support this potential growth, homes, transport and communications infrastructure are all needed. The business plan sets out WECA’s activities over the 2018/19 period. It shows where the authority will invest to ensure the region “is at the forefront of growth and innovation, where economic, cultural and environmental diversity is celebrated and forms the foundations of prosperity for all.”
WECA’s document shows how it will deliver “infrastructure fit for the future”. It covers projects in the Joint Spatial Plan, Joint Local Transport Plan and makes commitments to work with partners like Highways England and Network Rail to deliver benefits to the traveling public and enable greater collaboration.
There is also a clear signal for the region to be a leader in 5G communications and highlights Bristol City Council’s consultation on how people move around the city.
Tim Bowles is committed to working with the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills on a Local Industrial Strategy. It is likely to focus on infrastructure priorities – similarly to the UK Government’s Modern Industrial Strategy. This is welcome progress. It builds on news from April this year that has WECA appointed a director of infrastructure – David Carter – who joins from North Somerset Council.
The West of England is a busy place for planning at the moment. There are a number of consultations being discussed and promoted by different developers including Bristol Airport and local authorities. And this is a good thing – it shows progress.
WECA’s business plan does a solid job of showing where the region is headed and what its objectives are for this year. But there is a problem – it is difficult for businesses and stakeholder groups, let alone public to piece this all together. The region is collectively missing an opportunity if it does not bring all the good work happening into one cohesive story that people can understand and get behind. The result is that smaller hick-ups along the way become the story and momentum behind devolution is told as a secondary note.
The West of England stands on the cusp of an exciting future and we need to tell that story now to help win all possible investment opportunities which will ultimately benefit the area’s residents.