Wales-England ‘Western Gateway’ group to seek investment for tidal energy and rail projects
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
A cross-border group of councils that aims to bind Wales and England closer together will seek investment next year for tidal energy and rail upgrades.
The Western Gateway, which is made up of councils in the south of Wales and the west of England, has been billed as a counterpoint to the Northern Powerhouse, for attracting major government funding for region-wide infrastructure schemes.
Including Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Bristol, Bath and Swindon, the Western Gateway group has now set out its priorities for next year.
These include tidal energy—which could mean a barrage built across the Severn estuary—as well as enhancing the Great Western mainline railway, and boosting the regional economy.
Cardiff council leader Huw Thomas sits on the board of the Western Gateway and is its political lead on tidal energy. He said tidal energy in the Severn estuary could provide as much as seven per cent of the total energy needed across the UK.
He said: “The UK government has so far refused to support a scheme due to a perceived requirement for high levels of public investment and concerns over the environmental impact on designated areas in the Severn estuary.
“However, the changing landscape of the climate emergency, energy insecurity, rising costs, and rapid technological improvements indicate that many of these policy, cost and environmental barriers may no longer be as significant. We want to find out what could be done to harness this incredible energy resource.”
In October the group revealed it was setting up a new commission to explore building a barrage across the estuary, as well as exploring other options for tidal energy. A barrage had previously been looked at in depth about a decade ago but ultimately dropped as it was seen as too expensive and harmful to the environment.
Regional groups such as the Western Gateway, and the more established Northern Powerhouse, are viewed by some as key to attracting huge levels of investment needed for major infrastructure projects, like improving the railways, as well as foreign direct investment.
Spending per person on infrastructure construction is about 26 per cent higher in the Northern Powerhouse than across the Western Gateway region, Cllr Thomas said, without including the benefits from HS2.
He added: “HS2 represents a significant improvement in connectivity across other parts of the country, putting the Western Gateway at risk of becoming worse off. South Wales and the west of England have not enjoyed the levels of rail enhancement investment experienced elsewhere in the UK over the past 30 years.
“This underinvestment has led to relatively less attractive services, attracting fewer passengers, and leading to higher subsidies compared to the rest of the UK.
“HS2 will put Cardiff and south Wales at a significant disadvantage. While the UK economy is predicted to receive a £15 billion benefit from HS2, south Wales’s GDP will lose an estimated £200 million per year. There are similar negative impacts for the southwest of England, with Bristol losing £100 million per year, and Gloucester, Bath and northeast Somerset another £100 million annually.”
To counter this, the Western Gateway is seeking investment for a range of railway upgrades. These include upgrading the South Wales Mainline and Great Western Mainline, running from Swansea through Cardiff, Bristol and eventually leading to Heathrow and London. This could mean faster speeds, new stations, and full electrification.
‘Other rail upgrades’
Other rail upgrades include improved links between Cardiff Central and Bristol Temple Meads, with express and local commuter services, potentially with four services an hour between the two stations. Another upgrade would be to improve the links between Cardiff and Birmingham via Gloucester, connecting to the HS2 network.
Cllr Thomas said improving connectivity was “vital” in meeting climate goals and boosting the regional economy, by decarbonising transport and making jobs available to people living in rural areas.
Katherine Bennett, who chairs the Western Gateway, said: “This is an exciting time for the Western Gateway. We believe that our area could become the UK’s first green energy supercluster and are working on a programme of work to integrate our strengths and assets across nuclear, hydrogen and tidal to create new opportunities for local communities at risk of being left behind.
“We are looking forward to setting out plans for the powerhouse partnership next month at our first conference, Green Growth in the Western Gateway, where leaders from business, research and the public sector from both sides of the Severn will help shape how these plans are brought to life.”
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Should this not be a matter for the Welsh government to negotiate with the UK government? By yoking together the economies and fortunes of Swansea, Swindon and Salisbury the Western Gateway seems to ride roughshod over the dynamics of devolution.
Well done for the sentiment and the clear expression here. But: (a) our Welsh government has got its hands full [even without the pandemic] with its present bold and ambitious agenda for development (b) I would imagine, and expect, that it is watching this with interest, and is content for this group to take a leading role in these developments, and (c) the same arguments that urge the UK to trade actively and effectively with its nearest neighbours (Europe) are valid and urgent for the two sides of the Severn.
Not all economic development is beneficial. Let’s not presume that this is a benevolent UK govt in action here either. It is running scared of the existential threat to its State and these sorts of schemes weaponise development for the desired cause. If the Welsh govt has its hands full it can refuse until we have a Senedd equipped to negotiate these matters.
What’s grim about this is that the UK Govt is hellbent on ignoring Wales as Nation, in a cultural sense, in a political sense and in an economic sense. If it were a case that Govt policy in every way supported Welsh cultural, political and economic development as a coherent and invioable whole I could happily embrace cross border cooperation. But that is not the aim of the UK Govt. Its aim is to create a single, contiguous British national artifice. The Tories have openly abandoned Unionism. They are Anglo-British Nationalists. They will happily consign the Welsh Nation, our identity,… Read more »
And many Quislings from the Labour Party are more than happy to go along with this Tory scheme.
Arwyn: you’ll see above my reply, of a few moments ago, to Madoc. I’d say something similar to you: I share your sentiment and your concern, but I _do_ see the possibility of economic benefit here. You’ll know the old, and hugely valid, slogan – “tai a gwaith, i gadw’r iaith” [Housing and employment, as a basis for linguistic and cultural security]. I suggest that this project needs attention and constructive criticism. We may not always like our neighbours, but we can’t pretend they’re not there.
The UK want us to co-operate on this western gateway, but there is no accountability to Welsh government or people. It is a quango to the UK regime.
Remember, this is a UK government that will not share development, or co-operate with the rest of Europe and withdrew from the EU.
We must see that it is accountable to Wales, but that all benefits including tax revenue and ownership is shared and also comes to Wales.
This arrangement seems to not be equal partnerships.
It’s nothing to do with who our neighbours are but the govt they elect that we are stuck with. These deals as they currently stand, are a case of putting the cart before the horse. They don’t exist to support the integrity of the Welsh Nation or our economy. They are all about strengthening the Anglo-British UK artifice. That is why they are bad for Wales. Dismantle the Tory State, build a Welsh State then look at cooperation and crossborder trade etc.
Exactly. This attempt is more akin to an attempt to make the Welsh state hostage.
The purpose of the Western Gateway project is to undermine the Welsh nation by “binding” it closer to England, just as the article suggests. It is designed to encourage more inward migration to Wales, making housing and jobs for locals more competitive, and diluting the language and Welsh communities. The timing is particularly circumspect given the union has never been in such peril. I am sorry you don’t seem to be able to see this. Why focus on improving infrastructure across the border which is already reasonable when we could be focusing on improving infrastructure across Wales, which is more… Read more »
They have the Nuclear, we have the sludge.
“….tidal energy in the Severn estuary could provide as much as seven per cent of the total energy needed across the UK.” That’s a lot of Gigawatts; we need our citizens to think about it, and look at the detail – and the science – of the choices we have for the next two decades. Remember, post Glasgow COP: “Keep alive the one-point-five”. [If we, this world, don’t manage to keep global warming from passing the 1.5 Celsius, there isn’t a future worth making other plans for.] So: let’s look at the information.
We’ve already looked at the Severn tidal barrage. The destruction of habitat would be enormous. Yes we need green energy but not at all costs.
They are trying to resurrect the Tidal Wave project in a desperate attempt to further the “Western gateway” project which is all about extracting resources from Wales while increasing England’s dominance over it. No, thank you.