Stretching from Swansea to Swindon, the Western Gateway is the latest initiative to boost the regional economy of South Wales and the west of England – and Cardiff Capital Region is right at the heart of it.
The Western Gateway is the one of a number of such regional initiatives across the UK, with others including the Northern Powerhouse, the Midlands Engine and England’s Economic Heartland. Like them it seeks to combine the efforts of local authorities and other regional partners to propel economic development on a larger, regional scale.
It began with talks between the leaders of Cardiff, Bristol and Newport in 2016, but has since evolved to include many other regional figures. As one of the 3 city regions within the area, Cardiff Capital Region would play a central role if it decided to get involved.
Currently CCR is committed to further discussions about the role and purpose of the Western Gateway, and how it will fit with the objectives of the City Deal, particularly as regards geographic spread. From this perspective, it’s important to ensure that any benefits are not confined to the M4 corridor but are fairly distributed around the whole region.
Katherine Bennett, chair of the Western Gateway and senior vice president UK of Airbus, describes the Western Gateway as “a powerhouse waiting to happen… ready to capitalise on its phenomenal potential to drive Britain’s cleaner, fairer future.”
Certainly, the Western Gateway has a lot going for it. It encompasses 8 cities and 3 city regions, and has a population of 4.4 million. The region’s £107 billion economy supports 2.1 million jobs.
It is crisscrossed by 4 major transport lines, including the M4 and M5 and the Great Western Mainline. It also has 2 international airports and 9 ports, supporting its ambition to become Britain’s gateway to global markets.
And it has 10 universities, which support innovation in key sectors such as advanced manufacturing and engineering, digital and cyber security, and finance and professional services.
The prospectus for the Western Gateway sets out three ambitions, and how the regional partnership hopes to achieve them. First is to deliver world class physical and digital connectivity, both within and into the region, to boost productivity, unlock housing, and lead the transition to a net zero future.
It aims to boost travel within the region by linking up regional metro systems such as the South Wales Metro, as well as improving connections with neighbouring powerhouse regions such as England’s Economic Heartland.
Boosting exports is the second ambition. The Western Gateway vision is to become Britain’s 21st century gateway to the world. It plans to make the most of the region’s 2 deep sea ports and international airports to increase exports.
But it also plans to make the region the gateway into Britain for inward investment, by making use of the world leading companies and world class research universities that are already present in the area.
The third ambition is to make the region a powerhouse for innovation, to meet the challenges and create the new industries of the 21st century. The area is home to innovative companies such as SPTS, IQE, Renishaw, Airbus and BAE Systems, as well as research intensive universities such as Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea.
There is particular potential for the development of renewable energy systems, ultra-low emission vehicles, low carbon propulsion systems and lightweight structures for cars and aircraft. There are also opportunities for innovation in the digital, cyber and creative industries.
Centred on the cities of Cardiff and Bristol, Western Gateway already has an economic performance that is higher than most other UK regions, apart from London. But it also has areas of deprivation, and the region as a whole could do better.
If it exported as much goods per worker as the Midlands Engine region in sectors such as aerospace, automotive, the digital, cyber and creative industries, life sciences and low carbon technologies, that would add £1.3 billion per year to the region’s earnings. And if the Western Gateway spent as much per full-time employee on innovation as the English and Welsh average, spending up to 2030 would be £4.1 billion higher.
It’s to address these disparities that the Western Gateway project is directed, using the combined resources of cities and communities on both sides of the Severn, from the Wiltshire Downs to the Gower, and from Salisbury to Merthyr Tydfil. As the prospectus puts it:
“We will draw on our combined strengths and unique assets to unleash our full potential and blaze a trail for the UK’s next generation economy: delivering a gateway to a cleaner, fairer and more prosperous future.”