Planning and transport at the heart of Bristol region devolution

The biggest winner of the Budget announcement that there was to be a devolution deal for Bristol and the West of England Partnership area should probably have been the city region itself, but just maybe that honour should go to ITV’s Ian Axton who announced the news by stating that there would be a “Western-super-Mayor”!

We shall get to the mayoralty in a moment, but before that let us look at the details of what is included in the package from the point of view of planning and development.

The West of England Combined Authority will set an ambitious target for delivering new homes which will be set out in the West of England Joint Spatial Plan for the period from 2016 to 2036. This plan must be submitted by summer 2017. It will be followed by a Joint Transport Plan which will need to be submitted before the end of 2017. A third plan for Strategic Infrastructure will then be produced. A strategic approach across the four council areas will be taken with regard to five year housing supply.

The Mayor will be able to call in contentious planning applications. He or she will also have powers top create Mayoral Development Corporations to support delivery of strategic sites in the West of England region.

The powers devolved regarding transport will allow the Mayor and combined authority to have a single consolidated local transport budget, scope to franchise bus services and to deliver a smart and integrated ticketing system. This is not quite the Bristol version of the long awaited “Transport for London” model, but it is a decent step in the right direction.

The city region, or metro, Mayor will be elected in May 2017. With North Somerset, Bath & North East Somerset (BANES) and South Gloucestershire all run by Conservative Councils and with every constituency in them represented by Tory MPs, there will be a lot of optimism that the party can win the mayoralty. While The Bristol City Council local authority has the largest single electorate, it is outweighed by the remaining three local authorities. The current Bristol City Council area Mayor is George Ferguson, an Independent. He may will seek to stand for the new city region role, but it will be more difficult for an independent to be relevant to voters in Radstock as well as Redcliffe or Severn Beach as well as Stockwell.

The arrival of a city region mayor does not automatically mean the demise of the Bristol City Mayor. In London, four boroughs have their own elected mayors. However, in the Bristol and, clumsily titled, West of England region the impact of nearly half the population and the economic hub of the region having a local authority elected mayor as well as a city region mayor could lead to clashes between the two powerful individuals. It is perfectly conceivable that Bristol City will elect a Labour Mayor and Bristol City Region a Conservative.

Traditionally, it has been an uphill battle to encourage North Somerset and BANES to view themselves as part of a Greater Bristol region. The deal on offer has been enough to encourage them to sign up, but time will tell just how super the Western-super-Mayor will be.