A Metro Mayor for the West of England

In May 2017, voters in Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES), Bristol and South Gloucestershire will elect a Metro Mayor who will have new powers over transport and a variety of welfare-to-work policies for the region.

In the past people have questioned the democratic need for a directly elected mayor for the newly combined authority. However, now that the West of England Authority is coming, people are increasingly questioning whether the introduction of a Metro Mayor will provide the economic leadership required?

Last week a London based think tank, the Resolution Foundation, held an event to explore the challenges faced in the West of England area, and how the new Metro Mayor can use their new powers to lead inclusive economic prosperity. Amongst the challenges discussed, the housing crisis was identified as the biggest threat to living standards and the greatest challenge that the Metro Mayor will have to prioritise in office.

 Homeownership levels have trended steadily downwards in the West of England, particularly with younger people. Since 2001, the proportion of home-owning 25-39 year olds has plummeted from 69 per cent to just 52 per cent in 2015.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol and panellist at the event, explained to the audience that regardless of which candidate receives the majority vote in May, they will need to possess huge amounts of emotional intelligence in order to get the three areas that form the West of England region to cooperate. Rees, who himself was elected on his pledge to build 2000 homes a year by 2020, emphasised that building new and affordable homes is a high priority in the region and that the Metro Mayor would have a role to play in ensuring the various sovereignties complement rather than compete in the combined authority.

A report prepared by the Resolution Foundation – published ahead of the Metro Mayor event – identified the West of England is one of the few places outside of London to have a greater economic output now than before the financial crisis (currently up seven per cent). 

This, according to the panel, demonstrates that the West of England is equipped to meet the challenges it faces, including the housing crisis.

Former MP for Bristol West, Stephen Williams, questioned the panel about the constraints on housebuilding in the West of England. Torsten Bell (of the Resolution Foundation) responded candidly to Stephen’s question saying that "Whilst there are a number of issues which contribute to the West of England’s housing shortage, from a lack of space to a lack funding in local authorities, it’s more that we simply do not want to build”.

Perhaps this should be the priority for the incoming Metro Mayor – to use their unique position spanning B&NES, Bristol and South Gloucestershire to coordinate a joint effort to overcome the regions resistance to house building.

This article was written by Oliver Pearce, Account Executive with MPC.