[Report by Leigh Boobyer – Local Democracy Reporter]

Three boards could be set up to transform Gloucestershire, including one to create a city region in-between Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury, according to leaked draft documents sent to the county’s key political figures.

The draft document, called a Concordat, has been seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service days before it is due to be made public. It states that “there is strong support for co-ordinated development” between Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury but there is “no appetite for urban merger, loss of identity or unchecked growth”.

It is not clear by the draft documents what is meant by a ‘city region’ for Gloucestershire, but the the draft report said: “There are existing and emerging areas in England which use the ‘City Region’ brand to capture a geographical area with common purpose, often including market towns and significant rural hinterland.”

The draft report, presented to Leadership Gloucestershire members at a meeting on October 11, has not been signed off yet. February 2019 has been pencilled into the draft document seen by the Local Democracy Reporter as a date by which the plan to take Gloucestershire 2050 forward will be confirmed.

Gloucestershire County Council leader Mark Hawthorne, chair of Leadership Gloucestershire, said in response to the request for a comment that work is on-going to finalise the plans.

The draft document says the green space between the three districts “will require a change to the offer” in order to retain young people in the county.

However, a separate report leaked to Gloucestershire Live reportedly found that the majority of people who responded to the 2050 Big Conversation consultation, at which the idea was presented along with five others, rejected the idea of a ‘super city’.

And plans to expand the airport in the Cotswolds would be dropped, the draft document said, if everyone in the group agreed.

The proposals are being drawn up to tackle an exodus of young people over the next 30 years, as under-25s are leaving the county for larger cities while the elderly population is set to grow significantly.

If nothing is done, there will be 79,000 more over-65s and 4,000 more under-18s by 2039.

Gloucestershire Vision 2050, a two-year project which gathered views from schools and figureheads, outlined how to attract and retain young people in the county.

A consultation went out to residents across the six districts earlier this year, asking for solutions to the problem as well as opinions on six big ideas: an airport in the Cotswolds; expanding the Cotswold waterpark; building a super city; forming a national park; creating a Lydney-Sharpness crossing; and constructing the cyber park.

The councils are now working together to act on the results of the consultation, and are finalising the statement of intent document, named the Concordat.

In the draft plans, three boards would be created to spearhead large infrastructure projects and issues that face the county.

The ‘Severn Vale Board’ would oversee major developments that would be included in the Forest of Dean and Stroud, while the ‘Rural Ambition Board’ would have oversee the boosting of rural aspects across the county.

It is unclear what the final name would be for Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Cheltenham, as the group has considered the ‘Central Gloucestershire Growth Board’ and the ‘Central Gloucestershire City Region Board’ in different draft Concordats seen by the Local Democracy Reporter.

The board with developments for Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Cheltenham would oversee, according to the Concordat, a city region project, the cyber park and M5 junction improvements including junctions 9, 10 and 11.

An amended version of the Concordat, sent to the county and district council leaders, argued that in order to receive money from key government agencies, such as Homes England and Highways England, the tri-district board would need to be in “recognition of the Government’s Cities agenda” – meaning the word “city” has to be included to receive central government money.

But the draft report added that the identities of Gloucester and Cheltenham would be protected under such proposals.

The draft report said: “Use of the phrase ‘City’ needs to wholly respect that there is strong support for co-ordinated development, but no appetite for urban merger, loss of identity or unchecked growth.”

A decision on the Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury board name could be decided in February 2019.

Councillor Hawthorne said: “There is a strong commitment to work together to ensure a vibrant and prosperous future for the county.

“Work is ongoing to finalise exactly how we progress Vision 2050, at the same time as respecting and making the most of all that already makes Gloucestershire a fantastic place to live, work and visit.”

WHAT WOULD THE OTHER BOARDS DO?

Under the draft proposals, the Severn Vale Board would oversee the third Severn Bridge, which would see Lydney and Sharpness connected, as well as upgrading M5 corridor junctions 12, 13 and 14.

It has been reported previously by the Local Democracy Reporting Service that a new M5 junction between Stroud and Thornbury – titled ‘J13A’ – would be created in order to support the Lydney-Sharpness connection.

However, the draft Concordat states that the Board should “explore all options” as to to where the bridge could the start, end and join between South Wales and the West of England.

The draft document said: “Whilst to date this has been described as a Lydney-Sharpness bridge, other locations have been suggested through consultation to date, and the Severn Vale Board should explore all options for a new crossing”.

It added: “Wherever a new crossing is promoted it is recognised that this development should be more than simply an element of local transport infrastructure. Within Gloucestershire, this development would create stronger links between the Forest of Dean and Stroud districts, and even Gloucester, but beyond that it would connect much of England to South Wales in a new way that takes pressure off the M4 and M5.

“The local dividend will be the potential for new communities and economic growth based on the ambitions set out in the Vision. The Severn Vale Board should aim to seize the potential to make this part of the county not just a destination in its own right but also a new gateway to South Wales and critical to the operation of South Wales, the West of England, and the West Midlands.”

The Rural Ambition Board will similarly look at rural connectivity issues, including roads, rail, public transport and digital connectivity.

Extra land for new ‘garden’ communities could be sought, as well as potentially improving the Cotswold Waterpark.

Meanwhile, the Government is reviewing the Cotswold’s status as an Area Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) with ambitions to turn it into a National Park.

But the draft Concordat said the impact of such a status change “would need to accommodate appropriate economic growth, adequate housing provision within low wage rural economies, and an existing infrastructure deficit”.

Councillors have previously argued that Cotswold District Council’s power to build new homes would be “wiped out” if the AONB became a National Park.

WHAT DID RESPONDENTS SAY IN THE CONSULTATION?

Gloucestershire Live has reported 2,549 people responded to the Big Conversation, a public consultation which ended on July 31 this year as part of Gloucestershire 2050.

Of that amount, 882 respondents were aged 25 or under (44 per cent).

The results revealed a lack of affordable housing and jobs – and poor transport connections – were of the highest importance to respondents.

And the findings showed what people thought of the six big ideas.

The respondents said:

Super City: Out of 1,557 respondents, 45 per cent did not like the idea while 33 per cent backed it.
Cyber Park: Out of 1,550 respondents, 39 per cent agreed with it, 21 per cent strongly agreed and 27 per cent were not sure.
Regional Parks: Out of 1,548 respondents, 47 per cent agreed, 25 per cent strongly agreed and 21 per cent were not sure.
Lydney-Sharpness Crossing: Out of 1,535 respondents, 44 per cent were not sure, 15 per cent strongly agreed and 26 per cent agreed.
Cotswold Airport: Out of 1,554 respondents, 24 per cent agreed, 24 per cent strongly disagreed and 17 per cent disagreed.
Cotswold Water Park: Out of 1,544 respondents, 39 per cent agreed, 29 per cent were not sure and 17 per cent strongly agreed.
In a foreword to the report that will be released next week, Vice Chancellor Stephen Marston said that he was “pleased”.

Mr Marston added: “The Big Conversation has demonstrated that there is an appetite to shape the future we want, not shying away from those things that are challenging and controversial.

“There is a mandate to use purposefully what people have said to create a better Gloucestershire for the whole community.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Leadership Gloucestershire members are set to sign the amended document in the next few days, before they release publicly the Gloucestershire Vision 2050 results and the signed Concordat, expected before the end of October.

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