Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) is committed to infrastructure consenting and delivery in the West of England, and delighted to be at the heart of it.  We are proud to support the West of England Economic Growth Conference for the second year running. Here we reflect on the region's strengths and take a look at the exciting future.    

Unique strengths

The West of England (WoE) region is one of the most prosperous regions in the UK. Our economy is worth over £33.2bn a year and is predicting 3% year on year growth over the next 10 years.  Advanced manufacturing is embedded in the area, with heavyweights like: BAE Systems; Airbus and Rolls-Royce being key players in the WoE. Along with significant capability in professional services, wholesale and retail sectors, the region's strengths also lie in tech, with Bristol recently ranked as the most productive tech cluster in the UK. 

The WoE hosts four world class universities, one of which played a part in Bristol's recent global recognition through the Smart City Award at the GSMA’s 2018 Global Mobile Awards. The delivery of a bid to the 5G Urban Connected Communities Project in 2018/19 and a project to develop a Digital and Creative Innovation Centre in the Bath City Enterprise Zone are both underway, with our universities heavily involved.   

Benefits flowing from investment in nuclear include £50m towards the development of new facilities at Bridgwater College, including an Advanced Engineering Centre, redevelopment of Cannington Court and the New National Nuclear College.  A £150m Bridgwater Gateway business park is being developed at M5 Junction 24.  Further development is scheduled for the Huntspill Energy Park near Junction 23 M5, where WBD is advising.  

Work on the Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) to deliver the region's ambition to be a driving force for clean and inclusive growth is now underway.

Working with partners, the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) will ensure opportunities are maximised and the priorities of business reflected. Across a wide variety of areas, including the future of mobility, ageing society, clean growth, and AI and big data, the LIS will build on the unique strengths of the WoE as an attractive place to live and work with strong national and international connections.

Nationally and globally well connected 

Bristol Temple Meads Station sees 11.3m passengers each year. Network Rail successfully completed its biggest signalling upgrade in and around Bristol Temple Meads earlier this year. This was needed ahead of the Filton Bank four-tracking project that is due to be completed by the end of this year.  A team is appointed to lead on a master plan for ongoing regeneration of Temple Quarter. The ORR's final determination is expected in October on the strategic route business plans to 2024. 

The Bristol Port Company is unique as the only pure UK private and independent port, and the Royal Portbury Dock is the largest of its kind in the UK. The port has been granted consent until 2030 for a £600m planned Deep Sea Container terminal.  

Bristol International Airport is one of the fastest growing and busiest regional airports. It is working  towards publishing a Draft Master Plan and Surface Access Strategy in 2019 as well as taking an application forward to increase the current cap on passenger numbers from 10 to 12 million per year. 

The ambitious strategic plans 

Looking ahead, the four WoE authorities (the 4 UAs) joined forces to produce a ground breaking new type of strategic plan, the Joint Spatial Plan (JSP); submitted for examination in April 2018.

The JSP addresses housing and employment needs, key strategic locations for growth and transport needs up to 2036.  A substantial number of new homes will be delivered at Strategic Development Locations (SDLs). Progressing in parallel, the new Joint Local Transport Plan (JLTP4) is scheduled for adoption in early 2019. Significant levels of new infrastructure, with the majority comprising strategic transport improvements, will be required to support the SDLs.  

In September 2018, Network Rail published its latest list of opportunities for third parties to fund, finance or deliver rail projects, including the construction of a new rail line connecting Heathrow airport to the western mainline. WBD is advising on MetroWest, the largest entirely third party funded rail scheme in England. Integral to the current plan, it will form the spine for the development of future extensions to the suburban railway network through the new JLTP4.  

Two further regional level strategies are also in production; a Joint Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan and a Joint Bus Strategy (JBS); both due in 2019. And with the Bristol Transport Strategy scheduled for adoption on 2019, this policy gap will also be filled.  

Unlocking funding opportunities

Joint working means strategic level opportunities are accessible.The WECA Business Plan 2018/2019 includes completion of a number of transport business and feasibility studies. It reports on franchising and funding options to deliver the JBS, as well as developing a plan for suburban rail, a new key route network, working towards formation of a statutory Western Gateway Sub-national Transport Body.    

Transport schemes will also unlock development land and result in an uplift in land value. Recent experience at Filton indicates that it should be possible to achieve an overall contribution towards enabling infrastructure. A government response to the recent parliamentary inquiry into land value capture (LVC), particularly from infrastructure development, is anticipated and we have recently commented on the issue. Funding will also come from the WoE Investment Fund; a devolved budget of £30m a year for 30 years focused on large strategic transport projects that connect housing with employment sites and services across the sub-region.  

Work is also underway to identify the next tranche of strategically important transport schemes.  The government has invited the WoE to co-develop with Homes England, an outline business case in support of an initial bid for £250m from the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF). Current proposals would look to improve connectivity with Hengrove and Whitchurch and release significant development sites in these areas.

Delivering housing

 The WoE is a high-housing demand area with ambitious proposals for growth. The foundation for an increase in housing delivery and a strengthened, long-term partnership between government, Homes England and WECA, working with North Somerset, was laid in March 2018 with the agreement of an interim WoE housing package with the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG). With all 4 UAs now part of the One Public Estate programme there is also central government support for a WoE Joint Assets Board.  

Elements of the transport programme are subject to two bids to the HIF. The Strategic Growth Corridor (A4/A37) bid includes elements of the transport programme to enable development at the Brislington, North Keynsham and Whitchurch SDLs. The M5 to A38 SDLs bid includes elements of the transport programme to enable development at the Banwell and Churchill SDLs. In March MHCLG agreed to take the funding bids through to co-development.  

Bristol City Council (BCC) was successful this year in its £3m bid for the proposed Arnside and Glencoyne Square Regeneration and it also secured £6.686m for the Unlocking Lockleaze Development. Outline applications for the Hartcliffe Campus site (up to 350 dwellings) and Hengrove Park (up to 1500 dwellings) were submitted in April and the end of June 2018 respectively. Additionally, BCC agreed land release for new homes in Lawrence Weston. 

Bristol City Council's 'Development and Investment Hotspots' brochure, released early in 2018, names the Western Harbour and Temple Quarter as two priority areas and work is underway to create a new destination district with the historic station at its core.

The start of September 2018 also saw the final go ahead given to set up a local arms-length Bristol Housing Company along with authorisation for approval to transfer land at Romney House, Lockleaze and the Baltic Wharf Caravan Club site to it.

From 19 October to 4 November 2018 The Bristol Housing Festival launches; a five year public exhibition working with city partners to look at new and innovative ways to provide housing. 

Delivering clean growth 

Building on its pioneering approach and the notable successes of Bristol is Open, Bristol Energy, Bristol Waste and European Green Capital 2015, the City launched the LEAP Prospectus 2018. This offers a £1bn package of investment to potential partners to transform city energy on Bristol's path to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.  

The summer saw WECA approve grant funding from DBEIS to deliver the South West Local Energy Hub programme. Bristol Heat Networks will also benefit from an approved reallocation of £4.5m for further expansion; the opportunities include the development of a large-scale heat transmission spine from Avonmouth and Severnside.  WBD recently drafted the Heat Networks: Procuring Finance, August 2018, Guidance.  

Fit for the Future

A number of key structures, plans and decisions to unlock development and growth are now either in place or close to fruition. The recent decision on the city centre arena plan means consideration may now also be given to an arena elsewhere, with Filton being a declared alternative. With strong city and regional leadership, a number of strategies scheduled for 2019 and work towards a LIS and the formation of a sub-national transport body underway, the WoE is on the verge of a significant step change in development and growth. Implementation and delivery for the WoE region on the JSP will see a step up in scale, pace and quality of place making.