Western Gateway’s recovery plans to focus on Tidal energy and high-speed rail links


Investigating the full potential of tidal energy from the Severn Estuary and improving high-speed rail links on the Great Western Mainline are just two of the key issues which will be at the forefront of the agenda for the Western Gateway in the New Year.

The Gateway - a cross-border economic partnership covering South Wales and the West of England - will focus on major investment opportunities for the region, according to a new report to Cardiff Council's Cabinet.

The Gateway - which serves as a counterpoint to the Northern Powerhouse and the Midland's Engine - was set up to secure significant levels of Government funding and investment in order to boost job creation and the economy.

The partnership currently includes the core cities of Cardiff and Bristol, the key cities of Newport, Swansea, Bath and Gloucester, and stretches across South Wales and the West of England from Swindon to Swansea, Wiltshire and Weston-Super-Mare to Tewkesbury.

In an update report to Cardiff Council's Cabinet, it is revealed that the Western Gateway is planning to focus on the following four areas in 2022:

  • The potential future for tidal energy in the Severn estuary as the region looks to reach net zero carbon;
  • Improving high-speed connectivity throughout the region by enhancing the Great Western Mainline;
  • Using world-leading research and academic assets in the area to support innovative manufacturing and renewable energy projects;
  • Marketing the Western Gateway region as an attractive location for inward investment and supporting firms to access new export markets.

Cardiff Council Leader, Cllr Huw Thomas, who sits on the Gateway's partnership board and is the lead political representative on tidal energy, said: "Workstreams have been set up for all of the four priorities. Of particular significance to Cardiff Council are the workstreams around unlocking the tidal energy potential of the Severn Estuary and, securing investment into the strategic rail infrastructure linking Cardiff to other core cities and to London.

"It's estimated that the Severn Estuary could supply 7% of the UK's energy needs.The UK Government has so far refused to support a scheme due to a perceived requirement for high levels of public investment and concerns over the environmental impact on designated areas in the Severn Estuary. However, the changing landscape of the climate emergency, energy insecurity, rising costs, and rapid technological improvements indicate that many of these policy, cost and environmental barriers may no longer be as significant. We want to find out just what could be done to harness this incredible energy resource."

In October 2021, the Western Gateway Partnership Board agreed to explore the setting up of an Independent Commission on the potential to harness the tidal energy potential of the Severn, chaired by an individual of international standing and with a political/professional profile. The Board agreed that members should encompass leaders from across key sectors, such as engineering, finance and investment and sustainability. The Leader of Cardiff Council was nominated by the Western Gateway Partnership Board to lead this initiative on behalf of the region and will represent the Western Gateway on the Independent Commission.

On improving rail links, Cllr Thomas, said: "Other regional powerhouses in the UK; namely, the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine, have been successful at attracting significant levels of Government funding and investment. It is imperative that the Western Gateway secures similar levels of investment if we are to unlock our full economic potential.

"The 8-year spend on infrastructure construction per head - as calculated in 2019 - was 26% higher in the Northern Powerhouse than across the Western Gateway, and this does not include the £100bn investment that the North will benefit from via HS2 (£29bn) and Northern Powerhouse Rail (£70bn). In particular, HS2 represents a significant improvement in connectivity across other parts of the country, putting the Western Gateway at risk of becoming worse off.

"South Wales and the West of England have not enjoyed the levels of rail enhancement investment experienced elsewhere in the UK over the past thirty years. This underinvestment has led to relatively less attractive services, attracting fewer passengers, and leading to higher subsidies compared to the rest of the UK.

"HS2 will put Cardiff and South Wales at a significant disadvantage. While the UK economy is predicted to receive a £15 billion benefit from HS2, South Wales's GDP will lose an estimated £200m per year. There are similar negative impacts for the southwest of England, with Bristol losing £100m per year, and Gloucester, Bath and northeast Somerset another £100m annually."

Through the Western Gateway, and working closely with our city-region partners, Cardiff Council is seeking to secure investment into the strategic rail infrastructure serving the city, including:

  • A major upgrade of the primary East-West rail corridor from Swansea Bay to London via the South Wales Mainline (SWML) and Great Western Mainline (GWML), enhancing connectivity between Cardiff and Bristol, Swansea, Heathrow and London.
  • For the SWML, this will include enhanced line speeds (eventually up to 140 mph) and capacity, new stations and full electrification as acknowledged in Network Rail's recent decarbonisation strategy;
  • Improved rail links between Cardiff Central and Bristol Temple Meads, including a mix of express and local commuter services as recommended by the South East Wales Transport Commission, including 4 services an hour between Bristol Temple Meads and Cardiff Central;
  • Enhanced connectivity from Cardiff to Birmingham and the HS2 network (and beyond to/from northern England) via Gloucester; and
  • Securing the Western Rail Access to Heathrow scheme from Reading, providing direct and indirect rail access from Cardiff Central to Heathrow.

Cllr Thomas added: "Improving connectivity between the cities and city-regions in the Western Gateway has been identified as being vital in meeting the partnership's economic and climate goals, including boosting productivity, making jobs accessible to those living in rural areas and in decarbonising transport. We mustn't be left behind watching other economic powerhouses like the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands' Engine benefit while we are left trailing."

Katherine Bennett CBE, Chair of the Western Gateway, said: "This is an exciting time for the Western Gateway. We believe that our area could become the UK's first green energy super cluster and are working on a programme of work to integrate our strengths and assets across Nuclear, Hydrogen and Tidal to create new opportunities for local communities at risk of being left behind.

"We are looking forward to setting out plans for the powerhouse partnership next month at our first conference, Green Growth in the Western Gateway, where leaders from business, research and the public sector from both sides of the Severn will help shape how these plans are brought to life."