WECA mayor begins to make his mark
Labour’s Dan Norris, who was declared as the victor in the West of England Mayoral election with the most first and second preference votes totalling 125,482, is beginning to make his presence felt.
Before the election, a Centre for Cities survey revealed that whilst 66 per cent of voters were aware there was a West of England Mayor, only 7 per cent could correctly name the previous ‘Metro Mayor’. A situation that Dan, new in post, will be keen to address, especially as the same survey saw respondents name Marvin Rees, the now re-elected Bristol Mayor, as the then West of England mayor.
When Dan was sworn in, he said he would be a more visible Metro Mayor who gets things done and raises the profile of the region, and it appears that accompanied by his dog, Angel, both on Zoom calls and on the campaign trail, Angel at least, was already having an impact with a number of people mentioning to me in that ‘it was the one with the dog what won it!’.
So, a few weeks in and in addition to responding to the Queen’s Speech, declaring jobs and skills as a priority. It appears to be transport that Dan is getting his teeth into. Firstly, regarding a shortfall in funding for rail in the region and now calling out £30m plans to widen the A4174, a ring road around Bristol, a consultation on which has just been launched by Conservative run South Gloucestershire Council.
He suggested that widening roads only encourages more travel by car and increases congestion bringing him into agreement with Bristol City’s bolstered Green Councillors, who want to see Government money focused on public transport, walking and cycling and have publicly urged the Dan to conduct a rapid review of all new road building proposals.
The discussion does raise the key issue in the West of England that whilst Bristol is often the political focus, the city does not operate in a vacuum, the factors driving the economics are taking place in the surrounding districts of South Gloucestershire, Bath & North East Somerset and also North Somerset, where a large number of people live but work, travel and do business in the city but it is not formally part of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA).
WECA does provide support to the West of England LEP Board and to the West of England Joint Committee, which includes North Somerset Council, meaning their issues are raised but it would be helpful and pragmatic if Dan could raise how North Somerset could be brought into the fold in the future, during this early profile raising and meeting people stage. Looking at these geographies would also help to set the stage for a new pragmatic dialogue as to how the region works (or doesn’t work), in addition to the immediate pressure to deliver a recovery plan which is Dan and his WECA team’s responsibility to deliver.