To consider the joint report of the Managing Director and Head of Regeneration.
Consideration was given to the report of the Managing Director and Head of Regeneration.
The Leader of the Council advised that unfortunately the information contained within the report was not timely because this had been produced in June 2019. He explained that it was hoped that further information with regard to the Metro and Metro Plus could have been reported, however it was understood that whilst this report was imminent it was unable to be published prior to the General Election. Therefore, a report on this matter would be submitted to Council for consideration early in the New Year.
Metro/Abertillery Transport Hub - the Leader of the Labour Group advised that he had previously expressed concern at Council regarding issues about the Metro/Metro Plus.
The Leader of the Labour Group referred to the discussions Special Council on 21st March, 2019 regarding the scheme at which the Leader had advised that further discussions would be taking place on this in more detail at the Cardiff Capital Region. However, he expressed his concern that this scheme was no further forward and connectivity across the whole of Blaenau Gwent was crucial – this was the barrier that was preventing people from gaining employment as they were unable to travel across and throughout the borough. Travel to industrial estates was also particularly difficult.
He said that any provision needed to be tested and there needed to be connectivity across the whole of Blaenau Gwent particularly in communities that were difficult to reach. Rail infrastructure in isolation would not solve any of the connectivity problems being experienced.
Councillor C. Meredith joined the meeting at this juncture.
He continued by expressing his concern regarding the scheme to link up Abertillery to a railway when there was already a station in a nearby locality at Llanhilleth and that other areas of the County Borough were being excluded from such a provision including the Sirhowy Valley where there was no provision at all. Whilst he appreciated that further detail on the scheme was pending he pointed out that this was a once in a lifetime generational opportunity for Blaenau Gwent and said surely a more original scheme could have been submitted as this proposal would cost £5m which equated to £1m per mile. The Leader of the Labour Group concluded by stating that he was unable to support this proposal.
In reply to a question, the Corporate Director of Regeneration & Community Services advised that the Abertillery Transport Hub had been included in the list of schemes being looked as part of the City Deal Programme and would include the opening of the link between Aberbeeg and Abertillery together with associated infrastructure i.e. track, interchange and station.
The Executive Member for Regeneration & Economic Development stated that the issue of transport had been a problem for the valley communities for many years, therefore, the Metro could not just be about trains. This had been made clear at the Regional Transport Authority i.e. that all aspects of transport must be pursued.
The Welsh Government WelTAG Review in addition to pursuing the Metro would also be undertaking other specific pieces of work relating to all aspects of transport. It was noted that one of the main issues where concerns had been raised was the lack of public transportation to Llanfrechfa Grange. The Executive Member continued by advising that the Council’s Transport Policy was also in the process of being reviewed and these proposals would be submitted for consideration in the near future.
The following concerns/comments were also raised by Members:
ØThe public transport infrastructure in the County Borough was diabolical and far worse than any other borough. A Member stated that young people who resided in the borough were unable to look for employment due to the lack of transport they were unable to travel out of Tredegar. He said he hoped that meetings with Welsh Government would take place regarding the transport infrastructure and local bus companies to provide transport at certain times during the day and night.
ØThe area was a recognised industrial gateway along the Heads of the Valleys and there was a dire need for an east to west and west to east transport link from centres of population to industrial estates and this should be pursued in order to strengthen industrial growth in the area and provide the links in order that people could access these sites.
ØIt was also frustrating that there was no direct rail link to Cardiff airport from the valleys. This provision would raise the profile of the airport a Member asked that this matter be raised with appropriate parties.
Valley Gateway Sites – the Leader of the Labour Group referred to the announcement in 2018 by Welsh Government regarding Valley Gateway Sites which would be awarded funding. It was noted that Parc Bryn Bach had received £500,000 and asked whether each site had received a similar amount of funding.
The Corporate Director of Regeneration & Community Services confirmed that different amounts of funding were received for each site as part of a competitive process. Part of the submission for Parc Bryn Bach had been for glamping pods which had been unsuccessful. Approximately £12m had been provided across all areas and the Corporate Director undertook to provide the exact figures to the Member.
At this juncture Councillor Wayne Hodgins declared an interest in this item because he was a Board Member on Aneurin Leisure Trust and the debate that had ensued related to facilities provided by Trust.
Conclusion - the Leader of the Council said that the views expressed were cross borough issues that were being pursued. Work was on-going with the Regional Transport Authority and a number of the issues that had been raised had also been raised at the G10 Gwent Forum. In addition, the Executive Member for Regeneration & Economic Development would be presenting a report in the near future relating the local review of the Transport Policy.
The Leader confirmed that when meetings had taken place with Ken Skates, Minister for Economy & Transport or a representative of Welsh Government, strong representations regarding connectivity and transportation had been made by senior officers, the Leader and Executive Member for Regeneration & Economic Development. Discussions had also taken place regarding the provision of rail services to certain other areas which had received more than a favourable hearing.
Unfortunately, due to the pre-election period for the General Election further information had not been forthcoming but with the onset of Tech Valleys, the Industrial Strategy and the improvements being made to the Heads of the Valleys Road, Blaenau Gwent had the potential to be a hotspot for industry. The Leader concluded by stating it was, therefore, imperative that the transport infrastructure within the County Borough including the infrastructure on the industrial estates needed to be appropriate in order that people both inside and outside the borough could access jobs and a considerable amount of work was being undertaken by officers in respect of this issue.
Upon a vote being taken it was unanimously,
RESOLVED, subject to the foregoing, that the report be accepted and Option 1 be endorsed and the overall progress and completion of the key targets for 2018/19 be endorsed.