Swindon could get major rail and road upgrades as part of Western Gateway plans
Major transport upgrades could see Swindon at the heart of a booming economy if the ambitious plans of a new organisation come to fruition. Swindon Borough Council is one of a dozen local authorities and public bodies which have combined to for the Western Gateway economic development body It stretches west from here as far as Swansea. It’s the region’s ‘answer’ to the Northern Powerhouse and West Midlands Engine, which lobby for investment to improve the economy in those areas.
Set up at the end of 2019, it has just published its prospectus. It says: “Our location is one of the reasons we are already the UK’s most productive powerhouse. But we know that to deliver our vision of being Britain’s global gateway in the century ahead, investment plans in our region’s infrastructure will need to shift several gears
.” It proposes: – Quicker, more frequent services to London, reducing the journey time from Swansea to London to less than two hours.
– A direct link into Heathrow through delivery of the Reading-Heathrow rail link and frequent, direct trains to the proposed HS2 network. – Improved connectivity through Swindon to England’s Economic Heartland and improved links along the region’s north -south axis. – Investment to the strategic road network, including upgrades to the M4 and M5 to tackle congestion, boost capacity and unlock housing growth across the region.
Council leader David Renard says the town is well placed to benefit. He said: “We were already a member of England’s Economic Heartland, which stretches from here eat to Cambridge, and our position makes us the connection between that and the Western Gateway.” While Coun Renard would welcome both upgrades to the railways and the M4, he said: “Neither are a game-changer.
The journey by train from Swindon to London is already under an hour, so cutting five minutes off it would be welcome, but not massive. And we rarely have that much congestion or disruption on the M4 near us. “The direct rail link from Reading to Heathrow will also be beneficial to Swindon, and talks are ongoing on about that.”
Coun Renard’s priority would be an upgrade to the A420 to Oxford. He said: “It’s a very busy road, and very important as a link to Oxford.” “It will be crucial to our economy, especially when the New Eastern Villages are built.”
‘West is best’ The Western Gateway partnership, which stretches from Swindon to Swansea, has a GBP107bn economy. It encompasses eight cities, three city regions, with a workforce of 2.1 million people working for 160,000 businesses out of a total population of 4.4m.
With its four major transport lines, two international airports and nine ports it exports GBP21bn worth of goods and GBP11bn worth of services every year. The partnership’s new prospectus promises “a strong cross-border relationship with high connectivity east-west and north-south and high levels of economic integration across the area. ” It cites the recent dropping of tolls on the Severn Bridges and the electrification of the Great Western mainline as elements in improving connectivity.
It says: “With over half the population of the UK within two hours travel, two deep sea ports and two airports giving access to international markets our location is one of the reasons we are already the UK’s most productive powerhouse.”
The partnership says if infrastructure spending per head were the same in the area as in London another GBP14.3bn would be invested in the area in the next 10 years.
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