£1billion jackpot will fund long-awaited Bristol Metro train network
A REVOLUTION in the way Bristol and the surrounding area is run was being announced today.
The Post can reveal that a £1billion City Deal will provide money to pay for the long-awaited Bristol Metro train network, put a local body in charge of all publicly-owned assets and change the face of further education.
Control over transport budgets will also be given to council leaders, who will no longer need to seek Whitehall approval for individual schemes.
The money is coming not from government but from borrowing by the councils – allowed for the first time – from private investment and by allowing rates paid by businesses to be kept and spent in the city and surrounding area.
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The recently-created Local Enterprise Partnership put together a wish list with the city council and its four neighbouring unitary authorities, aimed at dragging the city out of recession.
Details of the City Deal were due to be announced today during a ministerial visit to Bristol.
But Cities Minister Greg Clark has already told the Post: "I expect this is the breakthrough that is needed for the Greater Bristol Metro."
At the centre is the Metro project, which was the subject of a £100 million funding bid to the government last month.
It includes reinstating passenger trains from Bristol to Portishead and new stations in Horfield, Ashley Down and Saltford.
The Post understands that the Local Enterprise Partnership – the body in charge of bringing jobs and investment to the city and surrounding area – will be given the power to keep hold of the business rates for the recently opened Enterprise Zone in the Temple Meads area to pay for amenities and infrastructure.
The same will happen at five other "enterprise areas" designated by the LEP at Avonmouth/Severnside, Bath City Riverside, Bristol and Bath Science Park in Emersons Green, Filton Airfield and Junction 21, Weston-super-Mare.
A property board or company will be created to take control of publicly-owned assets. The aim will be to make better use out of public buildings in order to raise extra cash.
A new combined transport authority will be created to control and run public transport across the greater Bristol area, covering buses, trains, the new Rapid Transit System and even the ferries on the Floating Harbour.
The area's four councils will also be given more control over further education, so colleges and schools run vocational style courses better suited to the needs of the business community.
Finally a body will be set up aimed at helping businesses make the most of overseas opportunities.
Last year the Government challenged England's eight largest cities to come up with a bid for new powers that they believe will transform their area. Today the Government will officially confirm that Bristol's City Deal, along with those from other cities including Leeds and Newcastle, has been accepted.
It will see the city council and South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and Bath & North East Somerset, together known as the West of England Partnership, handed control of 10 years' transport funding.
They will retain the receipts from business rates that come as a result of the economic growth – under the current system the cash is returned to Whitehall which redistributes it across the country.
Mr Clark said: "Their argument was that if they could invest significantly in the infrastructure and the transport infrastructure there, they should be able to retain the growth that comes from that, then reinvest it so it gets into a virtual cycle of Bristol becoming more and more prosperous and being able to reinvest more."
Describing the arrangement as a "very innovative deal", Mr Clarke said: "This is to make happen an investment that would not otherwise happen."
It will be for local leaders to decide whether to spend some of the money on an arena for Bristol, he said.