A “Great Western Powerhouse” across the Severn Estuary does not “cut across” devolution agreements between Bristol and its surrounding authorities, the mayor insisted.
Bristol, Newport and Cardiff are proposing an economic partnership known as the Great Western Cities, launched in Bristol on Friday.
The regional collective would cover metropolitan Bristol, which includes South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset.
But discussions are simultaneously in progress between those councils and Bristol over a political union in a bid for greater devolution of powers from Government.
Concerns have been raised by North Somerset Council’s Conservative deputy leader, Elfan Ap Rees, that the authority has not been consulted about the powerhouse move, which he claimed on BBC Radio Bristol was “very underhanded”.
Disgraceful behaviour by the Bristol Mayor,after his debacle over devolution,presuming everyone will fall in line. https://t.co/3OpsjcPFTq
— Elfan Ap Rees (@elfanaprees) February 12, 2016
Ferguson (pictured with Cardiff council leader Phil Bale, middle) told Bristol24/7: “This is complementary. It certainly doesn’t work against. In general we are getting on really well with our devolution proposals which are in with the treasury at the moment.
He said he was in “advanced” talks about a concrete deal, which he hoped to reveal over the coming months, adding that the powerhouse move “in no way cuts across that”.
The Great Western Cities initiative will bring Bristol, Newport and Cardiff closer together through better connectivity, business links, university cooperation and work to create more renewable energy sources through tidal lagoons already planned in the Severn Estuary.
The launch of the Great Western Cities comes as plans for a Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine are already well underway. Bristol and the closer surrounding area was also behind other metropolitan cities in submitting an official bid to Government for a devolution deal.
Asked if the city was lagging behind the rest of the UK, Ferguson said: “There is a danger that we do lag behind the north unless we get a grip, and this is about getting a grip. I’m determined this is not just about competing with the North.
“I’m quite sure that we can become competitive in Europe and beyond and I think we get taken much more seriously if we are seen to be working constructively together.
“There will always be differences, but what I think will bind this is a recognition we can always benefit – even if maybe not always equally.”
Bristol, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset have been working to settle their differences to hammer out a devolution proposal.
Objections have already been raised to the idea of a metro mayor to cover all the areas – as is being introduced in Greater Manchester.