The State of Britain

SW

Space flight a step closer in Cornwall, market failure in Gloucester and the ONS’s first cut at regional GDP unwelcome news in the South West

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The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has published its deprivation index which looks at an area’s levels of income, employment, education, health and crime as well as housing services and living environment. Jaywick in Essex, near Clacton-on-Sea, was previously found to be the most deprived in the last two reports in 2010 and 2015 and it has won this unwelcome accolade again. Jaywick is followed by nine areas of the North West as the most deprived in England, the Hartcliffe area of Bristol is the first SW entry ranked at 91st. The Ministry divides England up into 32,844 neighbourhoods averaging about 1,500 residents or 650 households each. In terms of local authorities, 17% of Plymouth was classified as deprived which ranked the city the 50th worst in the UK.

The MHCLG found concentrations of deprivation in a number of coastal towns, many of which are in the South West, and there was new money for the region in the latest tranche of the Coastal Communities Fund, with Poole/Bournemouth and Lydney Harbour winners. The Dorset project will create an environmental innovation hub and will feature eco-accommodation and leisure facilities and improved public lighting. The hub will focus on reducing single-use plastics through a programme of research and public recycling initiatives. The Lydney project will create transport routes into the harbour and develop the area as a recreation and tourism destination.

Also Penzance, St Ives and Torquay were some of the SW towns invited to apply for regeneration funding as part of the £3.6bn Towns Fund which is targeted at 100 English towns. Towns must submit economic growth plans with a focus on improved transport, broadband connectivity, skills and culture. The South West was also awarded £13.7m as part of a £95m pot to revive historic high streets, with Poole again benefiting, along with Redruth, Plymouth and another half dozen or so regional towns.

Development
Spaceport Cornwall – a horizontal launch site at Newquay airport from which satellites will be sent into orbit – should be underpinned with £12m from Cornwall Council, after the funding was approved by the council’s cabinet. The £12m is part of an investment package which also includes £7.85m from the UK Space Agency and £2.5m from Virgin Orbit. The Virgin Orbit jet, a modified Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl, will carry satellite launchers which are released before accelerating and discharging the satellite into space. The Spaceport could also be used to send fee-paying passengers on sub-orbital flights.

A proposed £140m development at Bristol’s old fire station which includes office space, 231 new rental homes and more than 60 affordable flats has been recommended by planners. Two residential tower blocks (16-storey and 10-storey) and an eight-storey building with office space, form the core of the project.

There is clear market failure in Gloucester, where the 15th Century Fleece Hotel in Westgate Street has been empty since 2002. Gloucester City Council will invest in the hotel with a private developer and redevelop it into a boutique hotel and restaurants. The Fleece first opened in 1497 to house pilgrims visiting the tomb of King Edward II.

Redeveloping three Victorian Spa buildings into a heritage centre near the Roman Baths and revealing previously unseen areas of the Roman complex, such as a Roman laconicum and a possible Roman exercise yard, will attract 100,000 visitors a year according to Bath and North East Somerset council’s heritage team. The project has secured £3.4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and if approved will open in 2020.

Jobs
Morrisons is proposing to close its Regent Circus store in Swindon as part of a nationwide performance review which has recommended four UK branches for closure. The store only opened in October 2014 as part of a new leisure and retail complex designed to regenerate the site of a derelict former college building, headcount is 113.

In Somerset, the National Animal Welfare Trust’s Heaven’s Gate Farm, near Langport, faces closure putting 31 jobs at risk. The charity also operates rescue and re-homing centres for domestic pets across Berkshire, Bedfordshire, Cornwall, Essex, and Hertfordshire.

The Stats
For the first time, the ONS has published quarterly GDP estimates for the South West, the eight other English regions and Wales. GDP figures have been available for the UK since the 1940s, for Scotland since 2002 and Northern Ireland since 2013. The latest available figures, which are for the year ended 2018, showed the SW economy declined by 1.1%. This ranked the region bottom of the twelve UK ‘regions.’ The East Midlands topped the table with growth of 3.4%. UK growth over the same period was 1.5%.

The quarter to Dec 2018 showed the education sector grew by 6.4%, while the administrative and support services industries grew by 3.0% and made the largest positive contributions to growth, however, the construction industry fell by 2.8% and financial industries fell by 3.4% and were the largest negative contributors in the region. Overall, the services sector was the only sector-level positive contributor to GDP growth, both the production and construction sectors contracted. More recent estimates (six months later) for the year ended June 2019, published by ESCoE last month, ranked the SW third with growth of 1.9%, which suggests the region has had a better 2019 so far relative to other parts of the UK.

More data from the ONS showed that unemployment in the SW decreased by 10,000 to 68,000 between May and July; the drop of 0.3% took the overall rate to 2.4% which was the best in the UK. The highest rate was 5.0% which was recorded in the North East. The South West also had the highest employment rate at 80.8%. UK employment was estimated at 76.1%.

SW average property prices increased by 1.2% to £258,602, which took annual growth to 0.7%. In comparison, UK prices grew by 0.5% to £232,710 during July, also an annual growth rate of 0.7%.

South West growth and unemployment stats compare well with other parts of the UK and Bristol City Council’s attempts to run an energy business continues to soak up public funds

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Growth in the South West was 1.9% in the year to June 2019, according to estimates from ESCoE, ranking the region third (out of twelve UK ‘regions’). The drop from the previous quarter’s growth of 2.3% suggests the region’s economy is contracting. At 2.3%, London had the best performance with Northern Ireland at 1% the worst. The national growth rate for the same period was 1.5%. With the UK economy contracting by 0.2% in the quarter, falling growth in the South West reflects this and is similar to other regional economies which have also shrunk.

Unemployment in the South West increased by 10,000 to 79,000 between April and June, an uplift of 0.3% to 2.7%, the lowest rate in the UK. The North East had the highest at 5.3% with the UK rate at 3.9%. The South West also had the highest employment rate at 80.5% which compared with 76.1% in the UK, the joint highest since comparative records began in 1971.

In June, South West average earnings increased from £571 to £603 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £831; the North East had the lowest at £537. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.7% or by 1.8% after inflation.

The South West’s average property price fell during the month, the 0.4% drop to £252,122 meant prices have fallen by 0.2% annually. In comparison UK prices grew by 0.7% to £230,292 during June which left the annual growth rate unchanged at 0.9%.

On interventions, Cheltenham Borough Council has bought land on which it will build a cyber business park near GCHQ. The council borrowed £37.5m to spend on 45 hectares which will also be used for up to 3,000 new homes. The £650m cyber business park project has been developed in partnership with Tewkesbury Borough Council, Gloucestershire County Council and the Gloucestershire Local Enterprise Partnership. The cyber business park will benefit from a £22m project designed to ease congestion by widening the Arle Court Roundabout and increasing capacity at J11 of the M5. Further plans include adding extra lanes past GCHQ and improving cycling and pedestrian access from Cheltenham Spa railway station.

Also on interventions, and highlighting the problems which can occur when the state gets involved in energy businesses, Bristol City Council owned Bristol Energy lost c£10m last year. Bristol Energy was set up in 2016 to provide ethically sourced, low-cost power and return a profit for Bristol taxpayers; instead the venture has so far soaked up £37m of public funds.

The last-minute cancellation of the Boardmasters festival amid storm warnings is set to cost the Cornish economy an estimated £45m. The annual festival takes place over five days, attracting over 80,000 unique visitors and generating 240,000 visitor days. The lost event’s revenue and supplier spend supports the equivalent of 335 full time jobs within the county.

A report by an All-Party Parliamentary Group (‘APPG’) of MPs which investigates Post-Brexit Funding for the nations and regions has found that the UK would receive additional EU funding in the 2021-27 spending round. Three additional sub-regions are likely to slip below the threshold of 75% EU average GDP per head that would qualify them for ‘less developed region’ status. Existing less developed regions like Cornwall, will be joined by Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire, Tees Valley & Durham. These areas would have potentially received at least €500 per head in EU regional development funding over 2021-27 which adds up to an extra £950m.

Additionally, the EU has proposed that ‘transition region’ status should be extended to cover all regions with a GDP per head between 75 – 100 per cent of the EU average, compared to 75 – 90 per cent at present. Seven additional sub-regions are likely to slip below the threshold of 100% EU average GDP per head qualifying them for ‘transition region’ status. They are East Anglia, East Wales, Greater Manchester, Leicestershire, Rutland & Northamptonshire, Outer London South, North Yorkshire and South Western Scotland. It is not clear how much extra funding these areas would have received from the EU, or but €50 per head over the next EU spending round would equate to £560m.

The UK government has promised to replace EU funding to the regions with a new UK Shared Prosperity Fund. If the new sub regions are added, the APPG calculates this amounts to c£1.8bn pa, on top of the c£2.2bn pa already committed as part of Local Growth Fund. Integrating the Local Growth Fund into the UK Shared Prosperity Fund could be problematic. The Local Growth Fund allocates funding to LEPs via competitive bidding whereas the allocation of EU funds uses a fixed formula. How the Shared Prosperity Fund will be allocated and mesh with other pots like City Deals is yet to be determined.

The South West retains the lowest unemployment rate in the UK, the West of England local industrial strategy published and the ‘Great Western Powerhouse’ mooted

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Unemployment in the South West of England was unchanged at 76,000 between March and May. At 2.6% the region had the lowest rate in the UK and at 5.6% the North East had the highest rate. The national unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

The South West of England’s average property price increased by 1.2% to £257,563 during the month which uplifted the annual growth rate to 2.7%. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.1% to £229,431 during May which reduced the annual growth rate to 1.2%.

The West of England has become one of the first regions to agree a local industrial strategy with the government. The 78 page document was developed by the West of England Combined authority/LEP in collaboration with businesses and was signed off by Business Secretary, Greg Clark.

The strategy includes; a new Global Centre of Innovation Excellence, developing new products and services through a new West of England Network of Living Labs, including more regional providers in businesses’ supply chains, incentivising companies towards low carbon business models and investing in infrastructure that reduces energy demand. The plan also envisages supporting businesses to adopt new clean technology and energy efficiency measures plus building new carbon-neutral homes.

In another report, this one smaller at 49 pages, a cross-border economic collaboration between south-east Wales and the west of England has been envisaged. Commissioned by Cardiff, Newport and Bristol councils the report into a ‘Great Western Powerhouse’ could boost industry and improve transport links and aims to enhance the region’s profile. Echoing The Northern Powerhouse strategy, the Great Western Powerhouse report reflects the trend towards greater regional devolution and the emergence of regional powerhouses in the UK. The report suggests a M4 powerhouse stretching from Swansea in the west to Swindon and Bath in the east, and as far north as Tewkesbury. There are already three established city regions and plans but no overarching powerhouse concept for the region. The report argues that the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine ‘brands’ have been successful at attracting significant levels of government funding and investment. The cyber security, aerospace and creative industries are examples of complementary strengths. The report calls for the UK and Welsh governments to help set up a cross-border organisation to co-ordinate the initiative.

In its review this month of the 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) – the private sector-led partnerships between businesses and local public sector bodies that support local economic growth – the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons found that from 2015-16 to date; £9.1bn of taxpayers’ money has been awarded to LEPs through three tranches of Growth Deals. The East of England, with three LEPs, has received the least with £703m, London, with one LEP, has received £435m and the north of England, with 11 LEPs, has received most of the funding at £3.4bn (38%).

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government considers the population of an area as well as the strength of the LEP’s strategic economic plans and projects when deciding Growth Deal allocations. There are no overlapping LEP areas in the South West which means these LEPs will be able to bid for funds from the Government’s proposed Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace EU structural funding after Brexit.

The West of England LEP has received £284m, the 12th highest in England since 2015, Heart of the South West £239m, Swindon and Wiltshire £169m, GFirst £107m, Dorset £98m and Cornwall and Isles of Scilly has received £78m. The Ministry does not evaluate the Local Growth Fund which means it has no understanding of what impact spending through LEPs has on local economic growth. The latest growth figures for the region from ESCoE showed growth at 2.1% which compared with the UK average of 1.5%.

The 24 Enterprise Zones designated in England in 2011 to improve economic growth had created 17,307 jobs by 2017 instead of the forecast 54,000 jobs by 2015. BBC-commissioned research conducted by think tank charity, Centre for Cities, also found that in two areas the number of jobs had fallen. Enterprise zones offered cheaper business rates, superfast broadband and lower levels of planning control. According to the research 5,493 jobs were created in the Bristol Temple Quarter and Bath Zone, the best performing zone in England, and 136 jobs in the Cornwall Newquay Aerohub Enterprise Zone which was less successful.

The cost of the scheme is disputed, with The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government claiming £101m, £215m less than the BBC’s estimate of £316m+. The Ministry also disputes the methodology used in the research. A further 24 Zones were created in 2016 and 2017.

On jobs, Travelodge wants to open seven hotels in Cornwall as part of its £165m expansion plan which could create about 175 new jobs. The sites include Bude, Falmouth, Fowey, Newquay, Penzance, St Ives and Truro. Also Plymouth crisp company, Burts Chips, is expanding its operation in the south west, safeguarding more than 200 jobs. The firm’s upgrade of its plants at Roborough and Leicester will enable it to triple production capacity. In north Devon, a deal to build an international fishing fleet could mean 120 new jobs at the Appledore shipyard which closed in March. But Warrens Bakery, which describes itself as the oldest Cornish Pasty producer in the world, said 66 jobs within production and distribution are at risk as part of a restructuring. The firm employs around 570.

The South West records the lowest unemployment rate in the UK again but households see poor growth in their disposable incomes, and taxpayers’ hope Cosmic Girl disappears into space with their money

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Unemployment in the South West decreased by 6,000 to 78,000 between February and April, a drop of 0.2% to 2.7%. This is the lowest rate in the UK; at 5.7% the North East had the highest. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

South West average property prices fell by 0.1% to £253,410 during the month which meant annually prices grew by 1.3%. In comparison, UK prices increased by 0.7% to £228,903 during April which held the annual growth rate at 1.4%.

According to the latest figures from the ONS, the South West had the smallest increase in disposable household incomes between 2016 and 2017. The tiny uplift of 0.1% was beaten by all the other regions of the UK except Yorkshire, where incomes fell by 0.2%, household incomes in London grew by 2.2%. Nottingham has been named the UK’s poorest city, narrowly beating Leicester by £115 per household. Nottingham had the UK’s lowest gross disposable household income (wages or benefits) of £12,445. The UK average is £19,514 per household with London borough Kensington and Chelsea recording household income over £60,000 and a growth rate of 4.9% from the previous year. The South West had a gross disposable household income in the UK of £18,984.

On jobs, Insurer Aviva, has said it will cut 1,800 jobs worldwide over the next three years in order to reduce costs. Aviva has 16,000 employees in the UK and a major UK office in Stoke Gifford, Bristol. Also a Port Talbot construction company with offices in Bristol and the south-west of England has gone into administration – Jistcourt employed about 50 staff.

On interventions, £7.1m of government funding was awarded to four adjacent councils (Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset) aimed at increasing the uptake of electric vehicles. The new funding will add more than 120 new charging points which are being installed over the next year.

The government’s industrial strategy has resulted in investment in The University of Exeter which has been awarded £6m towards the expansion of its diabetes research centre. Diabetes research in Exeter began in 1987 and the centre is now highly regarded.

An upgrade of 1950s Bristol concert venue Colston Hall has been delayed until 2021. The venue closed last year as part of a £49m plan to redesign its interior over two years and was due to reopen in 2020. The additional cost of £3.4m has been picked up by the West of England Combined Authority.

The government and Cornwall Council are prepared to invest up to £20m into Newquay airport (Spaceport Cornwall) to make it a base for Virgin Orbit. The funding would comprise up to £12m from the council and up to £7.85m from the UK Space Agency. There would also be contributions of £0.5m from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP with Virgin Orbit investing £2.5m. Orbit is the satellite launch system being developed in the US by Sir Richard Branson which will despatch rockets to space from under the wing of a converted Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet. The public money is dependent on Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit putting together the business case. The jet, called Cosmic Girl, could be operating out of Newquay in the early 2020s if all goes smoothly.

The South West will also benefit from public funding from Historic England which will regenerate Swindon’s Railway Village in a heritage project. The area has been designated as a Heritage Action Zone by Historic England which will jointly invest £7.6m with Swindon Borough Council. The Railway Village was built by Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel for railwaymen in the 1840s. Refurbishing the Grade II listed former pub the Cricketers’ and saving a former rail building the Mechanics Institute which has been derelict since 1986 are also part of the proposals.

On the roads, the last stretch of single carriageway on the A417 east of Gloucester, between Brockworth and Cowley, will see a new section of road through Shab Hill. The new 3.4 mile road will have a speed limit of 70mph and cost £435m. The A417 is used by motorists as a shortcut between the M4 and the M5. Radio 2 traffic news favourite the Air Balloon roundabout near Birdlip will be removed and the Air Balloon pub will be demolished. Highways England hopes to start construction in late 2021 subject to planning and funding.

A few miles to the North West, the A40 from Cheltenham to the M5 will be upgraded. The £22m project is designed to ease congestion prior to the development of a £650m cyber business park on the western edge of the town. Further plans, including adding extra lanes past GCHQ and improving cycling and pedestrian access from Cheltenham Spa railway station, will be revealed later this year. Work on the road scheme is expected to start in autumn 2019 and be completed by autumn 2021.

A proposed new town in Cornwall on the outskirts of Truro has planning permission for thousands of new homes as well as schools, supermarkets and a new stadium. Now the government has agreed to invest £47m to assist road access to it. The Stadium for Cornwall, however, – which will be home to the Cornish Pirates and Truro City FC – is still awaiting an announcement from the government on whether it will match Cornwall Council’s £3m funding for the project.

Economic data showed the region had the lowest unemployment rate and the second highest growth rate in the UK, concerns over the economic benefits of the Stonehenge tunnel and energy from waste projects

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Growth in the South West increased by a notable 0.6% to 2.1% in the year to March 2019, the second highest growth rate in the UK according to estimates from ESCoE. At 2.7% and 0.7% London and Northern Ireland had the highest and lowest growth rates in the country respectively. The East of England was the most improved region of the UK with growth accelerating from 0.9% to1.9%. The UK growth rate for the same period was 1.5%.

Unemployment in the South West also fell sharply by 18,000 to 70,000 between January and March; the drop of 0.6% to 2.4% was the best in Great Britain. At 2.4% the region also had the lowest unemployment rate in the country. In comparison the rate in the North East was 5.4% and the UK unemployment rate stands at 3.8%.

In March, average earnings in the South West dropped slightly to £571 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £762 whereas Northern Ireland had the lowest of £513. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.3% or by 1.5% after inflation.

South West average property prices fell by 0.3% to £253,752 during the month which trimmed annual price increases to 1.3%. In comparison UK prices dropped by 0.2% to £226,798 during March which cut the annual growth rate to 1.4% although transactions were up by 1.4%.

In its estimate of regional public spending and regional tax revenues in 2018, the ONS concluded that the South West had a deficit of £4.8bn. This compared with London which had the highest surplus of £34.3bn. On a per person basis the South West deficit of £868 was the lowest in England. London had the highest surplus of £3,905 per person and Northern Ireland had the biggest deficit at £4,939. The only areas of the UK to run surpluses were London, the South East of England and the East of England. At a national level, the UK had a deficit of £636 per person which split into deficits of £106, £2,452, £4,395 and £4,939 for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Positive news in Plymouth with the future of a ball-bearings factory has being secured following its sale to German firm HQW. Barden UK had been earmarked for closure with the loss of 347 jobs following a restructuring by previous parent company Schaeffler – which Bardens will continue to supply. Barden has been in Plymouth for more than 50 years and operates from a plant at Estover, producing precision bearings for cars, aircraft, the nuclear industry, missiles and satellites. Also in the city, medical firm Becton Dickinson is building a £2.5m factory extension as part of a £100m investment which will create up to 100 jobs.

In Wiltshire, the aerospace, defence and security products manufacturer Chemring has won two contracts worth c$67m – to supply countermeasures which support the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – to the Royal Australian Air Force and US Navy.

On infrastructure, the National Audit Office (NAO) estimates the likely cost of upgrading the A303 – including building a tunnel past Stonehenge – at £1.9bn, c£400m more than the original plan. Work is due to begin in 2021 with an expected opening date of 2026. Whilst the route will cut congestion and boost the economy, the NAO says it will only deliver £1.15 in economic benefit for every £1 spent. Excluding a monetary value for cultural heritage – which is included by Highways England in its appraisal – the cost of building a tunnel means that under the standard method for appraising transport projects, this project would only deliver 31p of benefit for every £1 spent.

On the trains, linking the Swanage to Wareham heritage line in Dorset to the national network and restarting regular services has been delayed because the line’s diesel train is being fitted with the modern equipment needed for mainline services such as locking doors, safety systems, radio communication and new wheels. The line was closed by British Rail in 1972, and then partially reopened as a heritage line in the 1990s before the final section was funded by a £5.5m investment by the railway’s stakeholders, Purbeck District Council, Dorset County Council and a grant from the government’s Coastal Communities Fund.

Three significant infrastructure projects in Devon also moved forward. Work has started on a £30m new sea wall at Dawlish which should prevent storms from damaging the railway line which links Devon and Cornwall with the rest of the UK. The project will take nine months including a summer suspension. In Plymouth, the £49m Forder Valley Link road aims to improve travel to the north of the city and will involve a new bridge, additional lanes and cycling and pedestrian routes. Also, the £93m upgrade to the North Devon Link Road is set to begin in November 2020. The improvement scheme will widen a 5 mile stretch of the A361.

On development, a £90m project for 400 new homes, a care home, and new green spaces on land next to Exeter’s Morrisons supermarket have been lodged with Exeter City Council. The development, near to Exmouth Junction, is a long-term brownfield site which has historically been used as a railway goods yard, rail sidings and coal concentration yard. Developers hope the project will annually generate residential spend of c£11.9m, £735,300 in council tax, £732,300 in New Homes Bonus and will create 127 full time equivalent construction jobs.

In Avonmouth, electricity created from non-recyclable waste will power a new £65m plastic recycling plant. The power plant will be fuelled by diverting 320,000 tonnes of waste from landfill and generating 32MW of electricity – the equivalent energy used to power about 44,000 homes. The Viridor site is likely to reprocess up to 60,000 tonnes of plastic a year largely from bottles, pots and tubs. Both sites are expected to open by 2021. In Gloucestershire, the Javelin Park incinerator will soon start taking household waste initially from Stroud and Gloucester. The incinerator will combust 190,000 tonnes of waste a year – providing electricity to power the equivalent of 25,000 homes. The troubled £633m plant has been criticised as poor value for money.

Analysis by the BBC and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa) showed Somerset County Council has the second largest reserves deficit in England and risks running out of cash reserves within four years if recent spending continues.

A branch line reopening, tower blocks in Bristol, South West lidos and lithium mining in Cornwall

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Unemployment in the SW fell by 12,000 to 76,000 between December and February; a cut of 0.4% to 2.6% meant the region retained the lowest unemployment rate in the country – the NE of England had the highest at 5.6%. The national unemployment rate stands at 3.9% and UK average earnings grew by 3.5% or by 1.6% after inflation.

SW average property prices fell by 0.4% to £253,730 during the month which trimmed the annual growth rate to 1.2%. In comparison, UK prices dropped by 0.8% to £226,234 during April which cut the annual growth rate to 0.6%.

A plethora of regional tourism projects this month. The Tate St Ives gallery had more than 300,000 visitors in 2018 – the highest number since opening – after the launch of its expanded galleries doubled the space for displaying art. In contrast, visitor numbers at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth failed to hit a target of 400,000 visitors in 2018, instead chalking up c280,000. The UK’s largest aquarium has posted operating deficits in recent years, but the charity hopes cooler summer weather will see numbers increase this year and that 320,000 can be achieved by 2022.

A £1.5m project to warm Penzance’s Art Deco lido using geothermal energy – the UK’s first – will require heat pumps after engineers found that drilling further down risked collapsing a well. Disappointment at Weston-super-Mare’s former lido, as a project to create a 1,000-capacity indoor arena and a 9,000-capacity outdoor space failed to win £1.1m of funding from the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund.

On infrastructure, a new £30m sea wall at Dawlish is recommended for approval. Storms in 2014 left the railway track suspended in mid-air so Network Rail will raise the wall to 7.5m. The Environment Agency has reduced the tidal flood risk to c600 properties in Starcross as part of a £5m project. The new coastal defences include four new flood gates, slipway improvements and nearly 600 metres of raised and refurbished flood walls. In Cornwall, the 2014 storms damaged the tidal gate which protects Polperro harbour; the Environment Agency will now invest £2m in an improvement.

In Devon, £30m of transport projects have been approved, including a new railway station and the North Devon Link Road improvement. Marsh Barton railway station is a proposed station near Exeter on the Riviera Line between Exeter St Thomas and Starcross stations. Also, funding from the government’s National Productivity Investment Fund – aimed at improving economic infrastructure which will in turn enhance productivity – has been earmarked for the next phase of a cycle route across Exeter. The c£1.5m project will help link housing developments in the east of Exeter to the city centre and Exeter University with the balance of the cost being picked up by developers.

On transport, the reopening of the Portishead branch line which was closed to passenger services in 1964 has moved forward after the project was promised £31m in government funding. The project will be funded from the Local Growth Fund, Economic Development Fund, North Somerset Council and the Department for Transport. The work required in the Avon Gorge to enable the line speeds needed for a half-hourly service has meant the original £50m estimate has increased to £116m.

In the air, Ryanair has launched new twice-weekly winter flights between Exeter and Alicante shortly after Flybe confirmed its route would cease. Ryanair recently launched three new routes from Exeter to Malta, Malaga and Naples – its first ever flights from the airport. Exeter is now forecasting 1m+ travellers for the first time since 2007. To cater for the extra demand, the airport is investing £1m in new passenger handling facilities.

Some notable development projects in and around Bristol this month. A derelict former Royal Mail sorting office and adjoining 1970s office building will be demolished to make way for a new £300m campus for the University of Bristol. Land adjacent to Temple Meads railway station could accommodate c1,000 student bedrooms in three blocks that could be 21-storeys high. The University also plans to build a 24-hour student hub along with shops, bars and cafes, a roof terrace, gym, and outside spaces for fitness and studying. Elsewhere in the city, two nine-storey tower blocks at an old brewery site at Ashton Gate which will create 94 homes, offices and restaurants, have also been approved. At Mud Dock, the Thekla, one of Bristol’s longest running music venues will be taken into dry dock for a £1m overhaul which should last until September.

In Devon, Hatherleigh market buildings will be demolished, with 102 new homes, a new market square, an auction facility, a pavilion, commercial units, and car parking facilities built on the site as part of a £20m development.

Bristol City Council’s 1970s style intervention in the energy markets has so far cost £27m of public money. In its most recent accounts, Bristol Energy has lost c£20m over the last two years. According to its website, Bristol Energy offers gas and electricity for domestic and business customers across Bristol, the South West and nationwide.

The value of tin has increased by c60% since 2016 and is sparking interest in restarting mines across the South West of England. Canadian mining firm Strongbow is looking to invest c£100m in South Crofty mine near Redruth and in east Cornwall, Cornwall Resources has been test drilling for tin and tungsten at Redmoor mine in Kelly Bray. As well as the need for more tin, an increase in electric vehicles is driving up demand for lithium, which Australian firm, Métampère, is hoping to mine in Cornwall. There is currently no production of Lithium in Europe, so Cornwall could become the first European hub for lithium mining – if it’s found.

SW unemployment the lowest in the UK, the abolition of tolls increases economic activity around the Severn and the road to nowhere likely to be completed after 40 years

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Unemployment in the South West edged up by 2,000 to 84,000 between November and January; not enough to move the rate from 2.9% – the best in the UK. At 5.2% Yorkshire and the Humber had the highest. The UK unemployment rate stands at 3.9%.

In March average earnings in the South West increased to £585 per week. London had the highest average earnings of £846 whereas the North East had the lowest of £523. In the UK average earnings grew by 3.4% or by 1.5% after inflation.

South West average property prices fell by 1.4% to £253,926 during the month which trimmed the annual growth rate to 0.5%. In comparison UK prices dropped by 0.8% during March which cut the annual growth rate to 1.7%. The South West market was also slower with the latest figures to September 2018 showing volumes down by 3%.

At 2.9% the region saw the lowest unemployment in the UK but the closure of Honda’s Swindon plant coupled with jobs losses in the Cornish food processing industry cast a shadow over this achievement.

It was fitting that 50 years after the technologically advanced Bristol built Concorde first made its test flight, the city should welcome modern innovation with the announcement that Channel 4 is likely to locate its new Creative Hub at Finzels Reach on Bristol’s new waterfront quarter. The firm will lease 3,200 sq ft of space on the second floor of the Fermentation Buildings. There was less positive news from Cornwall where it was confirmed Samworth Brothers owned Kensey Foods in Launceston – which makes premium deserts – will close in July; 650 jobs at the site will go. Cornish food processing company St Merryn Meats – which makes chilled meat products such as burgers – is also under the threat of closure, with the potential loss of 173 jobs. Axminster’s largest town centre shop – Trinity House – is to close with the loss of 19 jobs. The department store is expected to cease trading in September. Better news for Bracknell town centre, a further £30m will be spent on the next stage of regeneration. Bracknell Forest Council’s announcement follows the completion of the £240m Lexicon centre and will include redeveloping the old Bentalls site into a covered space which will be linked to a remodelled Princess Square.

On regional economic development, Visit Cornwall expects continued expansion in the tourist sector, growing the economy by £521m and creating up to 8,000 jobs; it noted demand from the US market was particularly strong with enhanced interest also from Australia – the Poldark effect. The agency says Cornwall has about 4.5 million visitors a year generating £1.5bn. The 2020 Tour of Britain will begin with a 105-mile first stage in Cornwall. The UK’s flagship professional cycle race will see 120 riders start in Penzance and finish in Bodmin with organisers hoping for 180,000 spectators adding more than £3m to the local economy.

A key regional infrastructure project will likely get underway this summer when work begins on a £100m flood defence project along the Severn estuary. Reinforced concrete sea walls up to 2.4 metres high and raised earth embankments will be built along the coast from Avonmouth to Severnside. The debate over the trade off between toll charges and economic activity continues after figures from Highways England showed use of the M4 Severn crossing into Wales had increased 10% since tolls were abolished on 17 December. The figures showed 32,420 vehicles used the crossing every day in January and 35,457 in February compared with 28,897 and 31,866 for the same period in 2018. Toll charges were cars £5.60 and HGVs £16.70; the eastbound crossing was free. The charges were first levied on opening in 1966. HMG forecasts suggest that by 2022 more than 24m vehicles pa would use the crossings westbound, compared with 18m if the tolls had stayed in place.

Other infrastructure projects that moved forward this month include plans for two bypasses north of Bristol. The West of England Combined Authority (‘Weca’) has approved £200,000 to fund a feasibility study on linking Coalpit Heath with Westerleigh and Frampton Cotterell with Winterbourne. The Coalpit Heath to Westerleigh study would include ‘the road to nowhere’ in Yate, an unfinished stretch of dual carriageway which was abandoned after partial completion in the 1970s and is now only used as a film location. In Somerset, Watchet won £5m from HMG’s Coastal Communities Fund to upgrade the harbour; an art gallery, workshops, restaurant and marina facilities will be developed.

Regional transport developments included a new four times daily service from Newquay Airport to Heathrow. Flybe will use 78-seater turboprop planes and will received a £3.4m subsidy or about £5 per passenger over the four year deal; it is the only taxpayer subsidised route into Heathrow. On rail, talks on expanding the MetroWest line 30 miles beyond Yate to Gloucester continue. The MetroWest project aims to improve suburban train services into Bristol. The railway project will see the reopening of the Portishead line to passenger trains. In February, North Somerset Council allocated £15m to the Portishead-line section of the project and approved £11.7m over two years to develop a full business case leaving a £31m shortfall. The MetroWest railway expansion plans also include building new railway stations in Henbury, North Filton and Ashley Down. Weca has also approved £300,000 to conduct a feasibility study into reopening Charfield station. On the seas, the first of 20 new weekly cross-Channel ferry crossings has begun as part of a £46.6m taxpayer-funded no-deal Brexit contract; the delay to Brexit was too late for Brittany Ferries to cancel the sailings. The new crossings are from Brittany Ferries’ Portsmouth-Le Harve, Poole-Cherbourg and Plymouth-Roscoff routes.

Two new unitary authorities have begun operating in Dorset after nine previous councils were merged. Dorset Council and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council said 450 jobs would be lost and £108m would be saved over six years. Also the former Dorset County, East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, Weymouth & Portland and West Dorset councils will form the new Dorset Council. The anticipated operating efficiencies appear achievable, in the ten years since Cornwall switched to a unitary authority – replacing one county council and six district and borough councils – actual savings have been underestimated.