The city regions of Wessex and South Wales have recently come together to draw up plans for a Great Western Powerhouse stretching from Swindon in the east to Swansea in the west; Tewkesbury in the north to Weston-Super-Mare in the south. The cities of Bristol, Newport and Cardiff have commissioned a report from consultancy firm Metro Dynamics touting the benefits of using the M4/M5 corridors to create a sprawling behemoth that would compete with the other great powerhouses in consuming the earth’s resources and expanding the population in the name of appeasing the insatiable appetite of the great god of capitalism, Economic Growth.
The Wessex Regionalists have always maintained that “the only region for Wessex is Wessex”. Nearly 20 years ago, in a report entitled The Case for Wessex (created in conjunction with Wessex Society and the now-dormant Wessex Constitutional Convention), we too acknowledged the benefits of the M4/M5 corridor. Unlike Metro Dynamics, however, we did not ignore rural areas of Somerset and East Devon, nor did we compromise the territorial integrity of both England and Wales. The Metro Dynamics report pays lip service to the advantages of having a hinterland that can actually grow food, but it is too dazzled by the neon lights of the big cities to regard them as anything more than a desirable extra.
Also, while the report takes a cavalier approach to the national boundary at the Severn, it apparently regards the Wessex Iron Curtain as sacrosanct. This is not out of any particular devotion to the Prescott Zones, the government regions aggressively promoted by the Blair administration; but so as not to compromise the inelegantly-named CaMKOx Powerhouse, an equally cancerous scheme linking Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes.
Now, whilst correlation does not of course prove causality, it is interesting that in the month or so since this report was published, Plaid Cymru has enjoyed something of a resurgence. On July 29th, a Welsh Assembly poll placed them at the top for the first time in the party’s history. Two days before that, 8000 people marched in Caernarfon to show their support for Welsh independence. The creation of this proposed Great Western Powerhouse would widen the gap between north and south Wales still further, whilst tying the latter ever more firmly to Wessex.
The Wessex Regionalists have a different vision – a unified Wessex living within its limits, rather then promoting ever greater urbanisation and population growth. We are not mere rural nostalgists who seek to replace the high-tech corridor between Reading and Bristol with sheep farms. But we do value the importance of agriculture to Wessex, and are happy for it to remain a region of market towns, rather than being swallowed up by giant conurbations with the odd bit of green space in between. John Prescott never actually said that “the Green Belt is a Labour achievement, and we intend to build on it”. But the current Conservative government seems determined to make that apocryphal quote into a reality. We hope that you will join us in fighting to nip this monstrosity in the bud.