The Committee received an update, as requested by Members of the Scrutiny Committee, regarding the progress of bringing forward the development of the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE).
It was explained to Members that Planning Committee had conditionally approved a planning application for the construction of a world-class rail testing facility at the head of the Dulais and Tawe Valleys on 27 July 2021. The project represented a capital investment of circa £157m with the potential creation of up to 200 jobs.
The presenting officer gave Members a brief timeline, detailing each scheduled phase, as outlined in the report. It was noted that they were currently in phase 1a of the project, where a project delivery group was now well-established and were meeting on a fortnightly basis.
Members’ queried how the project could be extended further, to maximise the potential impact and investment, as there were currently limited links from the valleys to Neath, Port Talbot and Swansea. It was further noted that Transport for Wales would benefit from this and it felt like a golden opportunity which should not be missed to improve these links, for both freight and passengers trains. The officers agreed as there were significant opportunities and benefits that could come from this project, and noted the continued development expansion of the rail infrastructure was supported by Future Wales, the National Development Plan for the Welsh Government. It was explained that if there were to be future considerations for expansion and for the use of the line to be for passengers also, a suitable business case would need to be developed. It was thought that this one significant development could act as a catalyst for future projects, such as the regional metro and other sustainable travel solutions.
Members asked how, as a Council, Neath Port Talbot could support the Swansea Bay and Western Valleys Metro proposals and to ensure it was on the Welsh Government and the U.K. Governments’ agendas. It was further asked what more could the Council do to better integrate the valleys with the towns and cities. The Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Sustainable Development reassured the Committee that she was encouraging the proposed transport link improvements regularly and these were being discussed at the Regeneration Board. The officers added that the Strategic Development Plan and the Regional Transport Strategy would need to be brought forward in the next few years, where elements would be discussed at a more strategic level. In addition to this, the review of the Local Development Plan was coming forward, which would be steered by the new administration, with the aim of adoption by 2025-26.
Officers noted the Member’s request to ensure Glynneath and Neath Valley were considered in future discussions regarding the improvement of transport links.
The Chair agreed with the comments made by the Committee and echoed that it was an exciting project with lots of opportunities. He noted concern, however, for the jobs that would be provided once the project had been implemented; his concern was that the jobs would not be opened for local people. It was suggested that, as the project would take five years to develop, that there was a discussion on training and development opportunities in the community. The Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Sustainable Development confirmed that the Regeneration Group had begun liaising with the local colleges regarding this.
Following scrutiny, the Committee noted the report.