A £200 million rail upgrade linking North Wales and the North West through a new super-hub at Chester can power a pandemic bounce back boom in the region.
That investment would include £60 million to speed up the North Wales main line to Holyhead, £60 million to modernise and upgrade Chester Station and £80 million to connect Wrexham to Liverpool including £20 million for a new station on Deeside.
The proposed investment package will be presented at Regional Recovery 2021, a high-powered online conference this month for the North Wales Mersey Dee area, to be attended by public and private sector leaders including government ministers from both Westminster and Cardiff.
Leading the bid will be Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council and Chair of Growth Track 360, the campaign group launched by a cross-border alliance of business and political leaders.
The package will be a key element of investment pleas to support improvements in skills, innovation and productivity and to boost connectivity, both digital and transport, as well as to embrace green energy.
Taking part will be Welsh Government Economics Minister Ken Skates MS and UK Government Ministers, Paul Scully MP, from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and David Davies MP, from the Wales Office.
Regional Recovery 2021 is being held on Wednesday, February 24, and will also involve political and business leaders from the Mersey Dee Alliance, Cheshire and Warrington LEP and the North Wales Economic Ambition Board.
Councillor Gittins said: “Growth Track 360 is pursuing a two-track strategy, firstly by seeking investment in the region of North Wales and the Mersey-Dee cross-border area and secondly seeking to influence major strategic UK rail investments like HS2.”
“We are calling for an upgrade to the North Wales Coast Main Line to enable more trains to run along the line more quickly, for a redevelopment of Chester Station to increase services to the rest of the UK.
“We also want a transformation of the Wrexham to Bidston line into a Wrexham to Liverpool service that runs services similar to the MerseyRail network and forms the basis of a cross border metro system based on rail hubs with connecting bus services and travel corridors.
“These local investments will enable better, economy-boosting connectivity from North Wales and Cheshire to the big UK rail investments in HS2 at Crewe to London and the Midlands, Northern Powerhouse Rail at Warrington to Manchester, Leeds and the Northern Cities and access to Manchester and its international airport, our gateway to the world.”
The ambitious rail plan aims for an initial £20 million to get the ball rolling with a 20-year plan aimed at securing £1bn of rail improvements, which would transform the North Wales and Cheshire economy and deliver 70,000 new jobs.
Many of these could come in the green energy sector, according to Professor John Reynolds, whose Mold-based geophysics consultancy company Reynolds International Ltd advises international companies and governments worldwide on major developments for wind, tidal and hydro power.
He believes the region’s sweep of coastline from North Wales to Cumbria could be populated with several tidal lagoons providing much needed predictable and reliable renewable energy. These could also be used to convert sea water to hydrogen to help power a new energy and industrial revolution worth billions.
Professor Reynolds, a director of North Wales Tidal Energy, said: “The private sector is looking to the Governments of the UK and Wales for leadership and to show they’re prepared to dip into their pockets.
“They have to show they have skin in the game, that they’re prepared to take some risk, so that other investors who are waiting in the wings can come in with their own stakes that can be much greater. The Welsh and UK governments have an opportunity to leverage billions of pounds in inward investment.
“We have investment in a hydrogen hub on Anglesey which is a start and already cities like Liverpool and Manchester are looking at powering their public transport systems with hydrogen and we’re perfectly placed to deliver that power.
“We have tidal stream power projects in development on Anglesey, prospective tidal range schemes on the North Wales coast and at Mostyn. For the North Wales Tidal Lagoon (NWTL) project, we have potential investors standing by waiting to see Governments commit seed funding.
“These tidal range projects would create thousands of jobs as well as generate substantial amounts of power and revenue. For the NWTL project it would also provide much needed protection against coastal flooding and a rising sea level.
“It could lead on to the production of hydrogen from sea water through electrolysis. If you are producing it locally, you can capture that energy and can sell it in the marketplace regionally as well as further afield.
“Big North West cities like Manchester and Liverpool are already looking at integrated public transport systems powered by hydrogen and turning a site in North Cheshire into a hydrogen hub.
“We in Wales could become a world leader in tidal energy and hydrogen generation and at the same time our advanced engineering capability is already here to manufacture turbines for tidal projects.”
Professor Reynolds is one of many business leaders from both sides of the English-Welsh border to sign up for RR 2021 and Ashley Rogers, Commercial Director of the event organisers, the North Wales Mersey Dee Business Council, said: “We have to both support our Covid impacted sectors now and plan for recovery and growth after Covid.
“The upcoming Business Summit on Regional Recovery is the best opportunity for local businesses to understand, input and feedback on the major investment plans for our recovery across North Wales and the Mersey Dee area.
“Whether you are based in Wales or England, there is a real benefit to attending this cross border summit and I encourage our businesses across every sector from manufacturing to tourism to energy, to sign up.”
Additional to the boost of potential investments called for by Growth Track 360, the Mersey Dee Alliance (MDA) is preparing a bid for a stimulus package to support a rapid and long-term recovery from the economic damage caused by Covid-19, such as the loss of 1,400 jobs from Airbus at Broughton.
Cllr Mark Pritchard, Chair of the MDA and Wrexham Council Leader said, “Investment in the Mersey Dee Alliance geography is critical to enable a post-Covid economic recovery and meet the challenge of Brexit for the regional economy.
“We are looking for a substantial sum to counter the impact of Covid on employers like Airbus and its supply chain.
“Our area needs to develop new markets as 80 per cent of exports made in the MDA area go to the EU.
“The economy has to adapt to climate change and eradicate carbon emissions from day to day operations including transport.
“This is a big agenda and we are starting with a transport infrastructure that has been held back by cross-border complexity where too many governmental cooks have spoilt the broth.”
Cllr Pritchard will be among the speakers at RR 2021 and joining him will be Gwynedd Council Leader Dyfrig Siencyn, Chair of the North Wales Economic Ambition Board which has secured £240 million for its Growth Deal programmes, and Clare Hayward MBE, Chair of Cheshire & Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership.
Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales Ken Skates said: “The past year has been extremely difficult for businesses across Wales, and significant challenges remain.
“We will continue to do everything we can to support businesses to deal with the impact of the pandemic.
“Working together within Wales and cross-border will be key for the future and I’m pleased to see how the North Wales Mersey Dee Business Council are taking this principle forward with the Recovery Summit to be held later this month.
“I would urge businesses in the region to sign up and take part. Supporting each other through partnership and co-operation has always been important, and is something the North Wales region has always done well, but now it is more important than ever.”
Regional Recovery 2021, hosted by former BBC Wales Today presenter Jamie Owen, takes place online on Wednesday, February 24, from 10am to 2.30pm and is free to attend.
For more details and to register go to Regional Recovery 2021 – North Wales Mersey Dee Business Summit Tickets, Wed 24 Feb 2021 at 10:00 | Eventbrite