In order to understand what obstacles have been in the way of the railway being re-instated, it is useful to understand how local government is organised, and who is in control of what.
At the next level are District Council or Unitary Authorities. The railway runs through areas covered by two Unitary Authorities – North Somerset Council and Bristol City Council. The Severn Beach branch line, which will be connected, also runs partly through the South Gloucestershire Council area.
Mayor of Bristol
The Mayor of Bristol is directly elected by the people of Bristol. The Mayor leads the council and its councillors, to provide services for the people of Bristol. Elections for the Mayor of Bristol are held every four years. The last election was in May 2016, when Marvin Rees was elected.
Local Enterprise Partnerships
These are partnerships between local authorities and businesses. They decide what the priorities should be for investment in roads, buildings and facilities in the area. The West of England LEP includes the four local councils (i.e. Bristol City Council, North Somerset Council, South Gloucestershire Council and Bath & North East Somerset). This has replaced the West of England Partnership, formed from these same councils.
West of England Combined Authority
The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) was established in February 2017. It’s made up of three local authorities: Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset, and South Gloucestershire. North Somerset Council voted against the WECA. The WECA makes decisions for the region about transport, housing, adult education and skills.
West of England Mayor
The WECA is chaired by a West of England Mayor, Tim Bowles, who was elected by the public on 4th May 2017. The West of England Mayor will be given powers over spending, previously held by central government, on the region’s transport, housing, adult education and skills.
South West Councils
The statutory responsibilities of the former South West Regional Assembly have now been transferred to the Strategic Leaders Board, part of South West Councils. South West Leaders brings together 20 local authority Leaders from the county and unitary councils including district Leader representation.
South West Regional Assembly
This unelected government quango was wound up in Dec 2008. It was the designated Regional Planning Body and produced a document called the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) which created a blueprint for the way in which the region grows during the next 20 years. Though it covered transport issues, there was only one line on heavy rail! It recommended building 92,500 houses, much in green belt land. The statutory responsibilities of the South West Regional Assembly have now been transferred to the South West Councils (see above).
Government Office for the South West
GOSW represented Central Government in the South West region, and thus dictated overall policy. The Coalition Government abolished the Government Offices.
See also Transport Plans page.