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Five Counties Regeneration Framework

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Rhodri Morgan, Assembly First Minister
Presiding Officer, I would like to update the Assembly on the position regarding the Corus redundancies and the work which the Assembly Government, its agencies, and the local authorities, have been doing to mitigate the effects of the redundancies, and to regenerate the affected areas.

It is now some 15 months since Corus announced its job losses in Wales.   The redundancies are, of course, still working through.  Earlier this month some 140 people lost their jobs when the coke ovens at Llanwern closed;  I understand that all the workers have been placed elsewhere within Corus.  Approximately 450 workers will leave Ebbw Vale in July.   As well as the direct job losses, there have of course been indirect losses from contractors and other service providers who were dependent on Corus for their livelihoods.

In my statement on 31 January, I paid tribute to the work of the support agencies – in particular ELWa, the Employment Service, the Benefits Agency and Careers Wales in setting up advice centres and making help and assistance available to the workers.

That support has been ongoing and the latest figures we have are that almost 900 of those identified for redundancy have secured alternative jobs.   The agencies are fully geared up for the next round of job losses and are working closely with Steel Partnership Training’s Advocate Workers to ensure that everyone who needs it has access to the best advice and guidance so that they gain maximum benefit from the support package that is available.

In my January statement, I also mentioned the research and development centre at Port Talbot.  The current position here is that the centre has been renamed ECM2 - Engineering Centre for Manufacturing and Materials.  The acquisition was completed on 30 March and a Chief Operating Officer has been appointed.  The centre has been chosen as a location for the Manufacturing Advisory Service for Wales, part of the UK DTI network programme.  The centre is receiving further enquiries from institutions wishing to locate there, so things are looking very promising for the Centre.

Before moving on to talk specifically about developments in South East Wales, I should also update the Assembly about the situation regarding blast furnace number 5 at Port Talbot, and the latest position on the impact of the US steel tariffs.

Our thoughts remain with the families and colleagues of those who lost their lives or were seriously injured by the explosion at the blast furnace.  It brought home to us the very real dangers faced by those working in heavy industries.  We were therefore very pleased to hear of Corus’ decision to rebuild the furnace, with much improved environmental performance, which will bring the Port Talbot works back to normal operations as soon as possible.  This is a strong demonstration of the company’s commitment to steel-making in Wales, and is a fitting testament to those who were killed or injured.

The US announcement on 5 March to levy tariffs on a range of steel products imported into the US was completely unjustified and is deeply regrettable.  We, together with the UK Government, have done, and will continue to do, all we can to safeguard the interests of the UK steel industry from this unfair action.  We have fully supported the introduction from the beginning of this month of provisional EU safeguard measures to protect the European steel industry from the diversion of displaced steel products from the US market.   We have also pledged our support for the European Commission’s action in immediately invoking WTO Dispute Settlement procedures.  We shall continue to fully support measures to ensure that our steel industry is not unfairly treated or disadvantaged.

Turning now to the South East Wales regeneration framework, I am pleased to announce that the Assembly Government received the final report from the Five Counties in February.  This report is the result of work undertaken on behalf of the All Wales Steel Task Force by the Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire, Newport and Torfaen local authorities, the WDA and ELWa, and funded out of monies provided by the Assembly Government.  I wish to pay tribute to the work of the local authorities in coming together and presenting a joint regeneration framework.  This is a model which we would encourage elsewhere as a means of delivering joined-up programmes linking the local and the national economic policies.  The full Five Counties report has been put on the Assembly web-site.

I am pleased to say that the Cabinet has endorsed almost all of the recommendations in the report and we look forward to seeing the local authorities, together with the relevant agencies, continuing to work together through the Regeneration Forum, to pursue the ambitions in the report.

In January, I announced a number of specific initiatives which were identified in the Framework and which were funded out of the 76 million pounds which the Assembly Government has made available.

Although it is still early days, I can report good progress against these projects.

Newport County Borough Council in partnership with the WDA has commissioned a Designation Report for the proposed Urban Regeneration Company.  The report will make recommendations concerning the operational boundary of the Company and will include a draft business plan.  The report is being prepared in conjunction with a review of the Unitary Development Plan to ensure the activities of the company are fully integrated with the statutory planning system.

Work is also underway on the design and business plan for the Ebbw Vale passenger rail service.   A programme for the implementation of the proposal will be ready by mid-summer.

Proposals for a new Learning Campus on the Ebbw Vale site are progressing well.  Blaenau Gwent in partnership with University of Wales College Newport, Coleg Gwent, ELWa, the WDA and Corus, are currently developing detailed proposals for the project.  A masterplan for phase 1 will be available by July and a detailed masterplan and business case for the entire site will be complete by the end of the year.

A Steering Partnership consisting of UWCN, Coleg Gwent, ELWa, CCETs, the local authorities and the Assembly Government has been established to drive the Community Learning Network project forward.  A detailed analysis of education and training needs is currently being undertaken and this will provide the basis for developing education and training facilities in local communities.

An ICT strategy for Blaenau Gwent is underway consisting of infrastructure development to provide broadband access linked to intensive business support.  The project will enable companies in Blaenau Gwent to take full advantage of the digital revolution.

We shall continue to monitor these projects carefully and ensure that they are delivered as quickly as possible.

But let me turn now to the new initiatives arising from the Regeneration Framework which the Assembly Government has agreed to fund.

In the first instance, there is a need to continue to develop strategic employment sites and premises in the area to encourage and grow businesses.  The WDA has brought forward an exciting package of sites which, together, would provide some 215,000 square feet of premises at a total cost of some 14.475 million pounds.  Of this total, some 6.575 million pounds will be made available out of the Corus regeneration package, and 2.875 million from the Assembly economic match funding budget.  The remainder would come from EU structural funds and from the private sector.

The sites and premises which have been agreed with the local authority partners are: Oakdale in Caerphilly; Queensway Meadows in Newport; the Tredegar Business Park; the Ebbw Vale Innovation Centre, small units at Roseheyworth, and the Abertillery Town Centre Scheme in Blaenau Gwent; and Mamhilad, Pontypool, in Torfaen.  The WDA is working closely with WEFO and the other partners to ensure that these projects are up and running as quickly as possible.

There are also 3 other significant projects which are highlighted in the Regeneration Framework and which the Assembly Government is backing out of the remaining Corus regeneration funds.

First, we are providing 1 million pounds to support the South East Wales Regional Tourism Partnership development programme.  This is designed to further develop tourism in the area and will have benefits across the whole region.  Potential projects include the implementation of the South Wales Industrial Heritage Action Plan, golf tourism and marketing schemes.

Second, we are extending the Community Learning Network which I announced in January across the whole of the region.  The aim of this programme is to help the Regeneration Forum to achieve one of its key objectives – a substantial increase in participative education and learning opportunities throughout the five counties.  The Steering Group which I mentioned earlier will drive this project over the whole area.  It will also be informed by the learning needs enquiry and it is envisaged that the final structure will be agreed by the autumn.   7 million pounds will be set aside from the Corus package for this initiative, on top of the 2 million pounds previously announced.

Finally, we are committing 2 million pounds to support the proposal to enhance the take up of ICT/broadband services throughout the region.  This will enable the acceleration of business support and infrastructure work, and will be complementary to Cymru Arlein.

Clearly, much work needs to be done to work up these initiatives but my statement today clears the way for the WDA and the local partners to get on with the job of regenerating the area.

The total commitment which I am announcing today amounts to 16.575 million pounds.  Together with the other commitments which we are supporting, this completes the full allocation of the 76 million pounds, allowing for a little contingency on some of the projects.

As I said in January, there are no quick fixes to the problems of the former steel-making areas, but the Assembly Government is committed to regenerating these areas and to restarting their economic viability.  This announcement today underlines our commitment.