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Local Government

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.

Local Councils

At the lowest level are the local town and parish councils e.g. Portishead Town council, Pill & Easton-in-Gordano Parish council and Portbury Parish council.

Unitary Authorities

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 2021, when Marvin Rees was re-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).

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, Dan Norris, who was elected by the public in May 2021. 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.

Defunct bodies:

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.