April 15, 2024

North Wales needs its own metro mayor to become the UK’s energy superpower

Askar Sheibani CEO of Comtek. Picture Mandy Jones

A leading businessman has launched a campaign for North Wales to have its own Metro Mayor to ensure the region doesn’t continue to miss out on funding.

Askar Sheibani, Chief Executive of Comtek Network Systems and chairman of Deeside Business Forum, decided to act after all planned major road schemes  in North Wales were scrapped by the Welsh Government.

He says this will hamstring the area’s manufacturing industry and its potential to provide a major source of cheap, green energy for the country.

According to Mr Sheibani, it was yet another example of how the North-South divide is putting the region at a huge disadvantage. The only solution is to devolve power to North Wales with a Metro Mayor who could represent the region’s interests.

The decision to axe the road schemes was announced by Welsh Government deputy minister for climate change, Lee Waters MS.

Among the casualties are the improvements to the A483 around Wrexham which would be axed along with the Red Route which would have seen a new eight-mile stretch of dual carriageway linking the A55 at Northop with the A494 and A550 north of Deeside Parkway Junction via the Flintshire Bridge.

Meanwhile, plans for a third Menai bridge will now no longer go ahead.

Mr Sheibani said: “These roads are the major arteries for transport into North Wales from the North West of England and the West Midlands, but decisions have been made in Cardiff which will have a detrimental effect on the development of this region.

“We need a real Minister for North Wales, our own Metro Mayor, to help us become the northern powerhouse we can be with our own devolved budget and the ability to make decisions.

“The North Wales Metro Mayor would still be answerable to the Welsh Government but would have economic decision-making powers and a separate administration that would provide the strong local leadership to transform our economy beyond belief.”

There has been controversy since the announcement of the findings of an expert review panel, led by transport consultant Dr Lynn Sloman, which assessed 59 road projects across Wales.

Only 15 will now go ahead, all in South Wales, with the rest, including all those in North Wales, rejected or substantially revised and that decision attracted criticism from Clwyd South AM and former Economy Minister, Ken Skates who was in charge of transport policy as recently as 2021.

He claimed the review had ignored citizens in North Wales and failed to engage with key people and public representatives in the area.

He added: “I’m concerned that the panel didn’t actually engage with any communities, as far as I’m aware. It didn’t engage with locally elected members. The engagement with council highways officers was very poor.

“What we had is a diktat which says basically a decision has been made 140 miles away, that vitally important infrastructure works will not go ahead, and by the way, there are no alternatives that we can tell you about today.”

Mr Sheibani believes the decision also reflects a lack of understanding of the potential for growth in the North and he said: “Our economy is very different to that of the rest of Wales and there are far greater opportunities here than in South Wales.

“We have a port in Holyhead plus access to a major port at Liverpool and two international airports, Manchester and Liverpool, which connect us with the rest of the world.

“The Deeside and Wrexham Industrial Estates make this the largest engineering and advanced manufacturing hub in Europe and 34 per cent of our workforce is involved in manufacturing – the UK average is 10 per cent.

“Our companies don’t just supply Airbus, they also supply Boeing and the Ministry of Defence, and they employ a highly-skilled workforce.

“We also have a very strong tourism sector in North West Wales which attracts people from all over the world as well as the UK, though then they are presented with a bottleneck when they try to drive here.

“But what makes us really unique is the potential for energy generation here. We have extensive off-shore and on-shore wind power already and two licensed nuclear sites at Wylfa on Anglesey and Trawsfynydd in Gwynedd and how many places are suitable for a tidal lagoon?

“North Wales is one of the very, very few in the world and in a world facing global environmental disasters like flooding we would have a tidal lagoon that prevents flooding and generates lots of energy.

“Our advanced manufacturing capability can service the energy generation industry but we need the improved road and rail infrastructure to support that.

“Compared with South Wales, North Wales has far greater potential but we’re spending a lot of money in the south where the return on investment is far lower.

“In 2017 Ken Skates, as Transport Minister, announced £100 million for that Red Route and now we have a junior minister coming along and saying that isn’t going to happen – the reputational damage is incredible.

“But the economic damage will be even worse – Rolls-Royce have earmarked North Wales as one of three potential sites to build the new Small Modular Reactors for nuclear energy but they won’t come unless the road infrastructure is fit for purpose.”