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Devolution deals: signed, sealed... delivered?

Devolution “remains at the heart” of plans to develop UK regions, according to chancellor Phillip Hammond when he delivered his Autumn Statement last year.

But is his heart still in it in 2017? Looks like it could be so far.

Since January, three major city deals have been signed between the government and clusters of local authorities.

These deals mean regional areas have more powers to make their own decisions in a bid to stimulate economic growth.

The ink is still wet on the Swansea Bay city deal, signed yesterday by prime minister Theresa May.

Projects planned under the agreement include: a £169m ‘digital waterfront’ in Swansea; a 215,000 sq ft ‘box village’ development as part of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s Waterfront Innovation Quarter; a £200m wellness and life sciences village in Carmarthenshire; and a £76m dock marine in Pembrokeshire.

It is expected the Swansea Bay deal will pump £1.3bn into projects across four council areas around the Swansea city region, with the cash coming from the UK and Welsh governments as well as from other public bodies and private sector investors.

Meanwhile, Cardiff Capital City Region is set to get a £1.2bn infrastructure boost through its own deal, which was signed at the beginning of this month, and the £315m Inverness and Highland City Region Deal was signed off at the end of January.

Several others have already been secured, with plenty more in the pipeline.

“Devolved decision-making is generally positive for getting things off the ground or getting sites moving” says Lovell partnerships director Peter Quinn. “We feel positive about it.”

Mr Quinn has previously spoken of the need for greater collaboration between the industry and public sector, calling for more public-private partnerships to deliver housing.

“The key is that local government is resourced to take on board the sometimes complex nature of regeneration, as well as putting in infrastructure to open up parts of cities – especially brownfield sites,” he said. “It is difficult to make that happen without public sector expertise.”

City deals could hold promise for contractors, in terms of a project pipeline and speeding up developments.

Let’s hope Mr Hammond continues to hold a soft spot for devolution.

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