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Bristol’s mayor argues the city has a 'brilliant case' for devolution

Bristol should be allowed to follow Manchester and Sheffield by being granted a devolution agreement, mayor George Ferguson has said.

Mr Ferguson said Bristol had “a brilliant case for devolution”, arguing that the city was “the first, best stop outside London for investment” and calling for it to be made a combined authority.

He said devolution would allow Bristol to accelerate planning decisions and encourage developments to get off the ground quicker than in other regional centres.

“As an independent mayor, I don’t have to go back and forth between a central party – I can say yes a damn sight quicker,” Mr Ferguson said.

Speaking at an event hosted by Bristol-based law firm Burges Salmon, Mr Ferguson said the city had been “playing catch up” with competitors such as Manchester, which recently won a devolution agreement and major funding for infrastructure projects.

“[Manchester has] been working on their business case for 10 years or more,” he said.

“I think we need to make a leap to become a combined authority to further our business case.”

Mr Ferguson highlighted several of the city’s flagship schemes as evidence of its vast potential for growth.

He said Bristol’s new arena would be a “catalyst” for further development.

The scheme, based in the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone, will be worth around £100m.

An architect and design team will be selected in March, with a contractor due to be in place by the summer ahead of a 2017 opening.

The arena would “unlock major commercial and residential projects”, Mr Ferguson said, adding that he wanted the enterprise zone to be “a centre of gravity in the city” for new commercial projects.

When asked whether the lack of strong transport infrastructure in the city might hold back growth, Mr Ferguson was bullish.

“Transport is one of our biggest challenges – but the £400m investment on the rapid transit bus system will improve public transport significantly,” he said.

“With the electrification of the Great Western railway, we’ll see investment way before High Speed 2 has even started.

“We’re the only city that’s seen substantial speculative commercial development outside London.”

Mr Ferguson also cited the 66 Queen Square office building, developed and built by Skanska.

The scheme, which is due to be complete in summer 2015 and is worth just under £8m, has already attracted commercial interest, with KPMG agreeing to pre-let 52,000 sq ft of office space.

Mr Ferguson said public-private partnerships were vital to help Bristol to reach its growth potential.

“I want to see a much healthier relationship between the public and private sectors,” he said.

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