Ebbw Vale 'let down' as no jobs yet at £100m auto park

The site of the proposed TVR building
Image caption Little sign of progress is shown at the site of the £100m technology park - just some drainage work

It has been 18 months since plans to transform Ebbw Vale into a hub for car technology were announced.

But at the site of the £100m automotive park no foundations have been laid and there is no sign of the promised jobs.

"I think it's very demoralising," said one business owner, who joined criticism of the Welsh Government's progress.

The Welsh Government said it was a 10-year scheme and the first jobs would be created in "months".

But Blaenau Gwent AM Alun Davies said if the Welsh Labour government could not bring new skills to the area it could cost them at the next election.

"We've waited for long enough. No more press releases, no more speeches, we need action... the people here need to see these promises made real," said Mr Davies, who was sacked from his cabinet role recently.

Announced in June 2017, the automotive technology park was seen by many as the cornerstone of a Welsh Government action plan to boost economic growth in the South Wales Valleys.

Ministers claim the park would create 1,500 jobs by 2027, with an investment of £100m over 10 years.

There had been scepticism about the viability of the scheme, given as an alternative to create jobs when the Welsh Government rejected the Circuit of Wales.

Despite promising work would start by March, BBC Wales could find little evidence of any progress having been made.

A planning application for an employment unit at the Ebbw Vale site was submitted in November by the design agency Arcadis and a council report recommends approval by Blaenau Gwent councillors on Thursday.

At the Rhyd y Blew site the only hints of anything to come are a sign and some drainage work, no shovels in the ground, no buildings and no new jobs.

BBC Wales spoke to some business owners who said the people of Blaenau Gwent felt "disillusioned" by the pace of bringing new jobs to the area.

Image caption Jeanne Fry-Thomas said people in the area felt demoralised

Jeanne Fry-Thomas, who runs an estate agent in Ebbw Vale, said: "I think it's very demoralising for people here. They were expecting something, and they've got nothing."

Ms Fry-Thomas said people had been suspicious of the park, adding: "They now feel they have been proven right because there is nothing there.

"They thought there would be several enterprises coming that would train people and give them good quality and skilled jobs because that's what this area needs."

Image caption Cafe and shop owner Steve Roberts said he would have expected to see some progress

Steve Roberts, who runs Cwmglo café and shop with his wife, said the area had been let down many times over the years.

"We have had a strategies and plans going back since I left school back in the 70s. They never really came to anything," he said.

"The problem is people in Blaenau Gwent have been promised so much over so many years. The politicians have never delivered. There's a reticence now that... nothing is going to come of it."

Image caption Samuel Taylor said he had faith that the project would materialise and bring jobs in the area

But Samuel Taylor, 16, Blaenau Gwent's member of UK Youth Parliament, said young people were hopeful jobs would be there in the future.

"I'm very optimistic and supportive of it," he said.

"Eighteen months down the line there is no physical evidence of it being on the ground, but that doesn't mean it's's a 10-year plan."

Why was Ebbw Vale chosen?

Ebbw Vale's enterprise zone has only created 179 jobs in seven years.

As the area is not known for its links to technology, we asked why the Welsh Government decided to base the new centre on the land at Rhyd Y Blew.

While plans for the Circuit of Wales had been controversial, many in the area had hoped it would replace jobs which had been lost in heavy industry in the last few decades.

We asked to see anything which informed the choice, including the due diligence report for the £100m public sector investment.

But officials said they did not have the report and referred us to a portfolio of projects. They refused to release other documents we asked for through the Freedom of Information Act.

Image caption Alun Davies said he had tried to make progress while in his government job, but questions needed to be answered about why no jobs had been created

Mr Davies, who lost his cabinet role when new First Minister Mark Drakeford formed his government, said the scheme was a "test" of the Welsh Government's power.

In charge of the Valleys' scheme taskforce, Mr Davies said while work had been done, ministers had questions to answer about why no jobs had yet been created at the park.

"I believe this has been moving too slowly for too long," said Mr Davies.

He said if no-one else would, he would "knock heads together" as the local AM to make progress.

"The market is not going to deliver for us, so the government must," he said.

But the Welsh Government said it was a 10-year investment, which would make the area a "globally recognised centre for the development and delivery of emerging technologies".

It said it was working closely with partners to develop a long-term strategy to tackle economic challenges, and an advisory group had met.

"In this opening period of the programme our focus is squarely on investing in infrastructure and the refurbishment of land and property to provide the modern industrial units that will attract new businesses," a spokeswoman said.

"Indeed, we are currently finalising planning for a raft of property projects and expect the first construction jobs associated with the project to be created in the coming months."

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