A 'WESTERN powerhouse' established between Newport, Cardiff and Bristol could boost job and economic prospects in the region.

Around 350 economic experts, businessmen and politicians met at a Severn Growth Summit in Newport to discuss developing cross-border business links.

Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns hoped the meeting would serve as a 'catalyst' for new partnerships to be forged ahead of the abolition of the Severn Crossings by the end of the year.

And the minister believes the opportunity to build a region with an economic output rivalling that of the Northern Powerhouse was one that needed to be seized.

“One of the key drivers behind the Northern Powerhouse was the volume of people commuting between Liverpool and Manchester,” he told the summit.

“There are more people commuting between Bristol and either Cardiff or Newport. Traffic journeys on the M4 between England Wales amounts to a fifth of all road journeys between the two nations.

“This shows that this region has the huge potential to rival the Northern Powerhouse or Midlands Engine.”

Mr Cairns had previously said the tolls had acted as an “economic barrier” to Welsh economic prosperity for 50 years.

And the meeting heard that the £1.2bn Cardiff Capital Region City Deal, combined with the potential of an M4 relief road, would allow businesses along the M4 corridor to thrive.

Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, of the University of South Wales, described the economic potential on offer as a 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity'.

Newport City Council leader Cllr Debbie Wilcox described the meeting as 'hugely positive' and said that Newport was a central part of any plans going forward.

The state-of-the-art IQE semiconductor facility at Coedkernew – funded by the City Deal – and the International Convention Centre Wales were among the major projects discussed at the summit.

Cllr Wilcox also believed it played well into plans pitched at the Newport City Summit last week, with the council unveling plans tasterplan to revamp the city centre.

“I want Newport to be outward-facing and I think we are perfectly placed to contribute. We can’t afford to turn any opportunity down,” said Cllr Wilcox.

Another council leader, Cllr Peter Fox, of Monmouthshire, also welcomed the discussions and said that cross-border discussions were already underway with neighbouring English councils.

But he conceded that not all of the “dilemmas” facing the county, such as increased housing demand and road infrastructure, were answered.

Cllr Jez Becker, member for St Mary’s in Chepstow, has long called for improvements to the A48 in the town.

“Today was good talk but it needs to translate into action,” he said.

“With or without the tolls Newport and Chepstow are the glue holding this region together.

“They will be replacing a financial block with an infrastructural block which will be just as effective at strangling businesses.”