Connecting Cardiff with the Valleys

John Osmond reports on a debate that launched the IWA’s new Cardiff and Valleys Branch

Cardiff and its Valleys hinterland should become a single unit of local government with a directly elected Mayor at its head, according to Cardiff’s former Lord Mayor, Russell Goodway. He was speaking at the launch of the IWA’s new Cardiff and the Valleys Branch in the University of Glamorgan yesterday evening in a debate with Professor Kevin Morgan on ‘Cardiff and the Valleys: One Place or Two?’

In a lively exchange, in which the two speakers managed to agree on the benefits of south-east Wales developing into a more cohesive city region, Goodway said politicians fearful of losing influence were standing in the way of his vision. It was extremely difficult to get council leaders in neighbouring authorities to stop thinking in competitive terms. “We have to change that outlook,” he said. “Across Europe successful regions have successful cities at their heart.

“The M4 does not have to be a barrier. The only way to break the deadlock that prevents us moving forward is to create a city regional government with a directly elected mayor who could come from anywhere in the region. Only an initiative on this scale could change our direction of travel.

“We cannot leave this to chance,” he declared. “As things stand our governance arrangements in Wales do not meet our economic needs.”

Professor Morgan said south-east Wales currently suffered from a “cacophony of voices all straining to be heard” – 10 local authorities, including two cities. He said if he went abroad and came back after ten years he did not believe he would return to a country that had 22 local authorities. Local government reorganisation was unavoidable in the next decade and perhaps during the National Assembly’s fourth term following 2011. The case for a city region centred on Cardiff should be part of the thinking that was gathering pace around another shake-up of Welsh local government.

He warned, however, that while the advantages of a city region approach were clear enough for Cardiff, the case had to be made for the Valleys. He did not believe that people in the Heads of the Valleys would ever see Cardiff as the magnet for jobs that people in the lower end of the Valleys did. Any city region scheme had to have a built-in distribution of investment across its area. Mid-Valley towns such as Pontypridd, Caerphilly, Blackwood, and Oakdale would need to be seen as complementary development poles to Cardiff.

“What is the long-term future for the Valleys?” he asked. “Surely it can only be combination of being a commuter belt for Cardiff, but combined with an investment strategy that genuinely spreads resources and benefits across the region.”

Much of the discussion among the 80-strong audience focused on the need for improved communications to make the integration of a potential city region centred on Cardiff feasible. It was argued that south-east Wales was ideal both in terms of geographical size and critical mass of approaching 2 million people for investing in a high speed light rail system along the lines that connected many continental cities, such as Stuttgart in Baden Wurttemberg, and Bordeaux in western France with their hinterlands.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.

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