Public debate in Wales has often revolved around existential questions and it was no different when the IWA took another step forward this week with the establishment of a branch for Cardiff and the Valleys. Its launch event comprised a debate on the question of whether Cardiff and the Valleys were one place or two.
The content of the launch debate, with its emphasis on the urgent need to develop the concept of a polycentric city region, confirmed that we have probably got it right. The reality is that the branch will serve the area covered by the now defunct South and Mid Glamorgan County Councils that includes the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend – although to have included both those places in the title would have given the branch are rather bureaucratic ring.
The branch will be chaired by Huw Roberts, who qualifies on three counts – born in Abercynon, now working in Cardiff, but living in the Vale of Glamorgan. He is Director of Welsh Affairs for the Royal Mail Group and managing director of political consultancy, Huw Roberts Associates. He was Senior Special Adviser to Ron Davies MP, when the latter was Secretary of State for Wales. Huw, who has already gathered together an eclectic committee, will rejoin the IWA Board, having previously been a member in the 1990s.
The new branch fills a major gap in our branch network in south Wales which already has three branches – for West Wales, Swansea and Gwent. The last of these has successfully addressed issues that relate both to Newport and to the Gwent valleys. The creation of the Cardiff and valleys branch means that Wales’s two eastern cities and the whole of the heads of the valleys area is now covered.
Without agreeing on a solution both speakers at the launch event – Russell Goodway, the former Leader of Cardiff Council, and Professor Kevin Morgan, from Cardiff University’s City and Regional Planning Department – both agreed that regional solutions were needed for things such as housing, transport and waste management, and that current governance arrangements do not match our needs.
Yet, by the end of the evening, the debate had come back to cultural differences between Cardiff and the Valleys and Wales’s historical unfamiliarity with large cities and urban discourse, leading to a Welsh affection for the Valleys that has never been extended to the capital. Culture may yet be a crucial determinant of the outcome of this debate. So join the branch and join in.