Can we stop resenting our capital city?

Rhys David asks whether south-east Wales will follow Manchester in developing a brand that has world-wide resonance

In the north west of England ten local authorities, including Bolton, Bury and Stockport – important centres in their own right – are working together to promote the concept of a Manchester city region. They have become used to working together as partners over the past sixty years in developing the largely municipally owned Manchester airport into Britain’s de facto second hub, offering services to destinations around the world. Moreover, it is now at the centre of a grouping that also includes East Midlands and Stansted airports, a real second force in UK airports behind Heathrow’s BAA.

Significantly, too, the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities is led by the Peter Smith, chief of another proud authority, Wigan. The Association has come together to promote ‘Manchester’ as a brand that has been taken around the world by its two most famous football clubs.

Could such a development happen in south-east Wales now that the prospect of a city region based around Cardiff has been given a real chance by the forthcoming electrification of Valley Lines rail services? Or will residual resentment that Cardiff might be getting too much from it, or (spare the thought) even have its name in the title, lead to old parochialisms being given another stir?

“We will never be a Blue, ‘cos we’re Ponty through and through”, as they sing at Sardis Road to declare that  supporters  in Pontypridd will never give their loyalty to the Blues, the Cardiff-based rugby team less than ten miles away that is meant to represent the region.

A conference, Making a Welsh Metro Happen, organised by the IWA and partners from across south east Wales on Monday this week, suggests that among civic, political and business leaders at any rate the will to work together does exist. They have realised that a wider scale than the typical big city authority is needed if the platform for attracting and sustaining modern industries, and a wide range of other services from retail to healthcare is to be created. Just as importantly, they have realised that a city region approach is necessary if the economic benefits increasingly associated with city living – including higher incomes – are to be spread more widely.

It is not just Manchester that is demonstrating all of this. There is mounting evidence of the same from the city regions that are being developed elsewhere, including around the cities of Leeds, Sheffield, and Bristol.

In Wales the catalyst for this new enthusiasm has been the proposed extension of electrification beyond Cardiff and Swansea into the Valleys, and in particular the impressive work carried out by the consultant Mark Barry. His report A Metro for Wales’ Capital City Region, published by the IWA two years ago for the Cardiff Business Partnership, showed just how investment in improved rail services around the city and its hinterland could unlock the area’s too long buried potential.

Monday’s conference saw the release of an updated report A Cardiff City Region Metro which put added flesh on the regenerative possibilities that would come through much greater connectivity across the region. Instead of just making it easier and quicker for trains to access Cardiff along existing routes, the report details:

  • A Valleys Circle Line linking Rhymney and Merthyr and making Pontypridd a pivot at the centre of  the network.
  • Cardiff Crossrail using tram technology to bring people in the deprived east and west wings of Cardiff closer to jobs and other services.
  • Rapid bus transit systems to improve connections between parts of the area trains cannot reach.
  • The missing link – a short stretch of track – needed to make it possible to travel from Ebbw Vale not just to Cardiff but Newport as well.

If it is to come into being on the back of a new Metro, a Cardiff City Region will start with the advantage of being able to draw on the experience of other big transformative projects. These include the London Olympics, and the experience of cities around the world that have based their economic success on good public transport connectivity.

As Jon Hazelwood of landscape architects, Hassell, pointed out at Monday’s Metro conference, in virtually every case cities across the world ranked high in ‘liveability’ by international studies had metro systems at their heart.

The cost of the Welsh Metro scheme, as outlined in the latest report, would be considerable at £1.5 billion. Richard McCarthy, executive director of Capita Symonds and a former Treasury official with a close involvement in the London Olympics, told the conference that a highly robust case and delivery plan would need to be constructed. Its focus should combine professionalism, pace and certainty. It was vital, too, to do more than simply say the project would help to “regenerate”.

It had to be demonstrated that once the public purse was withdrawn, the process of economic revival would continue independently. The public sector would be critical in terms of finance but it could not be the sole investor. The Metro would need to rely on a cocktail of funding streams. As McCarthy said, “Such a scheme has to be reflected in increases in Gross Value Added, in more jobs and in higher property and land values. The economic value must be assessed, tested, and proved.”

The funding challenge will be severe, however. Another speaker, Michael Carrick of Aventa Capital, one of the parties behind the Circuit of Wales motorsport scheme for Ebbw Vale, made it clear the private sector would be wary of committing funds to a Cardiff Metro when there were other much simpler, more predictable projects to invest in with a much greater chance of delivering the returns the sector required than the economically challenged Welsh valleys.

Yet, as Shadow Secretary of State Owen Smith, had pointed out earlier, Wales should not be bashful about making the case in Whitehall for extensive public funding for such potentially transformative projects, given the long history of under-investment in Welsh transport assets. After all, as he and other speakers noted, London’s Cross Rail was costing £16 billion, High Speed 2 Rail £33 billion, and the Northern Line extension £1 billion. Even the rebuilding of Tottenham Court Road Station would cost not much less than the last sum. “We need to think big and think holistically because small changes will not work,” Smith told the conference. “We need big iconic projects that will show that we are moving forward.”

Jonathan Bray, director of the Passenger Transport Executive Support Unit, the group that brings together transport operators in England’s big cities, said we should not be over-obsessed with rail. Two thirds of public transport journeys were by bus, as were most High Street visits, and usage by young people was twice the national average. An integrated approach involving bus companies in the discussions and dovetailing bus services with new rail provision was needed to make a real success of transport investment on this scale.

There were other steps that would be just as vital. The Welsh Government needed to bring together all the actors involved in developing the Metro idea, including the local authorities, but also the private sector, academia, and potential funders. As Owen Smith pointed out, the urge – as often in Wales – to re-organise first, whether local government, transport groups or whatever, had to be strenuously avoided.

Other speakers were keen to stress that the current oversight body for transport in the region the South East Wales Transport Alliance (Sewta) – and potential client for a Metro scheme – would certainly need to be strengthened if it was to have a role. Whatever changes were made it was essential that the client authority and the delivery authority – as in the case of the Olympics – were separate bodies and that the delivery authority worked to an agreed budget set by the client.

So can the Cardiff region, Greater Cardiff, Cardiff and the Valleys – or even the more neutral ‘Siluria’, as one speaker, Roger Tanner of Caerphilly Borough Council, jocularly suggested – leverage itself into something greater rather than lesser than the sum of its parts? In short, can it emulate Manchester’s success?

If the evidence presented at this week’s Metro conference is anything to go by the will to act appears to be there and to be gathering momentum. As speakers made clear, however, the region will need to gather itself together to create a workable plan, and it will need to do so soon. Perhaps most importantly of all there would be need for strong leadership from the outset.

Rhys David is a Trustee of the IWA.

15 thoughts on “Can we stop resenting our capital city?

  1. Rhys David answers his own question when he quotes “We will never be a Blue, ‘cos we’re Ponty through and through”. The only way this south-east area can progress is through dropping the ‘Cardiff’ label. It has to re-invent itself, in the same way that the district of Gatineau has swallowed up the city of Hull in Quebec. You laugh at Roger Tanner’s suggestion of ‘Siluria’ as a re-installed name for the region, but this is the only real option. What won’t work is the Cardiff City-Region imperial concept. Get real IWA, and stop promoting this divisive, insular project.

  2. When the 1996 LG reorganisation was suggested, my first thought was that the old CF postcodes should have been combined to form ‘Greater Cardiff’, then similarly NP – Newport could have been a city region as well as SA – Swansea. Made geographic, cultural and transport sense.
    It’s not too late.

  3. With regard to the proposed Metro system, may I suggest that SEWTA pulls its finger our and enforces a single ticketing system across all current Glamorgan/Gwent transport franchisees? One ticketing system and if any operator wished to bid for or provide a route, then they must sign up to the common billing system. This could be extended across Wales and franchises expire.

    E.G. I cannot use my monthly IFF card to make a journey from Grangetown to Cathays on the train, for example. Someone from Bridgend might need three tickets to get from a destination there, to somewhere in Newport.

  4. My capital city is called London.

    From Gwynedd the accessible ‘city regions’ I look at to provide business services, health services (sad but true…), and entertainment are Liverpool, Manchester, and Leeds – all of which can be accessed in approximately half the time it takes to get to Cardiff. In fact I can drive right across the country to Hull in less time than I can drive to Cardiff. When the fast ferry is running I can even get to Dublin quicker than I can get to Cardiff!

    In the 28 years I have lived in Gwynedd I have been to Cardiff exactly once – and that was because I was ordered to go there and somebody else was paying. Otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered… It seemed like a nice enough old commercial city but unremarkable compared with many others. I hope the ‘planners’ haven’t managed to wreck its character since, as they have with so many other nice old city centres.

    As a city region Cardiff has the same problem as its airport – Bristol is doing considerably better.

    So, in common with most people I know in North Wales, yes I am actually sick of hearing about Cardiff…

  5. Rhys,

    I think it is time for Wales to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ if it is not to be left behind. Let me offer some rapid fire observations. I offer these comments as an advocate of city regions
    References to named cities include their respective city regions. Incidentally, it is interesting that independent research goes unrecognised, yet organisational research backed by ‘Corporates’ is trumpeted – was it ever thus!

    My independent city region research in 2010 / 2011 for Cardiff University included a contrast between Cardiff (South East Wales) and Manchester. The contrast in the interviews that I held with Chief Executives in both regions is stark to say the least
    This material provides clear evidence why Manchester is moving forward, whilst Cardiff is being held back.

    On the morning of the IWA Metro conference, I issued three tweets. These are set out below. I believe they are still valid. In addition, whilst your article embraces the economic rationale, it is also crucially important that city regions embrace the social and environmental pillars of sustainable development.

    1of3 Wish catalyst @markdafyddbarry well @IWA_Wales Metro conference today. Metro is a long term project requiring action now #gamechanger

    2of3: Metro has potential to be ‘trojan horse’ to establish much needed city region in SWE dealing with transport, housing & regeneration.

    3of3: The Metro must benefit ALL: a positive sum game. It must not be about (i) big corporates earning fat fees and (ii) property boosterism

    Turning for a moment to regeneration (after all, wearing my regeneration practitioner hat, isn’t this what it’s all about), whilst restating my opinion that city regions are important, it is revealing (to me anyway) that the recently published pan-Wales Regeneration Strategy says very little about city regions (functional economic areas). Indeed, Vibrant & Viable Places states that there are three key priorities for targeted investment, namely: (i) Town centres serving 21st Century towns; (ii) Coastal communities and (iii) Communities First clusters. In other words, there is no recognition of functional economic market areas (FEMAs) or city regions. Why? Actually, to be fair, there is a small reference to city regions under the heading of ‘Emerging Welsh Government programmes’. To say that this is understated is an understatement! Reference is made to South East Wales and South West Wales but there is no reference to North East Wales! Why? By way of contrast, dare I say it with England, it is worth reflecting on a document entitled ‘Delivery Models for Sub-Regional Economic Development’ Page 20 of this document is revealing because the whole of England is covered by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) or city regions. Clearly, there is an understanding and acknowledgement across the border of the important of economic drivers (in the guise of city regions), which are now benefitting from ‘City Deals’. Why isn’t there such a focus in Wales?

    Sir Terry Matthews recently acknowledged that you have to have an ‘attack brand’. For South East Wales that has to be Cardiff. Manchester (embracing the ten local authorities) recognised this years ago. Leeds (city region) has also more recently seen the light with Bradford and Huddersfield realising that Leeds is an engine for growth.

    For example, it is revealing that York, Wakefield and Bradford have backed Leeds city region presence at MIPIM 2013. Against this backcloth, I have to say that Tanner’s reference to ‘Siluria’ is risible, reflecting too many years spent in the public sector! And yet, according to a tweet by Peter Law, Chief Reporter at the South Wales Echo, the Welsh Government has already scrapped the name ‘Cardiff City Region’ and as he suggests “the name ‘South East Wales City Region’ kind of defeats the whole idea…”

    In concluding this fleet of foot contribution, and reflecting again on your piece, crucial elements are missing in the narrative, namely, pro-active engagement, governance and leadership. The latest task-and-finish group was meant to have reported at the end of January! Quite frankly, the engagement with the private sector (yet again) has been poor and a ‘freedom of information’ request for information was rejected. Why the secrecy and lack of transparency?? Extant governance lacks cohesion and coherence, yet again reflected in rich interview material from my 2011 research

    Despite these frustrations, I remain hopeful. Now that transport has been added to the portfolio of Mrs Edwina Hart, Minister for BETS, who knows what might happen. Perhaps there is still a chance that Wales will move beyond parochialism with the Metro being the Trojan horse for a Cardiff city region. If anyone in the Welsh Government can show leadership, will it be Edwina Hart? As Winston Churchill said:

    “Sometimes it is not enough to do our best; we must do what is required.”

  6. Why trot out that cliched rugby analogy?
    Thousands of valley people have no problem with following Cardiff City Football Club, in fact it’s often stated that there are more Cardiff City supporters in the Valleys than there are in Cardiff.

    Many Pontypridd RFC supporters are also Cardiff City fans, it’s just middle class Cardiff RFC with their air of superiority and entitlement that Ponty people can’t stand.

  7. So, if Cardiff is the capital of Wales, why aren’t you and others making an argument for it to be better connected with the north? Much of the railway lines already exist. We don’t need this Cardiff parochialism. Let’s think big. Let’s think on a Wales level and then afterwards, we can tackle more localized transport systems.

    Does emulating English cities mean that the next time they have violent riots we in Wales can join in too?

  8. David, you’re right.

    A line extention from Merthyr (for example) to Llandovery, then to Aberystwyth could be the basis of an Express Rail service between North and South. I suspect the old cuttings are still there.

    We must build economic hubs in North-West, North-East, South-East and South-West then join them together to spread and circulate wealth so it benefits us all as much as possible.

  9. The contrast between Southeast Wales and Greater Manchester is an interesting one though not strictly accurate. We too had a lot of resentment similar to the ‘Ponty through and through’ approach. Some of our citizens would still prefer to be in Yorkshire, for reasons that defeat me. That began to change but only after the two Olympics bids and the Commonwealth Games in 2002. In response to David Morgan I would point out that ‘Greater Manchester’ was so designated because it is a clearly definable area that coincides almost exactly with the travel to work area of c. 3 million people. That is not so much the case in Birmingham where two sizeable cities at either end, Coventry and Wolverhampton, retained their individual identities. They would never have been a part of ‘Greater Birmingham’. And I would point out that there is a place called Greater Grimsby, whatever that means, and this week I read about ‘Greater China’ in a serious economic journal. I’m not sure what the answer is for Cardiff, perhaps your metropolitan area, which seems to me stretch from Newport to Swansea, is a little too extended to be able to define a precise city-region on a world scale as Manchester did, eventually. But good luck with your efforts anyway.
    Of course we also had a bomb in 1996, the ‘style bomb’ as it is known and the biggest ever to explode in the UK, which was the catalyst for massive inward government-led investment into what was a moribund city and which gave it a clear lead over others. Not that I’m suggesting that should be a remedy in Wales of course.

  10. Do you people want Wales to end up like a small version of England/Britain/UK whatever. Everywhere sinking basically whilst London in the south east develops sails off on it’s own hardly even suffering any recession/depression since 2008 which incidentally it’s financial center caused. Who wants such an unequal Wales. If Cardiff is the capital of Wales, then it needs to be linked to all parts of Wales and not link up with Bristol/Swindon/Reading/London or wherever and leave Cheshire to take the spoils in the north. Can’t you get that simple argument into your Cardiff-centric parochial minds?

  11. Geography David, Geography. I wouldn’t consider going to Cardiff for anything from where I live in Ynys Mon. Why on earth would I? There’s Chester, Liverpool, Manchester……we fly out of Liverpool and Manchester. What has Cardiff airport got to do with us? What has Cardiff got to do with us? In Holyhead they don’t even mix with people in the rest of Ynys Mon…they either catch a train to Liverpool or, more commonly, the boat to Dublin.

    These Cardiff arguments obviously mean a lot to people down there but…….seriously, nothing to do with us in the North.

  12. Noel Thompson’s argument makes sense. Combine Cardiff and Swansea and we may have a chance of becoming a medium sized English region. If that doesn’t suit the politicians and business community, then please let this farcical Cardiff ‘City Region’ idea die a painless death,

  13. One of the most successful countries in Europe is Finland. It’s largely sparsely populated. Even so, the low population density of the north is linked to the south “Despite low population density, the Government spends annually around 350 million euro in maintaining 5,865 kilometres (3,644 mi) of railway tracks.”

    Can’t we be innovative and look for Welsh answers to Welsh questions rather than looking at England…..which is totally different as a template for our nation?

  14. @ DJ Bently you said:

    Some of our citizens would still prefer to be in Yorkshire, for reasons that defeat me.

    It defeats me too (born in Rochdale). Why would people in Manchester, Bury, Blackburn, Rochdale etc “still” prefer to be part of Yorkshire? This area has never been part of Yorkshire. It was once part of Lancashire, until local Govt reorganisation in the 70’s, and many of us continue to refer to the area as Lancashire and ouselves as Lancastrians. Were the Wars of the Roses in vain?

  15. Some fascinating material here but as with so much discussion, whatever is thought, it is Cardiff centric. We seem to return consistently to ideas of retail salvation but that is by the by. As someone who has commuted 35 miles on the M4 through the proposed new city region for the last 17 years the problem is not transport but the siting of commerce on motorway junctions from Magor in the East to Sarn in the West. One commentator talked about Bristol city region – now there is a bustling city without integrated transport. Cardiff already has much better public transport than Bristol so why do we think that giving it more will make it better able to compete. Newport’s bus service is already one of the best in the UK. Let’s reorganise our government map to reflect people’s views of where they live – Cardiff and the Vale, the Valleys and Newport in Monmouthshire. There we are – 3 distinct regions that everyone can relate to and which could collaborate to deliver improved public services and infrastructure without squabbling. Newport blends into Cwmbran which is in Torfaen and the last time I looked Pontymister and Risca were part of Newport but no they are in Caerphilly. Let’s knock that on the head. When did someone in Risca last think I must go to my Council in Ystrad Mynach? Let’s drop the idea of a city region and build on what we have by reflecting our past in a new future of the 3 distinct regions.

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy