Welsh Metro needed to drive regeneration

John Osmond reports on a new report launched today which sets out a new economic vision for Wales

A Cardiff and Valleys Metro system will give us an opportunity to rethink the role of towns and communities across the Valleys, as well as allowing Cardiff to be more competitive with other European cities, according to a new report from the Metro Consortium which is published today.

The report A Cardiff City Region Metro: transform, regenerate, connect, written by Mark Barry who runs an economic strategy and transport consultancy in Cardiff, is available here. It sets out an economic vision as the foundation of the project, saying the Metro should be far more than a rail project. Regeneration and economic development should be at its heart if it is to be a catalyst for a modern city region economy. The report will be the focus of a conference at Cardiff Business School on Monday, being organized by the Metro Consortium and the IWA. Places at the conference Making a Welsh Metro Happen are still available – conference details here.

The consortium, which represents a range of stakeholders from the business community, including Capita Symonds, Powell Dobson Urbanists, Jones Lang LaSalle, was set up in the wake of an earlier report by Mark Barry, A Metro for Wales’ Capital City Region – Connecting Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys, commissioned by the Cardiff Business Partnership and published by the Institute of Welsh Affairs in January 2011.

Since the publication of that first report the UK Government has given the go-ahead for the electrification of the Great Western Main Line to Swansea and the entire Valley line network. The concept of a Metro is now a mainstream topic of discussion in transport and regeneration circles in Wales. With transport and economic development now both within the same Welsh Government department, following last week’s Cabinet reshuffle, a more joined up approach to Metro development is possible.

The new report is aimed at developing the economic potential of the project. Acknowledging that Valleys line electrification is, in effect, Phase 1 of the Metro, the report also identifies some further strategic schemes needed to develop the Metro project. These include:

  • A Valleys Circle Line to transform the Cardiff city region’s transport geography. This will be achieved by linking the Rhymney and Merthyr lines via Nelson to allow Pontypridd to play a more pivotal role in the region’s economy.
  • A Cardiff Crossrail, using tram-train technology, to fully connect the city to its centre, the Bay and to the wider region. In turn this would unlock a range of development opportunities; especially housing to the north west of the city, the Enterprise Zone between the Bay and the city centre and places like St Mellons.
  • A cross valley Bus Rapid Transit system to address poor connectivity between places like Merthyr and Ebbw Vale.
  • A major upgrade of connectivity between Newport and Ebbw Vale to help the regeneration of both.

The report also makes the case for an arms-length ‘Metro delivery authority’ to make a reality of the project, and says this will be critical to its success. It says the delivery authority must have:

  • Powers to convert an ambitious Metro policy into a tangible project that will benefit the entire region.
  • A remit that combines traditional passenger transport executive responsibilities with a land and property development capability.
  • Sufficient funding from multiple sources, including government and local authorities.
  • The ability to engage and work with the private sector to secure further investment and facilitate development and regeneration at locations across the network.

As the report’s author Mark Barry says:

“Despite the good news about electrification, the one thing that has not changed is the economic challenge and the need to stimulate the economy. There is widespread recognition that a modern public transport system – a Metro – is an essential component of a modern city region economy”.

Roy Thomas of the Cardiff Business Partnership added:

“By providing the connectivity, Metro stations can themselves become catalysts for regeneration and development. It’s an opportunity to rethink the role of some of our towns and communities across the Valleys.”

The unique role of Cardiff and its city centre was highlighted by David Stevens of Admiral Insurance and the Cardiff Business Partnership:

“This is the part of the region that must attract and nurture the high value knowledge businesses that are common in successful city regions across the world, but are currently under-represented in Cardiff. We must help Cardiff compete more effectively with cities across Europe.”

Chris Sutton, of Jones Lang LaSalle, said:

“The Metro Consortium hopes that this report and the expertise and experience its members possess, can be utilised to assist the Welsh Government, local authorities, regional transport consortia and relevant task forces as they develop and progress the Metro concept.”

The new Metro report also includes contributions from a range of individuals and organisations from the university, business and public sectors across the city region. Together they provide a strong case for action. The common theme from all the contributions is that the Metro must be used to stimulate economic regeneration as well as improving connectivity.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA

22 thoughts on “Welsh Metro needed to drive regeneration

  1. The only thing missing in this metro plan that I can see at a quick glance is the reopening of the Coryton to Radyr Link…. Completing this will create an inner circle route with obvious benefits to Cardiff.

  2. Some potential here, I admit, but Wales is a nation. Can we please focus on national infrastructure and leave our divisive City Region projects to one side?

  3. Is the Welsh government trying to emulate the British state with everything going to the south east? And we all know how much of a mess that has turned out to be. A train route needs to be opened from maybe Carmarthen to Aberystwyth and from there northwards linking the north and south together.

  4. Noel Thompson and David are right. This obsession with Cardiff, and the moribund City-Region concept, is what puts a lot of people off engaging in politics at presenting. Sadly the IWA has pandered to these Bay-obsessives for too long. Let us hope that Lee Waters puts Cardiff expansionism to one side and fully represents the W in IWA.

  5. David.
    Are you aware half the population of Wales live within 30 minutes of Cardiff City centre?

    Rail links between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth would be wonderful, but how many would use them?

  6. I think this is a great idea. It will bring jobs and investment to the valleys and Cardiff. It will make travel easier meaning that much of the Welsh population is transported easily around, remembering that most of the Welsh population lives in the South East. It will also help to generate badly needed income that can be used to invest in other areas of Wales too. Great idea and I think it will be really good for Wales (and by the way I live in the North!).

  7. Martin, David, Noel….. so a project that is realistic, will bring direct benefits to half the welsh population, is affordable over 10~15yrs and will help the economy and enable regeneration, is not worthy of consideration because of what exactly? We need a bit of vision and ambition, tainted with realism and not succumb to a continual slow decline that inevitably results from policy based on homogenous mediocrity.

  8. I despair. A group of people come up with an imaginative plan to link together – via a progressive and environmentally friendly public transport system – a very modest-sized and under-performing city (that happens to be the Welsh capital) with the poorest area in Wales, and all some people can do is exhibit the negative politics of local envy. The south east Wales metro should be seen as a national project – a way to assist an area containing half the Welsh population to punch its weight economically in a way that will assist our economy as a whole. Martin, if you think the city region concept is moribund, is the whole of the rest of Europe wrong? This is not to deny problems elsewhere in Wales, but it is to put a finger on one of the biggest challenges facing Wales, and a possible solution.

  9. It looks like the responses to this article are going the same way as the earlier entry:


    Noel Thompson sums it up for me with the comment “Some potential here, I admit, but Wales is a nation”. Seems it is a case of a balancing act between maintaining South-east Wales’ prominence as an engine of the Welsh economy, and the rest of Wales. Just feels too Cardiff-centric to me though.

  10. Geraint T Davies,
    “…is the whole of the rest of Europe wrong?” Looking at the news these days the answer to your question is ‘yes’. It has a flawed system of governance and economic management. And regarding the UK, it seems like London is doing so well but everywhere else isn’t! Why do the powers that be in Wales want to emulate this model – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21934564 And you have the same people pushing for the Cardiff City Region also pushing for the Severnside City Region linking Cardiff with Bristol etc and also bringing London closer. Just look at what Alexandra Jones says about this in the above link: “businesses in cities like Manchester or Leeds tend to look first to London when they need to buy in specialist help or establish a joint venture in a particular sector, even when the talent or expertise they need is also readily available, more cheaply, in a neighbouring city.”

    My point is that Cardiff is and wants to be the capital of Wales. But why would it want to do business with Caernarfon or Bangor or Wrecsam or even Aberystwyth when it can with London or Bristol or Reading? What is needed is to improve the transport facilities between north and south Wales in order to link the capital with places further afield that Pontypridd or Merthyr Tydfil. Then, you can think about your local Metros. It makes sense.

  11. This is the mentality of most of the Welsh political class “How can we get some of the crumbs from the English table?” rather than “How can we make Wales a dynamic country in it’s own right with industries playing on the strengths of it’s people, geography, topography and climate?”

  12. This is a superb idea. The valleys conurbations can be linked to Cardiff much better. Historically of course, Cardiff only exists thanks to the Valleys. If a Metro is in place, you could realistically expect companies to start putting more of their offices in places like Ponytpridd and Caerffili. Central Valleys GVA is something like 57% of the UK average. This can’t go on. We have to bind the whole region together. Almost every other European country has a capital city metro. Wales is a European nation. This also could generate more wealth that can be invested in Caernarfon, Aberystwyth, Bangor etc. Some of the objections on this thread are strange. All of the political parties (at the Welsh level) want this Metro to go ahead. Wales needs to generate more of our own revenue and become less dependent. Up front investment in projects like urban rapid transit will help that. The Valleys can be improved through this strategy, rather than just trundling along as they are now. We desperately need to see the Valleys Circle developed as part of this so that there’s an intra-Valleys element to the Metro, not just a Valleys-to-Cardiff trend. All public transport improvements are also a good thing and you will simply not find a progressive person in their right mind opposing public transport improvements.

  13. And may I add, anyone who thinks a suspicion of Cardiff helps the nation-building agenda, is simply wrong. If Wales is to be a stronger and more real political and economic nation, the capital city has to be closer to everywhere else in the country. A Metro helps achieve that. North-south train links also need continuous investment – even though they are loss-making, they are critical to uniting the coutnry. Why not look at Carmarthen to Aber as well. A scoping study should be done on what it would actually cost, where the route would go, and how much the subsidy would be for the services that would run on it. The Metro doesn’t stop any of these projects going ahead or being looked at.

  14. Martin,
    I can’t disagree with most of what you say. However, the powers that be in Wales aren’t interested in anything north of the English equivalent of the Watford Gap; namely Ebbw Vale or similar. My problem isn’t that they want this ambitious scheme; it’s that they only seem interested in this scheme along with engulfing this ‘city region’ in a larger Severn-side ‘city region’ along with bundling north east Wales in with Cheshire city region. We need a whole Wales metro linking the north to the south. And it’s being suggested that possibly my objection is ‘strange’ or myopic. Yes, Wales is an European nation and most other capital cities in Europe have metros. But also, most other European nations have a transport system which enables it’s people to get from north to south and east to west with ease without having to go outside it’s borders to link to it’s others parts, as happens in Wales. I simply want us to get our priorities right; first of all, link the country and then build your Cardiff and wherever metro.

  15. I agree with you David. I was in Taffs Well and Pontypridd the other day. Nobody seemed to think the Metro, or the City Region chimera, was workable. On the contrary, people wanted greater decentralisaton from the capital and a major North / South link.

  16. David, You misunderstand me, and you know you do. The fact is that throughout Europe cities are increasingly the engines of growth. They also compete with each other. Wales and Cardiff cannot simply opt out. I would dearly love to be able to travel between Cardiff and Caernarfon in two to three hours rather than five, either by road or train. But money is short and at the moment 80,000 people a day are not clamouring to travel to Caernarfon.

  17. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell Russell Goodway this was a good idea. He won’t hear of any authority above Cardiff council. North Walians need not worry about this idea, one way or the other. Welsh tribalism is detailed and incorrigible. Jealousies between Cardiff, RCT, Merthyr and the Gwent authorities mean the metro is rather unlikely to happen. Add the fact that it would require extensive co-operation between Welsh government departments and it becomes still more unlikely. It would require strong leadership and some ruthless arm-twisting. Who would provide that?

  18. Geraint T Davies,

    This Europe you are talking about isn’t growing at all. The political and economic model is broken. Watch the news.

    And I agree with you, there aren’t 80,000 people clamouring to travel to Caernarfon every day….because to begin with it’s impossible to do without doing a massive detour outside of Wales. OK… maybe we wouldn’t reach your 80,000 plucked out of the air figure, but numbers would be greatly increased. Incidentally, I’m not a north Walian but I know from reading history that when they opened up railway lines in west Wales, new communities in the form of villages and town arose around the newly opened up stations. The same could happen again. It seems to me that you and many others like you only want to invest in Cardiff and areas adjoining; pretty much like the idiots on an UK level have been doing with regards to London and the south east of England for generations. And we all now… (read the article I linked to above) how much of a success that has been to the rest of the Britain.

  19. Mark,
    We can be a ‘can do’ nation and go for a really ambitious project and link our nation; north with the south.

  20. It’s just come to my notice that it’s 50 years since the Beeching cuts which decimated our railway infrastructure. We now have a government of our own in Wales. Yes, I said ‘Wales’ and not the ‘Cardiff City Region’ so let’s mark it with the beginning of a re-opening of the railway line from Carmarthen northwards. It doesn’t have to be done all in one go. A symbolic beginning would be a start. And if Cardiff simply wants to be closer to London or wherever than Caernarfon, then lets move our capital to Aberystwyth.

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