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

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