Metro vision priority for Cardiff city region


John Osmond says this week’s announcement by Economy Minister Edwina Hart is the last hope for the Valleys.

Economy Minister Edwina Hart’s announcement of the Board for the South East Wales city region last week provides hope that this vital project might finally have found a pair of legs.

The problems the initiative confronts is immense. The Valleys hinterland around Cardiff are the major obstacle to putting together a coherent economic strategy for Wales as a whole, and that has been true since the 1930s. It’ll be recalled that along with north-east England, west Cumberland, and Clydeside, south Wales was one of four regions designated by the 1934 Special Areas Act. South Wales – specifically the Valleys – is the only one that still warrants that designation. It is still classified as a ‘less developed region’ by the European Commission and so qualifies for convergence funding.

Two closely related factors make the Valleys unique in economic regeneration in Britain. One is that nothing on any scale has been found to replace coal mining as an economic driver. And secondly, there has continued an economic, social and cultural separation of the Valleys from Cardiff. This has been the central failure of Welsh governance for close on a century.

Now the creation of a city region infrastructure provides perhaps the last and best hope that this grievous failure might finally be overcome. The members of the city region Board, shown in the panel below, bring together a diverse group from the worlds of business, local government, and academia. They will need to forge a shared vision that entails putting facts on the ground rather than merely adding to the miasma of committee and commission reports that afflict the governance of Wales.

        Board of the South East Wales City Region


Roger Lewis Chief Executive, Wales Rugby Union, Chair.

Cllr Russell Goodway, Cabinet Member for Finance and Economic Development, Cardiff Council, Vice Chair.

Professor Colin Reardon, Vice Chancellor, Cardiff University, Vice Chair.



David Stevens , Chief Operating Officer, Admiral Insurance.

Matthew Hammond, Wales chair, PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Dan Langford, Group marketing and communications director, Acorn Recruitment.

Ann Beynon, Wales Director, BT.

Cllr Bob Wellington, Leader Torfaen County Borough Council.

Cllr Brendan Toomey, Leader Merthyr Tydfil Council.

Cllr Peter Fox, Leader Monmouthshire County Council.

Cllr Bob Bright, Leader Newport City Council.

Professor Julie Lydon, Vice Chancellor, University of South Wales.

Professor Brian Morgan, Professor of entrepreneurship and director, Creative Leadership and Enterprise, Cardiff Metropolitan University.

John Phillips, Regional Secretary, GMB Union.



Professor Kevin Morgan, Cardiff University

Statements made last week by both Edwina Hart and Roger Lewis, the Welsh Rugby Union chief executive who is chairing the Board, demonstrate an awareness of the challenge. However, what is complicating the emergence of a clear focus is the imminent publication of Welsh Government’s Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery, chaired by Sir Paul Williams, former Chief Executive of Bro Morgannwg NHS Trust. Its terms of reference includes a call for “greater simplicity in governance and delivery arrangements for services in order to enable effective integrated planning and delivery for people in Wales”. It’s widely assumed that part of the Commission’s agenda is a reduction in the  Welsh counties, not least because First Minister Carwyn Jones has gone on the record in recent weeks saying that 22 authorities are unaffordable.

What this will mean for the ten authorities that are embraced by the South-East City Region Board will be a major factor in how it takes its work forward in the New Year. The Board will have its first outing next month and its agenda has already been set by the City Regions task force report, commissioned by Edwina Hart and chaired by Elizabeth Haywood, that was published in July last year. This had the following main recommendations:

  • A passenger transport Executive/Authority should be established in the South East Wales City Region, with similar powers, funding and responsibilities to those in English city regions … we recommend that the Valleys Metro is adopted as a key theme for a South-East Wales City Region.
  • An over-arching south-east Wales strategic planning tier should be put in place to ensure the city region hinterlands benefit from the growth of Cardiff and have a voice in cross-boundary development.
  • Housing planning, like spatial planning must be organised at a city region rather than local authority level and linked to transport planning to facilitate commuting and leisure travel and prevent the isolation of more remote communities.
  • Consideration should be given for the idea of pubic sector landowners leasing or endowing land for housing to make development more economically attractive.
  • Skill gaps should be addressed on a city region rather than an individual local authority basis to reflect the private sector’s approach to the geography of their labour markets.
  • Universities should be engaged as part of the city region approach to promote wealth creation, growth, and high skilled value added jobs.

Governance is at the heart of all of this. Nothing will happen in practice without a statutory executive authority charged with implementation and provided with an adequate budget. The first priority is for an Executive Transport Authority to be created to implement the Metro project. It is encouraging, therefore, that Roger Lewis has already acknowledged this as a priority. Interviewed earlier this week he described the proposed £2 billion integrated transport Metro project for the region as “critical” adding that, “This project has to be one of the early priorities, starting with creating a dynamic around the board and ensuring that all of the members share that transport vision.”

John Osmond is Editor of ClickonWales.

9 thoughts on “Metro vision priority for Cardiff city region

  1. Yet again the great Welsh response to ongoing problem – set up a committee.
    John Osmond is entirely correct in looking at the history of economic failure in the valleys, in many ways the factors that led to the 1934 Special Areas Acts never went away. He is also correct in asking a very simple question that applies to the entire country and to which the government is notably silent – where is the over-arching clear objective to drive the economy forward and the strategy to fulfill it?
    If the “new” initiative has any currency – and as a professional economist and businessman I doubt it – then the make up of the group does not inspire confidence.
    The representatives of big business (BT, Price Waterhouse, Admiral) bring very little to the table, do any live and work in the Gwent valleys or have real, on the shop floor experience? The political representatives have little business experience and will undoubtedly see protection of their localities as the priority and the trade union official protection of its members; while the academics (with one notable exception) have never been in business or taken a risk in their lives.
    It’s eighty years since the Special Areas Acts and eighty years of failure – unless there is greater imagination and clarity of purposes, some one will be writing a similar article eighty years from now.

  2. There are two reasons why I feel uneasy. First, because of the sub-title “last chance.” As John points out, the regeneration of Cardiff and the Valleys has been an off and on process since the 1930’s. So why the last chance today? Better surely to look at the task of regeneraton and urban integration as a work in progress that requires regular attention and periodic adjustments to models of governnace and economic development, as opposed to an approach that fosters a culture of the next best thing. In this respect, it is disappointing that the proposed Advisory Board lacks an urbanist such as a Peter Hall or Richard Florida – someone who thinks across sectors about socio-economic interactions and understands the political dynamics of urbanized environments.

    Second, the preoccupation with Cardiff and the Valleys at the expense of other “urban” communities in Wales. One is left with the impression that if Cardiff and the Valleys are turned around, the rest of Wales will fall nicely into place. I am not belittling the problems in South Wales, but offering a reminder that other urban communities such as Wrexham, Bangor-Caernarfon or the North Wales coastal resorts, and the small market towns also need attention and perhaps the opportunity, encouragement and assistance to develop their own solutions in a cretive way.

  3. Dr Ball is right: the last thing we need is another quango. This one is practically a cliché of the Welsh Establishment – the municipal barons who caused the trouble in the first place, a sprinkling of academics, big business but not of course small business, the token trade unionist …and the WRU! What, was no one from BBC Wales available?

    A new organisation is simply an excuse to avoid the real issue, which is culture not structure. The composition of this board is itself a demonstration of the paradox inherent in any metropolitan authority. An appointed authority lacks the democratic mandate to overrule the elected authorities of the counties. A directly elected authority, on the other hand, would be a return to the gross inefficiency of the old two-tier system: the solution to the problem of too many chefs spoiling the broth is not to add yet another chef. The Assembly itself needs to show leadership in laying down a sub-regional strategy. Taking another look at Cardiff’s grandiose current LDP would be a good place to start. Whatever one thinks of the Assembly, it has the legal power to knock heads together. What is missing is the political will – despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that the Assembly and most of the uncooperative local authorities are led by members of the same party.

  4. I can’t grasp why we need the following: “A passenger transport Executive/Authority should be established in the South East Wales City Region”

    We already have the South East Wales Transport Alliance (, which is one of 5 in Wales I think. I also seem to recall these alliances punch above their weight compared to their Scottish counterparts – why trim it down when it operates effectiviely, and also when the new proposed executive is going to cover much the same area?

  5. John has hit the nail on the head here. What is needed is delivery bodies that put the six main recommendations in place. The Government has the power to put such a body in place and legislate for its powers. I also think that Edwina Hart is a minister with the ability to drive the agenda forward. Whether the Board delivers on this in its meeting next month remains to be seen but if it does not, then questions will have to be asked about its usefulness.

  6. One of the lessons from my research comparing the Cardiff city region with the Manchester city region (especially the interviews with Manchester’s Chief Executives) was that one has to start the journey somewhere Furthermore, and critically, we need to move to a ‘win-win’ mindset rather than a zero sum mindset.

    I agree with the salient recommendations mentioned, especially the Passenger Transport Authority, which would underwrite a city-region approach. But there are some other key issues that require consideration. These points are not in any particular order:

    Meaningful Governance is essential.
    Energy resilience viz climate change.
    Poverty – Manchester has now established a poverty commission.
    Green infrastructure viz tourism, food production, wellbeing, health etc.
    Convergence funding viz Europe’s Smart Specialisation (innovation) programme.
    Regional Centre of Refurbishment Excellence to address retrofitting of existing housing stock (it is suggested that a £16 billion investment would support 1,000 jobs).
    Use of Pension Funds: it is suggested that 8 WLGP’s have £9Bn of assets under management. How could regional local authority pension funds be leveraged to benefit the local economy (e.g. infrastructure investment; housing stock investment where the private sector will not go).

  7. I am glad that the two Cynon Valley Prof. Morgans are involved. They, at least, will realise that a problem that has lasted 80 years is not going to be suddenly solved by their action. Why have previous generations found this so difficult to address? Because they could not change the geography and no more can we today. The south Wales contours do not mean that nothing can be done but it does limit what is possible and where it is cost effective. Unfortunately, it is politically difficult to recognise this and easier to pretend that every community can be supported equally. Local politicians cannot be blamed for defending their patch but in some cases managed decline is the only practical option.

  8. According to Roger Lewis in his interview in the Western Mail this is the beginning of a 20 year project. I’m afraid the Valleys need action now not another committee which will meet six times a year. Living in disenfranchised Bridgend I just wonder what this’ Push me Pull me’ committee will actually achieve. Perhaps someone down the Bay could also explain why the UK government trusts the 10 Manchester Authorities to come together and has also, according to the LGC, agreed to the creation of a powerful local authority group in the North East whilst in Wales it seems the local authorities are not to be trusted. Once again we see devolution stopping at Bute Street Station. Where is the accountability of this group of the great and the good to those who really matter in the future of the region namely the people of South East Wales?

  9. Talking of being “disenfranchised” I notice no representation from the Vale of Glamorgan ? Are we not part of the South East Wales metro either ?

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