Putting Cardiff and the Valleys on the map together

Kevin Morgan explains why Wales is finally coming to terms with the age of city regions

Of the four depressed areas that were designated for economic relief by the Special Areas Act of 1934 – namely south Wales, north east England, west Cumberland and Clydeside – only south Wales retains this sad status. For the next round of EU regional policy, covering the period 2014-2020, West Wales and the Valleys will be classed as a ‘less developed region’ in the classification of the European Commission.

Shorn of the diplomatic language, this signals nothing less than a deep developmental failure in Wales and a devastating indictment of 80 years of British regional policy. Indeed, if nothing improves in the coming generation, the south Wales Valleys will have to confront the anniversary from hell: a hundred years of relative economic decline.

City Regions: from aspiration to reality

IWA National Economy Conference

Today at 2pm, Radisson Blu Hotel, Cardiff


Keynote speakers:

George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol

Roger Lewis, Chair, South East Wales city region board

Andrew Carter, Deputy Chief Executive, Centre for Cities

Dr Elizabeth Haywood, Chair, Task & Finish Group on City Regions

Juliet Luporini, Swansea Bay City Region Board

Cllr Peter Fox, Leader, Monmouthshire Council

Neil McInroy, Chief Executive, Centre for Local Economic Strategies 

One of the most serious criticisms levelled at the 1934 Special Areas Act – aside, of course, from it being too little too late – was the fact that it severed the region from its towns by excluding Cardiff, Newport and Swansea from the coalfield, the area that had been targeted for relief. This rendered the task of economic regeneration virtually impossible because, by excluding the urban centres, the legislation excluded the focal points of development and ignored the inter-dependence between places within the region. In fact, south-east Wales presents a classic case of the spatial inter-dependence of regional economies.

Cities are not self-sufficient entities no matter how much they pretend to be, and this is especially true of Cardiff. Indeed, few cities have been as dependent on their regional hinterland as the Welsh capital. Without the dramatic growth of the coalfield in the south Wales Valleys, there would have been no commercial logic for the Bute family to build port facilities and, without export facilities, Cardiff would never have become a ‘coal metropolis’ in the early years of the 20th Century.

Although the city and the Valleys were mutually dependent from the outset, the nature of this relationship changed radically after 1920, when in employment terms the coalfield peaked. Thereafter the economic flows from the Valleys to the city were decreasingly of products in search of an export market and increasingly of people in search of a labour market. But these flows were not confined to the prosaic world of work. Over time these travel-to-work flows from the Valleys to the city were complemented by travel-to-shop, travel-to-travel and travel-to-play flows as Cardiff developed into a larger and more varied consumption centre for the region as a whole, particularly for young people.

If the centre of economic gravity was shifting from the coalfield to the coast, politicians in the coalfield were loath to acknowledge the fact. Instead of capitalising on the growing interdependence between the city and its hinterland, politicians in the Valleys were more likely to frame their interests in self-referential terms. Imagining regional development to be a zero sum game, they saw Cardiff’s gains as the Valleys’ losses, even though their respective labour markets were becoming increasingly entwined.

This zero sum mentality helps to explain the antipathy in parts of the Valleys to the development of Cardiff Bay, which was thought to have benefited from public investment that might otherwise have been deployed to regenerate the deprived communities of the upper Valleys. To allay these fears the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation  sought to present the Bay as a boon not just for the city but for the city-region as a whole, a strategy that might have been more credible if the region had an integrated public transport network that made connectivity routinely available to all.

The concept of the city-region made its Welsh political debut in 2004, when it was positively endorsed in the Wales Spatial Plan as a strategy for south east Wales The region was referred to as “the capital network” because the Welsh Government could not bring itself to say the Cardiff City-Region. The section on the city-region combined a factual statement about the present with an aspiration for the future, when it said:

“South East Wales is Wales’ most populous area. It is characterised by major economic and social disparities. The coastal zone is now the main economic driver, and its competitiveness needs to be sustained to help raise the economic potential of Wales as a nation. The heavy commuting flows between the Valleys and the coast mean that the area functions as an interdependent but unplanned urban network. This gives rise to pressure on the transport infrastructure. Cardiff is a relatively small capital city. It is important for Wales as a whole that Cardiff becomes significant internationally, but to do this requires a much greater ‘mass’ of population and activity. Already, Cardiff has a close functional relationship with its immediate neighbouring towns, particularly Barry, Pontypridd and Caerphilly. This needs to be built on constructively, making Cardiff the focal point of a coherent and successful urban network in south east Wales, enabling it to share its prosperity… The area will function as a single networked city-region on a scale to realise its international potential, its national role and to reduce inequalities”.

Had the concept of a ‘single networked city-region’ been acted upon in 2004, Wales would have found itself in the vanguard of city-regionalism in the UK. It wasn’t and Wales was reduced to being a laggard instead of a leader. Although the ten local authorities in south east Wales have been collaborating in a loose fashion on a wide range of activities – such as public transport, spatial planning, economic development and waste management – this fell well short of what was happening in leading city-regions, like Manchester in England and Stuttgart in Germany.

Why is Wales embracing the city-region concept now? The answer has three parts – intellectual climate, cross-border competition and a new political commitment on the part of the Welsh Government.

As regards intellectual climate it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that governing élites around the world have been gripped in recent years by what we might call metrophillia, such is the pro-urban bias in developmental narratives today.  Some of the most influential books on economic development – like Triumph of the City by Ed Glaeser, and The Metropolitan Revolution by Bruce Katz for example – have unreservedly extolled the role of cities and city-regions in promoting wealth, health and even happiness! To support this pro-urban policy bias, economists have pointed to the strong correlation between productivity, innovation and agglomeration, furnishing an economic rationale for burgeoning urbanisation.

Cross-border competition also played a part because the Core Cities in England began to embrace the city-region concept after Labour’s preferred model of English devolution – elected regional assemblies – was defeated in the north-east referendum in 2004. Through a series of bespoke ‘city deals’ with Whitehall, the Core Cities have been acquiring new powers to regenerate their metropolitan economies, putting urban areas in Wales at a competitive disadvantage.

The combination of intellectual climate and cross-border competition revived the city-region concept in Wales, where policy-makers were receptive to anything that could boost the fortunes of the Welsh economy. The most tangible sign of this new political commitment came in Autumn 2011, when the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport Edwina Hart asked Dr Elizabeth Haywood to chair a City Regions Task and Finish Group to explore the applicability of the city-region concept to economic development in Wales (a group of which I was a member).  Published the following July, the report issued a total of 22 recommendations, the most important of which was the green light given to the creation of city-regions in south east Wales and Swansea Bay.

As well as identifying potential economic benefits, the report argued that a city-region would also allow for a more strategic approach to planning, learning and skills, transport and housing allocation, all of which needed to be planned on a regional rather than a local scale. The thrust of these arguments was generally well received, a positive reaction that was confirmed in October 2012 when a plenary debate in the National Assembly demonstrated broad cross-party support for the conclusions of the City Regions Final Report. This was the surest sign that the age of the city-region had officially dawned in Wales.

The end of the beginning of city-regionalism in Wales was the launch of the City-Region Boards. The Swansea Bay Board was launched on 18 July 2013 comprising the Leaders of the four local authorities in the area together with four representatives from the business community and two from the higher education sector. The launch of the City-Region Board in South East Wales was more protracted, not least because there were ten local government Leaders in the region but only four local government seats on the board. In the event Mrs Hart agreed four local government representatives with Councillor Bob Wellington, the Leader of the Welsh Local Government Association.

Having resolved the local government dilemma, the Minister unveiled the full City-Region Board in a statement to the National Assembly in November 2013 and listed in the Panel on the facing page.

One of the many imponderables facing the new City-Region Boards is the impending report from the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery chaired by Sir Paul Williams. This is widely expected to recommend a radical reduction in the number of local authorities in Wales – from the current 22 to fewer than half that number perhaps. The uncertain fate of local government structures was one reason why Mrs Hart decided to leave the operational details of the City-Region Boards to be fleshed out at a later point in time. But such details – particularly with respect to which powers they will assume and what resources they will have at their disposal – will make or break these fledgling bodies. The Welsh Government has a dual role to play in shaping the future evolution of city-regionalism because, as the Haywood Report said, “it must both drive the city region agenda and delegate powers and responsibilities to the city regions”.

It would be a great shame if the political agenda in south east Wales got side tracked into a petty squabble about the name of the city-region. Around the world city regions tend to brand themselves around the name of the largest and best known city, which suggests that the name ought to be the Cardiff City Region rather than the anonymous placeless landscape conjured up by the Wales Spatial Plan, which referred to “the capital network”.

A more ambitious agenda would be for the city-region debate to focus on substantive issues, such as social, economic and ecological projects that could have a transformative effect on the region’s health, wealth and wellbeing. Three such projects spring to mind.

Top of the list of potentially transformative projects is the south Wales Metro, which is so much more than a mere transport project. As Mark Barry and his colleagues in the Metro Consortium have argued, the Metro affords an opportunity to develop denser and better connected communities around Metro stations, thereby reducing car use and relieving road congestion.  Among the many ingredients needed for a successful Metro, innovative finance and political consensus are arguably the most important and the City Region Board would be well advised to address these two issues without delay.

If better connectivity is the first priority, then a close second is innovation and economic development. A potentially transformative city-region project in this category is the new Innovation Campus being designed by Cardiff University, with its twin sites at Maindy Road and Heath Park. Although the Innovation Campus is physically located in Cardiff, it is designed to be a resource for the city, the region and the nation as a whole because, with its accent translational research, it will help to pioneer the knowledge economy across Wales. Among other things, it will also help to secure funds from Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation programme, offering commercial opportunities to firms throughout the country.

Green infrastructure played a major role in fashioning the Stuttgart city-region because it allowed municipalities to integrate their local parks into a seamless regional landscape park, a process that did much to overcome the parochialism of local mayors. The Valleys Regional Park presents a similar opportunity to local authorities in south east Wales because, as well as being an untapped resource for health and wellbeing, it is a major piece of green infrastructure that needs to be viewed and valued in terms of its potential contribution to eco-system services.

While each of these projects addresses a different theme – namely connectivity, innovation, and sustainability – their common denominator is the fact that they are projects that have transformative potential on a city-regional scale as opposed to projects of purely local significance.

Kevin Morgan is a Professor in the School of Planning and Geography at Cardiff University, where he is the Dean of Engagement. He is also the City-Region adviser to Edwina Hart, Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, and adviser to the Board of the South East Wales City Region.

31 thoughts on “Putting Cardiff and the Valleys on the map together

  1. Classic smoke and mirrors, once again. The creation of ‘city-regions’ is essentially a Labour blueprint for maintaining its political power. The idea that this is good for Cardiff, and thus Wales, is incredibly myopic. Linking Cardiff and Newport in some limp Severnside agreement with Bristol will satisfy a few businessmen and academics, but will do very little for the public at large. Wales desperately needs infrastructural change to link up its smaller semi-urban and rural communities, not some hair-brained, ivory tower scheme that concentrates time and attention on its (relatively) wealthier south east. There may be smiles in Llandaf but Llangefni will be ignored, as usual. City-Regionalism ( or M4-ism) would stagnate our economy for decades to come, not rejuvenate it through decentralisation and community empowerment. But those who hold power in Cardiff Bay will steamroller this ‘city region’ project through, and brand it as a panacea. How sad!

  2. Agree with geraint. Its the latest buzz-word. There was a lot of talk of city regions in the late 1980s and early 1990s too.

    I tend to view part of it driven by a Labour agenda to undermine Welsh nationality. Very suspicious of the whole idea to be honest. It’ll daw everything into Cardiff. As Geraint says its smoke and mirrors and a charter for property developers.

    If Labour were serious about spreading economic regeneration then there are some simple things they could do such as changing procurment sandards which could be more favourable to more local and smaller businesses.

    To affect any change in the Welsh economy we have to make structural change. That can only be done through taxation. That’s the only thing that works, all these schemes, and initiative and consultations we’ve had from Labour’s government have made virtually no change. Of course, running taxation (and control over natural resources) are two things Labour don’t want because that could undermine the British state and the gravy-train which Labour MPs enjoy.

    City-regions? Waste of time.

  3. Isn’t Dr Elizabeth Haywood the wife of Labour MP and former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain? Why should she have been asked to chair a City Regions Task and Finish Group? Same old names/families and political links.

    I sincerely hope that funding will not be re-directed from west Wales to realise this vanity project in the south east of Wales!

  4. The author notes that our current predicament is “a deep developmental failure in Wales and a devastating indictment of 80 years of British regional policy. Indeed, if nothing improves in the coming generation, the south Wales Valleys will have to confront the anniversary from hell: a hundred years of relative economic decline.” The nail is hit firmly on the hit, but, Professor Morgan, that’s Unionist ineptitude for you. So what is the alternative? Will we create something that will allow us to regenerate and safely re-enter the economic waters? No. We have the Labour cracach churning out the moribund City-Region concept. I spoke with a businessman from Newport a few days ago who said “we should be bold and look at linking and twinning with like-minded nations, such as Catalonia, to kickstart our economy and re-invigorate our civil society”. Fat chance. We are more obsessed with navel-gazing and looking as far afield as Bristol (?) for solutions. One day this bubble of naivety and complacency will inevitably burst.

  5. Geraint Carey, What a depressing reaction to Kevin Morgan’s sketch of the immense possibilities inherent in the city region concept. If we are going to debate our economic future on the basis of, Is it Cardiff or Llangefni? we might as well give up. Those who think in terms of these zero sum games are the real enemies of progress. If there is a prospect of turning around, economically and socially, the most concentrated area of multiple-deprivation in the United Kingdom, we must seize it, and stop pretending that it is the rest of the world that is out of step with us.

  6. I’m stunned by Geraint Talfan Davies’ comments. Also utterly amazed that the IWA is wasting time and resources discussing something for which, to paraphrase Owen Smith, “there’s no appetite in Wales”. Professor Morgan is retreading a re-tread, and his comment that “had the concept of a ‘single networked city-region’ been acted upon in 2004, Wales would have found itself in the vanguard of city-regionalism in the UK. It wasn’t and Wales was reduced to being a laggard instead of a leader”, defies belief. Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t it a Labour Government at Westminster dealing with a Labour Government in Cardiff that controlled the decison making processes in 2004. Can we now move away from city-regionalism and talk about our nation? Apologies if it upsets the politicos of Llandaf but Llangefni and hundereds of areas like it do actually matter. Mention city-regions there and you’ll experience despair and disillusionment. So can we now please have a national vision, not a jaded CF one?

  7. Firstly, thank you Kevin for giving this long and sad saga an historical and intellectual perspective: it gives a context to the past four years or more where Cardiff Civic Society has been beavering away on the subject.

    CCS recognised very early on when considering Cardiff’s Local Development Plan (sorry, I should say plans because there have been a few!) that although the system allowed for, encouraged – indeed in its tests of ‘soundness’ demands – a regional approach, local authorities, including Cardiff, merely paid lip service to the notion. We had two political parties claiming the process was not fit for purpose as a regional planning tool, whilst they did everything to ignore the possibility, that yes, they could.

    CCS were lobbying Welsh Government ministers (more than one since the responsibilities are so siloed) for a city region approach to planning and economic development. CCS lobbied equally hard for the se Wales metro. We were fobbed off repeatedly, until – lo and behold – task and finish groups popped up all over the place.

    In less than a year the climate has changed, thank goodness. But there is still a long way to go – as is shown by the continued zero sum responses to this article. Later this week CCS will be publishing its latest response to the Cardiff LDP which will directly challenge the single-council insularity approach.
    We have yet another new team at Cardiff Council. There has never been a better time for grasping the challenges of repairing the failures of the past 80 years, for the city to start repaying its debts to its neighbours.

    As for names? Cardiff Civic Society has been uncomfortable for some time that its name implies just the parochial approach that it seeks to address in terms of these issues. All suggestions welcome. But Cardiff City Region Civic Society does not slip lightly off the tongue.

    Peter Cox, vice-chair, Cardiff Civic Society

  8. It is a measure of the depth of cynicism that exists in Wales that the first four contributions in this debate are dismissive of the need for economic development in our country.

    But there is one economic fact that none of these contributors addressed. Wales’ GVA is only three quarters that of the UK as a whole. We are a comparatively poor country and if we wish to live a better quality of life in Wales, then we need to start earning more and improve the living standards of the population as a whole.

    So let us start with Geraint Carey. I’m assuming you live on Ynys Môn because of your reference to Llangefni. It is the case that the island has one of the lowest GVAs in Wales so your feelings of being ignored and neglected have a basis in reality. It is also the case that when the Millennium Heritage Money was being dished out, Cardiff got a Stadium and a Performing Arts Centre whereas Gwynedd got a narrow gauge tourist railway. Don’t get me wrong, I love narrow gauge steam railways. But if I had been living in the area at the time, I would have got the message that the underlying problems in the local economy were not being taken seriously.

    That said, if I’m looking to take action to turn the poverty around, I’m not going to start in Llangefni. South East Wales is, as Kevin Morgan points out, the most populous region of Wales and therefore has the greatest potential to generate the higher levels of national income that we need.

    As to Urien, are you seriously suggesting that if we get government and councils to buy more local produce then we are going to improve our national income by a third to catch up with the rest of the UK? You mention taxation as being the only thing that works. What taxation are you referring to? And how would a taxation policy provide the funds we need for investment? You seem to be long on criticism and short on viable alternatives. And you are not alone. Mark O’Shea is fond of invective but could only offer twinning with Catalonia as the solution to our economic difficulties.

    I am a supporter of the Cardiff City Region but I am a cautious one. We have had many years of European regional development funding that has had very little long-term impact. A report published a year or two back showed it was poor economic management and a lack of strategic thinking that was responsible for this. If the City Region is to succeed, then it needs to avoid these previous mistakes and focus on delivering strategic targets that help to free up our capacity to increase the national income and demonstrate a palpable improvement in our living standards.

  9. I tend to view part of it driven by a Labour agenda to undermine Welsh nationality. Very suspicious of the whole idea to be honest.

    If Dr Haywood was involved with this, you can guarantee that it will attempt to undermine Welsh nationality. Didn’t she campaign against the setting up of the Assembly pre ’97? What’s happened to the other idea to undermine Welsh nationality? The Chester City region encompassing north east Wales. And no doubt, it won’t be long before they want to submerge the Cardiff City Region into a Severn-Side City Region straddling the Wales/England border – a dream for the anti-Wales brigade. These people are the enemies of Wales and the Welsh. Why do they have such a strong voice in our country

  10. The City Region is not a new concept in planning circles. Check the writings of Lewis Mumford from the 1930s which is the trajectory of Kevin Morgan’s article. I was surprised that he went as far back as the 1934 Special Areas Act in terms of historic background, but it makes sense in the context of where planners have been coming from during the past 70-odd years, if not longer.

    A model is needed to discuss the dynamics of urban growth. So why not put Cardiff and the Valleys forward as a proposal. Some elements might work work, others may not. One might also consider a Cardiff-Swansea linear concept: the same arguments apply. The important thing is to engage in discussion of the situation, not the model.

    Admittedly, I was surprised that the Wales Spatial Plan of 2004 had found its way onto the shelf. But these things happen for one reason or another, including a disastrous period recently when the economy tanked. Grand schemes have a tendency to be placed on the shelf when you’re fighting for economic survival. It shouldn’t be that way, but it happens.

    Part of the difficulty here is that Cardiff is perceived as hogging the show. Why not consider other models for the less densely populated areas of Wales from the perspective of equity in economic growth. It bothers me, for example, that Wrexham has to focus discussion of economic development on a proposed prison. This is where the the Spatial Plan for Wales had some merit as a model for discussion.

    Wales has moved on since 2004, so has the rest of the world. The city region concept swings in and out of vogue. The discussion has to start somewhere, so give Kevin Morgan the credit for putting an idea on the table, and consider extending the discussion to other ‘urban areas’ of Wales in the interests of equity of opportunity.

  11. @ David

    Perhaps I’m slow on the uptake but you’re really going to have to explain how the need for economic development and the appropriate agencies to deliver that development undermine Welsh identity. Perhaps you could also help by stating which identity or identities are being undermined by a Cardiff Capital Region.

  12. R B Jones (with your condescending views): Just to inform you I’m not from Llangefni, but I have something that you may not understand; it is called national empathy and solidarity. I apologise to IWA members and contributors, because I know you don’t do “national”, but that;s the way I think. So, let us toast the city-region; another Labour failure waiting to collapse on its own hyperbole,.

  13. Brevity with clarity: Professor Kevin Morgan’s article is ‘spot on’.

    I say this unequivocally by referring to my own research

    Incidentally, my roots come from a farming background in rural Mid-Wales. There needs to be a different solution for rural Wales. The Powys Growth Zone is a positive initiative. And let’s not forget the positive work of organisations such as, for example, Planed in Pembrokeshire.

    I note a number of references to North Wales in the responses. What about the impact of ‘Energy Island’, the land & lakes development http://www.newsnorthwales.co.uk/news/131763/land-lakes-development-set-to-go-ahead-after-welsh-government-decision.aspx , Surf Snowdonia http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-23703102 etc., etc.

    Wearing my regeneration practitioner hat, it is recognised that ”growth is uneven, but development can be inclusive”. That is why I refer to Cardiff as being the capital for Wales rather than the capital of Wales.

  14. @ Geraint Carey Davies

    My apologies if you found my comments condascending; that was not my intention. The point I was trying to make was that if someone lives on Ynys Môn, they are not going to be jumping for joy at the thought of a Cardiff Capital Region. Any effect that this project may have on the North West is going to be negligible at best. But the fact that it cannot solve all the nation’s economic difficulties is not a reason for dismissing it. Wealth generation has to start somewhere and the South-East is the best place to start.

    I don’t know why you feel the need to apologise for your opinions, you have the same right to express your views as anyone else. But you’re right when you say I don’t understand what is meant by national empathy and solidarity. I can sit in my tidy little semi on the outskirts of Cardiff and wring my hands over the poverty of opportunity faced by areas such as Blaenau Gwent, Dyfed or Ynys Môn but I don’t see how that helps the people who live there, even if it might make me feel better.

    What are needed are practical and sustainable projects and programmes that make a difference to people’s living standards. That’s why I’m surprised that you are so dismissive of a project before it’s even had a chance to get off the ground.

  15. Heavens above – everyone is right and wrong. It’s not complicated. Let me spell it out. Wales has limited resources of capital and skilled people so it cannot develop everywhere at once. It makes sense to start with the area of greatest deprivation and high population, hence the Cardiff region concept. That does not threaten Welsh nationhood half as much as continued economic decline and young people emigrating to England. But it is not enough. Why not declare two growth poles, one centered on Cardiff and a second on Menai, linking energy island with Bangor as a centre of research and training? Send Mark Barry up to devise the North Wales metro. Then for God’s sake let’s stop moaning and prevaricating and get on with both.

  16. Idris Davies got the measure of it:

    In Cardiff at dawn the sky is moist and grey
    And the baronets wake from dreams of commerce,
    With commercial Spanish grammar on their tongues;
    And the west wind blows from the sorrowful seas,
    Carrying Brazilian and French and Egyptian orders,
    Echoing the accents of commercial success,
    And shaking the tugs in the quay.
    Puff, little engine, to the valleys at daybreak,
    To northward and westward with a voice in the dawn,
    And shout to the people that prosperity’s coming,
    And that coal can be changed into ingots of gold,
    And that Cardiff shall be famous when the sun goes down.

  17. @ Robert I Chapman

    I was very interested in your reference to Powys and in particular the Powys Growth Zone. I shall follow up on your references. My own interest is in viewing Brecon and the Marcher Towns of Builth Wells, Llandrindod and Newtown as part of Cardiff Capital Region’s rural hinterland and to what extent a new railway line linking these towns could help them benefit from the anticipated growth of the Capital Region.

  18. It’s easy to wave aside those not convinced by this city region initiative as thinking in zero sum terms.

    However, is it as easy for advocates of a Cardiff City Region to list what, for example, the Metro will bring to the Valleys communities besides returning commuters, shoppers and weekend revelers who are willing and able to undertake a two hour return journey.

    I’m supportive of a more integrated approach but even the term “City Region” applied to a region with a primate city ( disproportionately larger than any others in the urban hierarchy just in case any Cardiffians take offense) suggests the benefits will pool in one place.

    If a term something like “Region with a city” existed the thought processes and decisions encouraged by that word order would probably result in a more even spread of benefit.

  19. @ CapM

    I don’t see how the use of language results in the economic pattern you suggest. However I agree with you that the benefits to the areas outside of the capital need to be outlined. Bear in mind that we are talking about areas other than the Valleys since the Region spreads from Bridgend to Monmouth.

    The first benefit to be provided is access to work. And if the Region gets its act together, that will mean access to high quality jobs. That is not to be dismissed. However how will the Region make it easier for firms to invest in Barry, Caerphilly, Monmouth or Pontypridd? Clearly the existence of a fully functioning Metro system will facilitate the mobility of the workforce. But if Cardiff does succeed in growing its prosperity, then costs will rise for Cardiff based firms and other locations may prove attractive within the region without being disadvantaged by being inaccessible because of poor transport. However this is all speculation. Cardiff Capital Region’s first stated priority is the building of a Metro. Given the row that has broken out over Valleys Lines electrification, this is not going to be a straightforward matter.

  20. CapM: when you improve communications within an area and reduce the cost of moving both goods and people, it is quite unpredictable where the benefits will accrue. A business in Merthyr may find it hard to recruit a highly skilled person living in Cardiff until there is a cheap 20 minute commute. The point about agglomeration is benefits arise all over the conurbation.

  21. I’m wary of the concept: it’s a concentrating of eggs in the south-east Wales basket, which would be reflective of the UK as a whole in a sense, and I would not want to see the imbalance of that arrangement. If we do elect to further reinforce Cardiff’s standing through a city-region, it will still play second fiddle to Bristol in the terms of the south-west region as a whole.

  22. @ R Tredwyn
    “… it is quite unpredictable where the benefits will accrue.”
    If that is an accurate description of what those responsible for the Cardiff City Region project expect then it shouldn’t be surprising that the project is viewed with scepticism in some quarters. Especially if supporters of the project here maintain that one of the main pillars of the project is to reduce deprivation in the areas north of Cardiff.

    Given the scale, cost and degree of multi institutional change and cooperation the project demands surely the project has to identify and quantify expected outcomes. Crucial I would have thought I order to elicit the buy in from partners that is essential for success and to measure performance / review actions etc.

  23. @Rhobat Wyn Jones
    If the project is “sold” as a deprivation reducing one then I would think residents of the Vale of Glamorgan and Monmouth would not be in priority areas the project would look to effect.

    It’s probable that unless the project includes prior education and training programmes in the Valleys to produce people eligible for the quality jobs that come to the City region then workers will predominantly come from outside it’s areas of deprivation. These workers will then take advantage, and why not, of lower housing costs and the metro to move to the valleys and commute.

    Development of child minding services and systems needs to be on the agenda as well. It may take 20 mins on the Metro from Merthyr to Cardiff but door to door it’s likely to be nearer to an hour.

    A project that concentrates predominantly on the hardware will I fear have limited benefit for current residents in the Valleys but one example of a negative consequence could well be that the demand for housing by incoming workers will price many out.

  24. CapM: no use crying for the moon. Attempts to over-plan economic development have always been a failure. One can be reasonably confident that development will occur without having the detailed knowledge to predict exactly what and where it will be. Any large enterprise requires something of an act of faith and a bit of optimism. The latter is sorely lacking in Wales where too many people routinely fear the worst. That may be why no Welsh government since devolution has ever delivered a really substantial project. Suggest anything, the moaners kick off and the politicians bottle it. Logically I expect the same to happen with the Cardiff metro but I hope otherwise. I hope too they think big and go for a North Wales growth pole based on improved communication links.

  25. Perhaps we should take a step back and ask if we want to live in a mega-city?

    If so, why not go all the way and move to London or New York or Los Angeles?

    Most of us who choose to live in Cardiff do so because precisely because it is a moderately sized City, with all the advantages of cosmopolitan living but none of the disadvantages of conurbation. No wonder we do so well in quality of life surveys.

    That is why the City’s latest expansion plan – based on absurd assumptions about new employment – reflects neither the needs nor the wishes of the majority.

    As for the City-Region concept, the Devil is in the detail. It is beyond dispute that Cardiff needs to connect better with its hinterland. Sensible people have been saying as much for decades. The question is how to structure that? An undemocratic quango is not the answer, but a directly-elected authority would be a return to the evils of the old two-tier system, with authority and responsibility becoming more dispersed when the need is for focus.

    The only solution is for the leadership of the elected Assembly is lock themselves in the same room with the leaderships of the elected Councils – most of them members of the same Party – and not come out until they agree a sub-regional strategy they can all sell to their electorates.

  26. Serious regional working is already apparent and active in education (at last) in the Cardiff city region. There is now a city challenge across five local authorities, joining the capital with the Valleys in a practical new way of spreading expertise and exchanging school-led knowledge. If that works well, there could be before too long a similar city challenge across the other five south east Wales local authorities in the ‘Gwent’ consortium. That would mean all 10 authorities of the Cardiff city region would be working in a more collaborative way, with proven English city challenge ideas for school improvement breaking into the most populous and least achieving areas of Wales. Knowledge overspill becomes possible!

    This might horrify some -English models/’M4ism’/demise of traditional demarcations- but others might conclude that getting some traction in educational progress for more than half of the nation’s learners after 15 years of being The Slow Learning Country is a price worth paying for any imagined loss of localised identity and parochial control.

    Kevin Morgan and others deserve support and encouragement for the call to a better tomorrow. The past is another country (of depression, poverty and national insecurity); the city region is the future. “Let us not waste time in idle discourse” or our kids too will have their whole lifetime ruined by more feeble strategic leadership and a paucity of imagination. To the corrosively cynical nay-sayers on this website I can only say; “You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” City regions are an opportunity for no regrets for the whole of Wales. I’m with Kevin because he is with the future.

  27. @ R.Tredwyn
    Expecting a project which identifies itself (in part) as a method by which deprivation is reduced to back itself with details of outputs, targets and to identify social development requirements to compliment the concrete to be poured is “crying for the moon” !

    ” One can be reasonably confident that development will occur without having the detailed knowledge to predict exactly what and where it will be.”
    I can be very confident that development will not occur for those who remain unprepared for the new quality jobs and those unable to make use of a Metro to get to them to them.

    “Any large enterprise requires something of an act of faith and a bit of optimism.”
    True but it should not sum up the business plan.
    To me this fingers crossed attitude appears to fall into the same sort of category as the deceit of “Trickle down economics”

  28. @ CapM

    Thanks for the rechristening.

    You seem to have difficulty with the idea that a project such as this can have more than one aim. Deprivation may not be top of the agenda in the Vale or Monmouth but quality of life is. The point is however that to develop a city region, we need an integrated transport station that makes it easier for people to travel to jobs wherever that may be. This is presumably the reason why the Capital Region Board has decided to make this its first priority. This does not mean that this is all that is required since there will be a need to develop different sectors of the economy and we will need to attract investment or even provide it ourselves via a development bank. But we need to start somewhere and a Metro is a good a place as any.

  29. @Rhobat Bryn Jones
    Apologies – I know a few “Wyn Jones” , I must have been typing on auto pilot.

    I’ve no problem in understanding that this project can have more than one aim after all I’ve been arguing that it should have more aims that it appears to have. ie the aim of making sure people can take advantage of the Metro as well as actually establishing the Metro.

    Perhaps I and others are taking about deprivation because it is a very strong theme in Kevin Morgan’s article and is used to introduce the raison d’etre of the city region. The article could have used sustainable development and ecosystem services in a similar fashion. If it did we’d have a different discussion but I’d still be advocating for a process that sought to achieve the maximum benefit.

    To me there seems to be an air of – Build it and they will come – connected with the project.
    I think that we have not got the option of – Building a better one if this one doesn’t work.
    So, as far as I’m concerned we have to make sure we wring every drop of juice out of the Cardiff City Region project we do realise and we do that by simultaneously developing people and communities as well as infrastructure and partnerships.

  30. Yes but people, workers and investors, cannot take advantage of a Metro until it is established.

    I’m not sure that deprivation is the ‘raison d’être of the Cardiff Capital Region but it is certainly one of the aims of the project to reduce it if not eliminate it. It should be the aim of the region to take us out of deprivation altogether and take us all to a level where we can enjoy a good quality of life. Your points about sustainable development and ecosystem services are important ones and it will be interesting to see whether these emerge as themes as the Region develops.

    You’re right to say that there is an element of faith present in this project, we don’t know that it will work but we start on the basis that it can work if we put our minds and resources to work on it. Build it and they will come might sound over-confident but don’t build it and they will never come is a racing certainty.

    I don’t believe that we can afford to have another project running in parallel, however worthy. But what we can have is a project that is open to new ideas that will improve its prospects of success. It needs a structure but it does not have to be set in concrete.

    In the meantime, who is going to pay for the electrification of the Valleys Lines and when?

  31. In my work advocating the “metro” project, it has always been about more than transport – it’s about connecting more people to more places, enabling and/or removing obstacles to development & regeneration and encouraging modal shift. Successful examples of regional mass transit systems (e.g. Manchester, Stuttgart, etc) have also been dependant to a great extent, on the existence of robust regional bodies able to promote and develop such schemes in a strategic manner, with funding drawn from all levels of government. The work of Kevin in promoting the City Region and now the Cardiff Capital Region is an essential foundation for the development of Metro. Without such regional institutions Metro becomes much more difficult….securing the funding is only one of the challenges we face!

    Take a look at …


    to get a sense of the more holistic approach my colleagues and I have taken in developing the Metro concept to date. In an earlier report I asked for us to focus on interventions that can have the most economic impact and not succumb to homogenous mediocrity…..

    We have just started this journey and there is clearly a long way to go.

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