Rob Jones says better transport links are key to the success of a Cardiff Capital Region.
There has been much talk of innovative, and some would say left-field, transport projects aimed at providing greater connectivity within Cardiff and the wider city region.
A £100m cable car system connecting Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan to Cardiff Bay and the city centre; a sea plane scheme that could see routes established between the Bays of Cardiff and Swansea and further afield such as Cardiff to mid and north Wales via Bala Lake and Lake Vyrnwy. These ideas are admirable and demonstrate that the idea of ‘greater connectivity’ is central to people’s thinking, but are they financially realistic in these days of the cost / value equation.
This cannot be underestimated. If we are to continue developing a vibrant capital city, and ensure the concept of the city region is successful then ‘greater connectivity’ is crucial. Only by making Cardiff and the surrounding areas more accessible, by having a joined up transport plan, will investment flow (both development capital and jobs) into the region and lead to growth and opportunity.
However, what we need to ensure is an approach that is all encompassing and addresses issues in the right order.
The Welsh Government made the bold and correct decision to purchase Cardiff International Airport in March 2013 for £52m, but they now have to deliver to improve the links to Europe and beyond, particularly frequency of connections to the ‘international hub’.
As exciting a move it would be to develop a cable car scheme in Cardiff, spending £100m on this concept, at this time, may not necessarily be money well spent. After all, we have already seen such a scheme come in for sharp criticism in London, with The Guardian newspaper referring to the Emirates Airline cable car system in February 2013 as London’s £60m white elephant, reputedly losing £50,000 a week.
However, putting part of that £100m towards increased routes to Cardiff International Airport from key global locations such as the Middle East and China, and towards a rapid transport link from the airport to Cardiff city centre could be money very well spent. More links to international business hubs are crucial if we are to attract true global investment into Wales. Ultimately, if you want to raise the profile of the capital city, you need to be able to get there first. International businesses need to access their markets easily and their senior team need to be able to reach those markets quickly. The Welsh Government recognised this when it purchased the airport, now let’s take it to the next level.
In tandem with connecting to more global hubs, we need to push forward with ensuring there is connectivity within the region itself and indeed to our nearest global hub, London. By 2017, the mainline rail link to London Paddington will be electrified, cutting journey times by 15 minutes. This is vitally important and helps Cardiff compete with other major UK cities looking to grab international investment such as Birmingham and Manchester.
Plans to develop a Metro programme linking the city region are well under way and the Welsh Government is already investing £77m in the first phase with a total of £600m to be invested in the next five years via a mix of Welsh and UK Government money and EU funding. If global investment leading to jobs and opportunities is to be secured then workers from across South Wales need to be able to access those jobs, therefore making local connectivity crucial.
If we get the connectivity issue right, the possibilities are endless, leading to greater confidence in what Wales has to offer. Using Cardiff Waterside, funded by Aviva, as just one example; there is planning consent to develop additional office space at 1 Assembly Square (76,383 sq ft); 2 Assembly Square (110,462 sq ft); and 5 & 6 Pierhead Street (437,588 sq ft). Increased global investment in the region would make this additional office space and the jobs it would bring possible.
So let’s keep the topic of connectivity high on the priorities list, encourage conversations between business and government so we are striving for the same thing, and ensure the capital city and its surrounding region doesn’t symbolise ‘a road to nowhere’.