Enhancing the economic and environmental benefits of a Metro

David Llewellyn says the south Wales Metro has potential to unlock further growth for the region.

As successful city regions throughout the world, such as Stuttgart and Øresund (Copenhagen/Malmö), are increasingly demonstrating, working smarter and more innovatively with our natural environmental assets is necessary and vital for underpinning sustainable economic growth and wellbeing.

 The Cardiff Capital Region Metro provides myriad opportunities to enhance the region’s sustainability. In addition to direct reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and enhanced energy-efficient land use, effective strategic planning should enable create better connected, more cohesive communities. Moreover, the Metro affords great opportunities to maximise the potential of the region’s Green Infrastructure and tourism assets, providing both increased economic and environmental benefits, as well as improving health and well-being, and contributing to the creation of a sustainable, forward-looking city region.

It is understood that a number of options and projects are being considered for Metro, each with its own challenges and benefits. Conversion of the Rhymney Valley Line to light rail, for example, opens up the potential for more frequent services and the re-opening of the line to Treharris via Nelson to passenger services. This brief discussion paper primarily highlights two major ways in which this specific development could support the economic and environmental aims of the Metro. First, linking the Metro effectively with the environmental (and, indeed, heritage) assets that lie close or adjacent to its routes should encourage greater recreational use by local communities and, vitally, add to green growth in the region by helping to develop the still largely untapped potential of responsible tourism in the valleys. Second, development of the transportation corridors themselves can enhance the ecosystem services they provide, boosting resilience to climate change as well as creating biodiversity gains and increases in ecological connectivity.

The natural and cultural assets of the Valleys provide major opportunities to stimulate sustainable regeneration. In the Cardiff Capital Region, direct GVA from tourism is around £535 million supporting an estimated 68,700 direct FTEs. Indirect benefits of tourism extend this with multiplier impacts to a further estimated £250 million expenditure supporting approximately another 8000 FTEs. Although Cardiff generates about 40% of the direct GVA, with the coastal belt also contributing greatly, the contribution of the Valleys is nevertheless substantial. Indeed, through initiatives such as the Valleys Regional Park, the area’s natural and cultural heritage tourism offer has developed greatly in recent years. However, there remains huge scope to develop this further.

The expanding Valleys Cycle Network can develop further as a tourism attraction itself with possible developments such as the reopening of former railway tunnels across the valleys such as that between the Afan and Rhondda Fawr valleys offering great opportunities for cycling tourism particularly as attractions improve their offers for this market. The Metro can also play a key role complementing a programme of enhancement and further development of key green travel routes linking town centres and attractions such as country parks but also the wider countryside, whilst better connecting areas of housing and employment.

Development of the Metro in the Rhymney Valley, with the associated opportunity for conversion of the line across to Treharris through Nelson, will afford enhanced and promoted access to a number of key sites including country parks such as Parc Penallta, Parc Cwm Darran, and Parc Taf Bargoed, and heritage sites such as Butetown and Llancaiach Fawr.

The potential for the Metro to further unlock the tourism potential is enormous by linking cycling and walking routes with the new Light Rail line, increasing cycle parking at stations and providing the opportunities for development of new businesses such as cycle hire and accommodation close by.

These could be integrated; for example, in Belgium, the national rail company offers single B-dag TRIP tickets that offer joint rail travel and entrance to appropriate destinations (it should be borne in mind that many destinations such as museums in Wales are free although attractions such as Caerphilly Castle incur entrance fees) as well as ‘Trein + Huurfiets’ tickets which combine rail travel and bike hire that promote travel to destinations without the need for car use. In Greater Manchester, the recent tram extension to MediaCity at Salford Quays, where there are 300 cycle racks alone, has provided multimodal options linking surrounding areas with the Quays through safe cycling and walking routes.

There are increasing global examples of enhanced coordination of sustainable transportation routes and green infrastructure networks, e.g. through the Verband Region Stuttgart (VRS) in the Stuttgart city region, and in Singapore where there are proposals to preserve areas around rail routes as green corridors to mitigate the effects of ecological fragmentation.

In the US, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District near to Charlottesville, Virginia has made efforts to coordinate GI and transport planning better where the emphasis has been integrating green infrastructure improvements and strategic transport planning rather than simply seeking to offset potential adverse environmental impacts, which is mostly the case at present. In this respect, the Metro offers the chance for the Cardiff Capital Region to be in the vanguard and future-proof transport developments.

The newly-published EU Horizon 2020 programme proposals on Smart, Green and Integrated Transport emphasise the ‘growing need to make infrastructure more resilient, including to climate change, to keep pace with the growing mobility needs and aspirations of people and businesses and to reduce the impact of infrastructure on the environment (air pollution, fragmentation of ecosystems, health and noise)’ with a view to providing innovative and cost-saving approaches to use Green Infrastructure for transport.

In India, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has built a host of eco-friendly energy-efficient features into its developing Badarpur-Faridabad corridor including its first-ever ‘green’ solar sub-station at Faridabad to provide power to a 13.875-km elevated corridor of the route. As reported in Scientific American, there are new development in the US where the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia is combining regenerative braking with new developments in battery storage whilst the new Portland to Milwaukie light railway transit project is aiming to use supercapacitors for storing electricity from regenerative braking. Could similar developments in south east Wales improve energy consumption and efficiency with the intriguing possibility perhaps of producing local energy?

A recent ADAS research report highlighted the benefits of managing ‘soft estate’ areas along green infrastructure corridors adjacent to road and rail lines for enhancements in biodiversity and ecological connectivity. Moreover, it is clear that in doing so, these can also prevent flooding events and the associated negative impacts on passenger travel, such as those seen in the Cynon Valley in December 2013, which are predicted to be more likely to occur through climate change. In Nantes, which was the European Green Capital 2013 and where the current tram system was re-introduced in 1985, green spaces have been developed along the tracks to make it more attractive. In Freiburg, so-called ‘Green Trams’ run on routes where between there is grass between tracks which with adjacent tree planting similarly contributes to noise reduction and this has been combined with the development of pedestrian and cycle routes alongside.

Also within Politics and Policy