Metro & Me

Professor Mark Barry introduces a collection of essays and event to discuss the potential wider benefits of the South Wales Metro

On the 8th October and in partnership with Capital Law, Arup, Cardiff University and IWA, we are launching the “Metro and Me” report to frame an event dedicated to a discussion of the potential wider benefits of the South Wales Metro.  The report contains a series of essays from academics and leading regional figures focussed on the challenges and opportunities this major project presents; subjects include regional planning, housing, economic development, design, green infrastructure and culture.


I have been involved in what is currently known as the “South Wales Metro” since 2010 when the first of several reports and studies I authored or contributed to was conceived.  A Metro for Wales’ Capital City Region – Connecting Cardiff Newport and the Valleys”, was published early in 2011 by the Institute of Welsh Affairs and the now defunct Cardiff Business Partnership (which included businesses like Admiral, Legal & General & PWC) and launched at an event at Cardiff City Hall. It galvanised widespread support for investment in transport infrastructure to support the region’s economy.


To be now discussing the post procurement timetable for the implementation of the next phase of Metro just seven years later is remarkable progress given projects of this scale typically take decades to develop (and in many places fail – look at Leeds and Bristol).  So firstly, we must congratulate Welsh Government (and now Transport for Wales) on getting here and successfully securing the services of KeolisAmey to make the vision a reality.


Whist building and operating (and extending) the Metro over the next 15 years is clearly a challenge, it is not perhaps the biggest.   All of us in the Cardiff Capital Region need to fully engage in a debate about the kind of region we want to build in the next 10 to 20 years.  Clearly, much improved accessibility will help (and will require an evidence-based long-term Metro Development plan).


Strategic solutions will inevitably require new regional governance arrangements for planning, transport and economic development.  The Wales Planning Act, for example, provides for the development of a regional Strategic Development Plan which can help ensure we avoid the kind of developments that depend predominantly on car access and ownership and instead enable, in future, projects in better connected places (as a result of Metro) that have struggled to attract development in the past.  


Aside from the rail-based core of the South Wales Metro, there is perhaps the more challenging need to re-design our bus networks as part of an integrated and joined up public transport offer. I recognise there are significant organisational, institutional, commercial and legislative barriers to overcome to achieve this objective.  But we have to take this challenge head on.


However, we have deeper problems that go beyond accessibility and in many cases go back generations, related to poverty, economic inactivity, social inclusion, housing, skills, etc. We need to go much further and develop innovative regeneration programmes that reflect our unique urban geography and green infrastructure, engage local communities and exploit our artistic, cultural and industrial heritage.  


The role of the foundational economy is key here to support more traditional “bricks and mortar” interventions which can work in places like Pontypridd.  The support and encouragement of local food, tourism and culture/heritage-based economies could play a key role especially in communities like the Rhondda.  For example, I think the development of the Cwm Farm Shop in Treorchy and The Chain House cafe in Pontypridd, both focussed on high quality local produce, or Bike Park Wales developing a new tourism offer near Pentrebach, could provide a template. Collectively, it is perhaps in these spaces we can begin to shape our new future.


The “Metro and Me” Event on 8th October will begin to unpack some of these challenges and opportunities and perhaps help to better articulate the question the region faces.  For example, what sort of homes does the region need, where should we build them; what sort of economy do we want or will we get, and what sort of jobs and skills does that imply; how do we build a new future for the region whilst respecting and engaging all its communities.


In this space it is not just Welsh Government and Transport for Wales who have to lead, the city region and all its local authorities must also take up the challenge to help develop collectively a coherent response to the challenge and the opportunities.  This means a statutory Strategic Development Plan and a complementary Metro Development Strategy so that we start to locate homes, jobs, shops, public services, visitor attractions, etc  in places that can be easily connected with good quality and environmentally friendly public transport.   


It also means finding room for innovation in economic development and regeneration through a plan that integrates traditional bricks and mortar projects with interventions that can support and grow the foundational economy across the whole region.  I would like to think that some of the experience and expertise manifest in the Metro and Me document can be leveraged in doing so. I also know Cardiff University can play a larger role.


So, as exemplified by the collection of essays in the “Metro and Me” publication accompanying the event, we must view the Metro as more than a transport project and as catalyst for change, so we can begin to develop a region fit for the 21st Century and our Future Generations. I am optimistic we can, in fact we don’t have a choice. We must. 


The Metro and Me report is available to read here.


The Metro and Me Event on 8th October and associated Publication are being developed with the support of:  Capital Law, Arup, Prof Mark Barry, Cardiff University, IWA and Geraint Talfan Davies.

The event’s sponsors include: TfW, KeolisAmey, JLL, Mott MacDonald, Acorn, Freshwater, Cogitamus, The Urbanists, Icomera, The Cardiff Capital Region and Furrer+Frey.


Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Mark Barry is Professor of Practice in Connectivity at Cardiff University’s School of Geography & Planning

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