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

5 thoughts on “Metro & Me

  1. After many years and millions of pounds all we still have to show for the Metro is a pretty map.

    It is amazing how much time has been spent getting us to the point where we’ve had to ask the new franchise holder to design the whole thing for us. But, there is little doubt that there will be plenty of people, government included, who will be happy to take all the credit all the same.

    Of course there are likely benefits, but sadly we are still a long way from seeing them.

  2. L4Wales I am not really sure what you are trying to say and you appear to have limited appreciation of the work required over the last few years by a great many people to get the project to and through procurement. If you want a benefit, then look at the cranes in Pontypridd; that development is as a direct result of plans for the #southwalesmetro

    I am sure all involved would welcome constructive comments and even challenge.

  3. Thanks to the organisers for a very high quality, wide ranging debate on this major investment for south east Wales.

    It was said that the Metro is not just an infrastructure project: that it will drive agglomeration and agglomeration will drive economic growth. Agglomeration has social and environmental effects and trade-offs, as well as economic ones, including spatial land use and the future of Valley towns, that the Well-Being Act requires us to measure before making investment decisions on transport. Have we done that and do we have an agency to enable that to happen? Do we also have a project plan for public participation in the on-going decision making process?

  4. The positive effects of agglomeration can include creative spin-off business for firms in close proximity, job choice and career progression for employees and vibrant cosmopolitan culture. Negative effects can include commuting stress, social discrimination, separation and dispersal from an over-heating housing market and the siphoning of infrastructure funds to the central city and away from hinterland towns in order to counter severe congestion at the centre.

    The trade-offs between these and other costs and benefits are value choices that need to be made transparent and subject to public participation, rather than matters to be decided by political ideology or professional preference. The Metro is not just a construction project with critical paths, timelines and priorities of its own choosing.

  5. The metro is a potentially highly important project, as Mark Barry says. Everyone should wish it well and I do. As someone who attended the conference, I thought I saw a gap between the detailed work under way on planning the technical aspects of electrification of central valley lines and the broader discussion of economic and cultural benefits, which went on at a rather abstract level. There was much talk about the need for public engagement and the potential role of the creative industries, with which few would disagree. Yet questions as to what exactly metro was supposed to achieve hung in the air.

    Is there indeed an economic plan behind the metro? What would be required in terms of journey times and numbers conveyed to achieve “agglomeration” of the region, i.e. a measurable macro-economic impact? Has that question been addressed? It seems most unlikely that doubling passenger numbers, for example, would be enough to have a meaningful impact on the region’s economy. Is there any target for passenger numbers or a target for the proportion of people who travel to work by train? Is such a target achievable with the capacity expansion now planned? How far would further expansion require a reduction in fares and how would that be financed? It may be answers to these question exist in the bosom of Transport for Wales but they did not emerge at the conference.

    A couple of speeches were called “more than a railway”. If that aspiration is to be achieved the policy context for metro has to be addressed with the same attention to detail as the engineers show in making the railway operational. A railway boss will ask how many passengers he needs at what fares to make a profit given the terms of his franchise. The economic policy maker must ask a different question: what increase in rail passengers would mean that separate economic communities were really being joined up and road congestion relieved? How do we get that many passengers? What must the budget be – how much, when and where from? Reticence about money is fine in personal affairs but it is misplaced when applied to public projects of this magnitude.

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy