Economic Impacts of The South Wales Metro?

These are the “rough notes”  (so apologies for grammar, etc) I used for my speech at the Wales in London event held at The Shard on 14th March 2018



Mark Barry, Professor of Practice in Connectivity, Cardiff University; Founder, M&G Barry Consulting and Author, “A Metro for Wales’ Capital City Region – Connecting Cardiff, Newport and The Valleys” and The Metro Impact Study

Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to you this evening.
Unusually I’m not going to speak for very long today, I think some people have heard too much of me on Metro the last few years.

First of all, a disclaimer given that the procurement for the W&B franchise and South Wales Metro is still in progress and I have previously been involved in aspects of that work, I can’t discuss any specific details relating to the procurement or any specific solution… but I can talk about all my original ideas set out in My 2013 Metro Impact Study and my more recent musings re A Swansea Bay Metro.




It seems I am the warm up act for Sir Terry Morgan who, I understand, has been building some sort of railway?!

Crossrail first announced when I was living in Leyton in 1987….

…. after a hiatus in 90s it will open later this year! 30 years later!

So clearly Infrastructure takes time…but as in the case of Crossrail, the wait is worth it.
And soon MTR will be operating rail services right across London – connecting South Wales to the City and Canary Wharf.

So yes, infrastructure takes time…and some infrastructure takes even longer than Crossrail.

The Great Wall of China took hundreds of years from 2nd Century BC through to the 17th Century at the end of the Ming dynasty.

The only thing that may take longer than that are perhaps:

……. a new runway at Heathrow? Or a Tidal Lagoon in Swansea Bay!!
Even the South Wales Metro is older than most people think.


South Wales Metro Background
& Prof Marquand


I have been working on the South Wales Metro since 2010 – not long at all really, a blink of an eye.

A Metro for Wales’ Capital City Region – Connecting Cardiff Newport and The Valleys was published in 2011 with the Cardiff Business Partnership and Institute of Welsh Affairs.
In fact, at the launch event in March that year at Cardiff City Hall, Sir Terry kindly agreed to speak.

But I am not the first to present such ideas; Prof Marquand, in his 1936 book, “South Wales Needs a Plan” said…

“… a more rapid movement of population up and down the valleys must be encouraged, so as to save the inhabitants of the northern towns from economic isolation. How that rapidity of movement can best be secured should be decided by an authority responsible for a co-ordinated transport service throughout the Region. No such authority exists.” (p48)

“…. perhaps the Ministry of Transport could be asked to report whether it would be best to electrify the railways.”

“With rapid transport, it should be no more difficult for workers from Aberdare or Ebbw Vale to reach Cardiff or Newport than it is for clerks to travel to their daily work in the City of London from Wimbledon or Ealing”

”… political and social institutions have failed to adopt themselves with sufficient rapidity to the economic changes that have taken place. One small symptom of this is the maintenance of local government boundaries which have long lost their significance and of authorities which are inadequate to the larger tasks which need to be undertaken.”(p209)



All alarmingly relevant today – in fact those quotes would not look out of place had they been uttered yesterday. Clearly, ideas are easy to produce – but much harder to implement.

A key focus for Marquand and for me, for Welsh Government, in fact anyone interested in infrastructure investments are the economic impacts and benefits – and jobs and access to jobs is key.

In all my Metro work I was always focussed on the economic and regeneration benefits for South East Wales – infrastructure for its own sake is no good to anyone!



My 2013 Metro Impact Study specifically looked at wider economic and regeneration benefits across the whole region – so not just Cardiff as some claim!



So What is “The South Wales Metro?”



Subject to the conclusion of the current procurement (which I can’t discuss in detail!) Metro will happen, with the next phase focussed on core valley lines north of Cardiff:
Faster, more frequent services


More capacity


More efficient services


More stations


An extendible network



A mix of modes – with yes, some Light Rail where that is the most appropriate solution


Connecting more people to more places, more easily, more often.

The focus for WG/TfW and the winning ODP will be building and operating a “railway”.
On its own and as set out I am sure in the business plan, this will deliver clear transport benefits…

These will derive from improved accessibility benefits through lower generalised journey times (faster services and higher frequencies, new stations and over the longer-term network extensions) and an improved environmental profile Vs today.

However, the region must view “Metro” as more than just a transport project.
It can and must be a catalyst for a range of complementary interventions…

Some obvious and easy…

…. Others not so obvious and much harder…and often ignored because of that!


So firstly, on the economy…


What the next phase of Metro does is provide better connectivity between Cardiff and the valleys north of Cardiff, connecting more people to more places.

Making it easier for an employee to get to work in more places and as an employer you’ll have more choices of where you can base your business.

This is important as one of the challenges for the region is the lack of productivity in the region.

The GVA per capita for the South East Wales region is about 80% of the UK average; and I use those figures guardedly and recognise their limitations (and need for other measures)

That ranges from the mid 50% in the Heads of the Valleys which is clearly an issue, but to only just now ~90% in Cardiff – which is also an issue.

My assertion, and data does support this to a certain extent, is the problem the region’s got, is that all those new jobs created in Cardiff over the last 10 years (15,000 or so) are not high enough value.  They are in fact on average lower paid that the average for new jobs across the UK over the same period!

In fact, these jobs shouldn’t be in Cardiff at all, they should be in Newport or Pontypridd, or Merthyr or Bridgend, and the reason they are not is, whilst Cardiff has some good connectivity, some of our other towns and settlements have got really bad connectivity.



An example, if you live in St Mellons or Ely in Cardiff and you don’t have a car, you are never going to work in Pontypridd which is only 10 miles away.

This is denying Pontypridd employees – in a place that’s at the heart of the valleys.
We are also restricting Cardiff’s ability to attract and create more high value jobs the region needs (creative, professional services, etc) in the location in the region most likely to be able to support them.

Metro can help as it will over time make it easier to get to places you wouldn’t consider today without a car, and even in the car, peak time congestion rules it out. It gives both employers and employees more choice.

This will result in agglomeration benefits through enabling a better connected and more efficient labour market.

On the easy end of the scale this can be clearly seen in Cardiff City Centre – we can see the cranes already;  Metro will help make this one of the best located and most accessible locations in the region for the most people.



However, I think Metro will also help Pontypridd  and yes, traditional agglomeration economics will work here.

For example…
More people will be able to get to Pontypridd more quickly, easily and more reliably from both Cardiff and the Heads of the Valleys – and Pontypridd is at the heart of the valleys & the core of the valley line network.

With grade A office space rising in cost in Cardiff (now ~£24/sq ft and expecting to move toward £30/sqft cf Bristol) maybe the next place we can support activity with better connectivity is somewhere like Pontypridd that will support much lower commercial rents.

Together, this may attract some employment from Cardiff (esp. if there are more stations in Cardiff to enable more people to more easily get to Pontypridd).

Already TfW will base itself in the new offices in Pontypridd and the winning ODP will base some activities there.

This will have a positive impact on Pontypridd’s high street through higher footfall and will encourage a range of secondary activities and enable whole range of physical and social regeneration measures…

I also expect to see further commercial entities base themselves in the town as a result.
I also hope and expect more housing to be delivered in Pontypridd and along the rail corridor south toward Cardiff.



The Treforest Industrial estate could see a reconfiguration for mixed use and residential aligned to Metro and new services and stations.

This is far more sustainable and environmental friendly than the traditional low density car-based housing developments we have seen in the region – and are still seeing coming forward.

To do so, we need to pool and deploy our resources across the region more effectively and sustainably; to plan and deliver on a statutory basis regional matters like spatial planning, transport planning and economic development.

And as the Valleys Task Force reported, Pontypridd needs a focus and concerted effort to assist its sustainable regeneration.

So, Metro can help the economy, and do so in a way that can stimulate public and private sector investment in ways and places that perhaps wouldn’t be possible today.

This is the traditional accessibility based, bricks and mortar impact of infrastructure.
And so, yes, the “agglomeration” benefits are real and will help some people in some places.



Tough Challenges


…but yes, I recognise Metro will not directly help everyone and everywhere.

Rather than argue against the Metro on that basis, lets bank the “easier” benefits and use the Metro as a catalyst to address the more challenging problems.

…. Places like Maerdy, Tredegar, etc have been struggling since the 1980s and parts of Cardiff like Ely and Llanrumney have challenges on a similar scale to those valley communities.

So please, it’s not about Cardiff Vs the Valleys (which an easy narrative to fall into – but it’s not very productive)

It’s about capturing the easier and obvious benefits for the region (wherever they are) and working harder to create new benefits.

And this is hard.

The “easy” hard infrastructure and realisation of agglomerative benefits has to be supported by more nuanced and sophisticated economic development and regeneration across South East Wales – and yes that includes some interventions that support local economies.

Just throwing up buildings or sheds won’t do it!

As others have been calling for, we need more locally focussed interventions, based on people and their communities, history and geography.


However, it will be easier to do the hard stuff and address long standing issues in Porth and Maerdy if we can secure the easier and positive benefits of Metro in Pontypridd.



Metro Placemaking & History…


Who are we?



In addressing these tough challenges, I think the most interesting conversation we need to have, and again alluded to in Professor Marquand’s book, is a conversation about social interactions, culture, what do people feel about this place?

We have a great history of local communities and allegiance to local communities across the whole region, especially in the valleys.

If we are going to use Metro to build a connected region with new infrastructure and put some hard-edged governance in place, we need a conversation with people about what that means.

What does it mean to someone living in Grangetown versus Nelson versus Abercwmboi versus Porth, etc.


Where do I live? Where do I go? How do I feel about this new big connected place we are creating?

Is there any cultural assignment to the “Cardiff Capital Region”?

I’m not sure there is at the moment ….

A hundred years ago I think there was sense of place for South East Wales….

Most people in 1910 in SE Wales were involved in Coal Industry;  the resulting economic dividend was perhaps more evenly shared;  this helped create a single sense of place.

There was even a political manifestation in the Glamorgan Authority.

That has been fragmented since the 1930s…and is still a problem/challenge today.

The answer won’t come from a civil servants’ clipboard; it needs to come from people and communities all over the region.

The metro could be a catalyst to frame such a conversation….



And to ask questions…

What will it mean for me and my community if it is easier to travel around the region – to Cardiff, to Merthyr, to Pontypridd, from valley to valley, etc.

We need to have to have a wider conversation with all the stakeholders in the region about what this place is, because people don’t feel engaged by a hard-edged conversation about governance and infrastructure.

Instead we need to have a conversation that says, you may live in Nelson or Porth or Blackwood, but you can get to/from there much more easily now, and that allows you to do things, to study, to work, to play, to access our green infrastructure in ways you couldn’t before.

In doing so I think there is a major role for arts and community groups to “take on” these questions…



And there are opportunities for new economic activities.




Story of a trip on the valley lines…




Let me share a story – with a little embellishment and poetic license!



…about someone who had never previously been to Wales or Cardiff or The Valleys.
Found the Rhondda valley and the urban/green contrast beautiful; amazed at wind farms next to rows of mining cottages.



Thought Pontypridd was an amazing place with a magnificent station, authentic high street & market and fantastic river (with fly fishing).

A sense of an incredible industrial, environmental and geographic legacy.

So people from the outside often see the valleys in a more positive way than we perhaps do ourselves .

They are unconstrained by our nostalgia for an industrial past that will never return and see the unique urban green environment in very positive way.

I am optimistic we can deliver new opportunities and the infrastructure that will be both the enabler of agglomerative benefits and the catalyst for wider community regeneration and the development of local economies.



Catalyst for Change


Both local government and Welsh Government need to do some very different things to leverage the catalytic impact of Metro.

I hope that with the emerging City Region and its nascent governance, and the Metro we have a real catalyst for change that can help us answer the key questions:

Who are we?


What are we?


What do we want to be?


How do we create a sense of allegiance and camaraderie across the whole of south east Wales that also reflects our differences and our historical allegiances to our local communities?

That is the biggest challenge, because building the stuff’s all very well, but if we don’t feel part of somewhere different with shared aspirations for the future then the its impact will be diminished.

So yes, that’s our biggest challenge and everyone in this room and outside this room has a role to play in provoking those conversations.

And art, history, culture, heritage are the best ways to frame and answer those question…

So, let’s capture the easy agglomerative benefits of the Metro and work to help deliver benefits across the whole region.

At the same time can we also have a broader far reaching conversation about the kind of region we want to create.




Post script.  If you get a chance worth listening to the Radio 4 Programme, “On and Off The Valley Lines” produced by Martin Williams.  Some  notable contributions and I did a bit for Episode 3!


One thought on “Economic Impacts of The South Wales Metro?

  1. Dear Sir The South Wales Metro is much needed and well overdue. When I travel around Europe and see their modern rail and tram network we certainly third world with our old, dirty, non punctual, expensive, overcrowded diesel trains. I hope the new trams can be introduced quickly, I question why we have to electrify some lines and use battery trams on other lines. Germany and China are building hydrogen and battery powered trams. Why electrify at all. A Spanish company with Welsh Government support is building a factory in Llanwern. Buy all battery trams that can run on all Metro lines why complicate the issue.
    I would be interested on your feedback. Regards Frank Davies


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