Metro & Me, October 2018


In October 2018 we (Cardiff University, Arup, IWA, Capital Law) published a collection of essays related to the South Wales Metro to support the Metro and Me event held in Cardiff on 8th October.  Capital Law did the heavy lifting (especially Lowri Gregory) to plan and manage the day.  Thanks to all the speakers and panellists and to the sponsors (Acorn People, Freshwater, Transport for Wales, KeolisAmey, JLL, The Urbanists, Cogitamus, Icomera, Cardiff Capital Region, Furrer+Frey, Mott MacDonald)

A brief video record of the event has been prepared by Freshwater; they have also made available the full videos for the entire day:

Session #1   What is Metro?  Including keynote from TfW’s CEO TfW James Price and Customer Services Director Colin Lea. 

Session #2  What does the Metro mean for the Valleys? A case study for Pontypridd.

Session #3 Is Metro more than a railway? speaker Mark Barry followed by, Creating a city region – a cultural challenge.

Session #4 Keynote from Mark Drakeford AM, followed by Session #4, Planning a city region – an institutional challenge. Close with MP Christina Rees and Poet/Author/Historian Peter Finch,

You can get a copy of the report here…Metro & Me.  Many thanks to all the authors & contributors, Geraint Talfan Davies for editing and Arup (& especially Leanne Nicholas) for designing and producing it.

The Institute of Welsh Affairs have posted a brief overview I drafted of both the event and the report.

This event and publication expands upon the “What Metro Might Do” event in 2016

For those that are interested, I have set out the draft notes I used for my speech at the event as well.

Metro – More than a Railway?

First of all I’d like to thank all those involved in organising the “Metro and Me” event today – and especially Capital Law and Lowri Gregory.

And to all the authors of & contributors to, the “Metro and Me” document.

To Lorena for the photo essay – and especially to Geraint Talfan Davies for editing…and not forgetting Leanne who designed it and to Arup for producing it.

I’d also like to thank those who have found the typos and my ill-advised proposal to move the Royal Glamorgan Hospital to Newport!! I’m sure there are others!

So, Is Metro more than a railway….well it could be.

The “Metro and Me” report sets out not answers, but perhaps the questions the region needs to grapple with and address, to maximise the benefits of Metro.

Metro Placemaking & History…Who are we?

In addressing these questions, I think the most interesting conversation is about what people feel about this place?

The Cardiff Capital Region!

In fact, how many people have even heard of it?

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.

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

What does it mean to someone living in Grangetown versus Nelson vs Abercwmboi vs 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 ….

However, a hundred years ago and perhaps a lesson for us today, I think there was sense of place for South East Wales….

Most people in 1910 in SE Wales were involved in Coal Industry; mining, shipping, washing, supply chain, etc

The economic dividend of that industry was more evenly shared across the region;

This helped create a single sense of place…

The Glamorgan Authority was a political manifestation of that place.

But following the first world war, the rise of oil and the beginning of the end of the Coal industry in the 1920s, this began to fragment.

This was recognised by Prof Hilary Marquand, in his 1936 book, “South Wales Needs a Plan” who 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)

These 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 WG 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 SE 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!

In fact, the persistent and in my view unhelpful Cardiff V Valleys narrative is a symptom of a lack of imagination and vision for the region. I hope that today we can begin to at least start asking the right questions.

Ultimately, 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….

We need 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 Pontypridd or Porth or Blackwood, but soon you’ll be able to get to/from there much more easily, and that allows you to do things, to study, to work, to play, to access our green infrastructure in ways you couldn’t before.

Key questions for the region!

Importantly, there are also some more immediate and pressing questions…

….and in the land of the pulled punch I am going to share some.

First, what houses & homes do we need and where….

For example – why when the CCR city deal has £734M going toward Metro is there a suggestion that some further funds should be used to support a new M4 Junction for a housing development on the way to Bridgend that has been designed around the car!!!

In contrast the housing proposals in NW Cardiff have been designed around the potential of a Metro extension through it – this sustainable development corridor can extend into RCT and Talbot Green – we should be looking to progress that scheme?

In fact, why aren’t we  now actively looking for opportunities to develop sustainable higher density housing across the region that can be connected to the Metro.

Why are we still building major public services and facilities in places that are not easy to connect to public transport.

Why are funds being considered a for an airport road that has no real transport case – when there are better and more sustainable alternatives.

Why are some trying to use city region governance to restrict growth & development in Cardiff, instead of using it to support new & additional economic development across the region.

Cardiff is not the Emerald city – its GVA/Capita has fallen Vs UK average over the last 15 years whereas the central valleys has increased.

…. Yes Places like Maerdy, Tredegar, etc have been struggling since the 1980s! However, 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.

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

And yes, this is hard.

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 benefits of Metro. As we heard earlier the cranes in Pontypridd are a very positive development.

Why can’t we develop policy & source evidence to inform strategic decisions around transport, land use and economic development, without being held hostage to pork barrel politics.

We need robust, evidence based and sustainable transport, land use and economic development plans for the region – this should frame how the metro is developed over the next 15 years.

Can the local authorities involved learn how to negotiate…& consider what each can give away….not just what they want?!

Why do we cling to old ideas of economic development – when in many parts of the region we need new thinking.

So, 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 .

We need more locally focussed interventions, based on people and their communities, history, culture and geography – wherever they are.

I support the concept of a growing role for the “foundational” economy and the need to increase the capacity of local circular economies.

However, we need to be honest and really challenge and test propositions for interventions that may come forward. In fact, I think there are a lack of well-developed proposals in this space.

Proposals are too often couched in terms of what other interventions won’t do or what this place doesn’t have.

We need to be far more positive, pragmatic and come up with proposals that might work in places around SE Wales focussed on opportunity and not perhaps need…

…perhaps based on tourism, local food supply chains, our industrial & cultural heritage for example.

We need maturity and honesty to develop a plan and a dose of reality in doing so.

I’d rather avoid the polarised approach, the “towns Vs cities” approach, the “us and them” approach, and instead focus on all places and interventions that work in each of those places.

But I recognise this is hard…and solutions won’t come easy.

Story of Optimism…

So, I’d like to finish with a story to shine a light of hope and optimism– with a little embellishment and poetic license! (and this is not meant to be patronising to people who live in the valleys – its a challenge to all of us to think differently about our region).

The story of a trip on the valley lines…with someone who had never previously been to Wales or Cardiff or The Valleys.

She found the Rhondda valley and the urban/green contrast beautiful; amazed at wind farms next to rows of mining cottages at Terherbert, found the legacy of glaciation etched in the hillside stunning.

Found Pontypridd to be an amazing place with a magnificent station, authentic high street & market and a fantastic river (with fly fishing – the salmon were jumping!)

A sense of a place with an incredible industrial, cultural, environmental and geographic legacy.

So, people from the outside often see the region in a more positive way than we 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.

So, I am optimistic the Metro can be the enabler of agglomerative benefits and a catalyst for wider community regeneration and the development of local economies all across SE Wales.

But to realise the catalytic impact of Metro, local government, the nascent City Region, Welsh Government, developers (especially house builders), need to do some very different things.

More importantly everyone in this room has a role to play in provoking the conversations and discussion that can help this endeavour.

So, let’s capture the easy agglomerative benefits of the Metro and at the same time work to help identify & deliver wider benefits for every place.

Let’s build a region fit for the 21st C and our future generations.

I am optimistic we can. In fact, we don’t have a choice. We must.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s