Don’t forget the region in ‘city region’
Like buses, after nothing for ages suddenly two city regions have come along at once – at least if the report of the Task and Finish Group on city regions is accepted by the Welsh Government. Many aspects of the report are a welcome surprise, which seem to lay to rest the concerns of many people in the valleys that it is all a Cardiff con.
Welcome though it is, a report is not enough alone – there need to be other changes to make sure the Cardiff City Region achieves its potential.
First, the region must not be overshadowed by the city – Cardiff must not be dominant but part of an inter-dependent network of places. This not only reflects the reality that the ‘region’ of 1 million is more than three times the size of the city, but also that it is extremely unlikely that it is either possible or desirable for Cardiff to be the sole generator of jobs. There needs to investment across the City Region, from Merthyr Tydfil to Maesteg, from Newport to Newbridge, not just in Cardiff.
Second, and going along with this, there needs to be a radical shift in mindsets. Yes, the so-called ‘parochialism’ of the valleys needs to end, but so too must the triumphalism of Cardiff. Cardiff needs to recognise the problems in its own backyard, many of which, like the number of young people not in education, employment or training, it shares with valleys communities. It also needs to acknowledge that there are many good things in the valleys – a great environment, extraordinary history, some outstanding schools and so on.
And third, the whole region needs to be joined up, not just by a valleys-Cardiff metro to replace the current snails-pace service but also by fast and reliable bus services for onward travel and travel between valleys. It is laughable that the train service between the capital and Merthyr Tydfil trundles along at less than 25 mph.
Implementing a City Region will not be easy. But with little sign of an economic upturn, a new intake of local councillors, many keen to make their mark, and perhaps the prospect of real improvement for people’s lives, the time is ripe for a new approach. Now, or I suspect, never.
Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation. This is a version of a short presentation to Hugh James Exchange on 11th July 2012.
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