‘Delivering the City Deal and developing the Cardiff Capital Region’ – Conference Notes from Cardiff Civic Society

Posted by on Aug 23, 2016 in News | No Comments


As a follow up to our interest in the Cardiff City Deal (published on this website) we attended the conference ‘Delivering the City Deal and developing the Cardiff Capital Region’ run by the Policy Forum for Wales on 5th July 2016. Clearly, both the City Region and the Metro are projects beyond the scope of Cardiff Council alone and we wanted to understand how the 10 local authorities and Welsh Government would work together on this initiative. The key word is DELIVERY; using the City Region as a force to ensure we can make the Metro a reality. How will the proposal be turned from an idea with partial funding into an integrated region with a transport network supporting the whole of SE Wales? The ambition for growth in the region is already recognised, for example in the housing and jobs numbers in the Cardiff LDP, but Cardiff council have yet to produce such a plan even though the deadline set by the Inspector has passed several months ago. So the essential transport network needed to support the aggressive growth plans for the city remains as unclear as ever, and future traffic congestion risks undermining the motivation of both developers and businesses to come to Cardiff.

The keynote speech by Cllr. Phil Bale, leader of the Cardiff City Council confirmed the trend that investment and talent were being drawn to cities as the engines of future growth. Cardiff is planned to grow faster than any UK city, yet it was admitted that economic output is less than all but one of the main UK cities (the exception being Sheffield). Despite a good record on skills, strong universities and some competitive businesses in key sectors we are in his words ‘underperforming’ and we cannot do ‘business as usual’. This led to his conclusion that decisions need to be taken at a regional level, not based on the ‘local authority map’ but on the ‘geography of people’s everyday lives’. Specifically, the Metro is a network to support people across the region whether they live or work in ‘Cardiff, Cearphilly or Caerleon’. These sentiments are ones we fully support, Cardiff needs a strategy to make the growth happen, and in a way that makes the city a better place to be. The Metro is a key component of this strategy, and meets the conditions he defines for decision making at regional level.

So the ambition for Cardiff Capital Region to be a top performing city region is there, but Cllr. Bale’s challenge of achieving a ‘step change in our economic performance’ clearly needs some work to make this ‘big transformational agenda’ a living reality. The panels and committees established by the city deal will report from October this year on how the region should try to achieve these aims, and how to spend the £1,229Bn allocated to the idea, funded jointly by Welsh Government, the 10 local authorities and Westminster. This will be achieved by the Region Cabinet providing an ‘overarching City Region Economic Strategy’, improving transport and pursuing an aggressive growth strategy. Central to the effort will be the Metro, supported by a regional Transport Authority to co-ordinate planning and investment, and incorporating ‘housing, employment land use with wider transport plans’.

But where is the DELIVERY bit? We have been discussing the city region for 6 years since the IWA conference that brought it into focus. Where is the EXECUTIVE body to make it happen? This was the subject of our questions to the conference panel, and the answer seems to lie in the formation last November of a Transport for Wales (TfW) body anticipating the transfer of powers for transport matters in time to take over the running of the franchise deal for Wales and Borders next year. According to the Western Mail (27th July 2016) recruitment and tender documents for a £5bn bid process are under way now. This announcement, in conjunction with the documents signed to bring the City Deal into effect suggests that we must consider that the City Deal is split into two distinct parts, £495M for City Region schemes associated with unspecified economic growth to be determined and managed at regional level, and £734M to be allocated to Metro, but managed at a National level.

This poses many questions. Firstly, how will 10 Local Authorities spend £495M effectively, when they have studiously ignored the WG attempts to fuse into more efficient groups and have historically been unable to coordinate programmes much beyond minor service or contract sharing arrangements; the challenge of a step change in economic performance looks impossible to achieve in a business as usual administrative structure. We should find out more about this in October.

Secondly, how will a National TfW organisation be able to focus and prioritise a SE Wales Metro needed to make the population and jobs growth happen when faced with the enormous task of re-franchising the Wales and Borders rail network and balancing the conflicting needs of N, S, W and mid-Wales transport demands? We note that Ken Skates has already referred to the needs for Metro type solutions elsewhere in Wales!   So, we are to get an all Wales body to specify, purchase and run the Cardiff Capital Region network, integrating light rail, heavy rail and buses; not a City Region function at all. Yet the procurement process has apparently already started, what are they buying? on whose behalf? and why are we not aware of the end product yet? In a letter to the Civic Society, Ken Skates has said he will clarify this to the assembly in July, a date that has already passed! We are already concerned that the major centres of growth in Cardiff, in the N and critically in the NW of the city are not yet on the Metro map, yet planning and procurement have already started. No doubt this ‘immature’ governance mechanism will ‘evolve’ as hoped by panel members, this needs to happen quickly! CCS has been asking for clarification on the network objectives, routes and timings in the context of the LDP approved in January this year; we need to this to be made transparent urgently so that we can match the Metro plans to the city growth plans and so avoid the congestion we all fear.

Finally, we hope that the Welsh Government is actively engaged at Westminster to make sure the promises made in the City Deal are respected; the new government priorities are changing and the city deal must not be allowed to become a casualty of this new direction. The ambitious plans for SE Wales will only be DELIVERED if the plans are clear, unanimously and vigorously expressed at every opportunity; it should not be only the Northern Powerhouse that gets the headlines!

One of the most arresting of the presentations concerned the marketing of the region; the city is well known for major sports events and for its ‘nightlife’, but clearly little is known outside Wales of the economic potential in the digital age; subjects we covered at great length at the Cardiff LDP inspector hearings. The region needs a ‘narrative’ about what it has to offer, where it wishes to go and expressing clearly why businesses should invest here. Over half of Wales’ economic activity is originated in the region, yet Cardiff itself is home to some of the most deprived areas in the UK, and the valleys do not yet play a really constructive part in the region with many towns and villages almost unconnected to the economic life of the region.

Although the conference was to discuss DELIVERY this was conspicuously lacking; the vision is there but the plan to put it in place is not. All UK cities are striving for the same goals, the winners will be those that put together the most convincing reason why business should move to them. If Cardiff Capital Region is to succeed, much more needs to be done, and quickly.

CARDIFF CIVIC SOCIETY           August 2016