Circumstances are at last looking good!
The publication of a plan for the South East Wales Metro in the form of a White Paper by Cardiff Council earlier this month has reinvigorated the transport debate in the city, perhaps at last we are going to get started! Several things have come together in recent months to make this both necessary and much more likely.
First, the White Paper shows how the components of the scheme should fit together. The trains, trams, buses, cycle and walking components must fit together with car usage to make a practical liveable city. The alternatives to using the car must be easy and attractive.
Second, the proposed closure of some of Cardiff’s roads and electrify the bus fleet to respond to air pollution breaching legal limits is a reminder that pollution is a killer. Premature deaths from air pollution are already at crisis levels, and we need an urgent response. Standards of acceptable levels of pollution were set a decade ago and are inadequate. A 20mph speed limit is part of the answer but will not curb pollutants on its own, traffic must be reduced significantly.
Third, the Climate Change debate has at last become a mainstream political topic and the transport contribution cannot be ignored.
Fourth, the cancellation of the M4 relief road has released £1Bn of public funds for alternative solutions.
Fifth, Transport for Wales (TfW) was created 15 months ago to deliver transport solutions for Wales, and their plan includes a modest beginning for the Metro project and improved ticketing. Regrettably, there are no concrete plans yet to go beyond the electrification of existing heavy rail lines and respond to the massive growth we are seeing in the city, both housing in the distant suburbs in the NE and NW and jobs mainly in the city centre.
Sixth, the housing development boom planned in the 2015 LDP is at last being delivered. A journey up the Llantrisant Road will quickly illustrate the impact this will have on communities along this main route into Cardiff. The impact on Llandaff (for example) will be dramatic once people start to move in in numbers. The recent political uproar in Cardiff Bay over lack of infrastructure, especially transport, was a reminder that Cardiff Civic Society (CCS) warnings were ignored in the Welsh Government LDP Examination hearings in 2014/15. CCS attended and contributed formally to every one of the 25 hearings but the LDP was approved without conditions. Growth was the only objective for the LDP, but Cardiff is a city growing towards half a million population, a city only designed for 200,000 in Victorian times!
Seventh, whilst the switch to electric cars is good for carbon emissions, reports are that up to 75% of particle emissions will still be present. We should not delude ourselves that electric cars are the only answer, we need to reduce car use.
Eighth, all our politicians are now talking about infrastructure investment as the coming thing, Metro should be at the centre of Welsh plans. A good plan with a good payback should be at the top of the list for government backed infrastructure funding.
Many UK cities now have the benefit of Metro networks, capable of carrying many more passengers than any other mode. The eight tram systems in operation today in Tyne and Wear, Blackpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, West midlands, SE London and Croydon show that they can be effective, affordable and transformational for local economies as well as making a major contribution to the environment. The South East Wales Metro was conceived a decade ago and it is high time it became a reality to give substance to the competitive advantage Cardiff has over many other cities.
The Cardiff Capital Region (CCR) secured, a couple of years ago, a city deal of £1.3Bn from Welsh Government, UK government and European sources that is only partly allocated to Metro. The delivery is in the hands of TfW but so far only the electrification of existing heavy rail lines from the Valleys has been planned and funded by part of the city deal funds. New light rail/tram lines and stations, with a restructured bus and active travel feeder network are in the Cardiff Council White Paper but are not yet planned. This should be the only priority of CCR, the full Metro solution is capable of delivering most of what CCR want to do so more city deal funds should be released for Metro.
Supporting the business growth in the city and making it more resilient, lubricating the supply chains to make the small companies in the Valleys sustainable, enabling productivity and wealth creation, growing the foundational economy, responding to stubborn social issues and delivering a clean liveable environment fit for the 21st century can only be delivered by making Metro the first, second and third priority. If the vision of a ‘greater Cardiff’ along the lines of Manchester is adopted, effective leadership can leverage the funds to make it happen, the M4 relief road decision releases funds that should be immediately applied to the full Metro solution. This is the age of decentralisation and Cardiff can be a viable alternative to London if we have the necessary infrastructure; the local environment of sea, countryside and mountains gives us a fantastic advantage.
Look at the way in which Metro can deliver for Cardiff:
- Turn the car dependent new suburbs in the NE and NW of the city into sustainable communities.
- Support the eastern side of the city with an effective way into the centre and provide new employment opportunities centred around new stations.
- Provide dedicated cycle and walking infrastructure, linked with Metro hubs, to reverse decades of decline in active travel.
- Intercept car commuters at Metro hubs on the outskirts of the city to take away the need for car journeys into the centre.
- More Park and Ride with full integration of travel modes supported by shuttle services and real time service information.
- Elimination of car traffic from the centre to respond to the air pollution crisis and improve public health and make the city more ‘liveable’.
- More pedestrianisation and redevelopment of car parks into public space or more constructive development. Greening of the city should also be a beneficiary.
- Help resolve the arc of deprivation in the south of the city that is still described as ‘isolated’.
- Help other centres of population to grow, taking the pressure off Cardiff for future growth (for example Caerphilly, Llantrisant and Pontypridd).
- Link Newport with Cardiff by extending the Metro to intercept commuter traffic that would have used the M4.
- Reshape the bland Lloyd-George Avenue to link the Bay to the city and open up Bute town.
- Change the paradigm of car use to one of sustainable travel as the norm. Making Metro the transport mode of choice is key.
Will the Welsh Government get behind the Metro? A concerted effort of leadership and focus on this project can deliver the funds if we are serious enough and determined enough. It is not too late, despite the lost time, to make a difference. After all, it cannot only be London that can have Crossrail and a Circle Line! We are all ambitious for Cardiff, and a casual ‘crane’ survey of the city skyline shows that business has already bought into the potential of the city. If we want high quality jobs we need a high quality city, our contribution to the ‘added value’ economy can only be increased by an ambitious determination for Metro, everything else is secondary.
CARDIFF CIVIC SOCIETY