The City Region concept for South East Wales is an idea which is still yet not fully established, but other regions in the UK are pushing ahead with confident plans and regional strategies. There are now clear lessons from which South East Wales and the proposed Cardiff Capital City Region needs to learn.
An excellent example is how the ten Local Authorities in Greater Manchester are expected to jointly consult upon a ’Spatial Framework’ that will make possible the development of 227,000 homes, the creation of 200,000 jobs and the protection of significant areas of landscape between now and 2035.
The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework draws the big picture of where new development will be encouraged, where it will be resisted and how improvements to strategic transport (including new Metrolink extensions, train stations, motorway junctions and connections to Manchester Airport) will help to continue to position the region for further improvement in GDP and an increasing quality of life.
The plan is exactly the bold and integrated vision that is needed in South East Wales. In the Cardiff Capital Region we have the beginnings of part of a picture, the Metro, but we need the other elements to be brought together into a wider strategy for the region that all ten Council Leaders can sign up to. It is possible to debate what these other elements should be, but the orchestratration of: housing sites, strategic employment sites, an economic strategy, as well as tourism/recreation, transport and green infrastructure should all be high priorities for any such plan. (After all, is it not easier to piece together a jigsaw puzzle, by occasionally referring to the picture on the lid of the box?)
The recent changes to the planning system in Wales make it technically possible to establish ‘Strategic Development Plans’ while the shelving of Local Authority mergers by Welsh Government leaves much greater space for the ten Local Authorities in South East Wales to collaborate on strategic issues and opportunities.
Cities all over the world are the driving force behind the economic growth. It is essential therefore that each City Region is able to set its stall out to be able to say to the rest of world, Government, its communities and businesses, what it will do and what it requires in order to succeed.
South Wales needs the kind of clarity which Greater Manchester is striving for, and is now more essential than ever following the UK's decision to leave the EU. Structural funds from the EU will cease beyond 2020, so a new modus operandi is critical now that the rule book is about to be re-written. It is too early to see how the Welsh Government’s ‘Valleys Task Force’ will work, but perhaps it should look closely at how its objectives could be realised by promoting a clear picture for the whole region, not just the Valleys? The tight boundaries on eligibility for EU funding have forced a ‘Valleys myopia’ before and it has not worked. After the scale of the rejection of the EU by communities across the South East Wales in the referendum, it is apparent that a new approach is required to tackling inequalities and optimising opportunities in the region.
Decision makers and influencers, as well as all those who are involved in planning and development in South East Wales need to work together, in the context of an orchestrated plan to bring our region into the 21st Century so that it is an economically successful and liveable City Region. Greater Manchester seems to offer a model for how this should be done.
By James Brown