The ‘metro’ is one of the most exciting visions to hit South East Wales since the Bessemer Converter. By vastly improving interconnectivity across the region we can create an economic region of 2 million people with opportunities for markets, labour supply and innovative business clusters.
Enhanced inter-connectivity is the hall mark of any successful economic region. Take any such region, Stuttgart and Vancouver are reasonable examples, and we find that their development begins with investment into a planned network of transport links. From there, the region can be the subject of economic planning and promotion with developed inter-relationships between businesses, research and educational centres, labour and customer markets.
It is very significant that such regions retain institutions for community and municipal governance. There are usually scores of local authorities contributing to a successful region of 2 or 3 million people, each contributing to effective forms of network governance.
The metro is our vision of this fundamental building block for future success. But where are we in delivering this vision? We lack a consensus on any of the critical paths. What is the role for different technologies – train, light or heavy, tram or bus? What are the funding routes? Where is the governance?
The Welsh Government has appointed a South East Wales City Region Board. Amazingly, this is separate from the Welsh Government’s Advisory Board on the Metro. In addition the ten local authorities have formed a regional structure which allows them access to the UK Government’s City Region Fund for regional transport. It is a bugger’s muddle of such absurdity that only we in Wales could invent it. The sad effect is that we are dithering on the one project that could really make a difference.
We need one single partnership into which we can pool all the different funding sources. Local authorities have borrowing powers and access to the UK city region fund. Welsh Government controls the allocation of European funding and can make its own funding contribution. All we need to do is create a single legal entity which involves both and get on with it. Why is it so difficult? If only we could dump all this nonsense about reorganising local authorities, we could do something really useful.