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11. Short Debate: The Swansea Bay City Region

April 05, 2017

7 speeches by…

  • Elin Jones
  • Mike Hedges
  • Suzy Davies
  • Simon Thomas
  • Mark Drakeford

Elin Jones

And we turn now to the short debate, which is the next item on our agenda. If Members could leave quietly for Easter, before I call on Mike Hedges to speak on the topic he has chosen—Mike Hedges.

Mike Hedges

Diolch, Llywydd. Thank you. I've given a minute of this debate to Suzy Davies and another minute to Simon Thomas. In 2013, the Welsh Government created a Swansea bay city region to engage more partners in improving the regional economy. The councils of Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire worked together on a Swansea bay city region board. The board has adopted a city region economic strategy to identify key actions for increasing the city region’s economic performance. When any boundaries are set, there are always two questions: should it be larger, or should it be smaller? As whole council areas need to be included, three councils next to the regional boundaries are Powys, which stretches almost to the border of Wrexham, Bridgend, which is part of the Cardiff city region, and Ceredigion, which I would argue is economically and culturally more akin to Gwynedd than it is to Swansea and Neath Port Talbot. Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Llanelli, and the Amman Valley are, effectively, one economic entity: just look at the traffic movement in the morning and the evening. That means it must include Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, and Carmarthenshire. The question is now: should Pembrokeshire be part of the area? I would argue that it has an industrial area in the south, and its close connection with Carmarthenshire means that it fits better with Swansea bay than any future mid or north Wales region. One of the problems is that areas that are part of the Swansea-Neath Port Talbot travel-to-work area, such as the southern part of Powys around Ystradgynlais, border areas such as Porthcawl, Pyle, Hirwaun and southern Ceredigion, are outside the Swansea bay city region. This is inevitable whenever a border is set: there will be a border area that interacts economically and socially with the region around it. I think, turning to transport, which I think is really one of the keys, although the Swansea city region plan and programme is not about transport as the Cardiff city region is, it is still incredibly important. And while few, if anyone, would wish to travel from the Afan Valley to the Preseli mountains, i.e. from one end of the region to the other, daily, there’ll be a need for the whole route to be improved, because there will be a demand for good links between, and into, both the major population centres as well as into sites to find leisure, retail and employment. I think that is the key: people need to be able to get to work, they need to be able to get to the retail centres, and they need to get to leisure facilities. And the danger is you can be not very far away from a major place of employment in the region, but if you happened to, by chance, be without a car, then some of these journeys are almost impossible. Road: the priority—and if I’d written this 20 years ago, it would have been the same—is the dualling of the A40 for the whole of its length, and also traffic lights at Cross Hands roundabout to improve links between Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, and the rest of the city region. Other bottle necks occur around Port Talbot on the M4, where the M4 road ends, roads leading to Cross Hands roundabout, and Carmarthen, and further improvement needs to be considered, especially as the traffic queues continue. In the 1990s, West Glamorgan County Council set about opening five railway stations: Llansamlet, Briton Ferry, Baglan, Skewen, and Pyle. Although the Cardiff city region has strong links with Port Talbot as part of the Swanline scheme, the other stations to the west of the Swansea bay region will have timetabled trains, which include Carmarthen, Llanelli, Llandeilo, Ammanford, Pantyffynnon, Pembrey and Burry Port, Whitland, Tenby, Pembroke Dock, Haverfordwest, Milford Haven, Goodwick, and Fishguard. See: traffic and trains do go west of Swansea, and they even go west of Cardiff. There are other stations that could be brought back into use, such as Landore and St Clears. What is needed is a programme to bring unused former stations back into use and to make greater use of the existing railway stations to make rail a viable option for travel, either for work or leisure. The main line to London will continue to be a major rail link that benefits the economy of the whole of the Swansea city region, and it's very important that it's electrified as soon as possible. Returning to buses, an improved bus service is desperately needed to link the train station and city town centre to the employment hubs, but also to link to population centres. Railway stations in Llansamlet and Gowerton could be transport hubs, where buses meet trains and fan out to the surrounding communities. The example at Llansamlet station is that a regular bus service terminates in Frederick Place, round the corner from the station. This should be terminating at the station, which would then be providing a bus service to the surrounding area. I’ve said many times, and I’m going to say it again, we will need Landore station opened, and not just on a Saturday for the football, but for movement of people to stop people having to get into the city centre, because we’re trying to keep people out of the city centre. Landore station will do that. The success of park and ride needs to be built upon. This keeps cars out of the city and town centres, and allows the first part of the journey to be carried out by car and the final part of the journey by bus. Turning to cycling and walking, the all-Wales coastal path and the Pembrokeshire coastal path walk are great examples of success at creating opportunities for leisure walking. There are dedicated cycle routes, but the gaps in them need finishing, and there is a need for safe storage and parking places for cycles, especially in city and town centres. I really do want to highlight the importance of completing the cycle routes. It’s pointless having a cycle route if you have to go across a major road as part of that journey. It would get most people not to do it. You have the enthusiastic cyclists who’ll do it, but most people won’t. Finally, on public services, if we believe, as I do, that the Swansea bay city region, covering the council areas of Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Carmarthenshire, and Pembrokeshire is a coherent sub-Wales region, then the obvious next step is for all public services to be run within this footprint. All services under Welsh Government control can be aligned. Obviously, this cannot be done immediately, but, as a structure, each service is reviewed then the structure changed. Next, steps to align services in the city region must be taken. And I’ll say it again, because I’ve said it a dozen times here now: Swansea and Neath Port Talbot look Janus-like. If it’s for fire, if it’s for the education consortium, we look to the west. If, however, it’s for policing or it’s for health, we look to the east. There is no coherence about it. It’s almost as if everybody who’s come along to create a structure has decided on their own, without giving any thought to what went before. Firstly, and most simply, is fire and rescue. That can be easily realigned to the city region boundary, and it would only mean the transfer out of Powys and Ceredigion to the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service. Secondly, there’s going to be an economic sub-region, where what is needed is to have a development plan equivalent to the old county development plan to cover the whole area. This would ensure that housing and economic development planning can be aligned over the whole region, and not only on a local authority area. The development of the bay campus, which is in Neath Port Talbot, which will almost certainly have a greater effect on Swansea than on Neath Port Talbot, is an example of the need for an area-based approach. I also remember, in the old district council days, Lliw Valley produced their Clydach market opposite houses that were in Swansea. The people who were affected were the people living in Swansea, but the people who got the benefit were from Lliw Valley, and I think it really is important that we look at it as a whole region. You can look at Trostre park without thinking of it as part of the Swansea shopping area. The third whole Swansea city region policy co-ordination needed is transport strategy—the Swansea bay equivalent of the Cardiff city region metro system. This needs to ensure that there’s a coherent rail and bus network that can move people from the residential areas to the main employment, retail and leisure sites. Also, the road network needs to ensure that movement between major population centres is via at least a dual carriageway. Within the city region, a simple subdivision in two can be done—west Glamorgan and Dyfed, which equates to the former counties of Dyfed minus Ceredigion and west Glamorgan. Joint boards with Neath Port Talbot and Swansea could be set up for both social services and education, which are the two main former county council services, and the same can be done for Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. The health boards could be realigned to these larger areas covered by the joint boards. That would align health boards and social services just like they were when health boards such as West Glamorgan health board existed to cover health. Also, it would make it easier for health boards covering Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire to work with West Glamorgan. We have the situation, as everybody knows, that the major hospital for most of west Wales is Morriston, yet it is not part of Morriston, so you have this ARCH, a regional collaboration for health, programme and all these other things that have been put together in order to try and put right what’s a structural weakness. Local services would continue to be run by the current local authorities. Local authorities are the right size for providing most public services, and anybody who’s picked up the book on local authority services, which goes on for about 40 pages, will realise just how many services there are that local authorities provide, and most of them are best provided locally. Local people making local decisions on behalf of the area in which they live is the basis of local democracy. It’s about agreeing the city region as a basic footprint, and then having services within the region organised in the most suitable area within the footprint. In conclusion, I fully support the proposed Swansea city region. I also am very pleased with proposals to improve the economy of the area by the four councils in the area. I think credit should be given to all four of them on working together to try and get a system working and improving the GVA. The most important thing for an area like Swansea city region is to increase the value of the economy and get people earning more. I hope improved transport and co-ordination of services within the footprint can be supported by the Welsh Government, because we need to get the transport right, we need to get public services on a standard footing, and we need to make sure that we do well for our area.

Suzy Davies

Thanks you for giving me a minute here, Mike. I think, with the city deal, the direct loan to Yr Egin and the prospect of a prison coming to Port Talbot shortly, that puts to bed the idea that the UK Government isn’t interested in investing in south Wales. But I think you’re right to raise two points in particular with this. The first is to query the role of local input and how residents within the city bay region can contribute to its detailed design, if you like, and also the issue of transport as well, rather than just relying on digital infrastructure. We do need to look at why the plan has missed this opportunity to talk about interconnectivity. I hope you’ll agree—I raised this a little bit earlier on—that congestion and air quality should go hand in hand in any discussions about transport and infrastructure, and that we shouldn’t lose the opportunity to consider things like monorails and trams and light railway, as well as the existing rail network that you’re talking about, even though it is closed. And, if we are talking about buses and taxis, maybe there should be a presumption now that we shouldn’t be looking at diesel models. I completely agree with what you said about the cycle tracks. There’s no point them going all round the houses; people just won’t use them, then. Thank you.

Simon Thomas

I’d like to thank Mike Hedges for bringing this debate forward today. I think he’s gone beyond the city deal and presented a much broader vision for the Swansea bay city region. But I want to focus on two issues: first of all, I’d like to welcome the emphasis on rail that was included in Mike Hedges’s presentation, and to endorse the need to reopen the rail line between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth as part of the backbone that will maintain the city region as we move forward. I would also like to say that I’m disappointed that the city region deal specifically in Swansea bay isn’t aimed at being low carbon. I think that is missing. There are wonderful things to be seen there, but I think that we have lost sight, both in Swansea bay and in Cardiff, of the zero-carbon element and working towards a zero-carbon economy. And, finally, I’d like to say that there is no better example of how the city region area could work than the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, linking the marine engineering expertise in Pembrokeshire with the more standard engineering expertise in Swansea itself, and, of course, the energy experience of the whole region.

Elin Jones

I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government to reply to the debate—Mark Drakeford.

Mark Drakeford

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Let me begin by thanking Mike Hedges for using his short debate today for the topic of the Swansea bay city region deal. I’m going to focus my remarks on the deal itself, what it brings to south-west Wales, and the potential that it has for the future of the economy of that part of our country. We’ve long recognised the opportunities of city deals to make a lasting impact. Indeed, the Welsh Government held the view from November of last year that the Swansea bay region city deal was ready to be signed, and we’re very glad, now, that we’ve been able to reach that point. We welcome the successful signing of a deal that is worth £1.3 billion, and the Welsh Government, as the senior funder of the deal, will provide £125 million-worth of Welsh Government investment. Now, the deal is based on an ambitious vision to position the region for the technologies of the future over the next 15 years. It aims to boost the local economy, to generate almost 10,000 new jobs, and to attract over £600 million from the private sector. The UK Government and the Welsh Government have worked together to help agree the city deal, but it’s important to remember that the deals are led by the ambition of local authorities and by regional collaboration amongst stakeholders. Leaders and chief executives of all four authorities have been vitally important in crafting the deal, as well as local health boards and universities. I want to acknowledge the contribution of Sir Terry Matthews, who has played a crucial role throughout the process, and, in the latter stages, the leadership of Rob Stewart, the leader of Swansea city council, was pivotal in bringing the whole deal to a conclusion. Over the past few months, Swansea, Carmarthen, Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire councils have all worked with partners across the public and private sectors to come to a view of what is important for the future of the region to identify the steps that will allow them to produce sustainable economic growth in all parts of it. Unlike the Cardiff capital city deal, this deal begins by identifying 11 major project proposals. They’re put forward within the themes of health, energy, economic acceleration and smart manufacturing. All those proposals will require further work. They will all need to be presented. We are by no means without opportunities to take advantage of low and zero-carbon ideas as those project ideas are further developed and brought before funders. Together, they will deliver world-class facilities in physical infrastructure, together with major investment in the region’s digital infrastructure too. The deal identifies and builds on the enormous strengths of the area. In energy, it takes the huge potential for renewables, and focuses on realising the potential of Pembroke Dock as a place for testing offshore energy technology and its commercialisation. In smart manufacturing, at the geographical opposite end of the deal area, there will be a new steel science centre, with a particular focus on environmental and energy improvement. In the life sciences—a key element in the future of the local economy—there is bolstering, through the deal, in new actions to integrate research and provide business incubator and clinical trials. And right across the whole of the deal area, the potential for economic acceleration is recognised as resting not simply on physical infrastructure, but crucially on the development of human capital. That is why, in all geographical parts of the Swansea city deal, there will be skills and talent development as an integral part of all the different investments that the deal brings. It’s important to remember, Llywydd, too, that the development of city deals should not be seen as simply project delivery and funding vehicles. The Swansea city deal is meant to be a catalyst to capture the commitment that so many individuals and organisations demonstrate to the future prosperity of south-west Wales, to enhance a collective confidence that the investments secured through the deal can be put to work for the benefit of the whole region. And of course, as the Minister with responsibility for local government, I am particularly interested to see how the city deal unlocks the regional potential of the area. And building on what has been achieved in the Cardiff capital deal, our White Paper on local government reform proposes that the city deal areas become the place where we locate, in future, the responsibility for economic development, regional transport—as Mike has emphasised throughout his contribution—and land use planning. If you bring those responsibilities together and have them discharged on a regional basis, we believe that that will complement the deal and make sure that it delivers its full potential. To do that, the deal has a set of agreed governance arrangements, and a clear commitment to an implementation plan. The governance arrangements are centred on a joint cabinet. It is very important, I believe, that final accountability in decision making should rest in the hands of elected individuals. Alongside the joint cabinet, there will be an economic strategy board that will be chaired by a representative of local private industry. It will monitor progress on the delivery of the deal and provide strategic advice to the joint committee on the way that the deal is operating on the ground. That governance arrangement will work with the UK Government and the Welsh Government to develop an agreed implementation, monitoring and evaluation plan in advance of implementation, and that will set out the proposed approach to making sure that we know that we can track the investments that we make and the impacts that they have on the local economy and on local communities. The city deal delivery team will provide the UK and Welsh Governments with a quarterly performance report. A joint scrutiny committee will be drawn from the membership of the four authorities to provide an independent scrutiny function and, in that way, involvement of local populations, as Suzy Davies said, is built into the way the deal is structured from the outset. Now, anybody who has been involved in Welsh public life at local authority or at Assembly level will know that working collaboratively brings challenges as well as opportunities, but what we have seen in the Swansea bay city deal is a group of local authorities with significant other players willing to come together, willing to overcome those challenges, to find new ways of challenging traditional ways of working, to find shared objectives, and to make the compromises that are inevitable if you are going to agree on long-term investments dedicated to making the very most of the investment that is available. We stand on the cusp of this new deal, with the potential that it has for south-west Wales. Now, it will be for all those who have come round the table so successfully to date to go on demonstrating that they can turn the very promising plans that we have been able to support into real action on the ground.