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Action, not words, call on city region.

Byline: Chris Kelsey Assistant head of business

BUSINESSES want to see action not more words over economic development for the South East Wales region, according to a report published yesterday.

The study by the South East Wales Economic Forum (SEWEF) revealed a "clear message" from most of the 200 business contributors that "we need to build on the strengths that we have and to do it quickly".

Contributors particularly wanted to see action on a long-term investment strategy for transport, including the M4 and a region-wide Metro, and the creation of a strong regional identity that would help in attracting visitors and investment.

Elizabeth Haywood, who was director of SEWEF until it was wound up in March, said most of the people who took part in the survey were less interested in the structure and personnel of the proposed Cardiff city region board.

Dr Haywood said: "I think there's a very healthy dose of scepticism in business that whenever we want to do something we set up a committee.

They're saying get on and deliver, who does it is less important than getting it done."

The survey was carried out before this week's announcement on the personnel of the Cardiff city region board, but Dr Haywood said she thought there would be a mixed response from businesses to the news.

"They do want the board to have the power and authority to get things done. There will be some disappointment that the board doesn't have those powers," she said. "I think some of them would think at least it's a step forward. What they'll want to see is some very quick and obvious lines of travel from the board."

Among the things that the business people surveyed picked out as a priority was the development of a strong regional identity.

Dr Haywood said: "There's a feeling we're not punching up to our weight, let alone above it. They think we've got a capital city, we should be making more of it."

One of the suggestions for achieving this was the construction of an "iconic building" for the region, similar to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

"There's a feeling we need something else [besides the Millennium Stadium and Wales Millennium Centre]," said Dr Haywood.

"It has been done in Bilbao, they decided they were going to make culture the focal point. The main arteries have all been built, road and rail, which work."

On the question of the name for the city region, Dr Haywood said that most businesses preferred Cardiff to South East Wales.

"Cardiff is the the identifier, it doesn't matter if they're from Newport or elsewhere," she said.

Another overwhelming priority for most businesses was development of the region's transport infrastructure, including improvements to the M4, rail network and Cardiff airport.

"Smaller businesses tend to see the M4 as less of an issue because their markets are more local. As companies get a little larger their markets are further afield, that's when the need for an artery comes in," Dr Haywood said.

She added that many businesses said that rail and air links were more important than the M4.

"That's one reason why the Metro came out on top and beyond the M4, and not just the electrification of the Valleys lines but Mark Barry's larger vision," she said.

Dr Haywood said businesses need to have confidence that there is a long-term strategy in place for economic development.

She said they wanted "a proper 10-year investment plan in people, transport and places.

"Business likes certainty, they don't like things chopping and changing because they can't plan for it. It's having a long-term investment that they can understand," she added.

The study, which was carried out using an online survey, interviews and focus groups, was commissioned by SEWEF before it was wound up in March. Dr Haywood was asked to stay on to see the survey and report through to competion.


Elizabeth Haywood speaks about the City Regions report during a press conference at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay

Andrew James
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 23, 2013
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