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TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER; Creating city region is 'a way out of recession'.

Byline: Peter Law

SOUTH Wales' towns and cities must set aside rivalries and work together as a city region or hopes for economic growth will "shrivel".

The stark warning comes from the chairman of an independent group which yesterday called for the creation of Cardiff City Region to deliver new jobs and prosperity.

Writing today, Dr Elizabeth Haywood, chairman of the City Region Task and Finish Group commissioned by the Welsh Government, says the new status "offers a way out of recession".

The group yesterday published a blueprint setting out a new approach to planning, transport and economic development that cut across traditional council boundaries.

Council leaders across the region welcomed the report yesterday, but only the leader of Cardiff council offered full support for the radical concept.

The creation of two city regions was recommended; one covering South-East Wales - which would be marketed as the Cardiff City Region - and a smaller region based around Swansea Bay covering a population of 700,000.

As first revealed by the Echo yesterday, the Cardiff City Region would have a population of 1.4 million people and include Cardiff, Newport, the Valleys authorities, as well as the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend.

The group set out 22 recommendations in total, which also included a new transport body for South-East Wales, spatial and housing planning at a regional level and appointing a minister for city regions.

The report says that by working across boundaries, the city region would have the "clout", labour market and skills to attract investment and influence policy-makers.

If implemented, South-East Wales could follow in the footsteps of other UK and international cities, such as Manchester, Stuttgart in Germany and Vancouver in Canada.

The exact governance arrangements would be left to the city regions to explore, but the group recommends against directly-elected "super-mayors".

Explaining the recommendation to market South-East Wales under the "Cardiff City" banner, Dr Haywood said the Valleys authorities must "swallow their pride" as the capital, with its world-renowned Millennium Stadium, was recognised by people outside of Wales.

Dr Haywood writes: "There is a choice: each local authority, town or small city can shelter within its comfort zone and lag behind or they can move ahead by sharing power and supporting each other to win economic projects rather than competing against one another and failing.

"If we fail to step up to the mark and take advantage of the critical mass offered by our city regions, our homegrown growth prospects will shrivel and external investors will lose interest." Cardiff council's Labour leader Heather Joyce said: "Cardiff council has for more than 15 years supported the creation of a city region, but it is important that this is for the benefit of everybody.

"I look forward to being part of conversations with others to move this forward."

Councillor Bob Bright, leader of Newport council, said: "We look forward to reviewing the detail as regards Newport's position, weighing up the pros and cons of this report and considering how the proposals might benefit us.

"The most important thing is the future prosperity of Wales, the success of the towns within it and of course Newport as a city."

Coun Ken James, cabinet member for planning at Caerphilly council, said: "Any collaborative plan must ensure that the social inequalities in the region, particularly in the Valleys, are addressed.

"Improved transport links, especially improved rail links and electrification of the Valleys railway lines will assist in taking this agenda forward."

While Adrian Clark, chairman of Cardiff & Co, the organisation tasked with promoting the city region, said: "Cardiff competes well against larger regions across the UK and Europe but combining with neighbouring areas in this way will make the city region offering so much stronger.

"There will be sensitivities in each city and town but we believe our collective strength lies in working together and it is important that a city region brings benefits to all parts of the region."

Welsh Local Government Association chief executive Steve Thomas said the dangers of "city-centric approach" could only be countered by full "buy in" by all communities within the region.

Business Minister Edwina Hart yesterday welcomed the report, but said it would be some time in the middle of the next term when her Government would formally respond.

Chair of the City Regions Task and Finish Group, Elizabeth Haywood, explains why Wales should establish city regions A FIFTH of the world's population in main towns and cities generates nearly two-thirds of global wealth (GDP).

Yet Wales' cities produce only one third of our GDP - half the world's average and the lowest proportion anywhere in Britain.

Why? Cities are key drivers of economic development worldwide - but all our cities are small.

The evidence shows that to be an effective economic driver a city - or, as important, the "city region" around it - needs at the very minimum a 500,000 population to give it the necessary critical mass to achieve a quantum leap in performance.

None of our cities come anywhere near this, although two of our city regions (South-eEast Wales and Swansea Bay) exceed it.

Their critical mass is the underlying factor in our decision to recommend recognition of them as "city regions".

We examined successful city regions like Manchester, Leeds, Stuttgart, Vancouver, Bilbao and Lille and found common factors: good transport links, digital connectivity, skills and innovation.

Crucially the sum of the city and the region around it is bigger than the two parts on their own.

Put them together and the economic "pie" gets larger and growth increases - with the "region" just as important to success as the "city".

The city hub feeds off its periphery and the periphery depends upon the vibrancy of the hub.

For instance, a manufacturing plant might wish to be close to a city with its transport, skills and communications infrastructure. Yet modern manufacturing rarely locates in cramped, traffic jammed city centres as it once did - better to be just outside, provided road, rail and bus links to the city and the rest of the country are good.

As property prices in cities and towns rise, people look to live just outside - but they still need good commuter links to get to work and enjoy city facilities.

City regions represent the geography of everyday life, and pay little heed to local authority or government-imposed boundaries.

As travel has become easier, more of us go further for work, shopping, education or leisure. Our economic footprint has expanded.

But Wales can only take advantage of this potential by acting big, not parochially.

There is a choice - each local authority, town or small city can shelter within its comfort zone and lag behind, or they can move ahead by sharing power and supporting each other to win economic projects rather than competing against one another and failing.

If we fail to step up to the mark and take advantage of the critical mass offered by our city regions, our home-grown growth prospects will shrivel and external investors will lose interest.


* Elizabeth Haywood says city regions 'pay little heed to local authority boundaries'
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 12, 2012

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