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  • Whiterock Wales

Making the right connections

Although a lot has been written about the initiative, it’s easy to get confused about the size and scope of the Swansea Bay City Region.

As far as the designated economic body goes, it actually stretches from Milford Haven to Margam Park.

With a population of 688,000 souls, the region includes Pembrokeshire, Carmarthen, Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, covering altogether some 1,860 square miles.

Just to put things into perspective however, Oxfordshire – considered one of England’s greenest southern counties - has a similar sized population contained within just over half the area.

The consequence is that population sparsity is as relevant as geography for south west Wales when it comes to developing sustainable solutions.

Emlyn Dole and Meryl Gravell of Carmarthenshire were first up in giving unqualified support to Terry Mathews for the City Deal bid which focuses on technology, health, energy and ultra-fast broadband infrastructure.

No surprise there. The approach is a neat fit with the can-do attitude in their council that has moved things forward through ambition, innovation and a fair bit of hustle thrown into the bargain.

No accident either that at least two west Wales outfits are among those looking at how they can capitalise on plans by Aston Martin to set up a manufacturing operation in St Athan.

Both firms have experience in the smart-car industry where the nature of automotive telemetry software is no less technically sophisticated than the systems that keep jet fighters in the air.

It’s this kind of interconnectivity that Medwin Hughes, UWTSD vice chancellor, has been flagging up to us for some time.

Instead of being on the western tip of the UK and the fringes of Europe, smart sustainability, as embodied in the City Deal proposal, offers the potential for us to be central to the needs of global firms looking to evolve next-generation capabilities.

Infrastructure itself takes on a different meaning. It's no longer a matter of efficient road links to seaports or the south east of England. What counts is having a different kind of connected speed.

You may have recently read of how NASA intends overcoming the problem of providing replacement parts by installing a 3D printer in the International Space Station.

Wouldn’t it be great if the application software was developed and uploaded by specialists based in Swansea Bay? Well guess what, they’re already here.

With all this latent talent at hand, it’s disappointing to hear that parochial tensions are creeping into the bid mechanism. We have to be bigger than that.

It’s also essential that the health aspect is embedded into the City Deal. Not only is this eminent commonsense, it’s also crucial if we want to withstand any further migration of clinical expertise to Cardiff, as happened with neurosurgical services not so long ago.

There are people out there who would like to see our connected cloud evaporate. Some of them don’t even think we deserve a chance to succeed. We can’t afford to give them a chance to be proved right.

Housing is everyone’s business

Apparently, the three main issues likely to influence voters are immigration, health and the economy. Housing rarely gets a mention until you bring it up on the doorstep, and then everyone has an opinion.

The questions of supply and demand are just as pressing, irrespective of whether you regard accommodation as a public service or as a market commodity.

At least that seemed to be the opinion at a local roundtable discussion I attended last week.

Jointly organised by the National Association of Estate Agents and the Association of Residential Lettings Agents, the session brought together politicians and industry professionals in order to elicit feedback on a number of challenging conclusions contained in the recently published Housing 2025 report.

Although Chatham House rules apply I’m sure Suzy Davies, Peter Black and Mike Hedges will have no problem with me mentioning their attendance or commenting on their highly insightful and constructive input. If only the Senedd worked the same way.

Better late than never in recognising bravery

It’s not often you get invited to an unveiling. So it was a privilege to be present when a blue plaque was recently installed at Mumbles Pier to recognise Margaret Wright and Jessie Ace, two sisters who put themselves at risk in saving several lives on a stormy January morning in 1883. I’ve been working with the pier owners on their regeneration project for some time but I’d never heard the story of how the Mumbles lifeboat got into trouble while going to the aid of a stricken German merchant vessel.

Ignoring their father's warning, the two sisters waded into the water, rescuing two men and helping another to safety. Although never officially recognised by their own nation for their heroism, both later received gold broaches from the Empress of Germany for their bravery and compassion.

I’d say the plaque is a fitting tribute. Congratulations to all concerned.


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