Making tracks in the wrong direction?
It’s been intriguing to watch how transport has shifted back and forth in the Welsh regeneration perspective as being either a problem or a solution – and occasionally both.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, one or two academics are questioning the worth of the proposed M4 relief road and the South Wales Metro in terms of benefit outside Cardiff.
And as First Minister Carwyn Jones heads off to Brussels in an attempt to tap the EU for £110m support funding, a leading economist has warned that the Welsh capital could be the only immediate winner from building a new integrated transport sys
tem with valleys communities having to wait decades before they see any benefit.
Historically speaking, creating a mass-transit system is seldom the easy option or a cheap one. They can go badly off the tracks, so to speak, with the result that funders eventually opt to cut their losses dramatically.
The infamous Edinburgh tram project cost £776million – more than double the agreed budget. It was completed three years behind schedule and even then only after the original planned route was very significantly reduced.
To add insult to injury, the cost of an ongoing official inquiry by the Scottish government into the how things went so badly wrong has since spiralled to at least £6.5m compared to the £1m estimate.
Economy Secretary Ken Skates said the Welsh government hopes to "have diggers in the ground towards the end of this decade". We’ll see.
Meanwhile, a transport expert has warned that a tram or monorail-style system in Swansea could be unsustainable because the city is not big enough.
According to Stuart Cole, Professor of Transport at the University of South Wales, the city’s 242,000 population is too low to sustain a transit network unless some hefty subsidies are involved.
His report reckons that Swansea would be better off reducing car use through bus priority schemes on a similar scale to Bristol where £44m has been spent over several years.
That view may resonate with the urbanists but it’s not exactly the most positive message to give to local citizens who are still trying figure out what the Bendy bus and Boulevard projects were supposed to achieve.
Recent development has seen a rise in congestion problems in Swansea at peak times and noticeably at main city gateways. This is not lost on the local council who are looking at an innovative way forward.
I understand that senior local authority figures are therefore a little bemused with the Cole report. Indeed, it feels in some quarters as if the Welsh government, who commissioned the study, has issued an premature funding refusal.
That’s a little ironic, especially as anyone who implies a South Wales Metro can operate without a whopping public subsidy is patently blowing smoke of their own.
Maybe those Cardiff Bay folk who’ve been demanding that the Westminster government keeps its obligations over rail electrification from Paddington to Swansea should be looking a little closer to home.
Working on winning ways
Last week saw Liberty Stadium hosting regional heats of Premier League Enterprise.
Jointly funded by the Premier League and Sport Relief, the PLE scheme helps inspire young people into lifting horizons and skills.
The challenge given to teams from Llangatwg Community School and Pentrehafod School was to prepare a business plan on how to capitalise on the US visitor market.
Both delivered very crisp and well-researched presentations, in Dragons-Den style, which included details of travel packages and phone apps. It was noticeable how the judging panel were scribbling furiously when mention was made of how the Premiership has a global interest spanning 190 countries.
Watching the youngsters in action, you could see how the experience itself builds confidence and self-esteem. I also was delighted to see Swans keeper Lukasz Fabianski and old ‘Magic Daps’ Lee Trundle giving up their time to help Swans Community Trust organise the evening.
Well done to everyone involved in a very worthwhile venture.
Priorities begin at home
You’ve probably read over the past few weeks how Swansea MP Carolyn Harris has been leading a campaign to end charges for child burial fees. Her call has gained cross-party support and was backed last weekend by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Carolyn lost her eight year old son Martin in a road accident in 1989. Being a low-income worker at the time, she struggled to pay the funeral bills. It was only the goodwill of neighbours who helped raise cash and a bank loan that cleared her debt.
Many undertakers and church groups waive their fees for child funerals. Local authorities however need to charge because of maintenance commitments. Carolyn is arguing that the UK government should make a fund available for councils to reclaim.
The estimated cost is something like £10m a year. It sounds like a sizeable sum until you learn its only slightly less than the bill for ferrying government ministers and civil servants around for the same period.