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  • Lawrence Bailey

Confusion reigns in Swansea

It’s a time-honoured tradition in journalism to take a seemingly provocative comment slightly out of context and then go looking for reaction.

Witness the feedback to reported views by Andrew Carter of the Centre for Cities who described Swansea as ‘confused’ and 15 years behind Cardiff, in terms of development.

Predictable knee-jerk stuff aside though, it’s worth analysing what he has to say - even if it does come across as someone sticking a hosepipe up your trouser leg and telling you it’s raining.

Firstly, we should remember how it’s only a couple of decades since official Westminster economic thinking was that you can boost a nation’s prosperity by force-feeding its capital city. Indeed, I dare say there are still some in Cathays Park who still adhere to this flawed philosophy.

But let’s be blunt. Cardiff has never quite recovered from waking up in a sweat in the 1980’s to discover that the M4 motorway was effectively a by-pass.

They’ve been desperately making up for the loss of through-traffic ever since with bursts of public spending and a progeny of national institutions. Much of that has been at the expense of the rest of Wales, who must content themselves with European handouts.

As for Swansea being ‘confused’, well, and speaking as someone who is among the small army of networkers who hustle on this city’s behalf, I tend to agree.

We periodically forsake the visionary approach that once made the city a distinctive place in planning terms for expedient gimmickry. Somewhere along the line, we swapped long-term perspective for short-term strategies, abortive branding exercises and really stupid traffic schemes.

This is compounded by a track record of failing to follow through on imaginative past projects.

Swansea is the city that built an iconic barrage across the mouth of its river only to forget about it for the next three decades. It also created an internationally renowned Maritime Quarter and then restricted access to a single dormitory road where pedestrians appear to be in bad taste.

For all its undoubted energy, Swansea has gone backwards as a regional retail hub. Although we now thankfully have some upbeat political leadership intent on tackling this malaise, questions persist as to whether we have the skills. It often feels that officialdom is happier in a regulatory role - taking a car-park attendant attitude towards progress.

What probably made Mr Carter’s comments all the more cutting was how it followed earlier news that a new national trauma centre was likely to go to Cardiff rather than Morriston hospital.

It is naïve to think the medical world is any less prone to empire-building. No-one doubts that decisions will be influenced by someone playing the population density card. Or that it will become harder to attract top-grade clinicians to west Wales in future as a result. Just occasionally however, there are occasions when merit overcomes patronage. That’s something I’ll be thinking as I settle down to watch the opening game at the Liberty in a few months.

In that respect at least, Swansea is definitely in a different league.

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