Despite the pervading “cancel culture” that’s going around, I’m encouraged by how local movers and shakers are evolving their post-COVID recovery plans.
As far as Swansea Bay in concerned, it’s noticeable that the impetus stems from a range of City Deal-related projects. Further upbeat activity includes schemes such as Swansea Central and the new arena. Developing an upgraded infrastructure is also a key aspect of recovery. I’m hoping that we’ll hear something soon regarding the Swansea Metro. To my mind, a rail network stretching from Pontarddulais to Briton Ferry and encompassing the universities would be a massive game-changer.
I suppose it’s to be expected though, given the current state of things, that signs of the old negativity have been creeping back. Some of the comments on social media about imaginative plans to revamp Swansea Market are a case in point.
None of it is original. You get the tired old references to the unreliability of artists impressions, but try obtaining planning approval without one. Then there’s the joker who thinks the Luftwaffe could do a better job.
The best ones however are the pundits who think progress involves jumping into a time-machine and going back to the busy High Streets of the 1950’s.
Well, the bad news for them is that the change that’s coming doesn’t include more shops. Even before the pandemic, every city centre in the UK faced the challenge of how to deal with online reality. The same goes for out-of-town shopping malls and retail centres.
Experts talk about “urban repurposing”. To the rest of us, it’s how towns and cities can morph into places where we still want to visit, work and buy stuff. Whatever the term, that kind of transformation involves a lot of upfront investment.
What’s more, unless people start voting for a socialist utopia, new developments will continue to largely rely on private sector cash. You can also bet that the people who make those decisions will want reassurances that they’ll see a return on their money.
Commercial certainty is in short supply these days but that’s where local councils quite literally provide the groundwork.
Despite decades of being side-lined by government dogma, local authorities remain hugely influential and best placed to take a lead role in economic development partnerships.
If evidence were needed, just compare their outstanding performance in providing a series of field hospitals with the private-sector disasters of ineffective track-and-trace systems and sub-standard protective clothing.
As leaders position the region towards regaining lost ground, I’d like to think that we’ll see some realism on all sides. Things can’t simply go back to the way there were, especially in terms of regulation.
What I mean, and I’ve come this far without mentioning Brexit, is that we’re going to need to do things quicker and smarter.
New start-ups will be an essential element in renewal strategies. Equally, measures to safeguard existing jobs has to be a priority.
The regional approach must involve a recognition that business needs prompt decisions and a flexible approach to changing circumstances.
If that doesn’t happen then it won’t be just a missed opportunity. It will be a failure - and one for which we’ll all end up paying, one way or another.