He has been called a ‘traitor” by some for looking to work more closely with Bristol, but the leader of Cardiff council worries about those you don’t see the big picture.
The council leaders of Cardiff, Bristol and Newport have called on the UK Government to back rail investment needed to bring the three cities closer together economically.
Addressing a meeting of Cardiff Breakfast Cub, leader of Cardiff council Phil Bale said he and the leader of Newport council Debbie Wilcox and the Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees, have written to Chancellor Philip Hammond calling for rail investment to significantly reduce journey times across the Severnside region.
He said that together the city regions of Cardiff and Bristol had a combined economic output worth £20bn more than for Wales as a whole.
Speaking at the Swalec Stadium in Cardiff he said both regions had an appetite to see beyond national boundaries and to work together to help drive mutually beneficial economic growth.
Mr Bale said: “The distance between Cardiff and Bristol is currently 48 minutes by train. Imagine the economic possibilities if it took less than half an hour – on a turn-up-and-go service operating four trains an hour?
“We believe it’ doable. And we [three leaders] have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to press the case for this vital investment.”
He said that improving transport connectivity between the UK’s core cities, which he currently described as poor, is vital.
And he said this will need the prioritising of infrastructure investment and backing those which will have the biggest impact on improving the competitiveness of the Welsh eocnomy.
He said: “You have to question whether half a billion pounds for a rail line between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth is going to deliver the best return for the Welsh economy.
“We should instead be focusing on how we can link Wales to the emerging high speed network.
“We can’t be HS6 or HS7. If we are it will cost us tens of thousands of jobs. The UK Government must also deliver on their commitment for rail access to Heathrow from the Great Western Mainline.
“The performance of Cardiff airport is definitely going in the right direction.”
“Buying the airport was a bold move by the Welsh Government. It appears to be paying off.
But we’ve got to be realistic. With a third runway likely to go ahead, easy access to Heathrow is vital for this city’s economy.
“This is because – in or out of Europe – we need to be connected to the wider world.”
He said that closer collaboration with Bristol made economic sense, building on the Great Western Cities inititiative.
He added: “Because when you see that the total economic output of Cardiff and Bristol city regions is just over £66bn, which is almost £20bn higher than the total output for Wales, you realise it makes economic sense to work together.
“In the past I’ve received criticism in some quarters for working with our neighbours across the Severn. And I’ve even been called a traitor.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I worry for those who don’t see the big picture here. I’m a proud Welshman, but I’m not an inward looking one.”
The line is being electrified between Bristol Parkway and Cardiff Central Station as part of the electrification of the Great Western Mainline.
It was originally planned to also electrify what is effectively a triangle of track on the English side of the Severn Tunnel, where the line from South Wales splits for journeys to Parkway and Bristol’s other station Temple Meads.
Investment would also have linked Temple Meads and Parkway with an electrified section of track.
However, apart from the Great Western Mainline, this is no longer on the radar of Network Rail, who through a catalogue of delays and huge overspends on electrification projects across the UK – and putting billions of pounds of borrowing on the UK Government’s books – has had its funding curtailed by the Department for Transport.
And last year it was forced to shelve or defer previously planned projects – including electrification of the Great Western Mainline to Swansea by 2019.
If this now happens, and there is a big question mark here, it might not reach Swansea until 2024.
But if the Chancellor is looking to boost the economy through more infrastructure investment spending, and we should learn the extent of that in his Autumn Statement later this month, this project certainly ticks all the right boxes.
Mr Bale also called on the UK Government to commit to funding the redevelopment of Cardiff Train Station, which is needed to cope with increasing passenger numbers at the currently inadequate and Victorian built station.
Negotiations between Cardiff council and the UK Government on a funding solution, which with masterplanning would be north of £100m, are continuing.
Mr Bale said: ” The new BBC Wales headquarters is placing the city’s biggest creative asset right in the heart of the city. In Central Square we’re creating a new business location where business want to locate, where people want to work, alongside a new gateway to Wales.
“This is a partnership between the council and the private sector, and the progress is there for everybody to see. But it’s now entering a critical phase.
“The council is building a brand new transport interchange, designed by world leading architects Foster + Partners.
“But it is essential that the ongoing regeneration of Central Square is reinforced by the transformation of Central Station.
“I have pressed the case for that investment with the Welsh and UK governments and with Network Rail. I have done so because I know how important it is for you.
“From my perspective this is a non-negotiable. The UK Government needs to stop dithering and release the funding, and I will be looking for a commitment in the upcoming Autumn Statement.
“Cardiff deserves nothing less.”
A funding and planning solution could be through a joint approach between Cardiff council, Network Rail, Transport for Wales/Welsh Government, property development company Rightacres – which has revealed plans for a three million sq ft mixed-used regeneration scheme immediately south of the station – and the bidder chosen by Transport for Wales to build and run services on the next phase of the South Wales Metro in Valley Lines electrification.
Cardiff Breakfast Club is sponsored by Stills Branding, the Western Mail, Effective Communication, Blake Morgan, Lloyds Banking Group and the Western Mail.
Credit: Sion Barry, Wales Online