Is Cardiff Metro Network Wales’ HS2?

The National Audit Office in London has delivered a very critical assessment of the proposed HS2 high speed rail link between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. (Click here for BBC report.) Especially damning is the view that the promised economic benefits for cities other than London might not materialise. Worse, these other cities might actually lose out. To come to this conclusion the NAO relied on evidence from around the world, some of it dealt with Flanders HS2in this recent Newsnight report. This, to some extent, is the ‘shadow effect’, which argues that it is difficult for other, competing cities to flourish within the ambit of a dominating political, economic and cultural presence such as London. Looking at it this way, HS2 will merely lengthen London’s ‘shadow’.

There are examples of improved communications other than rail damaging areas brought ‘nearer’ to ‘shadow’-casting towns and cities. Here in Wales we need only think of the A55 North Wales Expressway. When the A55 was being built in the 1980s and 1990s we were told, by Minister of State Wyn Roberts, that it was a “Highway of Opportunity” . . . he should have added, ‘for Chester and other places on the English side of the border’. For soon after the A55 reached Bangor the Royal Mail moved its North Wales sorting facilities to Chester. Other employers followed because it was now possible to ‘serve’ North Wales from England. This leap into the future actually took us back to some of the darkest days of Welsh subjugation, when Chester served as the ‘capital’ of North Wales, the place to which countless patriots were dragged to be humiliated and butchered. Turning to a more modern capital . . .

As yet I have heard no Welsh response to the NAO report, nor any comparison made with the proposed Cardiff Metro network. (Institute of Welsh Affairs report here.) Which may not be surprising, seeing as there are  comparisons to be made, but these are hardly helpful to the proponents of the Cardiff Metro system. Which also highlights a major difference between HS2 and the Cardiff Metro system. Many of those in favour of HS2 genuinely believe that the reduced journey times from London will bring tangible economic benefits to Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and other cities. This can not be said for those pushing the Cardiff system; for as David Stevens of Admiral Insurance put it, “We must help Cardiff compete more effectively with cities across Europe”. (A condition known to clinical psychologists as fixato obsessivo barcelonis.)

Cardiff Metro System
Click to Enlarge

The Cardiff system is – as it says on the label – all about making Cardiff look like a metropolis by integrating and aggregating the populations of surrounding urban areas. This linking in with the Cardiff city state project. So if HS2 might extend London’s ‘shadow’ as far as Leeds, what could the Cardiff Metro system do for Newport, Merthyr, Bridgend? I suspect that if this system was constructed, then it would extend Cardiff’s ‘shadow’, allowing little to flourish from Bridgend to the border and from Merthyr to the coast . . . unless it lay within the city.

The evidence is piling up that improved communications often work against ‘peripheral’ areas and this should act as a wake-up call for many threatened by the Cardiff Metro system. It would be nice to think that Labour councillors in the Valleys could tear themselves away from their expenses claims forms for long enough to think about the people they supposedly represent. That senior executives on local authorities might take a break from wangling higher salaries to devote time to the communities they’re employed to serve. But for both, it’s probably too much like hard work, so they’ll end up doing what Russell Goodwage and the Wasting Mule want them to do; plus the IWA, the Cardiff Business Partnership and others who wouldn’t give a toss if Ebbw Vale and Treherbert were to disappear off the map.

14 thoughts on “Is Cardiff Metro Network Wales’ HS2?

  1. David

    This is also an interesting article with the same kind of points being made:

    “Alexandra Jones, who runs the think-tank Centre for Cities, told me about research they had done, showing that businesses in cities like Manchester or Leeds tend to look first to London when they need to buy in specialist help or establish a joint venture in a particular sector, even when the talent or expertise they need is also readily available, more cheaply, in a neighbouring city.

    Transport is surely one of many reasons for that. Why would you look closer to home if the nearer city takes just as long to get to?

    Over time, you can see how London’s dominance could become ever more entrenched, with Britain’s “second tier” cities never reaching critical mass.”

    Of course, not only are those in power in Wales wanting to create a kind of Greater Cardiff City Region but they also want to make London journey times shorter too. Why don’t they go just that one step further and bloody well move there themselves and get it over and done with?!

    1. Jac

      Without the distances enjoyed by the US, Australia and other countries; or the history and more modern decentralisation of, say, Germany, English provincial cities are stymied. In Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh are far enough away, and choose to be different, to have futures. Here in Wales we have had governments that have chosen to replicate the UK model by focusing power and wealth in the south east. The Cardiff Metro rail system, the Cardiff city region, are just further manifestations of this policy. If this continues, then Wales will need devolution from Cardiff.

  2. Docks Soul


    So tell me what sort of future you think valley towns like Ebbw Vale and Treherbert could look forward to without better transport links to the M4 corridor?
    Do you have an alternative plan for the rejuvenation of the valleys?

    No one is likely to bring large numbers of jobs to the valleys ever again, and anyone with genuine concern for the people who live there – and more importantly those who wish to remain there and prosper, should welcome better transport links to those places where it is easier to attract inward investment.
    The thousands from the valleys who already commute to places like Llantrisant, Bridgend and Newport for work will benefit from this scheme, it is not just about Cardiff.

    As for Labour Councillors in the valleys, many are already opposed to a Cardiff City Region as they regard it as a major threat to their own hard won little fiefdoms. Outside interference and more scrutiny is the last thing they want.

    Finally comparison to the HS2 is quite ridiculous and one only a “one eyed jack” with an ulterior motive could make.

    1. El T

      “The thousands from the valleys who already commute to places like Llantrisant, Bridgend and Newport”

      That’s the thing, these are the places where investment is needed! We need to spread investment across these mini ‘regional capitals’ that have serve their nearby valleys, instead of creating a centralised region designed to serve the interests of Cardiff.

  3. Jac

    “Better transport links to the M4 corridor”, you are a one for euphemisms. This is about Cardiff, and only Cardiff. So why can’t we have some honesty?

    Let those promoting this Cardiff Metro system tell the people in the Heads of the Valleys, ‘OK, here’s the thing; from now on all the jobs will be in Cardiff, so you can either move there, commute there, or stay here on the dole. But anybody who tells you improved communications will bring jobs here is a liar’.

    Comparison with the HS2 is valid because both promise what they cannot deliver. And because the real beneficiaries will be London and Cardiff.

    1. Stephen Hurley

      All the jobs are in Cardiff and the M4 corridor, that is a simple fact of life. Without better transport links people from the valleys will face a bleak future as it is to expensive for them to relocate even if they wanted to.

  4. John Uplesdots

    Is Henllan Falls Wales’ Niagara?
    If your post was on printed matter, I’d send it to the Dull News in Local Newspapers blog.
    The South Wales Evening Post has been re-named The South Wales Evening Post.

  5. David

    Investment and lower taxation is needed in Wales and not a faster transport system to elsewhere making it easier for goods to be brought in and money shipped out. We have to become more self-sustaining and keep money circulating in our communities as far as possible. It seems our politicians want to make it as easy as possible for us to be fleeced by the big corporations.

  6. ian

    The political agenda has always been to build up cardiff and nothing ever seems to change.

    The politicians always find the money for cardiff like finding £52 million to buy cardiff airport or finding millions for the senedd and opera house.

    Mrs Hart said there was little money for enterprise zones yet she found money for not one but two.

    It’s hard to think what other things the politicians can dream up just to throw money at cardiff.

    It hard to think

  7. Stephen Hurley

    The days of grants to entice Multi national companies to the valleys has gone, we simply cannot compete with Eastern Europe The fact people have to face is as an industrial base, the valleys is finished, and as animals do when the food gets scarce, move on to pastures new.

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