A couple of weeks ago I was in Cardiff with more than 100 committed and knowledge folk talking about city regions at the Institute for Welsh Affairs economy event. The contributions both from the floor and from the stage were excellent and diverse which reflects the nature of the topic: city regions mean different things to different people.
Several issues struck me as interesting which are set out below:
- More than economic: we often start any discussion about city regions from an economic perspective (and indeed my contribution did exactly this) but it was evident during the afternoon that for those involved the idea has significant social, cultural and political connotations that need to be incorporated into the concept. And there was pretty unanimous feeling that only relying on economic reasons and arguments to make the case for city regions in Wales will fail.
- Linking the deliverable ‘here and now’ with the ambitious future: there was recognition that whilst creating a successful city region was a 20-25 year project that would significant investment and change, having ‘quick wins’ that demonstrate how the idea can benefit more than a few was critical. Inevitably discussions focused on the proposal for creating a more integrated transport system serving Cardiff and its hinterlands, with the majority conclusion being that this was the long-term symbolic project that needed to be prioritised.
- It’s more than a name: the tension was palpable in the room when the name for the South East Wales City Region was about to be announced. After careful consultation we were told the city region will be called the Cardiff Capital Region. External observers (myself included) often scoff at the inability of local actors (politicians, businesspeople and residents alike) to put aside their differences for the greater good. But listening to the reaction of the announcement reminded me of the symbolic importance of such a moment. And those involved should be applauded. This gives me hope that the naming challenges in other city regions will be overcome.
- Need to be generous, open and curious: this was Bristol Mayor George Ferguson’s great response to a question about how you make sure that other places within the city region (and beyond) benefit as well as the city. This captures very well the notion and value of adopting a city region approach: more can be achieved by working together, the costs and benefits can be shared more efficiently, and ideas and learning can be generated and shared more effectively.