Ceri John Davies
The invitation to tender for the South Wales Metro has just gone out, and a plan for another metro for Swansea Bay is trundling over the horizon.
We’re getting a new £1bn motorway to improve a bottleneck near Newport, and there are discussions about a new bridge over the Menai Strait.
We can’t seem to escape the mass transit of people as the solution to Wales’ economic woes.
These grand transport projects require massive capital inputs, borrowing, and require a subsidy to keep them going.
You don’t hear much about this subsidy when transport plans are discussed, but let’s remember that we, the taxpayer, pay to move all these people around.
A recent report suggested that each journey on Welsh Rail had government support of £9.33.
Isn’t it about time we asked why spend so much time and energy moving people around the country?
We’re primarily a service economy and therefore much of modern work is now done on a keyboard and a screen.
My entire working career could have been done pretty much anywhere, but has mostly been spent in offices in the centre of Cardiff.
Why are we moving people in and out of increasingly built up and harder to get to city centres, to work on a screen they could have in their spare room?
This is offering 20th-century solutions to 21st-century problems.
Consider for example the new 25-year lease that HMRC have taken on the most expensive real estate in the centre of Cardiff.
This city centre glass and steel edifice will house near 4000 staff, most of which are going to have to travel in.
You will have walkers and cyclists, but a lot of them are going to drive – some perhaps from as far away as over the border, once the Severn Bridge tolls are scrapped.
But how many of those workers really need to be in the centre of Cardiff, every day of the week, to do their jobs? 10% perhaps?
I would like to outline a different vision.
I work for Indycube, a Community Benefit Society known for its co-working sites. We have a 21st century vision that I hope should make us stop and think about what we are currently doing.
Indycube is pushing forward a radical new agenda – which is that people should work from the communities where they live.
Let’s consider the advantages for a typical valleys town like Aberdare:
- The commuter would save on the cost of a train ticket to Cardiff, around £11.60, every day. That’s nearly £60 a week.
- Air quality and the quality of life between Aberdare and Cardiff would improve due to fewer people travelling between them.
- Over the course of a week, the worker would have a spare 10 hours to do things more important to society – pick their children up from school, take care of elderly relatives, and community-building.
- The local hairdresser, the florist, local shops, the bank are all more likely to stay open because of that lunchtime stroll or coffee.
- Workers would have an opportunity to reuse historical buildings in the community that had been left to decay, repurposed to house modern offices and workplaces.
So, rather than spend billions on transport in Wales, why not invest in community-owned office complexes that can then be let out to office workers from all sectors, private, public and third?
We will still need transport links. We travel for more than work, and Welsh infrastructure needs to improve, but let’s fundamentally look at what it is for.
If the plans are there to move people to jobs, let’s look again. Do we need to cut a few minutes off the journey from Swansea to Cardiff?
The state is paying billions for these projects. Why not put some of that money into communities, and return old buildings in town centres to their former glories?
It’s the 21st century and we have the tech to make this happen. Employers can see who has signed in, what they’ve been working on, even talk to them ‘face to face’ via Skype.
What’s stopping us?