Is it time to move Wales’ capital from Cardiff?
Ifan Morgan Jones
One recurring theme throughout Wales’ history has been its tendency to copy England’s blueprint.
That’s no surprise – an awful lot of former British colonies copy England. Westminster isn’t called the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ for nothing. And in many cases, it’s no bad thing.
England, as the first modern nation-state, has served as a model for many of the world’s polities.
But Wales’ over-dependence on Britain’s (read England’s) example means that we sometimes don’t realise that other, better models exist to be emulated.
Because of this, as well as copying what England does well, we also sometimes copy what it does badly.
One of these bad habits is over-centralisation – ironically, one of the very things devolution was designed to solve.
Cardiff is very quickly becoming a second London. A booming city that sucks in investment and is largely unrepresentative of the rest of the nation.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Cardiff. And if Wales is to stand on its own two feet economically, it needs an economic and cultural engine – a prosperous multicultural world city.
But what is also needed is a balance. Our growth-obsessed political culture means it’s all too easy to keep feeding the goose that lays the golden eggs your best wheat.
Economic growth is important but so is the political stability of the nation, and it’s important that the government isn’t seen to be over-investing in the core at the expense of the periphery.
After all, one of the driving forces behind Welsh nationalism is and always has been that the country is largely ignored by the London-centric establishment.
It’s hard to make that case in some parts of Wales when – because of over-centralisation as well as poor transport links – Cardiff is just as distant and unfamiliar as London.
There’s no good reason either why our nation’s capital needs to be the nation’s largest city.
Canberra in Australia is far smaller than the largest city, Sydney. New Delhi in India is tiny compared to Mumbai.
Brasilia is far smaller than several other cities in Brazil, Beijing is smaller than Shanghai, Pretoria is smaller than Johannesburg, Ottawa is smaller than Toronto, Washington D.C. can’t be compared to New York.
In fact, as you scan the list of 35 prominent nation-states where the capital is much smaller than many other urban centres, you realise that the ‘stick the capital in the largest city’ approach is only ‘normal’ to us because we live in the shadow of London.
And, in fact, there have been increasing calls of late to move the capital of England to Manchester.
I can’t think of a single measure that would more immediately break up Britain’s over-cozy elite than moving the capital to Manchester
— Jeremy Cliffe (@JeremyCliffe) September 29, 2017
Cardiff is big enough to do without being the Welsh capital. It had been a booming sea-port for over 100 years before being chosen as the capital in 1955.
It would have no problem filling the office space and employing the workforce if the Welsh Government or Parliament were to relocate elsewhere.
The city is already well-known internationally and would suffer no loss of prestige as the result of a move, any more than Sydney suffers because it isn’t the Australian capital.
It would, in fact, allow Wales’ to develop a little more strength in depth, rather than becoming known for one city at the expense of all others.
You may be completely on board so far – you may not – but the difficult second question is of course where to put the capital city.
The two other towns in the running in the 1950s were Swansea and Caernarfon.
Moving the capital to Swansea might be popular with the jacks not do very much to solve the problem of over-centralisation on the M4 corridor.
Moving the capital to Caernarfon would bring some much-needed balance to Wales’ north/south, east/west axis. It’s a poor area and could do with a lot more investment.
However, it might be a mistake politically to locate your Senedd in an area where support for devolution is at its highest anyway.
There is a danger that you would lose those areas of Wales suspicious of being run by cultural nationalists in the ‘Fro Gymraeg’.
My solution is a little bit utopian but bear with me – I would create a completely new capital, somewhere in the midlands.
There would be five advantages to doing so, in my opinion:
- Neither north Wales or south Wales would feel they were missing out. In fact, it might just render the idea of there being a separate ‘north Wales’ and ‘south Wales’ obsolete
- It would encourage civil servants to prioritise north/south transport links within Wales, so that the entire population has access to the capital
- It wouldn’t be too far from HS2, opening up financial links the length of Britain rather than having to make a binary choice between London or ‘the Northern Powerhouse’
- It could be designed with the latest knowledge in city planning in mind, with an emphasis on public transport, sustainability, cycle routes and green spaces
- It would bring investment to Wales’ equivalent of ‘fly over country’
Brasilia, Washington D.C. and Canberra are good examples of planned cities designed from scratch to fulfil the job of being their nation’s capital.
What all three have in common is that they’re lovely places, full of green spaces, attractive architecture and a generally high quality of life.
You wouldn’t have to locate everything in this city either – as in Australia, ministries and offices could be distributed throughout the country.
This is utopian, I know. I don’t imagine for a second that a country that can’t build a half-decent road across Wales has the vision to bring such an ambitious project to fruition!
But there’s no harm however in radical thinking which may spur new ideas and solutions to some of the problems that face us as a nation.
There’s no good reason to stick to the London model in a nation-state which is beginning to crack under the weight of geographic and financial inequality.
Wales can look at what has worked well beyond the British Isles and build a nation-state in which all parts of the country feel that they’re getting their fair share.
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Aberystwyth is the cultural capital of Wales as well being within a few hours drive of every part of Wales. The Senedd should be there. As for the Welsh bureaucracy, no need to concentrate it anywhere. Spread it around. If anyone can remember the post 1997 referendum farce regarding where to park the Assembly, it was clear to many that picking Cardiff was a major c**k up.
Great idea but alas its too ambitious for the political classes of Wales!
but not for the people with the will!….If Elon Musk can go to Mars….we can go to Machynlleth 😀
I like this idea! Llandrindod Wells? Lampeter?
Beulah? The Mormons in their Bible designate Heaven as ‘Beulah land’!
Dyffryn Irfon. A city stretching from Llanwrtyd to Llanfair ym Muallt, straddilng the language border. It has its merits!
Hasn’t Wales historically fluctuated between having four key towns – the important towns may have changed over time, particularly in the Industrially revolution.
The essence could be decentralisation completely, with a coming together for general amendments and concensus.
Utopian, but based on some form of a unique precedent?
I did see once a proposal I think on the archives of an email list while looking for something else, from way back before the Senedd was established discussing the location of a devolved assembly for Wales. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to relocate the link. I think it was on some kind of email list for Celtic language studies. One writer proposed a location at the hub of the rail network linking North and South Wales. It would at least mean that no area of Wales would be favoured such that others were missing out. Only problem being that… Read more »
Or Aberdyfi junction? Only an SSSi and nothing there
hope your being sarcastic……………..may money is on neutral Y Drenewydd/Newtown…..it would force East Wales to be more Welsh centric and less doting on birmingham and shrewsbury/worcester/hereford
Crewe or Shrewsbury- they have the best connections to the rest of Wales
Ironic isnt it that they have best links…………….Shrewsbury is located a few miles away from the old Capital of Powys ….called Pengwern….so happy to have it inside Wales….also bring western hereford back under Welsh influence like it used to be
English below. Dwi’n hoffi y syniad, ag yn cytuno ddyla fo fod yn Aberystwyth/Llanbedr ne ella yn nol yn Machynlleth oherwyth y hanes efo Glyndwr. Ond yn anfodus neith o byth gwithio. Fel da ni Di copio y Saesneg efo dewis y prif ddinas, da ni Di neud y run peth efor fath o pobl sydd yn rhedag y wlad, neith nhw byth cytuno efo hun. I like the idea, and agree it should be in Aberystwyth/Llanbedr or maybe back in Machynlleth because of the history of Glyndwr. Unfortunately it’ll never work, as we’ve copied the English in choosing the… Read more »
Y drenewydd / newtown please…looks of room for development
Aberystwyth has what it takes.
and its already massively anglicised for the last 100 years (as borth too)…..so no massive Welsh cultural threats
A capital city without old architecture, history and deeply rooted establishments would only serve certain political ideologies. Creating a new city is completely out of the question. Out capital city should have old buildings in it, the more Georgian and Classical the better, to inspire aspiration in Wales’ citizens. Pembroke has long felt like it is not a part of Wales, and placing it there would force the British Government to support proper railways through Abertawe and the West. It would also increase the use of Cymraeg in Pembrokeshire and show people who are staunchly pro-British the values of devolution.… Read more »
Benjamin….Brasilia in Brasil doesnt have “old ” stuff….yet still respected as a capital
Old has to start somewhere……………..EVERY ATOM IS AT LEAST 14 BILLION YEARS OLD 😀
I would much rather go to Buenos Aires, Havana, Lima (home of the oldest continuously functioning university in the Americas) than Brasilia. Nothing appeals to me about Brasilia; it’s so geometric and was founded during the worst architectural age humanity have ever endured: the 1960s. A capital needs an Old World flavour to have that je ne sais quoi about it that attracts refined culture and soft, discreet multi-layered political stratagems by the ambitious. If the boulevards are too wide, the buildings covered in too much glass, the colours too influenced by post-modernism, it loses a beauty that’s rich and… Read more »
What a load of tosh! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and every age produces some wonderful architecture, (and also some pretty dire attempts too) so to dismiss whole eras of architecture is just stupid and short sighted. Much of the architecture of Brasilia is broadly that described as ‘modernist’ but that period dates from the end of World War One, so not exactly anything new. Of course there were some horror stories of buildings imposed upon the world that have gotten modernism a bad name. Every age has produced some truly rotten buildings. You are, of course,… Read more »
“the more Georgian and Classical the better, “….do you just want a capital that has an English only history?………”old” = imperialism……colonial rule to me
‘old’ = imperialism. You see, that is conformity, and saying, no other way is acceptable but your modernism. Anything not fitting within your view is cast into being ‘immoral’ and ‘oppressive’ and eventually colonial or imperialist. This is the witch hunt of modern art, and it’s against not merely beauty itself, but the knowledge we have built over centuries of what beauty is.
What you are actually saying is that you wish to get rid of knowledge.
Owain Glyndŵr’s choice of Machynlleth was probably a wise one~1400 Today, the nation of Wales is subject to centripetal and centrifugal forces both internal and external Wales has 2 administrative capitals- one in Cardiff one in London (a 3rd in Brussels?) Is there over centralisation? – YES! Some people say the capital of North Wales is Liverpool Shrewsbury is a rail hub “capital” for much of Wales and the Wales and Borders rail franchise The capital of North Severnside may yet move to Bristol What is the proposed administrative centre for the proposed Arfor region ? The biggest challenge for… Read more »
Llangurig it’s on road signs at Dolgellau, ,Welsh pool,Aberaeron,Builth Wells.
Pam na Llanfair ym Muallt/
Builth then instead?
All the examples of purpose built capitals given are capitals of nation states. All but one, Canada doesn’t have a much bigger and more powerful country on their door step. In an independent Cymru setting up the capital elsewhere, having two or more “capitals” with different roles or having a capital that moves from place to place could/ should be part of the national discussion. However influential and powerful people are already beavering away on creating an economic region that binds South Wales with the West of England. The creation of a western “Powerhouse” where these “Severnsiders” see the break… Read more »
same with NE Wales and NW England…NE Wales feels like England already in many places
Why not multiple capitals? The legislature in Aberystwyth, ceremonial Machynlleth, political Cardiff, financial Swansea, educational Wrexham. Etc etc.
Builth is very central, and has the bonus of being across the river from the RWAS grounds at Llanelwedd. Come to think of it, I’m sure they could spare a shed or two for senedd meetings! Ideal.
I agree 100% that the Capital should be moved. As Royston Jones once said, it is highly ironic that Cardiff, a city which voted against Welsh Devolution, has been the greatest beneficiary of it, with all its third sector beneficiaries, along with all the bureaucrats and what have you. Aberystwyth is a no brainer. It’s in the middle of Wales, so it doesn’t favour either North or South. The town already has national institutions located there – the National Library and not to mention the University. Making Aber the capital would further justify building the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen railway line, and linking… Read more »
I’ve jokingly lectured and written on this subject a few times, before coming to the sharp realisation that it isn’t a joke at all. It is something we need to consider. If you want a successful model of a country where the capital is not the largest city, look no further than Scotland. The model of supersized capital dominating their country is one that is predominant in old imperial powers, such as the UK, France and Russia. It is not one to which we in Wales should aspire. Furthermore, within the context of these islands, the capitals of each constituent… Read more »
Why have a capital at all? A capital city inevitably results in a concentration of power and a sense of superiority for some, inferiority for the majority. Surely it would be more equitable (and radical) to have NO capital city, in that way acknowledging that EVERYWHERE in Wales is important – spread the jobs around, spread the investment. If the aim is nation-building, let’s invest in the whole nation rather than just part of it.
syniad da iawn
An ambitious, thought-provoking article. Glad to see these types of ideas getting attention and discussion. Personally, I think we’re a decade or two away from changing the capital. But do we have to have only one? I agree we should spread the bureaucracy around. If we did move it, Llandrindod would make sense. It could become a Welsh buffer in the canolbarth helping to stop the creep of the English west midlands into Wales. It has rail and road links and some large hotels (that could also be improved). It also has some nice architecture already that could be enhanced… Read more »
One thought – provoking article Ifan…diolch. I already think of Aberystwyth as the true capital of Cymru – so many institutions of national importance are already here viz The National Library, The Welsh Book Council, Mudiad Meithrin HQ, the University with its iconic Hen Goleg building, Welsh Govt regional offices. It is also a cosmopolitan society which still manages to promote and protect yr Iaith Gymraeg, thus avoiding an overly parochial feel to it. The surrounding scenery is incomparable as is its proximity to Machynlleth. ( see Mike Parker’s comments above).Reopening the railway line from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth could be… Read more »
As much as love Aber – and I do – it already has so much. For me, a new 21st capital could also be a chance to start new shoots growing elsewhere; somewhere the ground is a little more barren. And Aber is west of the Cambrians. If Cymru is to survive the 21st C, it must survive in the east of the Cambrians; or otherwise exist as little than a national park on the coasts.
Newtown/ Y trallwng?(Welshpool?)…..llandrindod……llanfair ym muallt? (builth)…….give us a city WOGAN BABi
Good thinking. Lots of people in North East Wales pay scant attention to Cardiff. Its too remote. Until we get a capital placed fairly in the middle of the country it wont feel unified.
Llandrindod might meet your requirements.
Llandrindod Wells is beautifully placed almost geographically central East West, North South. It has, as has been said, the railway, it already has some bit of the Welsh Govt. here…….don’t know what it is or what they do and have never met anyone who worked there, but there it is. We have a hospital, small it’s true, but I am sure space could be found to build a bigger better one, to save so many of us having horrid journeys to Cardiff,Abergavenny, or to Hereford on a daily basis for some treatments……..We are a slightly run down area with unemployment… Read more »
As somebody who is involved with YES Cymru, I have been thinking about the importance of some sort of symbolic commitment as part of an independence campaign to a different type of Wales which all parts of Wales could sign up to. This idea certainly fits into that category since one thing that could unite the people of Wales on one level is this notion that Cardiff is much too over-bearing and over-influential in the life of modern Wales, and that a counter-balance is much needed. The idea of locating the capital of Wales in a more central location would… Read more »
An excellent idea, which I for one would fully support. Any new capital would have to be central within the country, and not so deeply ensconced in Y Fro Gymraeg that it might alienate those outside it.
I’d have to say, go for somewhere where the Severn (the main East-West route through mid Wales) runs parallel with the A470 (the main North-South route). Surely Llanidloes or Llandinam would be a sound choice, but at a push maybe even Newtown,
The examples you give of purpose-built capital cities are in federal countries where it was important to locate the capital outside the competing federal states. Wales is not a federal country although a sensible federation of British and Irish states could have a newly-built capital instead of London (or maybe just use Manchester). And there are lots of more important things to fix in Wales before we consider moving the capital (eg north/south transport links). Westminster often is called “the mother of parliaments” but this is a misquotation that distorts the original meaning. England (or by extension, Britain) is “the… Read more »
To your point on Wales not being a federal country, why wouldn’t an independent Wales be a bottom up confederation and not a top-down centralised state. I live in Switzerland and the bottom up federated structure (with some checks and balances) ensures that local government is accountable to the locality, then similarly with regional and by the time you get to federal, there’s the few things that really need to be national like foreign policy, trade, defence, banking and insurance regulation etc (though some of this is treated at regional (kantonal) level). Switzerland was a poor country with zero national… Read more »
Nonsense click-bait article that WalesOnline would be proud of!
‘Mother of Parliaments’ – ugh…….Iceland and Isle of Mann had democratic parliaments much earlier than the English one………..
pob lwc i Gatalonio fory….
We could move the capital, have a rolling capital, but what we need to unite the country is good and rapid transport links from South to North and East to West. That means having a Welsh railway system (Run by and owned by our nation – Welsh national railways) without trains having to run on England’s railway to cross our country. Aberystwyth is a good home for government.
We need to connect the nation leaving none of Wales isolated if we are to build our nation. We need a capital for international diplomatic relations (Embassies).
Stick with Brussels
Rob Evans, a federation ultimately means more domination by London….and more brain drain and wealth drain from Welsh communities…..following the model of CO2 spewing and energy wasteful London is outdated…..we need to top idolising others, especially “elites”………and work as a people and believe in ourselves
More importantly than moving the titular capital, set up regiional capitals and devolve power to the regions of Wales within a federal Welsh republic 🙂
No. They will evolve naturally over the next few centuries; there is no need to plant them artificially.
I disagree entirely with this. I’ve lived in Cardiff on and off for 12 years and I can assure you it is not a bustling, thriving metropolis. It is mostly a rough port town of 350,000 which was in terminal decline before it was rescued by capital status in 1955 and by devolution in 1999. It is the poorest of the four capitals of the UK with little in the way of private investment or big employers, except for Admiral. It offers little in the way of varied nightlife and high quality restaurants and only really comes alive for rugby… Read more »
Meleri has it. We have more urgent matters to consider than building a Brasilia on top of Castell Bere. Lets get rid of unionists in the Senedd and london domination of our country.
Aberystwyth or Wrecsam. Cardiff has been a s**t capital for Wales other than a few Saturdays a year when the rugby is on
The nation can’t afford to sideline its biggest wealth creator. and that’s what would happen if the Capital was relocated – it would push Cardiff to look east even more.
Wales is very like an US State. I write this from North Carolina where the State Capital is the largest city – Raleigh. But many many US States deliberately avoid having a big city coming to dominance. So the State capitals are small but efficient and not in their big City. California, Sacramento not LA or San Francisco. New York State, Albany not New York City. Florida, Tallahassee not Miami. Texas, Austin not Houston. etc etc. So Wales should not have Cardiff. Though a Parliament Yes – Aber is a natural. But… Llandrindod is a good candidate. I walked round… Read more »
How about a virtual capital, for a parallel virtual nation – an “other-Wales” for people who have links to Wales, but are not in this geographic and politcial space. When I started toying with what seems a crazy idea I came across plenty of thinking in this area – take Bitnation for example.