(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)
While the topics of short debates are usually more interesting that the main plenary debates, they usually follow a tried an tested formula of a pre-prepared speech from a backbench AM followed by a pre-prepared response from the relevant government minister with a minute here and there for other AMs to contribute.
Dr Hefin David AM’s (Lab, Caerphilly) short debate on anchor towns didn’t apply any of these conventions and with agreement no scripts were prepared – what he described as “unplugged”.
Working with what we’ve got
The debate revolved around a Bevan Foundation report on anchor towns (pdf) – the satellite towns outside of the main areas of employment but which provide regionally-important jobs, services and transport hubs.
Better support for anchor towns provided an opportunity to change transport and commuting patterns and take pressure off Cardiff. Anchor towns also stood to benefit from being bases for thing slike hospitals, government offices and housing associations – though in his constituency, only Ystrad Mynach (not the largest town, Caerphilly) would qualify by definition as being an anchor town. There was also a tendency to look north-south instead of east-west.
“….if we were building new towns, we’d build them like anchor towns, but we aren’t; we’re working with what we’ve got, and what we’ve got maybe isn’t conducive to creating that. It requires transport infrastructure and connectivity to succeed. Ystrad Mynach has that, but we are a long way from an effective public transport system yet.”
– Dr Hefin David AM
Dealing with “us and them” attitudes
Deputy Minister for Economy & Transport, Lee Waters (Lab, Llanelli), believed there was a paradox in that people say their love their local towns but people were using them less and less. The Welsh Government were doing a lot to support town centre regeneration, but there was always a question as to whether it was properly targeted at the right places.
The former Minister in charger of the Valley strategy – Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) – intervened, saying that following criticisms that Welsh Government support has been spread too thinly a “hub” approach has been taken.
The Deputy Minister said there has been a problem with “parochialism”; he felt the seven strategic hubs in the Valleys was too many, while civil servants were glad to get it down to that figure.
The discussion then moved on to the proposed congestion charge in Cardiff and it prompted some frank views being expressed, particularly on funding for bus services and plans for a congestion charge in Cardiff: