With a population of 1.5million, the Cardiff Capital Region (CCR) includes almost half the total population of Wales - and half its economic output.

The CCR pulls together the ten local authority areas of south east Wales - from Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthshire to Cardiff and Rhondda Cynon Taff - and these authorities worked together, with the support of Welsh Government, to negotiate a City Deal with the UK Treasury.

Signed in 2016, this deal promised £1.2 billion of infrastructure investment for the region, most of which would go towards the South Wales Metro, the rail improvement project currently underway.

The National Wales: The Cardiff Capital Region covers not just the city but areas like Merthyr Tydfil and the Rhondda Valleys. (Picture: Cefn Coed Viaduct, Ray Jones)The Cardiff Capital Region covers not just the city but areas like Merthyr Tydfil and the Rhondda Valleys. (Picture: Cefn Coed Viaduct, Ray Jones)

The CCR was formed as a contractual structure to deliver that City Deal.

Last March, meanwhile, the Welsh Government issued regulations for the creation of Corporate Joint Committees (CJCs) which, like the CCR, will bring together multiple councils for the purpose of collaboration.

The number and size of local authorities involved has long been disputed, with arguments for economies of scale (the idea that bigger operations can sometimes be more cost-effective than smaller ones) countered by those for local decision-making.

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Ad hoc Shared Services arrangements between councils within the CJCs will seek to cut costs without reducing local power, and there'll be a formal transfer of some functions from local councils.

The South East Wales CJC will come into being on 28 February, taking over the functions of CCR, which has already been acting as a kind of embryonic CJC around the City Deal.

This CJC will prepare a Strategic Development Plan (SDP) and develop a Regional Transport Plan, and will have a broad remit to promote the economic wellbeing of south east Wales.

 

 

Undertaking this sort of planning on a regional basis does offer advantages - the Future Wales National Plan recognises south east Wales as a coherent economic area, and the CJC might reverse the split of Cardiff from its Valleys that occurred when the county of Glamorgan was abolished in
1974.

READ MORE: Climate crisis: Welsh Government 'don't want to own' Aberpergwm mine decision

Regional planning for homes, businesses and infrastructure, too, could spread growth and ease pressures on land use - but anyone interested in democracy and the accountability of local government should worry about how CJCs will operate.

Like other organisations across Wales, we at Cardiff Civic Society aim to conserve and enhance the natural and built environments of our city for the benefit of current and future generations.

The experiences we've had in pursuit of these aims, both on a local and regional political level, makes us wary of how the CJC might work.

One concern is that CJCs could add to the complexity of decision-making.

The National Wales: The dumping of waste in Cardiff Bay is one bone of contention for residents, but it's unclear who is responsible for solving the problem. (Picture: Fred Bigio)The dumping of waste in Cardiff Bay is one bone of contention for residents, but it's unclear who is responsible for solving the problem. (Picture: Fred Bigio)

Politicians and managers are already reluctant to take responsibility for fixing issues, and too ready to see them as somebody else’s problem. There is little transparency, leaving those who need solutions struggling to find out who might provide them.

Examples abound.

Waste has long been seeping into Cardiff Bay, but Cardiff Council, Cardiff Harbour Authority, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), and Vale of Glamorgan Council all seem more enthusiastic about chiding each other than actually fixing the problem - the issue's even been blamed on the defunct Cardiff
Bay Development Corporation.

Who owns stopping raw sewage entering Barry Docks: Dŵr Cymru or NRW? The Vale Council will not even raise it with them on residents’ behalf.

CCR was set up to manage the aforementioned Cardiff City Deal, but it's Transport for Wales who will deliver the South Wales Metro, while Cardiff Council has its own plans for Crossrail and the Circle line.

On it goes.

The CCR Passenger Vision for the Metro acknowledges that “progress requires a holistic approach across multiple organisations who will need to work together”.

Indeed. Yet today, none of them seem to know what is happening, or when - if they do know, they're not telling residents.

Will the imminent creation of Corporate Joint Committees across Wales define clear lines of responsibility on local issues, or will it just add further confusion - or, at worst, deliberate evasion of responsibility?

The National Wales: Pen y Fan, Brecon Beacons National Park (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)Pen y Fan, Brecon Beacons National Park (Picture: Huw Evans Agency)

There will be little democratic accountability in how CJCs will function. Its members will not be elected.

The South East Wales CJC, for example, will be made up of local council leaders, plus an officeholder of the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority.

These members will be able to invite others and give them voting rights - at present, several Chief Executives sit on the CCR Cabinet.

Despite being unelected, CJCs will have immense power.

The South East Wales CJC regulations empower it to "do anything" on economic wellbeing, transport or planning.

In England, Metro regions have an elected mayor. London elects both a mayor and an Assembly.

A regional mayor might not be the answer here either, but elections at least give voters some control - if only to throw failures out.

Do we really want weaker local democracy in Wales than in England?

The National Wales: London's elected Assembly and mayor have similar responsibilities to what will become the Corporate Joint Committees in Wales.London's elected Assembly and mayor have similar responsibilities to what will become the Corporate Joint Committees in Wales.

It will no doubt be claimed that, as the primary members of the CJC will be elected council leaders, democracy is ensured.

But greater remoteness from voters always leads to less accountable politicians - as it is, the Cabinet system already marginalises most elected councillors from decisions, and the CJC regulations offer them no recognised role.

Cardiff, like other authorities, is now renewing its Local Development Plan, which will define how the city develops over the next 15 years, with impacts across the whole region.

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Consultation has been limited and inhibited by lockdowns, but campaigning by Cardiff Civic Society and others has led to some changes in the LDP - notably, including the objective of a carbon neutral city by 2030, even though the detail is still to be argued about.

But once the new CJC has agreed a Strategic Development Plan, that plan will supercede the LDP .

Cardiff Capital Region's decarbonisation target is much less ambitious than that of Cardiff Council, seeking only a 55% reduction in emissions from its energy system by 2035.

How much input will the public across the region have on the Strategic Development Plan? We don't really know yet.

There's already a widespread sense of citizen powerlessness in Cardiff, where matters such as big developments are concerned. Residents feel ignored.

Only around a third of voters will turn out for the May local
elections - that is not healthy for democracy. We need political structures that are closer to people, not more distant.

Citizens’ Assemblies could advance government of the people, by the people, for the people. Unelected Corporate Joint Committees will certainly not.

Lyn Eynon is a member of Cardiff Civic Society and a community activist.

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