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Sunday 13 December 2015

2015 Ends, Election Countdown Begins

(Pic : Wales Online)
Time for my usual end of year break. Having blogged for what feels like non-stop for 12 months it's come at the right time.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Welsh Budget 2016-17

It's the most wonderful time of the year : numbers, graphs and spin galore.

(Pic : Welsh Government)
The budget process for 2016-17 has been delayed by a few months due to George Osborne's personal definition of "autumn", but a draft Welsh budget – the last of the Fourth Assembly – was tabled yesterday by Finance Minister, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan).

Thursday 3 December 2015

Assembly Calls for Steel Industry Support

(Pic : South Wales Argus)
The latest topical Members' Debate in the Senedd takes place amidst growing concerns about a slow down in the global steel market and the influx of cheap, low-grade steel from China.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

AMs Criticise Rugby Rail Scrum

A short inquiry was held into serious problems getting away from recent
Rugby World Cup matches in Cardiff - with some queues lasting four hours.
(Pic : ITV Wales)

Earlier today, the National Assembly's Enterprise & Business Committee published a report into their short, one-day inquiry on serious crowd congestion problems and delays at Cardiff Central station during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The report itself (pdf) is so succinct I'm able to post something the same day it was published – it almost feels like a day off! If you're interested in this for professional reasons or whatever then you can watch the entire evidence session here.

The Committee made 9 recommendations, in summary :
  • There should be a review of travel plans for major events in Cardiff, which should include a single command structure, better queue management and an assessment on what's an acceptable time for passengers to wait.
  • Greater efforts need to be made to ensure fans are aware of all the options available for travel.
  • Coach travel should play a bigger role in transport while capacity constraints remain at Cardiff Central, and developers of Central Square should ensure the impact of construction on major events is limited.
  • The Welsh Government and Network Rail need to ensure capacity problems at the station are dealt with by 2024, and that re-signalling (which will allow the new platform 8 to come into use) is completed as quickly as possible.
  • Rail operators and event planning authorities need to discuss whether rail freight operations should be rescheduled during major events in Cardiff.
Background & Facts

Cardiff's Millennium Stadium hosted eight games during the tournament, but the first three games resulted in numerous complaints from fans about delays getting home, particularly those travelling by rail. Queues outside Cardiff Central lasted for up to four hours.

The committee took evidence from World Cup organisers, Cardiff Bus, Network Rail, South Wales Police and the two main train operating companies – Arriva Trains Wales and Great Western.

The stadium attracted 565,000 supporters during the tournament, while a fan zone at the Cardiff Arms Park accommodated 160,000 supporters.

Although the attendance patterns were said to be similar to the Six Nations or Autumn Internationals, just 25% of tickets to games in Cardiff involving Wales were sold to people living in Wales, while just 5% of tickets were sold in Wales for the other six games.

This meant most people were travelling eastwards after the games, while the close proximity of Central Station to the stadium meant there was little opportunity for crowds to disperse afterwards.

Key Conclusions

The situation was resolved for the final five games, but AMs remain concerned
over Cardiff Central's ability to cope with major events due to poor infrastructure
(Pic : BBC Wales)
Despite the queue problems, there were very few incidents of public disorder and everyone was eventually able to travel home. Also, the overwhelming majority of supporters in Cardiff were said to have had a positive experience.

New procedures were put in place for the third game, with extra coaches being made available, but this was said to have had a limited impact due to the fact spectators found it difficult to find the coaches.

This led to further changes for subsequent games, which saw an overhaul of the queueing system, faster/smarter train loading and full use of coaches.

The Committee believe there was a sense of complacency amongst those responsible for planning major events, but this was quickly turned around for the final five games. They were concerned, however, that Cardiff Council believed their event plan "had worked". They also heard evidence that communication of travel options needed to be improved, particularly when it came to queueing arrangements and train times.

One of the biggest concerns was the ageing infrastructure at the station. The Committee believe Cardiff Central "does not meet the needs and expectations of travellers" as a major gateway into Wales and is unable to cope with the demands placed upon it.

There are long-term proposals to redevelop the station at a cost of £200-300million, but competition for rail infrastructure investments is said to be "fierce" and political support will be needed to ensure the station is redeveloped.

The Committee questioned whether a principle that non-event related services should avoid being changed due to major events - like freight services and other passenger services - was due for a review. As long as such changes were communicated properly and in good time, the Committee believe the impact would be minimal.

A Timely Lesson Ahead of 2017

You might as well throw a dart at a board to determine when Cardiff Central will be redeveloped.
(Pic : Wales Online)

Having a major international stadium slap bang in the middle of a city is a blessing and a curse; I'd say it's mainly a blessing though greater disruption than would otherwise be experienced at an out-of-town site is inevitable.

In May 2017, the Principality Stadium – as it'll be known then – will host the UEFA Champions League Final, which will arguably be the biggest single event hosted in Cardiff since the stadium was built.

It'll be a major test for event planners and transport companies, and the first three RWC games showed that – as the Committee said themselves – there was a sense of complacency. Wales rugby internationals attract local crowds who will mainly travel north and west; this was completely different, particularly as many Irish ex-pats and visitors travelled from London and Bristol.

Seeing as there'll be no Welsh involvement in the Champions League Final, it's highly likely that – charter services to and from Cardiff Airport aside - the crowds will follow the same pattern, flying in to Heathrow and Bristol in the main (barring English The Arsenal)

The good news is that organisers learned their lesson quickly and the situation improved. The bad news is that I find it highly unlikely that Cardiff Central will be redeveloped any time soon due to the rising cost of present rail infrastructure projects (Network Rail - Taking the Welsh Government for a ride?) and the financial black hole that is High Speed 2.

Cardiff Central serves local needs well enough, but it's in no way a station fit for a capital city – some of London's suburbs and dormitory cities, like Reading, have better ones.