A Proposal for the Sustainable Economic Development of Mid Wales

1. The Need:   Mid Wales lacks a viable, diverse rural economy and the working population to power it, an economy that does not rely on agricultural subsidies, tourism and public sector employment. It is a serious problem for Wales now but as accelerating climate change begins to affect our food, water and energy security it will become a national emergency. Rural mid-Wales needs a new (or old) economic base, mainly horticulture and forestry, in order to prepare for future shocks.
2. The Well-Being of Future Generations Act 2015:   These threats are recognised by the Welsh Government in this ground-breaking legislation which requires all public bodies to satisfy current needs without compromising those of future generations. Its linked legislation, the Planning (Wales) Act 2015, offers a natural opportunity to resolve current and future difficulties by taking a more strategic approach to planning and sustainable development in Wales. The Environment (Wales) Act 2016 sets mandatory numerical targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
3. A Strategic Development Area - A Radical Project:   The policy framework is now in place that will enable carbon-neutral, “One Planet” economic development to be carried out on a strategic scale. A pioneering project based upon a 90-mile stretch of the Heart of Wales Railway corridor could be implemented. This project, Fforest Calon Cymru, would be carried out incrementally by local non-profit groups and communities without financial help from the Government – and could begin immediately. The Fforest Calon Cymru / One Planet concept could be embedded as the guiding principle in a Strategic Development Plan for Mid Wales. This would avoid the current difficulties of policy fragmentation and introspective LDPs that struggle with the lose-lose combination of falling populations, underused resources and sustainable, but fragile, infrastructures. The Local Planning Authorities would need to embrace the mutual benefits of cross-border Strategic Planning and to press the case for a Mid Wales SDA with the Welsh Government.
4. Why bother?   Although this sparsely-populated region may not normally be considered a high development priority by the Government, the project's purpose is not to revive Mid-Wales simply because it lacks people, but because in a challenging future this “green desert” – the heartland of the nation – will be expected to feed, water and supply power to most of Wales, and perhaps beyond. The region is a vital resource for Wales. It demands a much more productive vision and a working population to drive it.
5. Summary:   The legislation, need and great opportunity are in place. The rail infrastructure is present too, but much of the rural land is under-utilised. This genuinely transformational project would be of national significance. It offers these outcomes:

  • Productive, regenerative land-use, with extensive community-scale horticulture and forestry. A backbone for the regional economy.

  • A balanced, viable population.

  • Diverse, stable and durable local economies.

  • Affordable land, housing and workplaces.

  • A successful and convenient railway.

  • A national, mixed forest for climate-change mitigation as well as a resource for local industry and renewable energy.

  • Regenerative economic development.

Wales leads the world with future-aware policies. This is an opportunity to set an inspirational example – a demonstration of how to make sustainable development a mainstream reality rather than a fringe activity.
The Calon Cymru Network CIC    Updated July 2019