A Proposal for the Sustainable Economic Development of Mid Wales
1. The Need: Central Wales does not have a viable, diverse rural economy or the working population to support it. The economy relies on agricultural subsidies, tourism and public sector employment. It is a serious problem for Wales now but as the acceleration of climate change begins to affect our food, water and energy security it will become a national crisis. A new economic base (echoing the best of the past, and emphasizing mainly horticulture and forestry) in central Wales, is needed to prepare for future shocks.
2. The Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015: The threats outlined above are recognized by the Welsh Government in this ground-breaking legislation that requires all public bodies to meet current needs without compromising the needs of future generations. Its related legislation, the Planning (Wales) Act 2015, offers an opportunity to resolve current and future difficulties by taking a more strategic approach to planning and sustainable development in Wales. In addition, 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 which will enable economic development on the carbon neutral "One Planet" route to be achieved at a strategic scale. An innovative project could be implemented based on a 90 mile section of the Heart of Wales Line corridor. This project, Heart of Wales Forest, could be run by local not-for-profit groups and communities without Government funding - and could start right away. The Heart of Wales / One Planet concept could be incorporated as the guiding principle in a Strategic Development Plan for Mid Wales. This would avoid the current difficulties of fragmented policies battling with falling populations, underutilized resources and fragile infrastructure. Local Planning Authorities would need to embrace the benefits of cross-border Strategic Planning to succeed in Mid Wales.
4. Why bother? Although the sparsely populated region may not normally be considered a high development priority by government, the purpose of the project is not to regenerate Mid Wales simply because it is sparsely populated, but because of the challenging future of the “green desert ”. This - the hub of the nation - will be expected to feed, water and supply power to most of Wales, and possibly beyond. The region is a vital resource for Wales. It requires a much more productive vision and a working population to drive it forward.
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 land use, with community-scale horticulture and forestry, the backbone of the regional economy.
A balanced, viable population.
Diverse, stable and resilient 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 is leading the world with future-conscious policies. This is an opportunity to set an inspirational example - a demonstration of how to make sustainable development a mainstream reality rather than a peripheral activity.