Newport – Wales’ ‘ugly sister’ city is emerging as a ‘powerhouse of innovation and business’

Original article written by Dr Stephen Fear for the South Wales Argus published on 30th September 2014.

Often viewed as the ugly sister by its two older Welsh city siblings, Cardiff and Swansea, Newport is emerging as an east Wales powerhouse of innovation and business, if not ‘yet’ beauty.

Its enterprising council is leading the way by pulling apart red tape and political divisions, which in turn is promoting huge growth in and around the city.

With a current population of 141,000, which is due to grow dramatically over the next 20 years on the back of new jobs and the housing developments along the River Usk, where new walkways and cycle paths have been created, Newport is rising fast from the depressed small Welsh town that it once was, into the powerful small city that it now is.

Developer Queensbury is building the new £95m city centre shopping area called Friars Walk, Admiral Insurance has already relocated to the city centre, bringing with it more than 500 jobs. Many more will follow as retailers such as Debenhams, Next, and Top Shop, take up occupation and start running job adverts.

Mixed use developments like the one reportedly to be proposed on the former Sainsbury’s Superstore site near the river and railway station will enhance the city centre even further and provide yet more jobs and homes.

Newport’s location is key to its resurgence. Located almost midway between the powerful economic centres of Bristol and Cardiff it is strategically placed on the M4 which runs from London in the east to Swansea, and beyond, in the west.

The city is well served by rail which following electrification will bring Newport within an hour or so of London Paddington, making it very commutable.

Bristol airport is only 40 minutes away and Cardiff is even closer. Both airports have extensive flight schedules throughout Europe and beyond, although neither has a rail link unfortunately.

There is still talk of a Severn Estuary Airport which would probably create ‘off the clock’ style growth for the region, particularly if it were well linked by rail, which as I say both Cardiff and Bristol airports are not.

Will a new Severn Estuary Airport ever happen? Well, Wales and the South West as a region will need to get their act together better than they have so far because it will take true vision to make it happen.

I flew the entire area by helicopter 25 years ago when the Severn Barrage scheme was in the news and believed then as I do now that an estuary airport would regenerate the entire region from Cheltenham in the north, to Cardiff in the west and Bristol in the east. It would become a major sustainable employer and enhance Newport particularly, but the whole region too.

Twenty-five years ago, mist and fog prevented expansion of the idea, but with advances in flight technology it need not do so today.

There is much in its favour. No houses to fly over being just one. Noise is a major polluter so placing airports where this affects people least is essential. It’s also safer. If it is possible to consider an airport in the Thames Estuary, it is possible to consider one in the Severn Estuary too.

Sir Terry Matthews, who owns The Celtic Manor Resort on the edge of Newport, has already brought the Ryder Cup and the Nato Summit to the city. Both these events show what can be achieved with true vision and some money. Fortunately Sir Terry appears to have plenty of both.

Newport is now firmly on the international map. Who would bet against it becoming as attractive a place to live and work as it’s two older, and previously more acceptable sisters of Cardiff and Swansea? Certainly not me.

I believe Newport’s location and forward thinking council will continue to drive this fast growing city further onto the international stage.

A premiership football and rugby club would help lift aspirations even further. If Manchester United and Chelsea can play in Swansea and Cardiff why not Newport? It seems anything is possible for this former ugly sister as she blooms into the vibrant hub of economic international activity I believe is her destiny. Cinderella is definitely coming to the ball that’s for sure.

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