By Steve Howell
Publishing a wish list is a perilous business, but I nailed my colours to the mast this time last year – and I’m fairly pleased with how my six-strong offering has fared.
Okay, my list included the hope that the marketing benefit of having two Welsh clubs in the top flight of football would last more than one season. Leaving tribal loyalties aside, I wanted the double helping of brand-boosting overseas TV coverage to continue.
But it was not to be as Cardiff City’s premiership debut turned sour, leaving the Swans flying the Welsh flag solo again.
Thankfully, my five other wishes did not suffer such a disappointing fate.
At the top end of expectations, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project has gone from strength to strength in 2014.
The plan to create a six-mile long seawall with 16 turbines generating enough power for 155,000 homes has attracted major investors, won prestigious awards and is nearing the end of its journey through the planning process.
If all the permissions come through, construction work could start as early as next summer, opening up the prospect of Wales becoming a world leader in tidal power and taking a substantial slice of the market to develop renewable energy assets worth £383 billion.
Another promising project on my wish list is the Friar’s Walk retail and leisure development in Newport.
Twelve months ago, there was a bleak expanse of rubble at the centre of Wales’s gateway city.
Now, the artist’s impression that had gathered dust in the long years of recession is coming to life, and Newport City Council’s bold decision to underwrite it appears to be paying off with 60% of the space already let ahead of the opening next autumn.
The third wish that scores positively is the hope Wales’s universities would further expand their international networks as part of a resurgence of our academic brands.
After a sometimes difficult period of change, the Welsh higher education sector has been actively building links in 2014 as far afield as Beijing, Bangladesh, British Columbia and Botswana.
The final two items on my wish list – the need for a Metro and strong city-regions around Cardiff and Swansea – made progress but are still too early in their development to be sure they will be successful.
The opening of new £3.5m rail station on the Ebbw Vale-Cardiff line at Pye Corner in Newport two weeks ago symbolised – if you’ll pardon the pun – the direction of travel.
But we desperately need to speed up the process of change if we are to overcome the legacy of five decades of car-obsessed planning policy and catch up with the likes of Manchester and Edinburgh.
And this is where the need for a strong regional body comes in. As former first minister Rhodri Morgan warned recently, unless we find a way of delivering it we risk remaining ‘off the pace, at worst a backwater’.
He suggested the solution may be for the councils in South-East Wales to work with the Welsh Government and Network Rail to set up a Passenger Transport Authority as a vehicle for overseeing the creation of the Metro.
Hopefully, the current consultation on Wales’s National Transport Plan, which runs until March 11, will lead to the Metro being a given the highest priority in funding decisions – especially as the consultation documents themselves reveal the extent to which conventional transport policies compound social exclusion.
Census data quoted in the draft plan shows 23% of households across Wales having no access to a car, with Merthyr (30%), Cardiff (29%), Blaenau Gwent (29%) and Newport (28%) the four boroughs in which reliance on public transport and active travel is greatest.
And this not only has implications for equality of access to jobs and services. If Cardiff Gate Business Park is anything to go by, poor public transport services are deterring investors from taking up office space and undermining economic growth.
On balance, my wish list gets a reasonable end of term report. But the Metro is definitely one project where a teacher might say ‘could do better’. And, as for Cardiff City, you never know, the festive season could bring hope of a return to the top flight.