Council officers have welcomed an apparent Welsh Government u-turn over their role in the Cardiff city region Metro project to create an integrated public transport system.
The news comes as the Welsh Government announced that up to £600m is to be spent on a new metro for south east Wales within five years.
This is likely to include cash for a mix of light rail, trams, improved trains and faster buses by 2020 in Cardiff and the valleys. The system will run as a 'not-for-dividend' part of the next all-Wales rail franchise from 2018, the BBC reports.
Transport minister Edwina Hart has tasked rail and business experts to finalise plans before work starts in 2017.
The latest map of how the Metro could look
Ms Hart has now acknowledged a role for councils in the scheme, which Cardiff has said could be built in its entirety by 2030 at a cost of £4bn.
The Government previously ordered councils to exclude rail schemes from their Local Transport Plans (LTPs), and officers complained of receiving scant information about Metro plans.
However, in a Metro update this week Ms Hart said: ‘In many cases, local authority planning departments hold the key to maximum exploitation of these proposals and can greatly augment them through specifying developer contributions and [ensuring] that Local Development Plans (LDPs) are aligned with the Metro developments.’
She added that 'people should be really excited about this because if they see the map, they realise it's a really integrated system and if in the future we could get control of bus regulation that would also make a tremendous difference'.
The BBC quoted her as saying: ‘It’s up to local authorities to look at what they require in terms of stations.’
A local government insider welcomed her comments: ‘The idea that you could take forward something like this without local authority involvement was incredible,’ he said, adding that it was imperative the Welsh Government showed detailed Metro plans to all authorities, rather than sharing snippets on a ‘need to know basis’.
‘If we’re working towards a city region approach, part of the reason city regions prosper is you break down the barriers. You need good lines of communication.’
ATCO Cymru chairman Richard Cope said: ‘We welcome the ministerial announcement. We will continue to follow the guidance issued by the Welsh Government and, where appropriate, work with them toward the achievement of these goals.’
Asked whether councils needed to revise their recently completed LTPs or LDPs, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: ‘We are engaging with local authorities to ensure the Metro delivers the maximum long-term economic and social benefits, including the need for new rail stations.’
Ms Hart said the £600m would come from a range of sources including EU funding and Welsh Government funding.