Locals on Wales’ first climate citizens’ jury call for green transport and internet investment so no one has to leave home to get a decent job
For a fair transition to a green economy, the South Wales Valleys must not face a repeat of the injustices confronted during the last industrial transition. A fair response to the climate and nature emergencies should instead mean more and better jobs, improved transport infrastructure and revitalised towns that enable people to stay local, according to a panel of local residents in a landmark new report.
Future proof job creation, a public transport development blitz, car free city centres, local work hubs and treating digital infrastructure as a basic human right are among the 30 bold new ideas generated by a ‘jury’ of South Wales Valleys residents, to help the UK and their own community shift to a ‘net zero’ carbon economy.
In the first such deliberative democracy experiment on climate in Wales, over eight sessions organised by the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission, a group of 19 representative locals heard from experts, deliberated and developed their proposals. The jurors drew on their varied life experiences to provide recommendations that are founded on their ideas of fairness and an understanding of what a good quality of life should look like.
The South Wales Valleys continue to face adverse impacts caused from historic mine closures and the resulting loss of local employment, according to the IPPR think tank behind the commission. This jobs deficit affects travel behaviour, with many dependent on polluting cars to travel out of the area for work and limited public transport options.
The residents on the jury were resolved that the necessary drive to net zero should not replicate or deepen these inequalities, with their proposals focusing on creating a better, more prosperous and healthy future after the transition, while ensuring a fair distribution of the costs of change. The jurors argue that the linchpin to a successful green transition for the South Wales Valleys will be ensuring people can succeed while staying local.
A key demand to achieve this positive transition is the development of a new South Wales Valleys economic strategy focusing on creating local jobs in future proof green industries – health and care, environmental protection, food, energy and homes. The strategy should focus on creating ‘anchor towns’ with local work hubs for remote working and revitalised high streets to encourage people to shop local and sustainably. This should all be backed up with investment that communities have a say in.
One of the jurors said:
“The tide of industry may have left Wales … but the capacity and the ability of the people here hasn’t changed. That’s an unfound superpower that just needs unlocking.”
As well as reducing the need for people to travel so far for work, significant investment in green public transport options is needed to make local commutes easier and cheaper, according to the jurors. They propose a big upfront rollout of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, expanding train and bus connections, as well as supporting more cycling and walking routes. They also suggest car free town centres to improve air quality and preventing any unessential road building.
One juror said of the current situation:
“One of the walls I face as a woman with a young family is being able to get my children to school on time and then travel to one of the bigger cities (Swansea, Cardiff) to work and get there on time, making public transport an impossible option.”
A vital way to enable good jobs in the area is to ensure access to good internet connection. Owing to its importance to a future green economy in the Valleys, the jurors call for digital infrastructure to treated as a basic human right. The government should ensure all children have access to a digital device for learning and all areas deserve fast internet to support all sorts of jobs and enable remote working to continue beyond the pandemic, according to the jurors.
Becca Massey-Chase, co deputy head of the Environmental Justice Commission, said:
“Tackling the climate crisis and restoring nature will require a transformation of our carbon-dependent economy. The transition will need to be handled differently in different places, with plans shaped with distinct communities in mind. This requires a place-based approach to policy making, where local people are involved in shaping the future of their area.
“The South Wales Valleys climate citizens’ jury is the first of its kind in Wales and has produced 30 insightful and practical proposals for tackling the climate crisis and restoring nature in a way that is fair for everyone. They make clear that green job creation, improved transport and revitalised towns are key for a successful transition in the area.”
Carwyn Jones MS, member of the citizens’ jury advisory board and former First Minister of Wales, said:
“The jurors have set out a bold and positive vision for the South Wales Valleys. Their ambition for the area must now be channelled into real action to tackle the climate and nature emergencies in way that is fair for everyone. Taking this action will create new jobs and opportunities for the valleys.
“Key to the recommendations is the idea that people must be able to work locally and access what they need in the area. The jurors’ call to ‘treat digital infrastructure as a basic human right’ will be fundamental to this.
“The South Wales Valleys has all the potential to be a thriving hub of green industry, commerce and natural beauty, but policymakers need to take action now to ensure the area has the investment and infrastructure it needs to make this transition a successful and fair one.”
Christine Boston, director of Sustrans Cymru, said:
“A key part of decarbonising transport is to lessen people’s dependence on the private car. By working holistically to improve job opportunities, creating working hubs, improving sustainable transport infrastructure and revitalising town centres, it is possible to start building a fairer and healthier society for everyone.
“Changing the way we think about transport is essential to tackling the climate emergency.
“This report has succeeded in ensuring citizen’s voices are heard throughout the process. And by doing so, the solutions will meet local needs.”