10% Completed in 15 Years – Ravenscraig Shows the Grim Private Sector Led Future for Port Talbot

I dont believe for a minute Port Talbot will be sold given the global overcapacity in Steel – which means at some point the bullet will have to be bit on what to do with the site.

The obvious think to do is develop a combined deep sea contained port (DSCP) / Logistics hub – given the deep waters off the coast and its rail access, with a mixed use new town around the Victorian Aberabon port basin and a new rail station further south.  The site is ideal – you could fit all of Victorian Cardiff or Swansea within its huge sea fronted bounds located between Swansea and Cardiff.

The Second Severn Crossing and the pathetic Container Port capacity in Wales provide the opportunity.  The model of sorts is the DP World DCSP on the Thames on the former Shell Haven site, which predicts 30,000 jobs when complete.  However world freight overcapacity is slowing build out and so far it is only around 10% complete.  Perhaps a better model is a Freeport/Freezone, where goods can be imported, manufactured and exported free of tax.  It has always puzzled me why the UK has never developed such as special economic zone.

Model of how not to do it are even slower progress on former large industrial sites like Longbridge whose anchor was to be a ‘nano technology park’ (so small you cant see it) and worst of all Ravenscraig.  This project for a ‘new town’ on the old steelworks was to have 3,500 homes, after 15 years less than 350 have been built.  The problem was it was privately driven with a dreadful masterplan.  Initially rejected by the Scottish government, it was little more than a mall with a few other uses scattered around roundabouts, with landscaping that screened rather than integrated, and bearing no relationship to the new station and other public transport.  Challenges in the courts by surrounding towns fearing devastation of their town centers held it up for 5 years and last autumn the master plan was effectively scrapped – the rise of online shopping etc. had made it a pipe dream.

The lessons for Port Talbot, and other former giant steelworks such as at Redcar:

  • Don’t automatically assume a viable redevelopment can be achieved without state intervention.  Europe is replete with former steelworks which have been simply allowed to rust, in some cases turned into museums and heritage attractions – with varying success.
  • The models of private sector led development – as opposed to a development corporation – have failed.  Development is drip fed at a pathetic rate by housebuilders.  If the public sector is expected to build the schools and strategic infrastructure they need a slice of land value uplift, and if the cost of reclamation and decontamination is prohibitive the state should intervene compensated for by securing a long term interest in the land value.  The short term costs of decontamination are still likley to be more economic than the million per day cost of keeping the balst furnaces running to service only a few jobs to make steel noone wants to buy.
  • Keep the plan flexible based on the sites key advantages, when you are dealing with SqKM you dont need a rigid masterplan but what is known as a ‘structural plan’ a modern (form based?) zoning instrument based on a flexible grid of 300m or so squares forming 600m x 600m neighborhoods.  The zoning of different typologies and uses within a flexible grid form focused around public transport is recommended as the best practice model globally for urban expansion by UNEP and the World Bank.  They are spot on.

One thought on “10% Completed in 15 Years – Ravenscraig Shows the Grim Private Sector Led Future for Port Talbot

  1. On Ravenscraig and Longbridge, and on the lessons for Port Talbot, what you say is good. But your opening proposal for Port Talbot is built on the same kind of economic sand as nanotechnology at Longbridge or retailing at Ravenscraig: there is no economic basis for a ‘deep-sea port and logistics hub’ in a location which would require a costly diversion in ships’ routes to reach a point which is on the fringe, not at the hub, of the European economy.

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