Wales

Swansea Bay City region's £500m 'internet coast' vision

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionSir Terry Matthews says coding and brain power is the future for the region

Creating an "internet coast" in south west Wales to drive the digital future of energy, technology and healthcare is at the heart of a £500m city deal plan.

Swansea Bay City Region's chairman Sir Terry Matthews aims to transform these sectors in the same way the internet changed telecom.

The blueprint is to create up to 33,000 jobs over the next 20 years.

A fibre-optic transatlantic cable from New York to Oxwich Bay would be a "game changer" to bring ultrafast broadband.

The city region has decided to go for something distinctive and ambitious in its vision - not based on physical infrastructure or huge transport projects.

It concedes that south west Wales is underachieving economically and also needs to be resilient, particularly with the difficulties being faced by big employers like Tata Steel at Port Talbot.

Those behind it say they want to "punch above our weight" and offer something of importance to the UK, as well as developing something different to what other city deals are offering.

South west Wales would in essence become a giant test bed for internet and digital innovation.

  • It would build on the renewable and conventional energy sector already in the region to connect them digitally and develop future energy systems and smart solutions on storage and efficiency
  • The fastest broadband speeds would be available for business growth - including the technology and creative industries - and the region would look to creating a 5G test bed.
  • A new "cloud" enterprise zone would aim to be a magnet for data companies.
  • The internet would improve health diagnostics, manage data and create personal treatment plans and tele-care, building on life sciences and medical research already taking place.
Image copyright Thinkstock

The bid has been analysed by Cardiff University and it is estimated the economic potential could see 33,000 jobs created over 20 years - worth £3.3bn in output.

The four local councils in the city region are looking at a £100m commitment over 20 years, with contributions from the private sector, higher education and European Union.

The negotiations for the fibre-optic link from north America is understood to be at an advanced stage and would bring the ultra-fast broadband speeds to west Wales first, enabling towns along the coast to benefit.

Sir Terry, speaking from Canada, said it was important to realise the main transmission communication channel from New York to London was via the south west Wales region.

"It speaks very loudly to the importance of building up a technology sector on those communication channels.

"There's an opportunity of creating a significant industry which is in software. Coding should become the name of the game for the people in this region."

In a letter to Chancellor George Osborne, Sir Terry - who made his millions in internet developments of the telecom industry - said the vision addressed global challenges and was of a sufficient scale to attract international investors.

"The prosperity gap between Swansea Bay and the rest of Wales and the UK remains stubbornly and unacceptably high.

"Real transformation will not be achieved by simply doing more of the same."

Swansea council recently unveiled its own regeneration proposals and leader Rob Stewart called the city deal proposal "an enormously exciting bid".

More on this story