From cutting edge sites like Central Square in Cardiff to the beauty of Snowdonia, Wales is forging a bright future, says Mike Hughes
As new tech finds its home and stunning new developments start to change the landscape, Wales is facing one of its biggest and most exciting challenges.
The region has to stay at the top of the list for developers wanting headline-making sites as well as protecting and promoting the character and heritage that are so much a part of its appeal.
Nearby centres like Liverpool and Manchester have managed that balance admirably, but surely nowhere can have as much stark diversity in its offering as Wales, with such short journeys between majestic mountains and bustling cities.
The developments that are redefining Welsh cities are certainly coming at a remarkable rate, with recent announcements including Cardiff being ranked third in a list of the best 100 cities and towns outside of London for the potential of its office commercial property market.
One of the key reasons for Cardiff’s place high up on the list is the bold vision for Central Square to become a proud gateway to the capital. This is a dream site for developers, bordered by the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff ’s popular retail heart, and Central Station, the development will unlock a key part of the city centre.
There are also the plans for a £1.3bn tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay, which has now been backed by a government-commissioned review which said it would make a "strong contribution" to the UK's energy supply.
Progress at Box City - one of Britain's largest container villages at the heart of Cardiff Bay, which will combine shops, restaurants, offices and pop-up markets in shipping containers.
University of Wales Trinity Saint David is building a £300m innovation campus at the SA1 waterfront development and construction teams are moving on to the site of the new International Convention Centre Wales, at the Celtic Manor Resort, Newport.
At the centre of Cardiff's Central Square is developer Rightacres, now based at the iconic One Central Square at the heart of the site.
Development Director Stephen Widnall told BQ: “The city has been waiting for this for more than 20 years, to link together the stadium and the railway station and provide around one million square feet of office space. No one would have thought Cardiff could have done that, but certainly Rightacres has been completely invested in it because we are all on the ground in the city and live here and work here.”
Stephen says the surge of investment into Wales was always going to happen – it just needed the developers and backers to turn their eyes away from London for long enough to see what else was on offer.
“People are blown away by the city when they first come here,” he said.
“The trick is to get them here in the first place, then they can see the scale of what is happening, and all of it less than two hours away from London and so much easier to get out and about and a much better place to live.
“We recognise the huge amount of work a lot of people are doing here and we think we are playing apart in that by Central Square being a catalyst for Cardiff.”
Cardiff City Council leader Phil Bail summed it up well when he told BQ: "We have taken a very pro-active stance to the future of the city and by drawing up masterplan for the whole area we have been able to look at the very best designs for what we are going to bring here.
"This is my home city where I was born and brought up and it always had the potential to be transformed and to bring people together."
So when Wales’ millions of visitors come to the region, they will see change – but they also need their ‘fix’ of heritage and where better to get that than on the Snowdon Mountain Railway, which has just reopened for its 120th anniversary as a globally-renowned tourist attraction.
Commercial Manager Vince Hughes leafed through his visitors book as he was talking to BQ and read out an impressive list of journeys his customers had been on – coming from Germany, India, America and Libya.
“Places like Wales and attractions like the railway are on people’s bucket lists,” he said.
“The view from the top has just been voted the best in the UK, and so far our numbers are up 40 per cent, so we are very confident of an excellent season.”
Vince has been working on the railway – surely one of the best jobs in Wales? – for more than 17 years, so he is used to the region changing as developers invest in its future, but for him it is teamwork that will win for Wales.
“The important thing is to get people to come to Wales in the first place,” he said.
“It is the perfect mix for all of us if they go to Cardiff in the south for their city fix and then come to us in the north for a bit of outdoors adventure. They will find things have changed a lot in the cities, but out here, apart from the visitor centre we built in 2009, this bit of Wales is just as people will remember it from their childhood."