The logistical challenges of NATO invading Newport

Posted on September 5th, 2014 by

Photograph of NATO summit

There has never been anything quite like it. NATO is coming to Newport, and they’re bringing an army. Not of soldiers (although there will be no small number of soldiers there): World leaders, politicians, foreign defence officials, staffers, advisers, journalists, industry representatives, and protesters are arriving in their masses, and they’re causing quite a stir.

This year’s NATO summit will be the most important in decades. From providing the African Union support in dealing with Islamist threats across Africa, to discussing the ISIL advance across Syria and Iraq and the situation in Ukraine, there are crisis a plenty for NATO to discuss. And then there are the long term issues to be discussed- the final withdrawal from Afghanistan and the defence spending of constituent NATO states. There have been few more important meetings of world leaders.

Yet there have been two meteoric tasks in Newport this year. The first was hosting the summit at all. The logistics are hard to believe. Fitting 12 miles of security fencing, 5km of power cables, 7000m2 of flooring, providing 12,500l of drinking water, and 49,300 nights at hotel rooms is a daunting task in itself. Yet that isn’t all – there will be 9,500 police officers on duty, 219 military personnel providing security and hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters. There will be an estimated 3,500 to 5,000 journalists in attendance, with 1,500 accredited and given access to the site. The numbers involved are simply incredible.

The Welsh government have gone to great lengths to ensure that much of the materials needed have been sourced from Wales. 7000m2 of flooring has been supplied and fitted by Cwmbran based company Floorex, and 5km of power cables have been supplied by Talbot based company Aggreko. The supply chain has been tailored to provide the maximum possible value to the Welsh economy.

Image of cabling

The Welsh government is not releasing the figures regarding the cost of the summit, but figures released by the authorities in Chicago reveal that the last NATO summit cost $55million – with an additional $16 million spent on overtime by the emergency services. Of course the major difference is the location – it is likely that the Chicago summit required a significantly smaller investment in infrastructure and revenues lost through the inaccessibility of main shopping hubs would have been lower. Yet the benefit was estimated to be in the region of £77million.

There are also protesters to consider. Early signs suggest that thousands will turn up across Wales, but will be largely peaceful. A ‘counter-summit’ will be held in Cardiff, and hundreds will physically march through Newport to protest against NATO. Deloitte found that ancillary events (of which some anti-NATO activities could be included) added an extra £3.1 million to the value of the Chicago summit. Yet the benefits could be swallowed up by violence or vandalism. Should protests turn violent, the cost could rocket.

This risks the most important benefit Wales will receive by hosting the summit. The NATO summit will put Wales in the international spotlight like never before. President Obama will be the first ever serving US President to set foot in Wales, and it’s importance makes it likely to remain big news for years to come. The benefits in tourism and increased international prestige are incalculable but potentially vast. This all relies on how those in Newport (residents and protesters alike) present Wales to the wider wold.

Provided the protests remain non-violent, the summit could open the doors for Wales to become an international tourist destination. This is on top of the tidy profit likely to be made. There has, after all, never been anything quite like it in Wales. The closest for Newport was the 2010 Ryder Cup, a huge event attracting 900 journalists; it is dwarfed by the scale of NATO. Being able to host the summit at all is a huge logistical achievement and the authorities in Newport and the wider Welsh government deserve the credit and rewards that come with it.