Environmental justice in our city

Steel plant, near Splott, Cardiff. pic: Tamsin Stirling

by Tamsin Stirling, Splott resident

The other day I was playing around with a mapping app, drawing circles of various sizes centered on where we live in Splott as part of planning a photography project I’ve been thinking about. I then started moving the circle around the city. Immediately evident was the difference in the overall amount and scale of green spaces in different parts of the city. Having lived in Splott for over 20 years, of course I knew this, but, as they say, a picture paints a thousand words. And the issue of people’s access to green space has become so much more important in the last year. 

I then started thinking about the quality of the environment across the city, the concentration of various industries and facilities in certain places that affect certain communities and the broader issue of environmental justice.   

Our part of the city (Splott and Tremorfa) includes the following:

  • a steelworks 
  • the water and waste treatment works for the whole of South East Wales
  • an energy from waste incinerator
  • a plethora of light industrial estates with various uses and associated environmental impacts/risk
  • the very busy roads between the Bay and the A48  

    while one of the city’s two landfill sites is close by. 

Fig 1: 1 mile from my home

The large industrial and waste sites generate significant traffic, with lorries driving to drop off and/or pick up waste or goods. In the case of the energy from waste incinerator, in March 2017 Cardiff Council’s Planning Committee approved an increase in tonnage of waste that the plant can ‘treat’, i.e. burn, each year and modified the S106 requirement that only waste from South East Wales will be burnt. This meant more traffic to and from the incinerator. Analysis in 2020 by Eunomia concluded that incineration cannot be considered a ‘green’ or low carbon source of energy. And that’s before taking into account emissions from all those lorry journeys – let’s hope the lorries are electric …. The Welsh Government has proposed a moratorium on future development of large-scale energy from waste incinerators. This is positive, but we are stuck with the one in Splott. 

Now there is a proposal for a biomass plant off Rover Way which will burn imported wood to generate energy. Apart from the issue as to whether this makes any sense at all in terms of an adequate or appropriate response to the climate crisis, its location is certainly not environmentally just. We are in danger of repeating past mistakes – ending up with another allegedly ‘green’ technology that is quickly outdated and does not help the transition to zero carbon. And its location will add to the environmental injustice already faced by the communities of Splott and Tremorfa. I doubt whether such a proposal would even be put forward, let alone approved, in or adjacent to a more affluent part of the city.   

Energy from wast plant, near Splott, Cardiff. Pic: Tamsin Stirling

I am sure that some people will write this off as a personal gripe. Well yes, this is personal. Like so many residents of Splott and Tremorfa, I live each day with industrial noise, poor air quality and limited access to quality green space within walking distance. And the sense that our community is not treated fairly when compared to other communities across the city. It’s my community and there are many great things about it. These include some fantastic community level projects such as Green Squirrel, Railway Gardens, Growing Street Talk and Keep Splott Tidy, all supporting community members to improve our local environment and having positive impact. But decisions like the biomass plant take us in the wrong direction. I would very much like to see things change for our community when it comes to the bigger picture on the environment; let’s get environmental justice on the agenda of those making decisions about our city. 

Tamsin Stirling, Splott resident
April 2021
Twitter: @TamsinStirling1 

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