Good, but self-contradictory – our view on Cardiff’s recovery plan

Now is the time to make our voices heard to make our city one that is fit for current and future generations. We need action not vague promises.

The Scott Monument, Roath Park, Cardiff. Pic: Richard Williams

On 14 May, Cardiff Council released a report on creating a ‘Greener, Fairer and Stronger Cardiff’, which will be considered by Cabinet on 20 May, based on a ‘Taking Cardiff Forward After COVID-19’ report by Dr Tim Williams. Once adopted by Cabinet, Council will begin a “conversation with residents and city stakeholders”.

  The Press Release has a ‘have cake and eat it’ flavour, recognising that the city must change to “bounce forward” but, in Huw Thomas’ words, still believing that Cardiff can be “a city which will continue to grow and to flourish as it has over the past 20 years”. None of the Council’s vanity projects are reconsidered to make way for new goals. The result is an approach with good points but often self-contradictory.

  Beyond the immediate steps to reopen the city, “Looking towards the longer term recovery the council has created 6 mission statements and priorities which it wants to consult on”. These are:

  • Reimagining the city centre
  • A city for everyone
  • A City of Villages
  • A culture and sport led renewal
  • A Tech City
  • A One Planet recovery

  Let’s start from the ‘City of Villages’, “based on the idea of the ’15-minute city’ where services you might need, from parks to shops, are within 15 minutes of your home”. Cardiff Civic Society has argued for this approach, so it’s good to see it given prominence. But it is not yet thought through.

  The Press Release states, “There is an opportunity to make the existing network of successful local district centres even more vibrant, busy and relevant to local communities, and to a new type of agile worker who may split their working days between home and an office in the city. The possible benefits, from reduced congestion to community regeneration, are clear to see.” No argument there.

  But ‘Reimagining the city centre’ shows little understanding of this, stating “It is essential we work to protect jobs in our hospitality, retail and office sectors by attracting people back to the city centre.” But people cannot simultaneously be both in a ‘city village’ and in the city centre. Both have a role to play but the tensions between them, and the implications for planning, have been side-stepped.

  Council remains committed to its Canal Quarter project (on Churchill Way) even though it is unclear how much demand there will be for city centre office space. Rightacres are pressing on with what has been called “Wales’ largest-ever speculative office development” on Central Quay (the old Brains site). Speculative because there are not yet any known occupiers.

  City leaders from Cardiff, Swansea and Newport have called on Welsh Government to help them complete their city development plans. Is it not time to step back and think about this?

  Similar strains exist elsewhere. A true vibrant ‘city village’ would meet many of its residents cultural and leisure requirements locally. But the proposals have nothing to offer here but instead reiterate Council’s ambitions for its mega-projects of an Indoor Arena and International Sports Village.

  Much more could be said. Council rightly aspires that Cardiff should be ‘a city for everyone’, including “the young, the old, women and those from a BAME background”, but there is little in the way of tangible projects to make this happen.

  A ‘One Planet recovery’ that would make Cardiff net zero on carbon emissions and reverse biodiversity loss is essential. But developers are still being allowed to build over valued green spaces and cut down mature woodlands and meadows. Ongoing austerity deprives Council of the funding it needs to invest in environmentally sound transport and other infrastructure. 

  We are promised that Council will “invest in our creative infrastructure, from digital communications to low cost artist workshops, to makers’ spaces and grassroots venues.” But the reality is that the Planning Committee continues to grant, and even encourage, development applications that gentrify areas by forcing up rents to a level that grassroots businesses cannot afford.

  As well as this consultation, Council is preparing a Replacement Local Development Plan that will define Cardiff for the next 15 years. Now is the time to make our voices heard to make our city one that is fit for current and future generations. We need action not vague promises.

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