In March 2019, Cardiff Council declared a climate emergency, and council leader, Huw Thomas, asserts that “the Council has recognised that Climate Change remains the defining global challenge of our generation”
However, fine words are not enough, and the RLDP needs to address the issue of Climate Change with the urgency and gravity it warrants.
Rising sea levels are an existential threat to Cardiff. The Climate Change City Index listed Cardiff as 6th in a list of global cities most at risk.
Interactive maps show much of south Cardiff below sea level in the coming decades. Wetter winters will increase peak river flows and the frequency, duration and severity of storms will increase too.
The threat of flooding shows a climate emergency is real for our city. This danger demands that Cardiff must achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
It is essential that:
*The local authority stops building on high flood risk sites, and avoids non-permeable surfaces.
*Cardiff halts and reverses the loss of its green infrastructure (especially in locations where this would mitigate flooding risks). Green infrastructure, open space preservation, and floodplain management reduce the volume of stormwater that flows into streams and rivers, protecting the natural function of floodplains, and reducing damage to infrastructure and property.
Opportunities exist for upstream measures to slow the accumulation of water in the city, but as these will have to be discussed and agreed with other authorities. Cardiff’s RLDP alone will not suffice.
One Planet Cardiff and the RLDP
The One Planet Cardiff (OPC) consultation document has a great deal of relevance to the RLDP.
The seven key themes of the strategy – energy, built environment, green infrastructure and biodiversity, transport, waste, food, water – all depend on planning policy and will be helped or hindered by what the RLDP says.
OPC acknowledges the scale of the challenge of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, but this is not always reflected in its proposals, and still less in what has so far been done or is in progress.
It has to be noted also that the RLDP will not be adopted until 2024, a third of the way towards the 2030 target for carbon neutrality.
OPC promises to Green the City, shifting land management and planting activity to maximise environment protection, carbon sequestration and biodiversity; major tree planting to increase urban tree cover from 19% to 25%, plus green walls, especially where air quality is poor.
This is good, but planning decisions do not yet convince in their commitment to Green Infrastructure.
We also face the problem that landowners and corporate developers are motivated by land value gain and by profits, which RLDP policies will have to confront if it is to deliver on the values of fairness and sustainability.
The goal of carbon neutrality also requires the RLDP to adopt policies that discourage demolition in favour of renovation and conversion.
OPC wants to declare a biodiversity emergency (which Welsh Government has now done but Cardiff Council has failed to), build biodiversity into decision making and governance, and enhance connectivity between habitats across the city.
The question of connectivity, or ‘wildlife corridors’ again raises the question of how externalities should be managed on private land, as here the natural value of a green space depends not only on its own qualities but on how it relates to those of others.
OPC concludes by considering ‘cross-cutting topics’, including bold collaborative leadership, and regulation and policy that is fit for purpose in the context of the climate change emergency. The RLDP needs both of these, both in its definition of rigorous policies and in the willingness of the Planning Committee to enforce them.
One Planet Cardiff is not a perfect document. It has significant gaps and sometimes raises more questions than it answers, being less clear on what it would like to happen than on how to achieve it. But its goal of a carbon neutral city, by 2030, is right and necessary, however ambitious it may appear. Incorporating this target is perhaps the most important change that must be made to the Replacement LDP Vision and Objectives.