To grow or not to grow? Growth for a purpose

The growth that Cardiff Council are seeking to pursue should not be an end in and of itself, writes Tamsin Stirling

In its recent consultation on the Replacement Local Development Plan (RLDP), Cardiff Council make clear that growth of the city is a key driver in shaping the overall approach. What is interesting in this context is that the revised population projections for the city show a much reduced level of growth up to 2026 than was previously the case. On this, the consultation document said:

‘Given the inherent uncertainty with trend-based assumptions and the significance of growth as a key parameter shaping the LDP strategy, the evidence base will explore to what degree the latest methodology and assumptions underpinning official projections are suitable, and whether the results are plausible.’  

People on the housing waiting list do not need executive homes, they need genuinely affordable housing”

This suggests that alternative measures to project future population may be used by the Council to justify continued growth of the city. The number of people on the waiting list for council/social housing is frequently used as a reason for building more homes, even though the Council often lets developers off their S106 contributions for affordable housing on the basis of viability. People on the housing waiting list do not need executive homes, they need genuinely affordable housing. The need for more good jobs is also a reason to grow the city. But are all the jobs being created well paid with good terms and conditions? 

It would be hard to argue that the approach to growth in the city in the last ten years has been good for all residents”

Cardiff Council maintains that a bigger Cardiff is a better Cardiff, that the growth of the city will automatically benefit residents of the city. Walking through different parts of the city today makes very clear the stark inequalities between different neighbourhoods. It would be hard to argue that the approach to growth of the city in the last ten years has been good for all residents.   

Cardiff has also declared a climate emergency and set out its aim of a carbon neutral city. Across the city demolition of buildings of various ages is taking place alongside construction, much of it concrete, sometimes referred to as the most destructive material on earth. Can this really be compatible with carbon neutrality? 

Another key driver for action is the wellbeing of current and future generations. Cardiff Council, as with all public bodies in Wales, has to adhere to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015. This sets out seven wellbeing goals and five ways of working which public bodies must take into account when they are making decisions. A national wellbeing indicators framework has been developed to track progress against the wellbeing goals. 

At a country level, an interesting alternative to GDP has been developed by the Carnegie Trust – an index of Gross Domestic Wellbeing. It is an holistic index which includes measures on the economy and environment, but also on personal wellbeing, health, education and skills and relationships so has much in common with the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. How much emphasis will be placed on growing the economy in Cardiff as opposed to other aspects of our wellbeing and that of future generations? 

In recent years, a number of different ways of looking at the economy in the context of climate and nature emergencies and the wellbeing of citizens have emerged, e.g. the circular economy, doughnut economics and steady state economics. Professor Calvin Jones, Deputy Dean for Public Value and External Relations at Cardiff Business School is one of the innovative economic thinkers considering how we can achieve good quality jobs for all that require them without a damaging focus on continuous growth for its own sake. He has said: ‘There’s something peculiarly odd about chasing economic growth on a finite planet with no end in sight’. 

The growth that Cardiff Council are seeking to pursue should not be an end in and of itself. It must have a clear purpose; that should be about supporting wellbeing of current and future generations, reducing inequality and addressing both climate and nature emergencies. If it does not do this, then we should seriously question whether it should happen at all.  

Tamsin Stirling 
August 2021

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