Cardiff Friends of the Earth Newsletter - Spring 1994

Earmarked for destruction

In a wide-ranging speech on the Environment to Aberavon Conservative Association on March 28 1994 the Welsh Secretary, John Redwood, signalled his intention to allow the wholesale destruction of the coastal plain between Cardiff and Newport by development. In doing so he effectively endorsed the nightmare vision currently being peddled by South Glamorgan County Council.

Mr Redwood listed the coastal plain as one of several areas “where we should be looking for new jobs and homes”. He also talked about minimising the potential for conflict that protected status designations inevitably cause in places important to economic development. Presumably he meant by this that these areas should not have been designated in the first place.

The area between Cardiff and Newport is almost entirely made up of land designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Both the South Glamorgan Structure Plan and the City of Cardiff Local Plan envisage the development of large slices of this land for industry and warehousing. There are similar pressures at the Newport end. Far from protecting this land, the Welsh Secretary seems to be giving his blessing to those who want to destroy it.

Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Redwood encouraged local authorities to site new developments on reclaimed brownfield sites where possible. This was what the Cardiff Bay regeneration project was supposed to be about. As we pointed out at the recent City of Cardiff Local Plan inquiry, there is already 50 percent more land allocated to industrial use in the Local Plan than is likely to be needed over the ten-year period it covers. Because of this there is no need to encroach onto new greenfield sites.

South Glamorgan County Council have been promoting their own “20-20 Vision” of a “Greater Cardiff”. This consists of increasing the city's population to over 400,000 people and expanding it's boundaries into the Vale of Glamorgan and also towards Newport whilst paradoxically preserving the open countryside around the city. As far as we can tell from their publications this is not intended to benefit the citizens of Cardiff, but is an ego-driven notion that a “European capital” should be larger than 300,000 people in size. Fortunately this seems to be the parting shot of Jack Brooks and his cronies on the council which is due to be wound up in a couple of years. We can only hope that the new unitary authority for Cardiff will have a real vision rather than this nightmare.

European hold-up for Cardiff Bay Barrage scheme

By Peter Boyce

The Welsh Office's beleaguered Cardiff Bay Barrage project was put under severe threat on 22 March when the European Commission announced that it needed more time to consider the complaints made to it against the scheme by environmental groups, among them Cardiff Friends of the Earth. The commission will now spend three more months gathering information before making a decision in June. This means that the Welsh Office will have to put the whole scheme on ice for a further three months.

Clearly the Commission are taking the complaints seriously or they would have dismissed them long ago. If they decide in June to take action against the UK Government then it will almost certainly mean the end for the barrage scheme. The time-schedule for the scheme continues to slip. The Chief Executive of Cardiff Bay Development Corporation (CBDC), Michael Boyce, claimed that work on the barrage would “begin on day one after Royal Assent” for the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill. At this rate they will be lucky to start work one year after Royal Assent was given.

Should the European Commission decide not to take action then a legal challenge will be mounted in the High Court. The CBDC made a solemn undertaking before the House of Lords Select Committee that they would contact every owner and occupier in Cardiff and Penarth affected by the construction of the barrage to let them know about the Groundwater Protection Scheme. This they haven't done. Instead they have informed some, but not all, occupiers and asked them to pass the letter on to the owners. The result is that many owners never received the information. This is a serious omission because they need this information to take advantage of the scheme.

The MP for Cardiff West, Rhodri Morgan, is compiling a dossier of cases that have not received their notification and intends to help people challenge the CBDC in the High Court for breaking the conditions imposed on them by the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill. The potential for this to slow things down is enormous. It will also make the CBDC look very silly. It will take them many months to trace all the owners of properties that will be affected and inform them.

Another threat to the barrage is our Save Cardiff Bay pledge. The response to this has been very encouraging and about 5,000 people have pledged to demonstrate against the barrage should work on it ever begin. We have several indications that the Welsh Office and CBDC are starting to get worried about this. In a letter to Cardiff Friends of the Earth the Chairman of CBDC, Geoffrey Inkin, suggested that we were planning to bus in “those who enjoy a day's protesting” from time to time. The reality is that all but 100 of the signatories to the pledge are residents of Cardiff or Penarth.

We have also received a phone call from the police asking what our ”intentions” were relating to the Cardiff Bay Barrage. Since it looks as if work on the barrage won't begin for several months we couldn't tell them very much. In the last few weeks the CBDC have begun erecting large fences topped with razor wire at the site on Penarth Head where work would begin.

The final nail in the barrage's coffin may be research recently published by the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University. This found a strong statistical link between the rate of infant mortality and the level of waterlogging in soils. They found that in areas of housing built on very wet soil there was on average a 30 percent higher rate of infant mortality (the total number of deaths of children under one year old) than in housing built on dry soils. Given that the barrage will almost certainly lead to a rise in the extent and length of time that the soil in the south of Cardiff will be waterlogged during the winter, the infant death rate in this area may well rise in the future. Cardiff Residents Against the Barrage (CRAB) are preparing a dossier on this subject and are contacting organisations concerned with health issues in Wales about it.

Cardiff Friends of the Earth joins the Cycle Liaison Group

By Julian Langston

Dave Beasley represents Cardiff Friends of the Earth on a new consultative body for cycling that was set up late last year. The Cycling Development and Liaison Working Group meets three times a year to review progress on the development of cycling facilities in South Glamorgan and to discuss problems.

It is a useful forum for us, along with our friends in the Cardiff Cycle Campaign and the Cycle Touring Club to put our views on cycling as part of a sustainable transport strategy to officers from the county and city councils as well as to the Welsh Office.

We welcome the establishment of this working group by South Glamorgan County Council as a commitment to encourage and improve facilities for cycling. We intend to play our part in ensuring that the right decisions are taken.

Cardiff Friends of the Earth has also responded to South Glamorgan Council's Draft Integrated Strategy Policy. Although there are flaws in this, it is a positive document, indicating that the county council is at least beginning to see sense over transport matters. The council has the intention of “...developing car/traffic restraint policies” and “implementation of rail and bus schemes reflecting change in expenditure balance from road to public transport”.

In the light of these and similar statements, it was bitterly disappointing to see the Leader of the Council, Russell Goodway, calling for a new road to serve the airport, which he sees as more desirable than providing a train service to the airport using a line that already exists within half a mile of the airport terminal.

Cardiff Friends of the Earth has entered into a dialogue with Councillor Goodway and written to the press, calling for him to back his own council's proposals for a saner and more balanced transport strategy.

Recycling decision still in the balance

By Julian Langston

In 1990 Cardiff City Council made a bold commitment to recycle half of the city's domestic waste by 1995. This spring, the council is making decisions that will show whether councillors will stand by their promise or sell-out to the landfill option which appears to be cheaper in the short-term.

There are several options available to the city council, including a huge and inappropriate landfill site at Aberthaw. This was the reason for Cardiff Friends of the Earth's decision to lobby for the council to make the right decision.

At our February meeting Councillor Ian Brown explained the options being considered by the council and the framework within which a decision will have to be made. By law, local authorities are no longer allowed to manage the disposal of domestic waste themselves. They are required to contract it out to the private sector. Initially, Cardiff City Council considered bids from three companies, Ibex, Shanks and McKewan, and Blue Circle (who want to develop the tip at Aberthaw).

Shanks and McKewan have dropped out, to be replaced by AEG, a French company. On 9 March, all three companies gave presentations to the council on their options, which range from collecting recycling from all houses in the city (perhaps as an extension of the existing Green Bag Scheme) and anaerobically digesting biodegradable waste, to landfilling most of it. We are bitterly opposed to the latter option and have written again to city councillors, reminding them of their promises when we sent them all a questionnaire shortly before the last City Council elections three years ago.

The media was reminded of the City Council's 1990 pledge (part of their Environmental Strategy) through Cardiff Friend of the Earth's press work which included the Chair of Cardiff Friends of the Earth, David Lewis, explaining our case on Radio Wales. Dave Beasley also made excellent use of his one minute slot on HTV's Grassroots programme.

The final decision has not yet been taken as the councillors are waiting for a report by the officers evaluating the presentations. This report is expected to be delivered very soon.

Sheffield Supertram starts

By Dave Beasley

On 21 March Sheffield became the second city in Britain (after Manchester) to reintroduce trams. The first phase runs from the centre of Sheffield to a big shopping centre a few miles out of town. The journey takes 20 minutes and costs 75p for adults. All of this route is segregated from other traffic except at a few junctions. This will prevent the trams being delayed by traffic congestion.

Two more branches reaching out into the suburbs are planned to be completed by the end of next year. This is not a small scheme. The three-car trams are quiet and comfortable, travelling at speeds of up to 50mph. They run from 6AM to 12PM, seven days a week at frequencies of between eight and ten minutes.

I tried the tram on the first Saturday it was in operation. There were hoards of people all interested in seeing the new trams which shows that they are popular. There were a lot of complaints about the disruption caused by the construction works over the last few years. But now the people of Sheffield can now see such an effective, fast, non-polluting and user-friendly form of transport taking shape, most of them seem very pleased with the result.

Cardiff could have a tram system too. If enough people believe in the idea, and let their local councillors know how they feel, then it can become a reality.

CPRW opposes wind power

By Peter Boyce

The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural Wales (CPRW) recently adopted a position of blanket opposition to the siting of any windfarms in Wales. This policy is patently absurd. It plays directly into the hands of the nuclear lobby who have been orchestrating a vociferous campaign against wind energy, a campaign that they are on the verge of winning with the help of the CPRW.

The CPRW consider that the limited resources available to tackle climate change should be devoted exclusively to energy conservation measures. As the Cardiff Central MP, Jon Owen Jones, made clear in his letter to the CPRW, although energy conservation measures can produce the greatest benefits at the least cost, energy conservation measures by themselves cannot answer the energy needs of the UK. Decisions must be made concerning the production of energy and there is no such thing as an entirely benign source.

The CPRW's actions seem to be naïve in the extreme. When the political agenda comes back to climate change we must have working non-fossil fuel sources of power that we can point to. Otherwise the nuclear lobby will win by default. Energy conservation on its own will have very little political muscle. For this reason it is crucial that wind power is not strangled at birth. We hope that the CPRW will see sense and abandon its pact with the nuclear industry.