Cardiff is a nice place.
In fact it's much, much better than that. It's a city of beautiful parks and striking architecture, hemmed in on one side by a stylish docklands development and on others by lush green fields and bracken covered hills. The grimy coal dust burnished and soot covered city of the industrial era is a distant memory, as is Cardiff's difficult transition in the decades following deindustrialisation and depopulation.
It's right that modern Cardiff - a magnet for tourists, shoppers and workers - should continue to grow. Indeed its history since the 19th century has been one of extraordinary growth. Described by prominent Welsh antiquarian Iolo Morganwg in 1801 as "an obscure and inconsiderable town," Cardiff with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants was little more than a decaying sleepy town on tidal muddy banks. The industrial revolution changed all of that and the development of extensive docks to cope with huge international demand for the coal of the South Wales Valleys saw its population soar to more than 200,000 a century later. Steady growth in numbers continued all the way up until the 1970s when the loss of heavy industry led to a couple of decades of decline. In recent years the Welsh capital has once again rediscovered its mojo and the last census showed a city of almost 350,000 inhabitants - growth of nearly 20% in just a decade.
Why the preamble?
As I've already stated, Cardiff is a fantastic place to live and work and it should continue to grow - but in such a way that still makes it a fantastic place to live and work. Unfortunately, the city councils ruling Labour Party have radical plans to accelerate housing development that will make some parts of the Welsh capital unrecognisable. The loss of cherished and ecologically important green field sites will be collateral damage in the lofty but ill conceived plans to develop a 'super city' in South East Wales.
Ah, yes, the words of a bloody Nimby I hear you say. Well, no, frankly. This will seriously impact on many thousands of Cardiffians who, like me, think Cardiff should grow but at a sensible pace and in tandem with the necessary significant improvements in infrastructure and public services that are so badly needed already and not at the expense of surrounding regions that are in dire need of regeneration.
Among the plans that Cardiffians should know more about are an extra 7,000 proposed dwellings on the land between St Fagans and Creigiau leading to the loss of precious green field sites comprised of grazing and woodland. In effect, 'the lungs' of the north west of the city and home to protected bat species. The impact of an estimated 10,000 additional cars on already congested roads in one of the busiest parts of the city at rush hour, is bordering on the insane.
Leading the opposition to the plans in this part of Cardiff and beyond is recently elected Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Neil McEvoy. McEvoy summed up the stupidity of the plans, "on some main roads if somebody sneezes in the morning there's a traffic jam. 10,000 extra cars makes Cardiff grind to a halt. The air pollution created by miles and miles of stationary traffic will be toxic and dangerous." He added, "there's also the potential for issues with flooding by building on woodlands and greenfields, then there's the devastation to wildlife when you take into account 1 in 14 species are under existential threat in Wales."
Aside from the seismic changes planned for the north west of the city, the overall local development plan has the goal of building an additional 40,000 homes across Cardiff over the next decade. Like many other residents, I can see the benefits of steady expansion but in an urban area hit hard by austerity and serious cuts to public services in recent years, there doesn't appear to be a plausible plan to support such rapid growth. Health provision is creaking at the seams, the roads are choked with traffic and already amongst the busiest in the UK and massive investment is needed in schools and community projects vital to social cohesion.
A far more sensible solution would be to create a regional development plan. One that involves building houses and improving infrastructure on the many brown field sites in neglected former coal mining towns within a 10-15 mile radius of Cardiff. These forgotten areas that have been in decline for decades would benefit enormously from regeneration and improvements in road and rail connections to the capital. McEvoy is in no doubt, "our whole policy is for a regional plan, where it makes sense to build homes and improve infrastructure across the region to reboot the whole local economy."
Unfortunately, such a regional plan appears beyond the comprehension of Cardiff's Labour run council.
What can you do to stop these plans?
Even though the plans were approved by the Welsh Assembly Government at the start of this year and some development has already taken place, the chaos and destruction it will bring to Cardiff can still be halted. On May 4th next year the people of the city go to the polls to decide on their local council. Ultimately, if you want to stop this desperately poorly conceived local development plan then the only answer is to vote out the present incumbents and with Plaid pledging to work with Lib Dems, Greens and independents to defeat it, the solution lies with us - the electorate.