Cardiff’s Local Development Plan is one of the most important documents, if not the most important, that Cardiff council is called upon to produce. It lays the foundations which will shape our city for a generation or more. It determines where people are going to live and work and how they travel between the two. More importantly, it dictates how people live, influencing lifestyles and landscapes which impact directly on jobs, educational achievement, crime and future economic prosperity as well as on issues of place, community and the environment.
Rodney Berman’s Lib-Dem council, propped up as it is by Neil McEvoy’s small group of Welsh Nationalists have managed to spend years putting together a plan that was fundamentally flawed. They knew that it had to be pulled even before it got near the Planning Inspector. They were prepared to cobble together a Plan, so important to the future of our children and grandchildren, on the altar of short term party political gain and against the best advice of their own professional planning officials.
This is a disgrace. The result is that the capital city of Wales is without an approved strategic planning framework leaving the development of the city at the mercy of property developers and speculators and its reputation in tatters.
You can’t play politics with such important matters. Unfortunately for a set of politicians that has demonstrated all too often the lack of capacity to make a decision, planning for the future requires a degree of maturity on the part of decision makes who understand that difficult and often unpopular decisions are unavoidable. It’s called leadership.
The discredited Berman/McEvoy plan pretended that Cardiff’s future could be secured without the need to build on any greenfield sites despite their officials explaining that such an ambition could not be delivered. Instead, the basis of their plan was to overdevelop existing communities making every piece of open space a candidate for more development, even in the most densely populated inner city areas.
The trouble is open spaces in established communities are not regarded as “greenfield” (for example school playing fields). That’s why communities like Ely, Trowbridge and St Mellons, and inner city wards like Canton and Grangetown are at risk of serious overdevelopment; with gardens, school fields and every scrap of land sacrificed for housing, but without removing the traffic. Berman’s solution for the inner city is to force families to live in flats – he’s on record saying so. Simply continuing to build flats risks creating the slums of the future.
Anyone with experience of family life will know that we’ve moved on since the 1960’s, that planners have learned from those mistakes and that modern families deserve a house with a garden and other open spaces in which they can grow up an flourish.
Labour argues for a more balanced plan. Concentrating on brownfield development where it is possible but releasing some greenfield land to help preserve important open spaces in established communities. Labour believes that we should identify opportunities to locate employment sites closer to where people live to help reduce the burden on inner city roads. But above all, Labour believes that a more strategic approach to planning for the needs of a growing population is needed if we are to get things right. Not everybody who works or studies in Cardiff can live within the artificial boundaries of the city.
The expected growth in population numbers needs to be planned across the much wider Cardiff travel-to-work area, creating dormitory communities in areas economically challenged by the retreat of coal and heavy industry and allowing people there to invest the fruits of their labour in keeping their communities vibrant and prosperous.
The key is to exploit the potential of Cardiff- Wales’ most significant economic dynamo, to attract new investment, new jobs, new opportunities for the people who live and work here and, in tandem, to attract significant additional private investment in public transport systems to serve the capital city, to ensure that those opportunities are available to all those who live across the entire city region.
The Assembly has an important role to play. It must help create the conditions that will facilitate sub-regional planning across a network of Welsh city regions. That means that they must recognise the inability of the present pattern of 22 councils to generate effective strategic plans and replace them with a smaller number that can, or be bold and do the job itself. In the meantime, Labour in Cardiff will continue to press for a grown up approach to the preparation of its belated LDP, making sure that its people that count most in the planning process.
What do you think of the local development plan? Let us know your views in the comments below