Campaigners must develop focussed, well informed arguments based around planning policy if they are to save Cardiff’s historical buildings from redevelopment, and the city’s shopping streets from the “onward march of the supermarkets”, a public meeting on saving the city’s architectural heritage was told last night.
The meeting, at Cathays Community Centre, was called by community arts group Made In Roath following news that AG Meek, a 100-year-old family shoe business on Albany Road, is facing demolition because developers want to build a new convenience store and three flats on the site.
Around 20 people attended last night’s meeting to discuss what could be done to protect buildings people feel are important to Cardiff’s architectural heritage, with the vice-chair of Cardiff Civic Society Peter Cox saying people will have to get to grips with “all the things we find so boring” if campaigns are to be successful.
He warned that it was not enough to object to planning applications simply on the grounds of “supermarkets are bad” – instead, campaigners must do their homework when it comes to planning issues. He said:
“The only thing you can do with a planning application is to fight it on the grounds of planning. You have got to do a lot of work.
“Look at the planning application before the council and look at what the planning grounds are [for an objection]. Is there a tree preservation area, is it inappropriate use, is it in a conservation area? Even with a petition, you have got to petition on those grounds.”
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Cox warned that while petitions can have “huge value”, they must be focused.
“If it’s an old building, then saying it’s a building we love and value, that’s a good planning argument,” he said. “But just saying Tesco are horrible, do not build on our road – although it might help people express their anger, it does not help the case to forward those objections to the planning committee.”
Mr Cox also spoke about how the first problem the city faced when trying to protect its architectural, social and cultural heritage was a “lack of civic involvement”. He said:
“There’s disengagement in civic life, between people and what’s being planned for them. It’s extremely difficult to see how civic involvement is actually going to affect anything. It has become more and more easy to simply disengage – to say I can’t have any effect, therefore I won’t have any effect.”
Mr Cox said people needed to keep an eye on planning applications going into the council, keep in contact with their ward councillors, and join organisations like the Civic Society in order to know what is going on in their community – before it’s too late.
“At the end of the day the only answer to disengagement is engagement,” he said.
Other speakers at the meeting included Susan Elsmore, from the TesNo campaign in Pontcanna, which campaigned against a Tesco being brought to the former Ballatynes store on Cathedral Road.
She said she believed petitions were a good way of showing the level of support for a particular campaign, but added there were other important ways of getting the word out, and agreed it was important to get clued up on planning issues. She said:
“Community organisation is key. What was going on in Pontcanna really brought people together in a way no issues do. You’ve got to form a committee, garner intelligence. Then it’s about support.
“I think one of the things that was very useful in Pontcanna was a petition. We had hundreds and hundreds of signatures.”
“We held a public meeting, you have got to get some money in for things like making photocopies. But there there’s a lot you can do in terms of electronic media at relatively little cost – set up a campaign webiste, and social media.”
“You have to know your enemy and be prepared to fight for your community. Spread the word and share the burden.”
Fellow speaker Kevin Morgan talked about urban supermarket expansion – arguing that many of the supermarket giants were shifting their focus from “big box” stores to smaller convenience properties.
He said: “I think the answer is in community food systems. It’s not enough to object to a system – we have to help people to re-engage with an alternative system.”
Laura Howe, from thinkARK also spoke on empty shop projects, and how they can be used to bring vibrancy and focus back to empty premises, helping them to find new tenants again.
She called on the council to do more to help these type of projects.
What do you think of the ideas discussed at the public meeting? What more could be done to preserve Cardiff’s architectural herirtage? Let us know in the comments below.