The chaos capitalists in charge of Cardiff are wreaking havoc across the city. Here are some examples in a selection of areas – plus one or two instances of things actually being done properly:
■AQUA PARK Barrage
A complex of floating inflatables on the Bay, accessible from the Barrage, featuring slides, trampolines, jumping platforms, climbing walls and all the usual organised ‘fun’ for the ADHD-prone masses, as per theme parks and holiday resorts the world over. To give an idea of prices, it costs £20 for one person for an hour, not including hire of wet suits and other fees. I will restrain myself from commenting further, except to add three warnings: whatever you do don’t swallow the water; keep valuables securely locked up; and for heaven’s sake avoid the toilets and the changing rooms…
■COAL EXCHANGE Mount Stuart Square
Having been under threat and falling apart for years this signature Cardiff building at last got some semblance of stability in 2021 when Eden Grove Properties, a new venture set up by former Cardiff Labour councillor Ashley Govier, acquired an operating management contract from the official receiver which allowed the bankrupt hotel’s renovation to be completed and its reopening for customers. Since then, what is now called the ‘Exchange Hotel’ (‘coal’ being a dirty word presumably) has become Cardiff’s top-rated hotel online – so I’m not going to slag it off, since the priority had to be securing a viable future for carbon’s cathedral. Mind you, nothing’s ever straightforward for the fiddly and faintly ridiculous 1888 Renaissance Revival lump designed by Edwin Seward (1853-1924): it is currently closed for emergency plumbing repairs.
■EAST BAY Tyndall Street
A chunk of unwanted waste ground underneath and alongside the Central Link flyover had long been a fly-tipping hotspot and in the last few years this got worse and worse until it became a horrifying mountain of rancid fly-tipped garbage, thanks to all the lazy, selfish people who can’t be arsed to book a slot and take their crap to official waste tips. It wasn’t public land so the Council did nothing, seemingly content for Cardiff to look like a third-world shanty town. Eventually London-based developers CNM Estates saw an opportunity and intervened, acquiring the land and securing planning permission for a massive new block of 353 flats. Subject to a standard dodgy and weakly enforced ‘Section 106’ agreement with the Council (regarding affordability, green space, community facilities, transport etc), construction work should start quite soon. It says a lot about the depths to which contemporary Cardiff has sunk when even voracious property developers seem like saviours.
Russell Goodway, nominally ‘cabinet member for investment and development’ but actually the de facto leader of the Council, is still the dominant political force in Cardiff after 38 years of failures, blunders and destruction – which in itself is a damning indictment of an apathetic city that keeps letting him get away with it. If he has any political principles at all they amount to the extreme rightwing economics of uber-capitalist totalitarianism, where all that matters is perpetual consumption, mindless spending and growth, growth, growth – to ends that are neither specified nor limited. Tory Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng tried such policies on the UK and his political career is over; Russell Goodway, by contrast, is only just warming up in Cardiff. A recent example is the latest in his never-ending, never satisfying, over-hyped, ‘transforming’ plans for the Bay: outdoor floating swimming pools and saunas within the listed graving docks and a 90m high balloon ride in a supported gondola with a rotating viewing platform on a patch of land near the Butetown Link. Just what Cardiff needs! He calls them ‘attractions’, a tacit admission of the repellent unattractiveness of the whole low-grade, sub-Disneyworld, pointless mess he has been orchestrating for decades.
■MERCANTILE MARINE OFFICE & CORY’S BUILDINGS Bute Place & Bute Street
Having stood empty and rotting for two decades, these two adjacent gems of High Victorian classical design in a prime position overlooking the Inner Harbour are now in the hands of Cardiff Sixth Form College, a private boarding school for A-level students and GCSE-crammers. The College is fixated, not to say obsessed, with its position in league tables (it regularly tops the Times and Daily Telegraph rankings) and getting its students into ‘top’ universities. With fees of £50,000 a year it is the very definition of exclusive, where daddy’s wealth buys rich brats their qualifications and keeps privilege in the family, while any connection to Wales is not much more than the postcode and there’s barely a Welsh pupil let alone member of staff. The plan is to expand by moving the College from the restricted current site at Trinity Court on Newport Road to these important Docks landmarks (incidentally, the Bute Place building is not ‘Merchant Place’ as the developers call it, but the the Mercantile Marine & Telegraph Office, built in 1881 for the Board of Trade). After gutting the listed buildings (while retaining the façades for appearances sake, of course) it is proposed to build a startlingly inappropriate eight-storey block in their place while an 18-storey accommodation block for 400 students will rise on nearby Pierhead Street, the tallest building in the Bay. It is quite obvious that the Council should refuse planning permission for these proposals; the College’s fee-paying elitism being the very antithesis of what Wales is about, and the obliteration of the essence of noble listed buildings would be a savage severing of Cardiffians’ sense of belonging in our own city. This means it is very likely that planning permission will be granted; in which case the Senedd must intervene to block it – or the Cardiff Bay project, so tenuous, tawdry, trivial and tendentious for so long, will be terminal.
■LANSDOWNE HOSPITAL Sanatorium Road
Lansdowne Hospital, originally called the City Isolation Hospital for Infectious Diseases, was built in 1895 to the designs of Cardiff’s Borough Engineer William Harpur (1853-1917), a man responsible for many important Cardiff structures, from the Clarence Swing Bridge via the Indoor Market to the Hayes Island underground toilets. The Hospital became a geriatric home in the 1970s, closed in 2002 and then some of the wings were replaced by cul-de-sacs of private houses. The remnant stood unused until being destroyed beyond repair in 2019 by that abiding Cardiff phenomenon, the miraculous self-igniting fire. The Council, in a joint development with Hafod Housing Association, stepped in to replace the ruin with 62 flats and 36 houses for social rent. Construction work is underway and, given it is a brownfield site and the homes are for ordinary Cardiffians, this counts as genuine progress.
■LAUNDRY QUARTER Llandaff Road/Glynne Street
16 houses, 16 flats, two lofts and nine commercial units have been built on the site of Vaughan’s Dyeing & Laundry Works, eradicated in 2020 for this ‘luxury’ buy-to-let/buy-to-leave-empty private ghetto of painfully on-trend junk-architecture. There goes the neighbourhood! Developers Portabella revealingly state that it is in ‘Pontcanna’ when actually it is in the very core of Canton – presumably this cavalier disregard of geography is meant to encourage an influx of die-hard Tory readers of the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph, which regularly sing Pontcanna’s praises (the working-classes have been priced out, see). Lost in the elitist development were the fascinating and appealing 19th century buildings of the Laundry, a major employer and landmark in Canton from 1860 to 1967, the on-site home of owner William Vaughan (1819-1895) – a castellated villa called Donnington House – and the old arched entrance through which the soiled items of Cardiffians passed for over a century. For no good reason, history has been wiped out and Canton diminished.
■ROYAL MAIL SORTING OFFICE Cowbridge Road East
‘Royal Mail’ is actually International Distributions Services plc and has been busy selling off assets, cutting services and boosting shareholder dividends since it was fully privatised in 2014. So it’s no surprise that the Cardiff West Delivery Office, opened in 1965, is to close – after all, there’s precious little for posties to deliver anymore except marketing gumpf and threatening letters from power companies. The building is set to be demolished and replaced by a five-storey block of over 20 flats with ‘retail’ units on the ground floor, and will join another five-storey block of flats lined up for next door on the site of a former car showroom. Canton’s charms, once indisputable, are being steadily eroded by reckless over-development.
■ST WINEFRIDE’S Romilly Crescent
The development of St Winefride’s Hospital, a distinctive 1939 Art Deco essay in red brick and reinforced concrete by Cyril Bates (1890-1974), caused great controversy in Pontcanna when agreed by the Council 10 years ago. It was excluding, it was a gated ghetto, it was unsuitable in an already crammed area, it involved mutilation of the buildings – including the adjacent Victorian villa The Lindens – with just some token façades retained for effect, and it entailed the felling of hosts of mature trees in the atmospheric gardens in order to create car parks. Well, the years have rolled by and the verdict is in: the protesters were right. It turned out to be an uptight, anti-social, profiteering gambit for property speculators, buy-to-let landlords and absentee stockpilers. It’s yet more shame on the ignoramuses and inadequates who always seem to be in charge in Cardiff.
■MAINDY STADIUM North Road
The Council is planning to demolish the 1951 Maindy Stadium (they call it the ‘Maindy Centre’) along with its velodrome and indoor swimming pool, in order to enlarge the neighbouring Cathays High School. The plans stink, of course. The historic stadium, used for the cycling events at the 1958 Commonwealth Games, is a much-loved public asset open to all, with paths, greenery and benches as well as the famed velodrome where Geraint Thomas and many other champion cyclists first got into the sport. The Council says a new velodrome will be built in the ‘International Sports Village’ four miles away – but it will be privately owned, will be of lower quality and smaller scale and there is no timetable provided for its construction. In any case it’s perfectly possible to expand the school without tearing down the stadium which cannot be built on anyway because it sits on top of an old clay pit that could not bear school buildings. Moreover, the site was given to the Council by the Butes in 1922 on condition that it was used for public recreation, and now they intend to breach this ‘binding’ codicil. As usual with this Council, their true motives are being concealed: these are firstly, to bail out the ‘International Sports Village’ flop that most Cardiffians never set foot in by switching money from the education budget to pay for its enhancement, the better to revive developers’ fading interest in the flatlining Bay project; and secondly, to sell off the lucrative public land to private sector vultures, and to hell with the people of Maendy.
It has been nine years since I wrote about the scandal of what has been done to Cathays, and in that time the situation has somehow managed to get even worse. Cardiff now has approaching 50 purpose-built, big blocks of student flats, amounting to more than 15,000 rooms, in Cathays, the City Centre, Maendy, Roath and Adamsdown. This gross oversaturation means many are unfilled and half-empty, others are being let out to tourists or temporary visitors on short-term leases, others have persuaded the Council to alter the planning permission so rooms can be rented out as ‘serviced apartments’ to non-students, others have been converted permanently into hotels, others are given over to airbnb trippers, and still more have applied and been granted ‘change of use’ in a cunning new way to get around planning laws. Purpose-built Student Accommodation (PBSA) has a sui generis classification in law, which means normal standards of light, space, outside areas etc can be diminished for these particular buildings. Now these PBSA planning restrictions are treated as a loophole to be exploited after the buildings have been erected. Unscrupulous firms play the system, assert that the building cannot be filled and apply to change use to normal residential flats – without having to abide by any of those higher standards. The pathetic Council, of course, just agrees to everything and, hey presto, the standard of Cardiff’s housing stock gets reduced to the lowest common denominator. What a scam! And yet, more applications for student towers still flood in, and the Council still nods them through with hardly a murmur of dissent. This cowboy’s charter is called ‘economic growth’ in County Hall. It wouldn’t perhaps be so bad if these blocks of flats had any redeeming features, but as Jonathan Adams, architect of the Wales Millennium Centre, has commented, many of them are “terrifically awful” and will either have to be demolished or Cardiff will be left with “a skyline of empty buildings”. Cardiff Civic Society meanwhile has regularly slated the Council for the despoiling of the cityscape and the trashing of Cardiff’s architectural and visual identity. The Council, as always when criticised, simply react by defending the indefensible. In Cathays there is the additional issue of the rotting housing stock, snapped up by greedy buy-to-let landlords, converted into multiple-occupation rooms and never maintained properly, so that the once delightful terraced houses of Cathays are now a by-word for atrocious problems of damp and decay. The Welsh government’s introduction of the registration and regulation of the lucrative private rental sector (the only nation in the UK to do so) is a huge advance and is beginning to make a difference – but underfunding, the sheer scale of the task and the venal nature of rogue landlords mean it is going to be a long, slow process.
■BUS STATION Central Square
The wait goes on. It has now been nearly eight years since Cardiff had a bus station. When the old one was demolished in 2015, we were assured it would be replaced by 2017. The completion date has since been kicked down the road over and over again into a future that never arrives. Now it’s supposedly this summer, but nobody in their right mind would believe that. Isn’t it odd: completely inessential skyscrapers demanded by big business can go from the drawing board to reality in no time, but something as fundamental and intrinsic to a functioning city as a bus station seems like an impossible dream. Meanwhile the bus service is being run into the ground, with routes and timetables being cut to the bone while the skeleton service that survives has been rendered reliably unreliable. All the glib talk about the climate crisis necessitating a massive shift from the private car to public transport is just greenwashing blather in Cardiff; the fact that there will be a mere 14 bays in the new bus station compared to the 34 in the old one confirms the Council’s true attitude
■CANAL QUARTER Churchill Way
In Cardiff a 70 metre sliver of uncovered culvert with a few plant pots and benches counts as a ‘quarter’. Work continues on the pointless exercise of opening up a tiny fraction of the 1834 Dock Feeder, while to the north and to the south other developments make the liberation of the entire waterway from Blackweir to Atlantic Wharf out of the question. Yes, it’s all just cosmetic surgery to create a water feature as a backdrop for some half-arsed striving for European-style outdoor cafe culture. What’s really annoying is the insistence on rewriting history by calling what was just a shallow, traffic-free water supply for the Bute West Dock a ‘Canal’. Hey, it’s a brazen lie!
■CUSTOM HOUSE Custom House Street
The huge, 20-storey, 248-bed Premier Inn chain hotel that is rising on the site of the Grade II listed 1845 Custom House is another overweening eyesore disfiguring Cardiff’s cityscape, featuring ranks of silly angular windows set on black cladding. Even before it’s finished (and so far it has taken four years as the original building firm went bust) it looks dated, cheapskate and gimmicky. It is a racing certainty that it will not age well. Construction has involved the demolition of the adjacent 1890 York Hotel and the Custom House itself, leaving just the façade as a meaningless and condescending nod to ‘heritage’ as well as a tacit admission that today’s Cardiff is a phoney ‘hospitality industry’ theme park built on duplicity.
■GUIDFORD CRESCENT Churchill Way
The Council has, of course, granted planning permission for a preposterous 30-storey tower on the Guildford Crescent site. This is despite the entirely speculative development being condemned by experts for its completely disproportionate height and contemptuously ugly design, despite Leicester-based developers Galliford Try refusing to include ‘affordable’ housing because that would mean not enough profit, despite the Crescent being a protected ‘heritage area’ that will be reduced to a fragment of token and overwhelmed façades, and despite the fact that it brings no benefit to Cardiff as all 272 apartments will be ‘build-to-rent’ – meaning they will be sold unseen to super-rich investors and offshore tax avoiders and then leased out at extortionate prices to a handful of money-grubbing second-homers and absentee landlords.
■HARLECH COURT Bute Terrace
In 2018 property developers got their hands on the quirky Harlech Court block, originally the offices of the Cardiff Gas Works and these days general office space with Porters bar on the ground floor. The Draycott Group, who are inflicting their speculations all around Cardiff, now plan to demolish the building and erect in its place a monstrous 35-storey tower that will be the tallest building in Wales. There is not even a pretence that this is anything to do with tackling Cardiff’s multiple crises of homelessness, overcrowding, unaffordability, empty buildings, rotting housing stock and shattered communities; no, the 350 ‘build-to-rent’ apartments for which there is zero demand or need are simply about providing second/third homes or unearned airbnb income for greedy exploiters while further lining developers’ pockets.
On the east side of Callaghan Square, J R Smart are throwing up another high-rise blot on the landscape to go with the charmless, overbearing walls of steel, glass and concrete of the ‘Capital Quarter’ that the self-styled “property development specialists” have forced upon Cardiff round the corner in Herbert Street/Tyndall Street. Next, they have to find some tenants to occupy these completely superfluous ulcerations (Cardiff already has over 250 empty commercial properties to let ). The feeding frenzy of speculative commercial developments in the city centre is surely heading for a hubristic reckoning.
■MUSEUM OF CARDIFF Old Library
The Council’s cuts agenda, in obedient thrall to the rightwing agenda of the Tory government, knows no bounds. Recently put on the hit list was the Museum of Cardiff, a free public asset opened in 2011. There was hairbrained talk of somehow replacing it with a ‘mobile’ museum operating from the back of a van, and it looked like Cardiff was going to be the only capital city in Europe, and perhaps the world, without a museum dedicated to its own history. However, protests and mass opposition to the idea have forced the Council to make a u-turn for now and pass the buck to a ‘working party’ to examine the museum’s finances and look at the possibility of moving to another site. The long-term intentions are clear: when the hoo-hah has abated the distinguished 1882 Old Library building can be flogged off so that yet another dull ‘hospitality’ outlet can be added to the 950 there are already in the city and the museum can be relocated to a vacant shed on some godforsaken trading estate. Let me get one thing straight: the ‘Cardiff Story’ is an absolute dog’s dinner, and has not improved since I first wrote about it – but that’s not the point, because any free public amenity that prompts thought, curiosity and Cardiff identity and awareness is better than none.
■NEW THEATRE Park Place
As a dry run for what they intend to do to St David’s Hall (see below), the Council privatised the 1906 New Theatre in 2021, saving themselves the moderate operating costs of £500,000 a year. A 25-year lease was granted to HQ Theatres, which was soon gobbled up by another London company Trafalgar Theatres. So far not much has changed to the deeply conventional and cripplingly formulaic itinerary of productions, but small shifts in the way the New Theatre is presented are already discernible. For instance, because the leaseholders are not based in Wales and not a public body, bilingualism is not obligatory so has been abandoned and now Welsh language versions of brochures must be specifically requested. Moreover the Trafalgar Theatres website insultingly describes its only operation in Wales as a ‘regional theatre’. The unceasing attacks on the very concept of Welsh nationhood know no bounds – which will delight the British Nationalist apologists of the Labour Council.
■PARC MACKENZIE Museum Avenue
Cardiff is going to get a new park! How exciting! How encouraging! How green! Er, actually no; that’s just Council duplicity and greenwashing disseminated via its MediaWales propaganda outlet. The truth is that an already existing peaceful green space to the rear of the National Museum called University Lawns is being turned into a dull, over-managed, monetised, municipal leisure zone, complete with paths, play area, seating, lighting, sculptures, café, plaza and a box-ticking name to flag up perfunctory ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ credentials (Bristolian Millicent Mackenzie [1863-1942] was the first woman professor in Wales). There may even be a bit of room for a tree or two.
■PARKGATE HOTEL Westgate Street
If you’re wondering why Welsh rugby is in such a terrible state, don’t blame the players, don’t blame Gatland or Pivac, don’t blame the Regions – point the finger at the WRU, an organisation that is quite beyond repair. It is the WRU that created the Regions, alienating fans while annihilating the historic rugby clubs of Wales and their production lines of players; it is the WRU that priced Welsh fans out of the stadium with rip-off ticket prices and turned what was a cauldron of Welsh passion into a soulless sump for corporate freeloaders, English invaders and loutish drunks; it is the WRU that has long been a home for snobs, Tories, royalists and British nationalists opposed to the very idea of Welsh actualisation; it is the WRU that insists on the three feathers badge and English usurper William Windsor as its patron, two symbols of Welsh dispossession and subservience; it is the WRU that provides a safe haven for misogynists, homophobes, racists and bigots; and it is the WRU that has proved over and over again that it should not be entrusted with control of Welsh rugby. They should be stripped of all funds, powers and responsibilities by the Senedd and replaced by a new democratic, competent, pro-Wales body which can disband the Regions and rename the humiliating ‘principality’ stadium for starters and then rebuild the sport in Wales from scratch. What will the blazered committee men do without their status and strutting self-importance? Well they can concentrate on the ‘luxury’ Parkgate Hotel they recently purchased in Westgate Street, formed from the 1897 Post Office and 1904 County Court buildings. I can just see Ieuan Evans and Gerald Davies as bellhops…
■PICTON MEMORIALS City Hall & National Museum
Brutal British bastard Thomas Picton (1758-1815) was a foul tempered, tyrannical, sadistic, staggeringly cruel slave-trader, slave-owner, torturer and mass murderer. A lieutenant-general in the British Army, the warmongering imperialist was the highest ranking British officer to die at the Battle of Waterloo. One thing he most certainly wasn’t was Welsh; his family roots were in Hertfordshire and his connection to Pembrokeshire, where he grew up, was the same as his connection to the Caribbean: that of an English coloniser lording it over the natives. He should never have had a statue in the ‘Hall of Welsh Heroes’ in Cardiff City Hall in the first place, and his glorifying portrait should never have been hanging in the National Museum of Wales. Therefore, one can only cheer now that the small but important symbolic steps have been taken to box off the statue with a view to its complete removal and shift the portrait from the ‘faces of Wales’ gallery to a side-room accompanied by details of his appalling career. About time.
■QUEENS ARCADE Queen Street/Working Street
Some more good news: the Queen’s Arcade has gone into receivership! Opened to a chorus of baseless boosterism when opened in 1994, the double-decker white elephant epitomised the very worst aspects of the dangerous and foolish dependence on shopping for shopping’s sake as a basis for an economy. And in less than three decades it is already a busted flush. Yes, all those thrusting, trend-setting, cock-eyed optimists were WRONG. Now the half empty garish hell-hole is in the hands of administrators searching for a viable future for two acres of prime city centre land. Demolition would be a good start, and then perhaps it could be made into a pleasant green space turned over to nature with no economic purpose at all, bar the wellbeing of Cardiffians. This would be a tiny step in the direction of compensating for Cardiff’s relentless attacks on the natural world, toxic environment and gigantic carbon footprint. Well I can dream, can’t I?
■ST DAVID’S HALL Working Street
The National Concert Hall of Wales, opened in 1982, is home to the National Orchestra of Wales, Cardiff Singer of the World, the Welsh Proms, performances of every genre of music every day of the year, free live music in the foyers, art exhibitions, conferences and precious music education programmes for schools across Wales. Publicly owned and constructed with public funds, it costs a piddling £600,000 a year for Cardiff Council to subsidise – a mere £2 per Council Tax payer per annum, the very definition of a bargain. But that is £600,000 that the Labour Council doesn’t want to spend any more – after all, that money could be shovelled into the craws of the super-rich and giant corporations instead. So the Council, scandalously, now plan to privatise it, handing it over to the London-based Academy Music Group, a profit-orientated giant which operates the O2 arenas. The consequences for the Hall’s vast range of music, for its contribution to Welsh culture and for its ethos of excellence will be predictable: a low-brow, commercially-orientated mainstream race to the bottom with zero regard for Wales much less Cardiff. Protests against this robbery of the people are likely to have no effect on the odious Council. Despite the pretence of a “consultation period” the deal is already done: a St David’s Hall employee was summarily sacked the other week for revealing that truth. Cabinet member and chief attack-dog Peter Bradbury has actually attended a protest meeting to heckle from the sidelines. “No choice!” is what he yells (the Council holds £84 million in reserves). He bellowed the same thing when Cardiff’s leisure centres were sold off to Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) in 2016, and look what happened: services were slashed, working conditions were attacked, workforce numbers were decimated, and yet GLL has demanded, and received, millions of pounds in bailouts and subsidies since the transfer. It has actually cost more than if the leisure centres were still in public hands! But the rightwing ideologues who control the Cardiff Labour Party never let facts get in the way of their fanatical determination to turn Cardiff into an anti-social corporate hell-hole. Please sign the petition: https://chng.it/VGBSHMZQCy.
Major work, costing £65million, has started on demolishing the entire Channel View estate of council housing, built in the 1970s. 56 houses and 158 flats, plus properties on adjacent South Clive Street, will be knocked down and replaced with 319 new homes, to be constructed in seven phases spread over the next decade. The estate desperately needed a revamp as it suffers from subsidence and is deficient in modern standards of fire safety, but residents have a number of concerns about what lies ahead: the disruption, particularly to elderly people, will be drastic and lengthy; the new buildings, which include two big blocks 13 and eight storeys high and 285 square metres of retail, concede nothing to visual appeal with their bog standard curtain walls of concrete and glass; the guarantees about compensation levels for those who own their homes and about the right to return to the estate for everyone who wants to are not trusted; the suspicion lingers that this is a really all about gentrification of the area so that the desirable waterside location can be monetised and snapped up by the middle-classes; the many delights promised in the later stages of the development – such as a community café and shop, communal gardens, allotments, picnic areas, landscaping, tree planting, a ‘beach’ area on the Taff, new walkways and cycle paths and a pedestrian/cycle bridge across the river to Hamadryad Park – just don’t ring true, especially as the estate is actually going to double in size; and the plans include reducing the evocative and precious open space of The Marl by at least 10% of its area – a loss that, when added to previous incursions and nibbling away at the edges, will mean that this last scrap of Cardiff’s West Moors will have been halved in 50 years. If the ‘sustainability’ of the development ceaselessly trumpeted by the Council has any meaning then Cardiff, the UK city most in jeopardy from flooding and with the least parkland, would be treating every square foot of undeveloped greensward and good earth as sacrosanct.
After the former Ferry Road rubbish tip was closed in 1994 the 20m (70ft) hill-like mound was grassed over, planted with pioneer trees and shrubs and converted into a public park and nature reserve, an unequivocal improvement and fabulous enhancement of Cardiff. But the penny-pinching, short-termism and ignorance seemingly built into the DNA of our decision-makers usually come back to haunt Cardiff and that has now happened with even this success. It was a mistake to straighten the River Ely in 1972. It was a mistake to use the old river bed as a dump-and-go repository for household waste. And it was a monumental mistake for the park to be laid out without the provision, organisation, monitoring and proper management of pumping systems to take away the highly contaminated leachates. Instead, because of sheer incompetence, toxic gases and liquids have been pouring into the River Ely and Cardiff Bay for over 25 years. Yep, “Europe’s Most Exciting Waterfront” was actually “Europe’s Most Poisonous Pond”. The Park has had to close for a year while the necessary pumps and associated infrastructure were put in place, with catastrophic consequences for the rare grassland-loving wildlife that had made their home here, from skylarks to slow worms, and a heartbreaking pulverising of the overall flora and fauna – while the untold damage to the health of people who have been in contact with these waters in the last quarter of a century is incalculable. Lovely.
■GRANGE PAVILION Grange Gardens
Of all Cardiff’s areas, there’s no doubt Grangetown has the strongest and most engaged sense of community. This is well illustrated by the thriving Grange Pavilion community centre, opened in 2020 in place of a derelict bowls pavilion in Grange Gardens. It is a genuinely community-run project, welcoming and open-minded, and although receiving essential support from the likes of Cardiff University, the Council, Cardiff & Vale College, the Rotary Club, Taff Housing and RSPB Cymru, it isn’t a ‘top-down’ arm of the authorities but a community-led and community-controlled amenity owned by the people of Grangetown. Hosting countless events, societies and special interest groups, it is an inspiring example for other parts of Cardiff to follow.
Hailey Park exemplifies a time when wealth was not seen as an end in itself, but as a means to do good works, dispense philanthropic largesse and maybe buy a little immortality. Such were the attitudes of Claude Hailey (1875-1943), a Cardiffian who was Secretary of the Coal Exchange during the boom years. A committed Nonconformist, cultured thinker and active outdoorsman who loved nature, he recognised early that the gobbling up of green spaces had to be resisted. To that end, he bought 20 acres of Tŷ Mawr Farm’s pastureland between the Glamorganshire Canal and the River Taff in Llandaf North and, in 1926, donated the land to Cardiff in perpetuity. Fast forward nearly a century and this vital green lung, a blissfully peaceful mixture of habitats vitally important to wildlife as well as to locals, walkers on the Taff Trail and users of its sports’ pitches, is under an outrageous attack from, who else, Cardiff Council. The fixation with bloated growth, size for size’s sake and doing the bidding of the the volume housing developers brought about the decision to allow the destruction of Cardiff’s beautiful north-western countryside with the immense Plasdŵr estate of 7,000 houses, currently under construction (see below). Of course the many consequences of such a scheme were breezily dismissed and barely taken into account: you know, things like roads, public transport, traffic, schools, shops, amenities…and the little matter of the disposal of the sewage of thousands of people. As the hideous legoland shoeboxes have spread, it gradually dawned on the idiots that something had to be done about the vast quantities of shit Plasdŵr will generate, and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water have decided that the best place for the requisite sewage pumping station, its vent and its malodorous stack is not in the vicinity of Plasdŵr’s vile avenues but slap bang in the middle of Hailey Park. Consent for the 1500sq m (1800sq yd) atrocity was immediately nodded through by the Council, to the dismay and outrage of Llandaf North and everyone who has ever set foot in the Park. Already the Park is horribly blighted by the banks of the River Taff being festooned with the disgusting debris of human filth, from wet wipes and nappies through to plastic bags and raw sewage. Claude Hailey would be turning in his grave. The pumping station must be fought; at the moment work has been put on hold by a vigorous campaign, including legal action, to put a stop to it.
Ever since the rural farmlands of Llandaf Fields were purchased for Cardiff in 1898 with the aid of a £5,000 gift (equivalent to £800,000 today) from millowners and philanthropic brothers Charles Thompson (1851-1938) and Herbert Thompson (1856-1939), they have been steadily chipped away at by paternalistic municipal interference. Generations of Council flunkies have been unable to resist the temptation to make their mark and, as a result, the Fields have lost 25% of their area to various examples of inessential but no doubt well-meaning clutter, not to mention the severance of their entire northern connection to the green Taff corridor by the construction of Western Avenue in 1933. The current Council is far worse than its predecessors, mainly because motives are always commercial and financial yet are dishonestly dressed up as progressive and benign. Untold harm has been done by unnecessary building work, roads and encroachments in Bute Park and Sophia Gardens in particular, and now Llandaf Fields are going to get the treatment with a great wedge of who-needs-it ‘health’ and ‘wellbeing’ posturings. A tennis centre, tennis courts, cricket nets, a cricket clubhouse, padel courts (I’d never heard of this micky-mouse pastime either), a café and ‘community space’ are going to chop off another 10% of the Fields (note: these are all middle-class dominated sports in which Wales is subsumed into Britain/England). Meanwhile in the southern corner off Penhill Road magnificent mature trees have been chopped down to make way for eight supremely vulgar £1million five-storey townhouses unaffordable to 99.9% of Cardiffians.
■PARC LLANDAF Llantrisant Road
On the site of the old BBC Wales HQ and studios, a massive development of 377 ‘high quality’ homes is well underway now that the Corporation has completed its move to its oppressive and bombastic new edifice in Central Square. Yes, instead of making no programmes for Wales in Llandaf, they now make no programmes for Wales in the city centre! The Taylor-Wimpey development either side of Llantrisant Road is as ersatz and generic as one would expect, displaying complete disregard for its surroundings. The first houses are now up for sale. Featuring horrible brickwork, poky dimensions and toytown embellishments, prices range from £515,000 for ‘The Midford’ via £590,000 for ‘The Manford’ to £775,000 for ‘The Wayford’. The average salary in Cardiff, by the way, is £30,000 a year.
■PLAS TŶ DRAW/CHURCHLANDS/ST EDEYRN’S VILLAGE
In an unforgivable thuggish mutilation of the natural world 4,500 private houses unaffordable for 90% of Cardiffians are being built on the last wedge of countryside in north-east Cardiff, all part of the delivery of the Labour Council’s stupid, dishonest and illegal Local Development Plan (LDP). It is illegal because it flagrantly flouts the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, passed into Welsh law in 2015, by destroying fertile farmland, concreting over the green belt, accelerating ecosystem collapse and thereby hastening the eradication of the very ‘future’ the Act is supposed to safeguard. Who is going to prosecute the Council leadership for this rampant criminality? Will it be the Labour-controlled Welsh government, who approved the LDP in 2016, but might by now have realised the critical seriousness of the environmental catastrophe befalling Wales and the world? Don’t hold your breath. Taylor Wimpey are constructing an entirely new suburb of 2,500 houses on the copses, lanes, hedgerows and rich soil between Pontprennau and Lisvane which will butt up against the oh-so-snooty ‘Churchlands’ development Redrow have tacked onto Lisvane. To the east, the St Edeyrn’s ‘Village’ of insanely unsuitable ‘townhouses’ has just been completed by Persimmon, totally wrecking what was the gorgeous countryside of the lower Rhymni valley. I ran free through these woods, streams and rolling hills in my boyhood. Their wholesale destruction is a knife to my heart – and the fact that one of roads in this ghastly overpriced slum of the future has been called ‘Mortimer Avenue’ in my honour (yes, really!) is no consolation at all.
■NEW LINK ROAD Eastern Avenue
Cardiff Council is proposing a new link road from the Pentwyn junction on Eastern Avenue. It would go through the Park & Ride at the junction, bridge the Rhymni and enter Llanrumney by covering extant scrubland with concrete and then slashing across the wonderful parkland surrounding Llanrumney Hall – a marvellous green amphitheatre of biodiverse woods, lawns and wide open space that is the very centrepiece of Llanrumney, fundamental to its design, aesthetics and lay-out since the estate was built in the 1950s. Puppetmaster Russell Goodway OBE is the main proselytiser for a road that has never been demanded except by the extremes of the road lobby and would simply shift traffic from Eastern Avenue and Newport Road to the comparative peace of residential Llanrumney, turning it into a polluted rat-run. Has he never heard of the climate crisis? Has he no cognisance of the collapse of ecosystems that threatens humanity? Is he unware that new roads always encourage more traffic and rapidly become clogged? Does he not care about Llanrumney at all? These are rhetorical questions. The hope now is that the Welsh government’s wise and enlightened new policy of more or less ending the building of new roads, taking environmental issues seriously and ending the car-dependence that is destroying the planet will stop Goodway and his like in their petrol-head tracks.
■SCHOOLS Ball Road & Newport Road
Following the closure of both Llanrumney High School and Rumney High School, an amalgamated replacement called Eastern High School was created in 2014 on the Rumney High site off Newport Road. Then, in 2018, Eastern High was relocated to a new purpose-built premises to the south in Trowbridge Road on a site previously occupied by Coleg Glan Hafren/Cardiff & Vale College. The new ‘superschool’ has succeeded in significantly improving school inspectorate Estyn’s damning critiques of yore, and there is real hope that this progress will continue. That said, a new problem has emerged: the Council’s use of the land where the old schools stood, on Newport Road and Ball Road. The Newport Road site includes the school’s former playing fields, high on a grassy hill looking out over the Severn estuary, and is being covered with 214 houses including 44 flats for old people. Despite all the usual trumpeting of green bullshit -‘working towards a zero carbon future’, ‘sustainability’. etc – the very fact that a great sweep of ground is being concreted over renders those claims illegitimate. This is the largest scheme yet to come from the Council’s ‘Cardiff Living’ partnership entered into with developers Wates in 2016. In six years the partnership has delivered a total of 343 homes, half of them private houses at the ‘Captain’s View’ development off Braunton Crescent that has made major inroads into the parkland at the centre of Llanrumney, the rest modest infills in Llanrumney, St Mellons, Llanisien, Caerau and Ely. Just 171 so-called ‘affordable’ dwellings have been added to Cardiff’s housing stock, so there has been zero impact on Cardiff’s actual housing requirements. At Ball Road a Wates estate of 98 new houses (28 will even be ‘affordable’!), excruciatingly named ‘Maple Fields’, is eradicating the old school’s playing fields. This is slap bang on the flood pain of the River Rhymni, prone to regular inundation and waterlogging despite decades of flood defence measures. Showing complete disregard for expert advice to, at all costs, avoid building on flood plains, this speculative farce is destined to become an uninsurable disaster zone.
■CELSA WORKS Seawall Road
The immediate surroundings of the Spanish-owned Celsa Works in Tremorfa, where scrap metal is melted down to make steel rods and bars, are permanently caked in thick layers of filthy dust, ash and fine metal particulates. The area includes residential roads, a school, a football ground, a travellers’ caravan site and a public park, and all receive this toxic sprinkling belched out of the works’ huge chimney 365 days a year. Windows cannot be opened, the particulates solidify on every surface, the air is thick with microscopic pollutants that cause asthma and chronic lung diseases and the remnant scraps of the East Moors are coated in a highly visible grey film of detritus. It has been like this since the works opened in 2006. Complaints have been made by local people for years, but Natural Resources Wales (NRW) – the public body with a legal duty to protect and enhance the Welsh environment – does nothing except stall for time, play dumb, make excuses and mount toothless investigations that lead nowhere. If Wales was run in the best interests of its people and its future, Celsa would be closed down tomorrow – but it is run by a disastrous combination of English Tories in London, who don’t give a fuck about the environment let alone Wales and only care about their personal enrichment; Labour party careerists in the Senedd petrified of doing anything that might enrage the rabid rightwing mass media; and, in Cardiff, a Council that has been hijacked by closet-Tories with an extreme ‘go for growth’ agenda that would make Liz Truss wince. As the people of Tremorfa and Splott increasingly campaign to stop this outrage, leader of the Council and Splott councillor Huw Thomas can only say “I would urge residents to report any examples of dust or ash deposits to NRW as soon as it’s noticed, so that they can be fully investigated”. This is the same old approach that changes nothing: putting the onus on isolated individuals with few resources instead of throwing the Council’s weight behind the cause, while also adopting a ludicrous position that the source of this pollution is a baffling mystery. There is no mystery; if he took a trip to Seawall Road and opened his eyes he could watch the excretions in real time. Meanwhile, local people should bombard NRW with demands for action – either via their website or their 24-hour hotline (0300 65 3000).
■FLOOD DEFENCES River Rhymni & coast
Not before time, the Welsh government and Cardiff Council are proceeding with a scheme, costing £25 million, to construct flood defences at the mouth of the Rhymni and along the foreshore from Gwynllŵg to Splott Beach – otherwise at least a third of Cardiff will be underwater by the end of the century due to the accelerating sea-level rise caused by global heating. However, these emergency measures can only be a temporary solution: if the authorities are truly serious about preventing the eradication of Cardiff (and Newport) then there is no alternative but to restore the flood plain along the Severn coast from the Ebbw to the Ely. That means demolishing all the vile lesions that have been thoughtlessly plonked on the sea-level moors over the last 50 years, rewilding the entire area with the water-loving plants like alder and willow that can help soak up the rising seas, and freeing the salt marshes to do their job as a natural sponge.
■SPLOTT MARKET Titan Road
Opened in 1980, Splott Market was Wales’ largest, an authentic community hub with over 400 stalls located where the giant Dowlais/GKN steelworks (closed in 1978) once stood. On Sundays valleys people and Cardiffians would mix, mingle, shop for bric-a-brac and bargains, buy cheap fresh produce and have a cuppa in one of the last bastions of working-class culture in the city. The pandemic lock-down hit the market hard, but it was bouncing back until Cardiff Council bought the site in 2021 and then closed the Market altogether in 2022 with the loss of 150 jobs. It will be replaced by a much-needed new Willows High School, currently in Tremorfa, but it beggars belief that the School could not instead have been built where the countless empty and useless jerry-built trading estates in the area fester.
■YSGOL GYMRAEG GLAN MORFA
Having been moved to a new site on nearby Lewis Road in 2018, the question remained of what would be done with the old primary school set in a lovely tree-studded enclave at the bottom of Moorland Road, the last remnant of what was originally the much larger Moorland Gardens. Well, now we know. Amalgamation into adjacent Moorland Park? An addition to the public parkland and green space that Splott in particular and Cardiff in general so patently lacks? A small step in the desperately needed restoration of the East Moors? A component part of the planned Coed Cardiff (Cardiff forest) that the Council’s few Pale Greens go on about? You must be joking! No, it will be concreted over and replaced by a big block of flats (some of which might even be ‘affordable’). One or two of the old trees planted when Moorland Gardens was opened in 1895 might be retained, but otherwise this quiet, enticing, leafy corner of Splott will be wiped out.
The tsunami of claptrap about the new suburb of over 7,000 houses called Plasdŵr being plonked on the exquisite countryside west of Cardiff between Radyr, Fairwater and Sain Ffagan is really something to behold. The Council, developers Redrow, landowner the Plymouth Estate and platoons of panting snake-oil salesmen, estate agents and MediaWales hacks have gone into overdrive trying to sell the wicked development as a wondrous, benevolent gift to Cardiff. All the obligatory buzzwords, hype and bogus postures favoured by image-conscious late-capitalist spivs are present and correct: ‘garden city’, ‘sustainable development’, ‘world class’, ‘contemporary community living’, ‘plentiful green spaces’, ‘contextual design’, ‘traditional materials’, ‘countryside setting’, ‘self-contained’, ‘well connected’, ‘live, work and play’, ‘walkability and cyclability’, ‘environmentally responsible’, ‘low carbon’, ’21st century’….and on and on and on. It’s all just decoration for the biggest lie of all: “Cardiff desperately needs new housing at a large scale.” In fact, it doesn’t. This breathtaking destruction of the natural world, of habitats, of biodiversity, of agricultural land, of clean air, of peace and of beauty is all for nothing – other than the aggrandisement and tax revenues of the Council, the profits and shareholder dividends of Redrow and the further enhancement of the immense fortunes of the Plymouth Estate. As Martin Shipton of the Western Mail has revealed, the population projections upon which the Council based its Local Development Plan and the claims that thousands of new houses are desperately needed immediately (eg: ‘165,500 households by 2021’ turned out to be 147,300 – 12% fewer) were plain wrong. Similarly the assertion that Cardiff’s population would rocket by 33% by 2026 was wildly inaccurate – up to 2021 it has crept upwards by a mere 5%. Hordes of people are not clamouring to move to Cardiff, 168 local authorities have a faster growth in population, the population is only increasing modestly by less than the UK-wide birth rate and, considering there are 10,000 empty houses in the city, hosts of brownfield sites where building would be appropriate and the housing issue in Cardiff is affordability not the provision of upscale new builds for the ‘property-ladder’ climbing middle-classes, the whole Plasdŵr project is entirely without justification. Development plans have been based on spurious aspirations rather than real figures. This is known as abuse of office and fraud. Here we have yet another deeply serious crime against Cardiff, Cardiffians, Wales, the environment and the natural world. The damage is atrocious: it should be halted immediately before it goes any further. PS: anyone interested in what is being destroyed can get a hint of it from this blog I wrote a decade ago.
The Council are proposing to reduce the opening hours of libraries across the city by closing them for an additional day a week and introducing Saturday afternoon closing. Moreover they are suggesting the replacement of permanent paid librarians with unpaid volunteers when staff vacancies arise. This is the Tory austerity agenda writ large and the fact that a Labour Council is advocating such measures only goes to show how the Cardiff Labour Party has allowed itself to be taken over by a tiny faction of rightwing entryists. Protests have taken place outside the Central Library and resistance is being organised across the city. I don’t need to defend the concept of free libraries open to all, because it goes without saying. What needs to happen is the eviction of the anti-culture philistines from office. They say they have a £23million budget shortfall caused by the cost of living crisis, energy bills and covid. In that case the £300,000 that the library cuts might save is an irrelevant pittance, especially considering the profound damage the cuts would do to the people and public services of Cardiff. Here’s an idea: how about ditching, say, Russell Goodway’s ‘Cardiff Arena’ fantasy thereby saving the millions in consultant fees etc that the Council is pumping into this threadbare, redundant project? That would keep our libraries open for decades.
The Council are introducing a new waste collection system across Cardiff and recently it has arrived in my area. Previously it was green bags for recycling (weekly), brown caddy for food waste (weekly), wheely bin for black bags of landfill waste (fortnightly) and white sacks for garden waste (fortnightly from March to October). Now it is red sacks for general recycling (weekly), blue sacks for cardboard/paper etc (weekly), blue caddy for glass/bottles etc (weekly), brown caddy for food waste (weekly), wheely bin for black bags of landfill waste (fortnightly, to be made monthly soon) and white sacks for garden waste (fortnightly from March to October, to be made monthly and chargeable soon). You need a post graduate degree in ergonomics to cope! We can just about manage to accommodate all these containers, having got a small front area, a back garden, a shed, a side alley and space in the kitchen and under the stairs. And we can just about manage to sort the waste correctly and grasp the collection schedule, being reasonably sentient. However, the previous system was ignored/flouted by many people around here, so this one is causing even more havoc with the streets filthier and more garbage-strewn than ever and fly-tipping apparent wherever you look. Cardiff, already one of the dirtiest and most litter-strewn cities in Europe, is awash with crap. There is a solution, of course, but it would mean taking on the vast vested interests that actually produce all this ridiculous rubbish in the first place: the oil, petrochemical, plastics, packaging and retail industries. I am old enough to remember when waste collection consisted of a single dustbin of ash and some potato peelings, all compostable, collected weekly, and that was it. The first plastic bags and bottles did not appear in the UK until 1973 – before then it was brown paper bags, shopping baskets and returnable bottles. It worked just fine, it was far less time consuming than today’s farcical palaver, and it meant there was virtually no litter at all. It would be a futuristic advance to return to those days. Meanwhile Cardiff Council’s tortuous waste-collection systems are undermined and contradicted by the very same Council’s cavalier disregard for the environment and wanton destruction of ecosystems, insane policy of ceaseless growth, encouragement of consumption for consumption’s sake, and approval of big new housing developments on greenfield sites and tower blocks in the inner city that only generate more rubbish. It is the very definition of hypocritical greenwash. When will they grasp the concept of ENOUGH?
Cardiff is beset by nasty vandalism, featuring destructiveness with zero gain for the perpetrators but just for its own sake. Bute Park is regularly smashed up, particularly planting schemes and sapling trees. Young cherry trees have been wrenched off their roots in Heath Park. A ‘Snoopy’ sculpture trail for children in Victoria Park in aid of the Dogs Trust was smashed to pieces. Rugby posts are broken and football pitches are torn apart. The Nextbike bike rental scheme reports that its bikes suffer worse vandalism in Cardiff than anywhere else. Fly-tipping is endemic and general littering is as bad as it gets in all the UK. Why? Well, firstly because the human race is, to a greater or lesser degree, despicable everywhere. But, more specifically in Cardiff, because the worst vandals of all are the people who run this much-abused place – and when those in charge set such an appalling example, is it any wonder that alienated, dispossessed, uneducated, disadvantaged kids follow suit?
wow! what a dystopian place cardiff has become, laid out naked in this article.
I used to love living in Cardiff, initially in the 1970s.
All the things I loved are being destroyed.
I could add The Red House pub, and in Newtown the pub where Victor Parker (I think I remember correctly) used to wander in with friends and have a musical jam session.
Jazz to die for. And his funeral with black plumed horses and a jazz band.
Most likely the Quebec.
Mr Mortimer does enjoy* his rants but they’re always well researched and sadly he’s spot on most if not all of the time. There’s something about attractive buildings, heritage, and public open space that our Council finds offensive, or so it seems.
*& so do I
Is there any housing for Cardiff and for Wales that would meet with your approval? I had to pay about 10x my annual earnings to fund a family-sized house for my wife and child. And extortionate Land Transaction Tax (higher than I would have paid in England on the same house) too. I was fortunate to be able to do so — most are not. Meanwhile no doubt this author bought his house for tuppence ha’penny in about 1974 — and benefitted from mortgage interest tax relief too. Or maybe he was able to get a secure tenancy when they were more easily attainable?
Cardiff is (in Wales at least) where the jobs are. So it needs to be where the housing is too. It’s quite simple: if the supply of a good is constrained, it’s price will go up. If you provide more of it, then (other things being equal) it will come down.
Honestly, when I see the houses go up in the Plasdwr development, and read of the new housing for the NE of the city, I see hope for the future. Would this author prefer that Llanrumney and St Mellons were levelled and returned to agricultural use? And of course Pontcanna was fields, once upon a time, after all.