Alice in Wonderland hole digging

I thought a primary rule of politics was to stop digging when you are in a hole: not Cardiff’s leadership apparently.

There’s been good advice given since Ocober 2008 that Cardiff’s Local Development Plan wasn’t any good. Amongst others, Cardiff Civic Society (disclaimer, I am it’s chair and have worked with the team who produced the society’s LDP submission) identified that the recession (and global warming) would blow a hole in any estimates made previously.

CCS executive member David Eggleton told them at a ‘stakeholders meeting’ at County Hall on the 22nd October 2008,”regrettably, it seems to me that there is an elephant in the room that we are studiously ignoring. We are entering a financial crisis, the worst for a century and an environmental situation that could require drastic action; would it not be appropriate to have a contingency plan in the event that the LDP is not found sustainable by the inspectors”. The council’s answer to this? “We carry on to produce the LDP, no contingency plans”. This objection amongst many others was re-voiced in June last year in CCS’s coruscating submission. Now the council is claiming global events have taken them unawares.

What is sad is that the press is taking the Lib Dem/Plaid party excuses, hook line and sinker. Here’s yesterday’s Wales Online:

“Cardiff council is set to admit defeat in its long-running battle to save some of the city’s last remaining unprotected areas of green open space.”

– just untrue. The council’s policy – which has widespread support, of maintaining green spaces – is only threatened because the LDP was so badly constructed that it failed to present viable, sustainable plans to support the policy. Neither the Inspectors (who have to be neutral about what is proposed as policy), nor the Assembly, are opposed to the policy: but they are saying the plan doesn’t support those policies. The failure is Cardiff Council’s alone. That’s bad enough, but to seek to blame others for that failing is shameful.

Assertion two: “In the papers, officers blame the worldwide recession for scuttling their previous hopes of catering for the expected growth of the city largely through building flats in areas like Cardiff Bay and Butetown with small-scale in-fill development throughout the city.”

– devious diversion. Again, there’s nothing wrong with flats on brownfield sites if they are part of a bigger plan to meet the needs of a holistic policy that includes family and low-cost housing. Until recently it was easy (‘cos they made money) to persuade developers to throw up jerry built apartments and boxy houses for tiny families. As above, the recession was flagged 18 months ago but the steamroller city process rolled on regardless. What was lacking was policy to encourage house building of the right kinds, in the right places. Again, blame anything, and any one, rather than the guilty party.

The final paragraph of the Wales on Line article is breathtaking: it’s not a quote, doesn’t seem to have come from the officers’ report, so one guesses it is inspired investigative journalism, the writer’s own conclusions, or – just maybe – a planted official line from the council: “Asking inspectors to withdraw the plan means the city will be spared a costly and probably futile legal battle in which the council would face widespread opposition from developers and business leaders in a hearing presided over by Assembly planning inspectors who have already indicated they agree with the business community’s concerns.”

– by legal battle, this might mean the public hearings: yes, (see previous) this would have been futile. More importantly, the paucity of the council’s approach and the shallowness of its evidence would had been forensically exposed. Embarrassing, or what?

And again, the blatantly misleading assertion that the Inspectors have ganged up with developers. Actually, if you read the Inspectors’ notes they present obstacles to the get-rich-quick developers. What they do is simply demolish the evidence the council has produced: an LDP, for all our sakes, has to be based on consensual policies, and a viable, sustainable plan to deliver them. It’s neither rocket science, nor too difficult.

But hey, what’s reality around here, this is Cardiff. Let’s keep digging, its saves thinking about how we have failed the citizens of the capital city. And, while we’re at it, let’s throw the mud at others, it might stick and we might hang on to power just a little bit longer.

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WAG admits courts defeat over Llanishen – fight resumes

Llanishen Reservoir Cardiff by Greg Marshall

Llanishen Reservoir Cardiff by Greg Marshall

Just as it was thought that all would be decided on 22nd September, the fight for the future of Llanishen Reservoir starts again.
In April 2009 the Welsh Environment Minister, Jane Davidson, rejected Western Power’s appeal following the Second Public Planning Inquiry which was held in June 2008. In effect, she refused permission for Western Power’s scheme to build 324 houses and flats on the site of Llanishen reservoir. Her decision was a little unusual in that the planning inspector who had presided over the appeal, recommended that the development should go ahead. However, the Minister disagreed with the Inspector’s conclusions and did not accept his recommendation.
Unhappy developer: they needed to challenge the minister on a matter of law, hence the impending court case. At the door of the court, as it were, WAG climbed down:

Having considered the grounds put forward by the company, and on the advice of Counsel, the Welsh Ministers accept the legal arguments put forward by the company that aspects of the assessment through which they reached their original decision were incorrect. Rather than continue the legal proceedings and go to a hearing which they consider they would not win, the Welsh Ministers have agreed not to contest the challenge.

Basically, WAG cocked up.
So now – and follow carefully: the court will send the decision back to the minister; she will notify those who took part in the original appeal and ask for any new information; she will decide whether or not to re-open the inquiry; a decision will be made, but not this year.
In the meanwhile: the minister has listed the reservoir as a building of historic importance and Cardiff Council in its Deposit Local Development Plan (previous blogs) has shown that the site is part of the protected Nant Fawr river corridor. That should made a rejection of the planning application a forgone conclusion.
But … the developers have loads of money. They must feel victorious in getting the court showdown. And the very status of the LDP has been questioned by the minister’s own planners.
As ever – pace Swalec Stadium, Bute Park Bridge, Sophia Gardens Car Parking, playing fields et al – it’s the objectors, the local people, who have to find the emotional, physical and financial resources to go through the whole fight again. And, in fighting to get the Deposit LDP returned to the drawing board, some of us may be unwittingly helping Western Power Distribution Investments Limited destroy Llanishen reservoir.

Cardiff’s Local Development Plan: dead in the water?

Report by Civic Society on Cardiff Council Deposit LDP

Report by Civic Society on Cardiff Council Deposit LDP

Cardiff is in the final stages of deciding the shape of the city for the next 15-20 years seeking approval of its “Deposit Local Development Plan”. The next stage in the process is supposed to be consideration of the LDP by a WAG appointed Inspector to judge its soundness.
Into the arena steps WAG planner Mark Newey who has apparently told the council to drastically revise it!
As one of the team that helped Cardiff Civic Society submit a coruscating response, I am overjoyed that the council’s flimsy, shallow, unstrategic apology for long-term planning should be shown up for what it is: a high sounding – and perfectly commendable – vision that lacks any real evidence based delivery mechanisms. CCS found that it was ‘unsound’ on six grounds.

The Cardiff Civic Society believes that the process of developing this LDP has been followed in accordance with the guidelines: its implementation however has been unsound leading to inadequate policy formulation. Whilst the CCS concurs with the vision section of the LDP, our mapping of policy proposals onto that vision reveals patchy coverage and this leads, inexorably, to inadequate and inappropriate proposals.
We conclude therefore that the plan is unsound and thus has to be rejected in its entirety.

Mark Newey states:

There is a fundamental issue regarding the ability of the plan’s strategy to deliver the vision which presents a significant degree of risk for the authority if not addressed prior to submission stage.
“In summary, while the vision sets out a clear position to enable Cardiff to play its role as a European capital city, the LDP strategy does not deliver the council’s own vision, nor does it adequately reflect the evidence base. The degree of concern is significant.”

In an interesting presentation (Delivering Spatial Planning) that Mark Newey prepared, he set out very clearly – it seems to me – the way the new LDP process should work. It’s littered with phrases like: community consensus; interest groups; opportunities; focus not on objections but issues; addressing cross boundary issues; adapt to change; holistic evidence base; grounded in stakeholder/community involvement. I could cite many more areas he says are needed to be addressed and where CCS found that Cardiff Council had, quite simply, failed to understand, address and reach agreement.
It makes me wonder how the Council is going to get itself out of a very large hole of its own making. Will the Deposit LDP even go before the Inspector in this state in the light of the WAG objections?
I hope not.
Now, perhaps the council could get off its arrogant high-horse, and sit down with organisations like Cardiff Civic Society and create a visionary, viable, and deliverable strategy for the nation’s capital city.