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‘Absolute joke’: Cardiff council branded hypocritical for declaring nature emergency

29 Nov 2021 5 minutes Read
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter

Cardiff council was criticised last week as hypocritical for declaring a nature emergency in response to plummeting biodiversity.

The declaration was slammed for contrasting with current developments such as building a hospital on meadows in Whitchurch and thousands of homes on the city’s outskirts. Although, the council is not building the hospital or the new homes.

Labour councillors said the declaration was needed as populations of birds and hedgehogs have declined dramatically in recent years.

But opposition councillors criticised this as empty words and called for more concrete action to be taken.

Conservative Cllr Mia Rees said: “If you want to annoy me, then hypocrisy is the way to go. It’s at the top of my list. This motion flies in the face of action being taken by this council in Cardiff right now. The destruction of green, biodiverse space is being allowed, by this Labour council and this Labour government.

“You can’t say one thing in this motion and do the other on the ground. It’s an absolute joke. If this was just happening in my ward, I would be a bit annoyed, but we’re talking about the whole city, so I am fuming. I’m aware that the planning process is unhelpful in this regard. Critically, it doesn’t enforce retaining existing biodiversity.

“The Northern Meadows is home to birds, crickets, wildflowers, grasses, reptiles, foxes, butterflies, but to name a few. If you’re serious, the ripping up of nature and wildlife corridors has to stop. Otherwise, the word emergency is a meaningless joke.”

Developers have begun in recent weeks initial works on the Northern Meadows, in Whitchurch, ahead of a new hospital being built there. The new Velindre Cancer Centre will take several years to build and has been criticised for its potential impact on local wildlife.

Another issue raised in the debate on declaring a nature emergency, during a council meeting on Thursday, November 25, was the thousands of homes planned for the countryside northwest and northeast Cardiff. These were first greenlit in the local development plan, an important council policy which decides how land across the city should be used.

When the current development plan was approved, the council argued thousands of new homes were needed on greenfield sites, as the city’s population was projected to grow rapidly. Recently, those population projections have turned out to be overestimated and the city is growing much more slowly than previously thought—but the homes are still being built.

‘Fine words’ 

Conservative Cllr David Walker said: “Councils and their cabinets need to be judged not on their fine words, but on their actions. And actions are not declaring emergencies. The action elephant in the room today was ignored as the revised local development plan, which is ignored in this motion.

“But what do we hear? Virtue signalling about protecting the environment and biodiversity while huge areas in the northeast and northwest of the city have been blighted by your actions. And what do we see? Hundreds of hectares of Cardiff’s last remaining green open space is now trapped in the land banks of developers.”

Responding to this criticism, Labour councillors said much work is already being done to protect biodiversity in Cardiff, including plans to plant hundreds of trees, and not mowing several areas of grassland to encourage wildflowers to grow.

Labour Cllr Peter Bradbury, cabinet member for culture and leisure, said: “Our Coed Caerdydd project is moving our tree canopy cover from 18 per cent to 25 per cent. The No Mow campaign has seen 100 sites, or 87 hectares of areas. This is a vitally important area. Without a local development plan, without the protection of having strategic sites, green fields would have been open to the mercy of developers.

“Cabinet members do not make planning decisions on individual applications. It is a quasi-judicial issue. The [Northern Meadows] is not in council ownership, has never been in council ownership, and therefore the council’s only duty to that land is dealing with the planning application.”

Conservative councillors sought unsuccessfully to amend the Labour motion to declare a nature emergency, calling for the council to recognise that the development plan massively overestimated how fast the city’s population would grow, leading to huge parts of green fields “locked away unprotected in the land banks of developers”.

Labour Cllr Michael Michael, cabinet member for clean streets, recycling and environment, said: “A few weeks ago Cardiff was named the third greenest city in the UK. It shouldn’t be a surprise: policies of this Labour administration—like combating climate change, sustainable urban drainage, changes to grass management to encourage rewilding—are showing success.

“These changes are needed to make sure Cardiff prospers and becomes even greener. These changes are embedded in the planning policies of this city and offer protection to the biodiversity of habitats across the city.

“The Tory amendment is simply an anti-housing amendment. They don’t want the likes of us riff-raff in the area, let’s face it. It’s a simple choice between a Labour administration protecting nature in Cardiff, and the Tories who are by their nature just incompetent.”

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