Protesters demand rethink on Cardiff city centre street reopening as Welsh Gov ‘disappointed’
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Protesters marched on City Hall to demand Cardiff council rethink the reopening of Castle Street as the Welsh Government said it is ‘disappointed’ cars would return.
About 60 people walked from Cardiff Castle on Thursday, June 17, along the road on Duke Street, North Road and Boulevard de Nantes, before gathering outside City Hall.
Raising air pollution concerns, they were protesting the cabinet’s decision on the same day to reopen Castle Street to private cars this autumn, after the road was closed a year ago.
Lee Waters, deputy climate change minister, said he was “disappointed” with the decision but hoped to see “as little space as possible” for polluting cars on streets in the near future.
The council is reopening the road due to fears about rising air pollution on surrounding residential streets. Modelling suggests that while nitrogen dioxide levels would rise by 40 per cent on Castle Street when it reopens, levels could fall on nearby streets.
Supporting city centre businesses was also a major factor for reopening the road. During the cabinet meeting, Councillor Russel Goodway, cabinet member for investment and development, said the council wanted to increase footfall in the city centre to protect jobs.
He said: “We don’t have the luxury of being driven by a ‘single issue’ agenda. We have a wider responsibility to take account of what our decisions will do, and what impact those decisions will have on the people we represent and the people we have a responsibility to, in order to protect their livelihoods as well as their lives.”
Outside City Hall, protesters held a ‘people’s assembly’ discussing concerns about rising air pollution and voicing opposition to reopen Castle Street to private cars.
A spokeswoman from Cardiff Green New Deal said: “We don’t accept this decision to reopen it. We can all agree the area has become a far nicer place for active travel, shoppers and tourists.
“The council’s own evidence showed young people voted to keep the road closed. Where is the social and environmental justice in this? It makes no sense to bow down to the pressure of older people.”
Gareth Ludkin, Friends of the Earth, said: “The council is making a decision based on modelling on pre-Covid levels, while we don’t know what post-Covid levels will be. The closure should be held in place and continued alongside a clean air zone and charging, as we are seeing in other cities. This is a retrograde step. We need to keep the pressure on.”
The Labour-run council’s decision to reopen the road also came under fire from other Labour politicians.
Speaking to the BBC, Welsh Government minister Lee Waters said: “It’s for them to make the judgement of how to organise their own streets. I’m disappointed to see cars coming back into the centre of the city. I understand why they’re making the change, and I’ve spoken with them about it.
“They’re going to try a different approach, so let’s see how that goes. Hopefully, before too long, we can see as many streets as possible with spaces reserved for sustainable transport and as little as possible for polluting cars.”
Highlighting that the decision was taken on Clean Air Day, Labour MS for Cardiff Central Jenny Rathbone said on Twitter: “This is not a good day to be voting to reopen Castle Street as a rat run for cars. How many miscarriages are provoked by dirty air?”
Earlier this week, the council issued a lengthy statement defending its decision. One part focused on how modelling shows air pollution would increase in surrounding streets if Castle Street was kept closed. One backbench Labour councillor said this was “misleading”.
Labour Cllr Stephen Cunnah said: “I find some of this statement highly misleading. The model shows that adopting option two [keeping the road open to only buses and taxis] would reduce pollution on 31 out of 42 streets—some significantly—with 11 marginal increases.
“Option one [reopening the road to private cars] is similar, with 10 marginal increases—but reductions across the 32 are not as significant.”
No publicly available data has shown since the road’s closure that air pollution has increased on surrounding streets. The council previously said this was due to lockdown and fewer car journeys made in general across the city.
A recent freedom of information request asked the council’s Shared Regulatory Services—administered by Vale of Glamorgan council—for air pollution monitoring data for the past two years from stations in Riverside, Grangetown and Castle Street. But the Vale council is charging £75 to reveal this data, as it would purportedly take a long time to collate.
During the cabinet meeting, Cllr Caro Wild, cabinet member for transport and strategic planning, said: “While there’s a clear case that we would all like to see that road have fewer cars—and there will be fewer cars with our Clean Air Plan—there’s still lots of concern about how traffic reroutes around different parts of the city.
“The air quality modelling in particular, which is the main thing we had our eye on because of the public health implications, showed that the two options generally had quite a similar position. But with option two while you had much better air quality on Castle Street, there was a worsening position in other areas of the city, albeit small changes.
“One thing we have to keep our eye absolutely clearly on is residential areas with already poor air quality, and the modelling scenario that showed that option two worsened air quality in those areas.”