“We want Cardiff Council to feel the outrage that its people feel over the idea of another Gwdihŵ and over the umpteenth time their interests have been steamrolled in favour of some corporate development.”
Cardiff Council, infamous for their short-sighted approach to preserving culture in a city as historic as Cardiff, are yet again on the verge of doing a disservice to their constituents. Local residents should be the driving force behind change in their communities, but the Council are covertly passing a planning permission application to build an office block and serviced apartment complex behind Tramshed, a popular live music venue in a city where live music is already under threat – if approved, this will have a catastrophic effect on the business of the Tramshed, as well as negatively impacting traffic and pollution on Pendyris Street and Clare Road. As residents of Cardiff, we must take a stand against the undemocratic way in which planning and development in the city has been, and is being, rolled out. We must take the first step in stopping this development by objecting to the planning application.
Rather than centering their policy and decision-making around the needs of citizens, or elevating the flourishing culture generated by a city so diverse, the council are intent on flooding Cardiff with non-descript highrise student accommodation, gentrifying cafes and bars, approving elaborate fountains and generally any architectural feature that seeks to whitewash the Cardiff that was built by the working classes. Grangetown, Butetown, and the Bay, greatly contributed to by immigrants to Wales who formed some of the strongest and most culturally rich communities in the city, are particular targets for Cardiff Council’s relentless gentrifying. In the middle of a global pandemic, the Council are at it again.
A brief yet calamitous history of Cardiff Council and development
Take the example of the Cardiff Coal Exchange, the site of the signing of the world’s first £1 million cheque and an economic hub that meant Wales fuelled the fires of the world. In any other capital city, and certainly in any city that gave a modicum of thought to the preservation of its history, this building would be turned into a museum, a space for community events – or perhaps a chain hotel specialising in stag and hen dos? Cardiff Council, setting a shining example of giving back to the community, decided that the latter option was a good idea. The council looked at the several hundreds of rough sleepers in Cardiff, the horrific rates of child poverty in BAME communities, and the lack of access to Welsh medium primary education, and decided that in fact the best course of action was to loan Signature Living of 8 Mathew Street, Liverpool, £2 million. Talk about one-upping the folks inside the Coal Exchange.
I’m sure the taxpayers of Butetown, having seen their Arts Centre closed, are overjoyed that rather than having a dedicated place where their unique cultural background as one of the first BAME communities in Europe can be celebrated, they get to reap the benefits of a unit in a trashy hotel whose website picks out Coyote Ugly as one of Cardiff’s best nights out. To add insult to injury, they get a newly-built military museum on their doorstep in place of the block of flats that was previously objected to. A stone’s throw from the Senedd, housing a Labour-led legislature and Welsh Government notorious for their cushy relationship with the arms industry, the project is exemplary of just how wrong the development priorities in Cardiff are.
Despite having most of its conversion complete, at present the future of the Coal Exchange is uncertain. The fact that the Council have pandered to Signature Living, offered to give them a loan that, if offered by a bank or private investor would be taken without hesitation, shows the completely short-sighted attitude that the Council has towards the preservation of cultural attractions in the city. This is the same Signature Living responsible for an £11,200 donation to Vaughan Gething’s Welsh Labour leadership campaign, after Gething paved the way for the Coal Exchange project to be commandeered by Signature Living. The building is Grade II listed, and the fact that it had been left to disrepair and dilapidation by the council over several decades is not an excuse for the Council to then discard the Coal Exchange like some sort of burden. Cardiff’s culture is its asset, and the Council’s seemingly-unshiftable resolve to turn Cardiff into some sort of generic clone is not only frustrating but incredibly damaging to the intricate cultures that have built up in Cardiff over decades and centuries.
Gentrified by the party of the working class: Cardiff Bay and beyond
This influx of overpriced development in Cardiff begs the question, what do the Council actually want Cardiff to be? What is the end goal? The Council completely lack foresight when they publish Local Development Plans. Public transport in the city is absolutely dire. The lack of park-and-ride facilities mean that people pile into work by car every morning, and while this can be attributed as a symptom of the general lack of development in the rest of South Wales, Cardiff Council have done nothing to alleviate it. The city is becoming a better (see: more generic) place for visitors and day-trippers but a substantially worse place to live. The Senedd, the Pierhead, the Millenium Centre, they all give the impression of a shop about to go out of business putting its most expensive wares in the window, dangled in front of tourists down in Cardiff Bay to lure them into the nearest Zizzi or Nando’s. These places feel like they have little association with the people of Cardiff: even in the microcosm of the Bay, there is a dividing line between Mermaid Quay and Bute Street. You could quite easily watch your panto in the WMC, pop into Salt for an overpriced drink, and scurry back to Bristol on the train without even realising that there is an entire city plagued by homelessness, poverty, and racial inequality just a short Nextbike ride away. What engagement has been offered to, for example, the residents of Butetown regarding the development of the Bay? They are living on the border of what feels some sort of cosmopolitan playset, assembled by politicians with a total misunderstanding of priorities and a great disdain for listening to the people they are meant to be standing up for. The residents of Butetown do not see a Cardiff Bay that represents them. The divide is reflected in their use of the name “Berlin Wall’ in reference to the edifice running alongside the railway track dividing them from Atlantic Wharf.
At first, it would be easy to accuse Cardiff Council of missing the point, but they have carved out a pattern of behaviour that is unmistakable: a mix of vested interests, suspect manoeuvres, and an egregious hunger to convert Cardiff into a facsimile, skyscraper-laden mini-Bristol or mini-London, but just whitewashed enough that you forget what city you’re in when you step off the train. The people of Cardiff are living in the shadow of the Council’s obsession with growth for growth’s sake – the city’s development is a disorganised array of eyesores and empty buildings with nothing to tie it together, nothing to tell people arriving that they’re in Cardiff.
Perhaps the figure in the recent history of Cardiff Council most analogous to Cardiff’s top-heavy development and gentrification is a man responsible for many aspects of it, Russell Goodway. Politicians like Goodway are the sort of people that ruin the public’s faith in politics as a force for good (not to mention that Butetown is underrepresented as is), and the worst thing is that the man lacks accountability in the places he has been so influential in moulding. As councillor for Ely ward, Goodway wormed his way into his position as the CEO of Cardiff Chamber for Commerce as well as being Cabinet Minister for Development, and made evident his desire for Cardiff to become another “European capital city“. It is laughable to pretend for even a moment that Cardiff is in the same league as Paris or Prague, cities that back their own culture and history and reap the rewards. Predictably, as mentioned in his article on transforming Cardiff into a European capital above, he is not a fan of what goes on inside the Senedd as he understands that the level of disconnect between the Senedd and poor communities is a rung below that of Westminster. If the people of Butetown had the Senedd to turn to in the 90s to when they tried to resist the construction of flatpack Atlantic Wharf or Mermaid Quay (which sounds like a chain in itself) Mr. Goodway’s life and others could have been a great deal more difficult: devolution and, God forbid, regional accountability can only complicate matters for Goodway and the Welsh Labour establishment running Cardiff Council. Politicians like Goodway forget that they run Cardiff for the people of Cardiff, and not for the people who want a middle-class weekend away in a “European capital”. The importance of desirability for tourists cannot be understated, of course, but in Cardiff the pre-existing cultures, so rich and diverse, should be the main attraction – not eight Wetherspoons pubs and a shiny indoor arena.
Goodway not only let corporations whitewash the Bay, he welcomed them with open arms. If foreign investment were a metric proportional to the wellbeing of people in places like Butetown, he would have a Nobel Peace Prize. The stripping of Cardiff’s identifiable features is a perpetual assault on culture, and it is disconnected politicians like Goodway who represent what gentrification is ultimately about – taking the decisions about the development and planning of the city out of the hands of the working people who toil to build it. At the time of writing, Mr. Goodway is still waiting for an email from the Peace Prize committee.
292m2 office and 16 serviced apartments that Grangetown doesn’t need
Next, the council is coming for Tramshed. Amidst the coronavirus crisis, in a time when music venues in Cardiff have closed their doors (see Gwdihŵ for a particularly tragic example) and, probably unbeknownst to us right now, some will never open their doors again as a result of the economic fallout of the pandemic, the council are strangling the Tramshed, coming for the venue like an assassin in the night and sentencing them to death by planning permission. The Council, if they were to approve the application, would effectively deem that parking and delivery bays are not essential for the continued operation of Tramshed. The 3,000 sq. ft. will be occupied by offices and serviced apartments that undoubtedly will be beyond the price range of the average Grangetown resident looking to get onto the housing ladder, and properties surrounding the development would sustain a significant rise in asking price too. Grangetown is one of Cardiff’s left-behind communities and needs community-focused development, not congestion and parking issues. Yet again it appears that the people actually living in Grangetown are last on the list of priorities.
There is a strong possibility that without the provision for deliveries and without the street parking that is currently available on Pendyris Street, Tramshed, emerging from this pandemic with a huge dent in their finances due to having been sat empty since March, will not be able to operate. Touring artists would be unable to unload equipment or park touring buses, space for deliveries would be compromised with no other space to accept them safely: if this goes ahead, there is a real risk Tramshed may have to close its doors, and the leeches at Signature Living, The Shoreditch Bar Group, or any other of the wonderful investors we have in Cardiff would probably have the place serving £8 cocktails before Christmas.
An Undod appeal: how to object to the proposals
Undod is appealing to its Cardiff-based members, especially those in Grangetown, to do something about this outrageous situation. If you’re not living in Cardiff but know people who are, please reach out and share this article with them. Such gentrification done without the consent of residents who have already been stripped of their community space is offensive. The case of Tramshed and the office should make us think about who our communities are being run for. Should the Council be the masters of this decision, or should it be decided by the people who are going to have to live with the horrific traffic and noise issues? Do people like Russell Goodway have to live with the air pollution that his developments have generated? The application is being snuck through when many people are too busy worrying about keeping their families safe to organise a campaign against the construction of this devastating impediment to Tramshed’s continued operation. This is of course a time of heightened political awareness and a time where many previously disillusioned people are feeling frustrated with the political machinations that dictate their lives. This is a chance to launch a campaign to make a tangible difference.
Let’s show Cardiff Council we won’t put up with their gentrifying and classism any longer. The Welsh Labour council are already in a precarious political position and they would be ill-advised to ignore the political capital that would be lost by ignoring a campaign by disillusioned and, crucially, organised Cardiff residents. There are already concerns over the tokenism of the consultation, with the present application only including minor differences to the last one. If a decent volume of objections are received, it is the Council’s responsibility to act in the interest of the people of Cardiff. “We heard you, and chose not to listen” is not good enough.
If the website, as many people are reporting, isn’t working for you, please screenshot any errors you get. You can then send the objection that you’d submit on the site to Development.Management@cardiff.gov.uk with the Project ID 17/01744/MJR, asking to register your objection. In the email, include your contact details and your Cardiff address.
In your objection, we recommend mentioning the following, as well as the importance of Tramshed to Grangetown. Quantity of objections, and crucially 50 objections from Grangetown, get us to the committee stage; quality of the objections is what can lay the basis for a strong campaign to stop the construction of the office block:
- If the proposal were to go ahead, there would be a lack of parking provision available for Tramshed to operate. Current parking provision is already inadequate; this development would not only negatively affect Tramshed but people living and working in the vicinity of the property. A sleeper tour bus, like those used by many touring artists, would have nowhere to park on the surrounding streets.
- If the proposal were to go ahead, there is great concern about the traffic and congestion on Pendyris Street and Clare Road. In a city that aims to become greener, this proposal risks a substantial increase in car usage on these roads and therefore risks an increase in air and noise pollution to be suffered by the residents of Grangetown – likely not the people who will be working in the offices.
- If the proposal were to go ahead, the loading and unloading of goods that usually takes place at the rear of Tramshed would be impossible. There is no other site at which the safe loading and unloading of deliveries could take place.
- The proposal is taking place during a global pandemic in which hundreds of thousands have died. This is not a fair time to be courting public opinion on a development such as this, which will inevitably have a severe impact on Tramshed. Tramshed are already going to struggle upon re-opening, whenever that may be: this proposal would almost certainly result in their closure. In the interest of local democracy and accountability, the proposal must be rejected.
Objections to this proposal are just the beginning. This can, and should, be the beginning of a community-led campaign to combat Council arrogance and to transfer the power from Planning Committees to working people in Grangetown. If 50 objections are reached by residents from Grangetown, then the proposal has to go to the planning committee and one of the petitioners from Grangetown gets a seat at the table to put the case forward for the community. Ideally, the Council would receive far more than 50 objections from all over Cardiff. We want Cardiff Council to feel the outrage that its people, the same people whose interests they are meant to safeguard, feel over the idea of another Gwdihŵ and over the umpteenth time their interests have been steamrolled in favour of some corporate development.
The closing date for the submission of comments is Thursday June 11th 2020.
Find out more
If you want to listen to piercing and thought-provoking content about the city of Cardiff and who it’s for, listen to “The Right to the City: Cardiff”, a podcast from the early days of Desolation Radio on Spotify or Soundcloud:
If you want to find out more about the incredible Grangetown community, follow @grangecardiff on Twitter.