Those of you familiar with this blog will know that we’ve drawn previous attention to the slow but sure desecration of our capital city by the current Labour-run council. The threat to Grangetown’s Tramshed and the welcoming of a British Military Museum on the doorstep of our Senedd are just two parables of the calamity unfolding, one that is felt by all of its citizens; every neighbourhood has a story to tell relating to the wrecking of Cardiff’s buildings and lived environment.
At the heart of this issue is democracy, or more specifically, the lack of it. This is typified by the council’s unwillingness to engage in any meaningful way with the citizenry; the people who pay their wages are regarded as an obstacle to manoeuvre around, or an opposition to be undermined. The stories of success in persuading the council to reverse unwanted developments are few and far between.
Part of the problem is their willingness to bend to the will of developers who have no accountability whatsoever, witnessed time and again by their inability to even squeeze proportionate financial packages from these businesses, which are due to the council through planning legislation.
And here we come to the other central problem, which is our awful, complex planning system that makes it nigh on impossible for the people of Cardiff – or any other residents across Wales’ communities – to get a toehold and to stand their ground. It is an abomination for what is meant to be a democratic society with government supposedly ‘close to the people’.
We can’t be sure that even the councillors themselves understand the rules, but we do know it allows them to make excuses, deny responsibility and hide their lack of backbone or care for the people they represent.
The Planning Committee
Thankfully there are some who are trying to change matters, and so we must all welcome with great enthusiasm the efforts of Cardiff Civic Society in trying to draw attention to the deficiences of this system and the way in which change can start now. They have just launched a campaign to ensure the chair of the council’s Planning Committee is appointed independently so that the voice of the public can be heard.
The Planning Committee is where all development applications end up at the final stage of application, and as you will have witnessed from the ongoing “(student) flatification’ of Cardiff, its current mode of operation is to wave through most developments, apparently without a second thought.
This is the body that will be making the final decision on closing the Paddle Steamer, flattening the Roath Park Pub, building on our green spaces like Flaxland Woods and the Northern Meadows, and raising an abomination on Cardiff Bay’s Britannia Park. They’re the people who’ve presided over the demise of Guilford Crescent, the felling of Trees in Suffolk House, and the destroying of Sanitorium Park – to name but a few of their more recent decisions.
One of the main problems with the current arrangement is that it is the party in power who effectively appoints the chair – a very influential and important position. In a committee of twelve, as well as being the person who directs business, the Chair has two votes, which means if there’s ever a 6-6 tie that person has an extra vote to force a decision, whilst of course on those occasions when the committee is underattended they will also have a disproportionate influence.
From the perspective of the average citizen who wants their voice heard, what you don’t want in such a situation is someone who is making decisions who is not independent in thought and action. You want them protected from any pressure that might be brought on them by the (Labour) Council cabinet, so they lead discussion and make decisions on their merit, and in a way that responds to public concerns – not the preferences of their party bosses.
However, the ruling Labour Party that is currently swinging a wrecking ball through Cardiff is able to place a double bind on their councillors to make sure their cabinet gets their man. Firstly they have an internal nomination process where presumably the likes of Russell Goodway – the cabinet member with the development brief – can corral the right wing vote behind their preferred Chair.
Then, when the vote comes up in the Council’s general meeting on the 26th of November – where all councillors will vote on this position – Labour have what’s called a ‘whipped’ vote for this position. Their councillors (who are in the majority of course) are pressured into voting for their party leadership’s preference. This process can be as unpleasant as it sounds, with all sorts of ways and means to ensure people tow the line.
The end result, of course, is that in the current situation, those who rule the roost in the Labour Party basically force their councillors to vote for whomsoever they prefer for the role.
What to do
It is this that Cardiff Civic Society are objecting to. It is clear in terms of trying to chip away at the undemocratic nature of our planning procedures, having a Chair in place that listens to us, and not party colleagues who may be in the pocket of developers, is fundamental.
Councillors need to be given a free vote, to elect whoever they think the best individual is for the job, regardless of their party. We don’t need to highlight to you what the implications are if the Labour Party leaders who are currently cheerleading the crushing of our capital get their man in position. We’ve been witnessing them for months on end.
And who is that man likely to be? Well, the smart money is on the current Chair, Keith Jones, and a simple google search raises a legitimate question: whether a man suspended by the party during the council’s previous term is the person likely to stand up to party leaders, to stand strong in opposition to their demands, and to listen us, the people of Cardiff – and Wales for that matter (one of the consequences of being the nation’s capital, whether one likes it or not, is that Cardiff represents the entire nation). Given what he has presided over during his current term in office, the question is an urgent one.
The continuing destruction of Cardiff, even during lockdown, the anti-democratic character of our planning procedures, and the need for independence of thought and deed at its core, is why we are fully backing Cardiff Civic Society in their demands.
We join the Cardiff Civic Society in calling on Cardiff Council to:
- Hold a recorded vote on the chair of planning at its annual general meeting
- To do so on the basis of a free vote, in which members of the cabinet are not allowed to vote.
Moreover, we back their wider criticism of the planning committee, in particular the way ward councillors and citizens are systematically denied a voice during committee business.
You can get involved by emailing your own councillors to urge them to demand change, and begin the vital business of helping the people of the city to take back control. These are our representatives, we vote for them, we pay their salaries. It is time they listened to us.
It’s time to Reclaim Cardiff.