After averting near-disaster this week with their plans to decimate the National Library, here the group Reclaim Cardiff examine Welsh Labour’s lemming-like behaviour with respect to another potty plan – plonking a Military Medicine Museum on the Senedd’s front lawn.
Just when you thought Cardiff Council could achieve no more, prior to Christmas they outdid themselves by reaching page three of the Guardian. The story? What else but its plans to sell Britannia Park to a Military Medicine Museum. For a Welsh local authority or Councillor to achieve such exposure in the British press really requires some doing (suggesting casual vandalism with tippex, for example).
Huw Thomas, not to be outdone by the success of his home county Ceredigion in hitting the headlines for its admirable approach to Coronavirus, clearly decided that notoriety is better than anonymity, and ploughed on with a project only rivalled for its lack of popularity by the legendary Anus of the North. With proposals that are about as welcome in a park as dog poo, the Council really do seem intent on Shitting on the Dock of the Bay – and despite our leader’s best efforts to put a gloss on the proposed project, we all know you can’t polish a turd.
Let us just briefly remind ourselves of precisely why this is a deeply unpopular proposition for Britannia Park (arguably it’s an entirely flawed prospect regardless, but let’s focus here on the reasons it’s such a poor proposal in its current iteration at this location).
1) Environmental Impact: it’s closing off a precious open green space in an area where there is no alternative within walking distance for residents, in a city where this type of space makes up only 8% of the total area (compared to 16% in Birmingham);
2) Children’s amenities: as well as taking away cherished open space for children, it’s taking away a kids’ playground to boot, with no guarantee of a replacement in the vicinity;
3) Destined to fail: the financial plan for the museum as it stands is grounded in fantastical figures and a claim that it can attract 225,000 paying customers annually – that’s 70,000 more than Techniquest, 150,000 more than Cardiff’s other military museum in the Castle, and over a third of the number that visit the outstanding – and free – St Fagan’s.
4) Misconceived – “an extremely deflating prospect”: the design, purpose and impact on the area are all subject to criticism from architectural and heritage professionals. The people call for a Black History museum for Tiger Bay & the Docks, they get a museum about a military that colonised one third of the world!
5) Local objections: given the Cabinet’s obvious deep commitment to really hacking off the city’s residents, we know they couldn’t give a sod – let alone a park – about locals and their turf. Reclaim Cardiff do, however, and are here to remind everyone that it’s the people of the city, not developers who should come first. Local opposition runs deep: they’ve already fought off one development, convincing the Council to buy it in order to protect it. How ironic (or perhaps predictable) that the very same Council wants to sell it off.
Despite the wide political opposition (including the local Labour MP) the proposals were taken to the Planning Committee for a performance of democracy which ranked alongside Yes Minister in the annals of political satire.
The Council officer appeared to abandon all neutrality and took on the role as salesman for the project, despite its abundant flaws (mind you, at least he didn’t celebrate the victory like his colleague). As the match-up between objectors and developers unfolded the result was never in doubt, and one wondered whether the Committee and its Labour leadership had ever accustomed itself with the idea of a level playing field. That said, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the idea of fair play would be absent from a committee chaired by someone who’s had less than a keen eye for appropriate conduct in the past (and remember, this is a chair with an additional, casting, vote, which has the traditional purpose of ensuring further discussion where there is disagreement, but which in the case of this committee is used to tilt the balance in favour of the developers – witness the decision on the Paddle Steamer last week).
So where does this leave us? Well, despite the Cabinet’s attempts to suggest that this whole project was somehow in the hands of the Planning Committee (a neat trick for denying responsibility), the basic fact is that the park remains (as far as we know) council property, and therefore it is for the Cabinet to sign away this highly-valued open green space.
And so this is still a political decision that can be halted for all the number of important reasons already rehearsed –
not least the fact that the financial case for the museum is even more of a joke than some of its gift-shop items. Not that suspect financial plans have ever stopped this Cabinet backing anyone, of course.
But although there’s enough money swilling around to throw £2million at a company that the local MP had ‘serious concerns’ about, and indeed enough to speculate on a huge new indoor arena (the golden ticket in the age of Covid, of course) and build themselves another HQ, Huw Thomas and his member for development Russell Goodway – the father figure of Cardiff Labour – are adamant that Britannia Park must be sold to bring in much-needed funds.
Indeed just a couple of weeks ago the council were asking what our favourite things to cut would be in order to meet a budget shortfall. Not something you’d expect they’d need help with (especially given Goodway’s experience with shredding).
This whole sorry saga is a parable of a wider tale, where the Council will flash the cash for investors and bend over backwards for developers, whilst mercilessly exploiting residents and their amenities. The latest wheeze is forcing residents to buy the trees that separate residents near Flaxland Woods from the nearby dual carriageway. What beckons next for Cardiff – Dr Seuss’s Thneed-Ville, where even the air is a commodity?
As for Britannia Park, we wouldn’t put it past them that some deal is already on the cards, and that they are lining up the sale as we speak. So before the ink dries, we politely suggest that Huw puts away his pen and gets out his white blotter instead, or this will be another episode in his political journey he’ll live to regret.
Want to express your frustrations, and point Huw and Russell in the right direction? Send this letter directly to them and the member for parks; it will take one minute of your time!