What Cardiff needs (from a ruling party)

With council elections coming up soon, May 3rd, Welsh citizens get their first chance since the last general election to decide who runs their area for the next four years.

I would argue that these local elections are as important as, if not more important than, Parliamentary elections; the voter pool is significantly smaller, so in a lot of cases “every vote counts”, and the candidates that are being voted for can make a difference to a city, an area, an individual or set of individual directly. Think about it, what was the last thing that David Cameron or Nick Clegg did just for you, your area or your city? The councillors that are being chosen here are working for a smaller group of people, so their attention is more focused and they can make a difference for more people on a more personal level than an MP, and in Wales an AM, probably would (or could).

Cardiff has always been known as a new, little city with big ambitions, but right now is at a crossroads. In years past there was a clear direction, that was presented by necessity – like the replacement of The Arms Park by the Millennium Stadium – or by a policy decided and directed by the council – like the decision to revamp the city centre, focussing on retail and the courting of big chains, but right now Cardiff does not have a very clear set of change policies or ambitions. The global recession certainly helped on this change in priorities, since there are now very few investors willing to pour money into big, adventurous projects – where before they may have had a go, and Cardiff council would have been willing to grease the cogs of bureaucracy for them.
There are a few half baked ideas, which are continually being announced, changed, then eventually scrapped, for example:

  • The Cardiff “business district”
  •  Transport hub (AKA a bus station)
  • Ely “Urban village”

In fact, these two projects are really one and the same, since they encroach on each other’s area, both being situated on Wood Street. These are the only two (major) projects that I can think of that are “in the pipeline” that could significantly affect Cardiff’s fortunes, and both of them are long talked about with no visible progress having been made in at least 4 years.

Cardiff’s bus station terminal was demolished in 2008, the highly visible area surrounded by construction boarding and has been used as some kind of parking lot for construction vehicles ever since. The latest set of plans set out the site of Marland House, about 100m East of the original bus station site, as where the new “transport hub” will be built, and on the site of the old bus station will be the “Cardiff business district”.

According to Cardiff council the plans are still on time and work will begin later this year, which means demolishing Marland House and all surrounding buildings, including the NCP car park. To do this the council will need to use compulsory purchase orders to get the current tenants of Marland House to vacate, these businesses include National Express, Londis, Boots, CEX and Burger King. I have seen no indication that the process of purchasing Marland House, or the land that Marland House stands on, has even begun – though if somebody wants to tell me otherwise, I’d be glad to hear the details.

All this is getting to the real points I want to make, that Cardiff is a unique city that needs a particular type of administration, and this is what we need:

  • Thoroughly planned, innovative projects that benefit the city as a whole.
  • Firm leadership and decision making, because we have endured too many years of “flip-flopping” and bowing to public pressure, like in the case of the “school restructure” debacle.
  • Ideas that buck the trend, not just follow it, or are a knee jerk reaction to other city’s plans, like the “Enterprise zone” farce, that was a reaction to Bristol’s proposal (which has now started construction).
  • A leadership that will engage with its citizens wholly, and take ideas for the future from them. Cardiff has an amazing pool of talent, as demonstrated by some of the groups that have been set up in recent years, such as ThinkArk.
  • A more open council, with good communication at its core. We don’t want to have to read the formal minutes from council meetings, or sub-committee meetings to know what is being discussed or planned in our city, or else be kept in the dark until its formally announced and there is nothing we can do but comment on the decision that has been made.

I think these are some very simple things that can be achieved very easily, but will positively affect every resident and business in the city and make our “capital village” a much better place to live and work.


  1. Do any of the parties have a solid vision for Cardiff? Can we see it? They seem to work around the edges, trying to please everyone, and we’re ending up with a donkey of a city in the process. For example, why does no one have a plan to build a proper suburban rail network? What new industrial activity are we looking at, besides an waste incinerator?

    Programmes like ThinkArk are great, but their work could be so much more focussed if they had some government strategy to back them up.

  2. Mark,

    Local Authorities don’t have the power (or the capital) to do things like build a suburban rail network, or even “create” new industry.

  3. Well that’s interesting, I asked about a vision. Light rail and industry are examples of what might be contained in a vision. Still don’t see any of the major parties with a vision – do let me know if they “create” one.

  4. Just to comment on the Marland House thing. I used to work in an office there and they have just relocated the staff to another building as Marland House is due to be demolished and their contract wasn’t renewed. I understand it’s been long-talked about and a very slow process though.

  5. Mark: I don’t think industrial activity rates very high up on the list of things that Cardiff chases, any more. In my view, Cardiff puts way too much emphasis on attracting large-scale employers for things like call centres. Every time a new call centre is opened, or a call centre operator creates new jobs (fictitiously, I might add, in the case of companies like Conduit) the trumpet gets blown.

    Developments like Porth Teigr in Cardiff Bay are promising and I believe that work started on the second phase – which will house space for creative industries – started recently. (Cardiff Bay site would house city’s creative industries)

  6. The problem is that the city planners do have a vision, and it’s exactly what we see before us. That’s why the place is in such a mess. Cardiff isn’t like the other “world cities” that it wants to be like, it doesn’t have a pulling power fueled by an attractive and exportable culture (it could have had) that can keep the cash flowing when the economy goes bad and the retail and services sectors shrivel up.

    So what they’ll keep on doing is suckering in investors from all over the place to keep building these new “quarters” and “zones” with grandiose sales pitches about what a booming city this is. Then when the wrecking balls start swinging, the planning committee will push through compulsory sales of surrounding premises to friends for friends to build things like car parks to cope with the “overflow” caused by the new constructions (Derek Rapport and The Vulcan).

    The idea that the creative industries in Cardiff can make any money and are sufficient is a joke. It’s a world almost entirely filled with talentless bottom feeders trying to figure out something to do with their lives while producing crap with government subsidies. This isn’t a London or a Bristol that grew organically with multiple balanced sectors and thriving local creative industries, it’s a different animal; a force fed pig, bloated with offal that in the end produces bad cuts.

    The vision they have for this place is to keep on building new and snazzy developments off the back of promises of the undeliverable and then watch as they become derelict and depreciate, then move to demolish everything every 10-15-20 years to start again. One day that cycle will break down and most of the City will look like the docks did 25 years ago.

Leave a Comment.