By Julian Langston
A light rail scheme for Cardiff may no longer be on the cards according to new statements from Cardiff County Council.
The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) bid that was accepted for the development along Bute Avenue, the proposed grand boulevard linking Cardiff city centre with the Inner Harbour area of Cardiff Bay, is believed now not to include the construction of a light rail system.
The same scheme is, however to include the closure and demolition of the existing rail branch to Cardiff Bay (formally Bute Road) Station. The main reason for this seems to be cosmetic because the designers don't like the idea of a railway embankment running along the edge of their new road and spoiling the view.
Originally plans were for a light rail system to be built at the same time as the road, running between the Inner Harbour and Cardiff Queen Street Station via Cardiff Central Station. Then it could be developed along the existing Valleys Lines network to create a modern light rail system penetrating to the heart of Cardiff and the fast developing Bay area in a way that the existing rail system can never do.
However at a time when most European cities are looking for ways to expand their rail systems in a bid to halt or reduce the growth of car traffic, Cardiff is doing just the opposite and digging up a rail link to one of the biggest development sites in Europe.
The Council has half-heartedly said it will provide bus routes instead, but buses are hardly going to attract commuters and visitors to Cardiff Bay away from their cars in large numbers.
Cardiff Councils Chair of Planning, Councillor Neil Salmon, said at a Cardiff 20:20 conference that it was more important to develop light rail from the valleys and work inwards towards Cardiff than to work outwards. He didn't, however, say that the Cardiff Bay rail branch should be retained until light rail reached Wales' capital city, although he claimed to agree with most of Cardiff Friends of the Earth's aims.
Julie Morgan, MP for Cardiff North, attacked the plans to remove the existing rail link without replacing it as ridiculous.
Informed sources suggest that there are other reasons why light rail is not being pursued at this time. Officials consider that there will be so much disruption to the city centre with the construction of the Millennium Stadium, alterations to Central Square, and related projects that further disruption due to the construction of a light rail between Central Station and Queen Street Station couldn't be tolerated at the moment. Others have suggested that a scheme just between the Inner Harbour and Queen Street Station would not, attract many passengers and so wouldn't be cost-effective. These people suggest waiting until enough money is available to develop light rail through to Pontypridd.
More cynical people see that Cardiff Bay Development Corporation (CBDC) have had over 10 years to plan a light rail system and it is now being put off indefinitely. There is little indication that it will ever happen.
There is some hope however. Neither CBDC nor Cardiff County Council can force either Railtrack or Cardiff Railway Company (which runs Valleys Line services) to close the existing Bay rail line. Even if they did agree, there follows a protracted legal process, almost certainly including a public enquiry before the line can be closed and the enquiry may not grant permission. Their permission is likely to rest upon a firm date being given for the start of construction of the light rail scheme.
The process is likely to take at least 18 months, taking us to mid 1999. By then CBDC will be in the last year of its existence and it is unlikely to have time to remove the line and complete Bute Avenue as it has promised to do.
Cardiff Friends of the Earth will continue to campaign for light rail to properly serve the Bay area, not just the Inner Harbour, working where appropriate with like-minded organisations.
There is an increasing interest in the types of food we eat and the processes that are used to create our food. Friends of the Earth is currently campaigning on food and biotechnology. We hope to set up a food alliance in Cardiff as a pilot scheme for other towns and cities. The idea of an alliance is to bring together individuals and groups who have an interest in spreading the message about the need for Real Food and local supplies of organic food. Recent developments with CJD and the spectre of genetic modification affecting the quality and health of our food means this campaign is for everyone.
Our current way of producing food has a highly damaging effect on our environment, our health and our rural communities. This campaign aims to change food production so that it doesn't depend on non-renewable resources or the exploitation of people, animals and the environment.
We are currently campaigning on:
The Government will decide whether to give the go ahead to plant GM oilseed rape commercially. The plant has been designed to be resistant to the herbicide Glufosinate.
Oilseed rape cross-breeds quickly, and over a great distance, with a range of wild plants. We need to stop the UK's first GM crop from being planted commercially.
Please write to your MP and to Jack Cunningham the Minister for Agriculture urging the Government not to give the go ahead until research into the full environmental and health effects has been completed.
Tiwanese computer giant Acer have just announced they will build their European manufacturing plant on the Wentloog Levels between Cardiff and Newport, creating 1,000 new jobs. Sadly the site they have chosen is a SSSI, an area of natural beauty protected by international law. We don't want to stop the development, but we urge Acer to find another site for the plant that won't damage the SSSI.
Cardiff County Council have announced that from May 1998 it will start to charge £2.60 a year to households opting into a revised scheme covering the whole of the city. This decision was taken by the Environmental Services Department and is a result of the Council's very tight financial position. They face the loss of their recycled paper contract from October 1998 creating a shortfall in their budget of some £400,000.
This may be prudent financial management but doesn't it give people the wrong message about recycling? If there has to be a charge, shouldn't it be for the black rubbish bags? This would make people think about what they are throwing away.
Ironically Cardiff Friends of the Earth have been offered the chance to sell the green bags on behalf of the Council for a premium.
In fairness, the Council intend to extend the scheme to cover the whole city, but it's financial viability is based on some dubious estimates as to how much the Council would pay in landfill charges for waste that isn't recycled.
The Government should make recycling a 'statutory requirement' for local authorities waste management instead of the current 'voluntary code' which requires councils to aim at recycling a paltry 25 percent of household waste by the year 2000. Sadly Cardiff is about to become one of the few places where the amount of 'voluntary' recycling will fall.
If you know of any organisations who might be prepared to sponsor the Green Bag scheme, please either tell us or the Council. We need positive suggestions to help the Council find a way to improve the financial viability of the scheme without compromising Cardiff's recycling programme.
There were between 15 and 20 people at our Annual General Meeting in early December to hear our upbeat report on a very positive hard-working year, mainly focused around the Cardiff 20:20 initiative.
The Officers elected were:
A basic plan of dates and events for early 1998 was drawn up.