Event Horizon

As I walked into work this morning from Pontcanna across Bute Park I decided, just for a change, to take a slightly different route along the front of Cardiff’s splendid City Hall. When I got there I was forced to take a big detour. The path through the small park that lies in front of the City Hall is now inaccessible to pedestrians, as the Council has taken over this bit of ground in order to construct “Winter Wonderland” on it. This has involved covering the grass with temporary surfacing, emptying the pond and replacing it with a skating rink, and building a Ferris Wheel. On either side of the park there are now two large and very ugly white tents that look a bit like the mobile mortuaries used when a train crash or air disaster produces an excess of corpses. I gather that one of these is to be a bar, presumably so the local child molesters can enjoy a drink while they scan the crowds of skating children looking for their next victim.

Not only does the monstrosity that is Winter Wonderland completely hide the natural greenness of the park from view and prevent pedestrian access to it, it also completely obliterates one of the best sightlines in Cardiff and renders the City Hall invisible behind a pile of tacky garbage. I can only guess how long it will take the park to recover from the damage done to it by covering most of the grass and allowing heavy vehicles to plough up the rest. No doubt Winter Wonderland will be followed by Spring Swamp and Summer Sandpit.

The fair is sponsored by BMI Baby, an offshot of the airline BMI which has caused outrage for its enthusiastic support for the enforced deportation of asylum seekers, which gives yet another reason to boycott this eyesore.

If you’re still interested in trying out the skating, take plenty of money with you because it is £8.50 for an hour on the tiny open-air rink. Judging by the size of it, I bet you won’t have much of a mean free path.

Winter Wonderland hasn’t actually opened yet but its construction and associated disruption have been going on for weeks already and it looks like the gardens and City Hall will be blighted for months to come. When it has run its course it will no doubt take months for the park to recover, if it is allowed to do so before it is vandalised again for the next “Event”.

But I’m afraid this is by no means the worst excess perpetrated by Cardiff City Council and their notorious Events department. A tenth-rate pop concert held last summer in the same park as part of Cardiff’s “Big Weekend” led not only to obscene amounts of noise but also to heaps of litter.

Another example is their absurd decision to host this summer’s National Eisteddfod of Wales in Cardiff on Pontcanna Fields, to the north of Bute Park. There’s nothing absurd about the Eisteddfod of course – it’s an extremely important part of the Welsh cultural calendar. It was great having it in Cardiff, apparently for the first time in 30 years. But the location chosen for it by Cardiff City Council was totally unsuitable and so obviously so that one wonders what kind of harebrained fool thought the idea up in the first place.

For one thing, the area was covered by sports fields which had to be ploughed up to accommodate the temporary buildings in which the Eisteddfod was housed. For another, it is low-lying ground that forms part of the flood plain of the River Taff. In order to allow heavy vehicles access to the site to construct and supply the festival, huge areas of grass were smothered with gravel and new roads were built with sufficient strength to support articulated lorries. Months after the Eisteddfod has finished, the site is still a total wreck. The Council is facing a bill of at least £400,000 to clean it up. The heavy rain and flooding of late summer this year is likely to have set back the restoration of Pontcanna fields and it is unlikely the replacement sports fields will be ready for next season.

But even this isn’t the worst of the Council’s excesses. They have plans to develop Bute Park itself as a site for even more events and, to this end, have pushed through a proposal to build a new road into the heart of the park, wide enough to accommodate articulated lorries, and complete with traffic lights and a bridge over the feeder canal. Unsurprisingly, the Council voted to give itself planning permission despite furious objections from local residents who are protesting about the environmental damage (including the felling of trees) that will be caused during and after the construction of this grotesque intrusion into beautiful public space. Ironically, the Council’s own website describes the Bute Park as a “green lung” full of historical and wildlife interest. True, but it is a green lung that is about to receive a very painful wound.

Amazingly, the Council’s plans are supported and actively encouraged by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has made future funding for the restoration of Bute Park contingent on the completion of this monstrous new road. How this squares with their commitment to “conserve the UK’s diverse heritage for present and future generations to experience and enjoy” is anyone’s guess. Since the Council has summarily dismissed ongoing petitions and representations against its plans, I’m also a bit confused about how this project relates to their desire to “help more people … take an active part in and make decisions about their heritage”.

The Battle for Bute Park is not over. For one thing, it’s by no means obvious that it belongs to the Council in the first place (it was actually presented to “the people of Cardiff” in 1947). For another, there are grave doubts about the procedures followed at the meeting at which planning consent was granted, opening up the possibility for legal intervention in the form of an appeal. Unless this plan is halted there will be a steadily accelerating destruction of green sites in Cardiff to make way for more vulgar money-grabbing “events” and associated disruption, noise and inconvenience. What happens to the proceeds of these commercial ventures? I wish I knew. But I bet we won’t be seeing a reduction in our Council Tax next year.

It seems that the Council will only be satisfied when its rapacious Events Department has violated every single square yard of Cardiff’s precious green land in a frantic quest to justify its own existence. Perhaps this will only stop when every tree in Cardiff is felled, every blade of grass trampled and every view blighted. Only then will we have reached the Event horizon.

P.S. The petition against lorries in Bute Park is still active, so please take the time to sign it if you think parks are for people and not for lorries.

3 Responses to “Event Horizon”

  1. […] frills like the awful pop concert we had to endure. I think Cardiff City Council’s notorious Events Department probably played a part in adding the tackier embellishments to Bonfire Night in Bute […]

  2. […] have complained before about precisely that attitude noted in the Eye, namely that the Council sees its Parks mainly as […]

  3. […] have been nicer. Unfortunately, Cardiff City Council’s insane policy of organizing “events” all over the park, involving heavy vehicle movements and temporary buildings has led to the […]

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