Archive for Cardiff City Council

Local Election Issues

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , on May 4, 2017 by telescoper

Though very much overshadowed by the looming General Election, today sees important local elections in various locations across the United Kingdom including here in Cardiff where all seats on Cardiff City Council are up for grabs. This is an example of a unitary authority, unlike some areas where there are county and borough councils that operate on different levels.

Councillors are paid an `allowance’ which varies across the country but in Cardiff corresponds to a basic amount of £13,300k per annum. Not exactly a luxurious income, but it is essentially a part-time job. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy though, as many difficult choices have to be made when budgets are tight.

Since my current job at Cardiff University is part-time I did toy with the idea of putting myself forward as a Labour Party candidate, but in the end didn’t pursue it – largely because I’ve not had as much free time as I thought I would. In any case we have three very good prospective candidates in Iona Gordon, Kanaya Singh, and Caro Wild. I wish them all good luck!

When I first moved to Cardiff, in 2007, the Liberal Democrats were the largest party in the Council, a position they consolidated in the 2008 elections, where the administration that was formed consisted of a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party. At the 2012 elections the Liberal Democrats crashed and burned and Labour regained the position as majority party it had lost to the LibDems in 2004. These local elections normally take place every four years, but were deferred by one year by the Welsh Government, which is why they are taking place now rather than in 2016.

Local elections return councillors for each of a number of wards within each area. Some wards return only one representative while others can have a number of councillors. My own ward, Riverside, for example, has three councillors. When I moved to my house in Pontcanna in 2008 all three councillors belonged to Plaid Cymru; at the 2012 elections all three were Labour. I think the past success of Plaid Cymru in Riverside may relate to the presence of Welsh language media organizations in the area. It’s a very mixed ward, actually, with some very posh areas in the North (towards Llandaff) and some very working-class areas to the South.

What will happen this time? I honestly have no idea. It is very difficult to predict local elections on the basis of national politics for a number of reasons. One is that turnout is very low – 30% is very high for this kind of poll. Seats in the council can be gained and lost by just a few hundred votes. There’s also the fact that those people who do vote tend to do so on the basis of very local matters, e.g. the efficiency of the refuse collection service, rather than the national and international issues that will dominate the General Election. Not that this will stop the pundits prattling on about the results.

I can see Plaid Cymru doing reasonably well, but would be surprised if either the Liberal Democrats made a substantial comeback or the Conservatives made big gains. We’ll just have to wait and see, though, as I’ve been massively wrong about such things before!

Anyway, I’m going to a concert tonight to take my mind of things and have no intention of waiting up until the early hours of the morning to hear the results come in, so I’ll update this with the results tomorrow morning.
UPDATE 8.30am, 5/5/2017: Riverside ward returned three labour councillors and Labour retained control of Cardiff City Council.

Cardiff, City of Cycling?

Posted in Bute Park, Cardiff with tags , , , , , , , on February 22, 2017 by telescoper

Two recent news items about Cardiff caught my attention so I thought I’d do a quick post. The first piece was about the terrible state of traffic congestion in the city. This doesn’t affect me directly as I normally work to work and back, but it has definitely got much worse in the last few years. The roads are regularly gridlocked, a situation made worse by the interminable and apparently pointless roadworks going on everywhere as well as absurdly slow and dysfunctional traffic lights. There’s a common view around these parts that this is being allowed to happen – or even engineered – so that Cardiff City Council can justify the introduction of congestion charging. This would be an unpopular move among motorists, but I think a congestion charge would not be a bad idea at all, as what the city really needs is to reduce the number of motor vehicles on its streets, to deal with the growing problem of pollution and long journey times.

One day, about six years ago,  I was almost run over three different times by three different vehicles. The first was near the car park in Sophia Gardens, where there are signs and road marking clearly indicating that there is a speed limit of 5 mph but where the normal speed of cars is probably more like 35; the guy who nearly killed me was doing about 60.

Next, in Bute Park, a heavy lorry belonging to the Council, engaged in some sort of “tree-management” business, thundered along the footpath past me. These paths used to be marked 5mph too, but the Council removed all the signs when it decided to build a huge road into the Park and encourage more vehicles to drive around inside. The lorry wasn’t going as fast as the Boy Racer of Sophia Gardens, but the size of the truck made it just as scary.

Finally, using a green light at the pedestrian crossing at Park Place I was narrowly missed by another car who had clearly jumped a red light to get onto the dual carriageway (Dumfries Place) leading to Newport Road.

I have to say things like this aren’t at all unusual, but that is the only time I’ve had three close encounters in one day! Although most car drivers behave responsibly, there seems to be a strong concentration of idiots in Cardiff whose antics are exacerbated by the hare-brained Highways Department of the local council. There are many things to enjoy about living in Cardiff, and the quality of life here is very good for a wide range of reasons, but of all the cities I’ve lived in it is by a long way the least friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

Which brings me to the second news item, which is about Cardiff City Council’s ambitious new Cycling Strategy, which aims to double the number of trips made using cyclists over the next ten years. That still wouldn’t reach the level of Cambridge, where 30% of all journeys in the city are done by bicycle.

Cardiff has a long way to go to match Cambridge and further still to be like Copenhagen, one of the loveliest and most livable cities I’ve ever experienced, partly because of its traffic policies.

In the interest of balance I should also point out that I was once actually hit on a pedestrian crossing in Cardiff by a bicycle steered by a maniac who went through a red light. In this case, however, I did manage to push him off his bike as he tried to get away, so he ended up more seriously hurt than I was. I was hoping that a friendly car would run over his bike, which was lying in the road, but sadly that didn’t happen.

I hope in their desire to increase the number of cyclists, the town planners don’t forget those of us who travel on foot!

Local Politics

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , on May 6, 2012 by telescoper

By way of reminding myself for future reference I thought I’d do a quick post about the results of Thursday’s local elections.

I live in the Riverside ward within the area administered by Cardiff City Council. When I moved here in 2008 there were three Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalist) councillors. That was just after an election in which the Welsh Labour party had done badly, and also to some extent reflected the particular nature of the Pontcanna area which is within Riverside ward, in that it has a sizeable Welsh-speaking population many of whom work for the  media, especially the BBC.

Last year we had a by-election, won by Iona Gordon for Labour, so going into this year’s elections there were two Plaid councillors and one Labour. The result of the 2012 vote was very bad for Plaid, who lost their two remaining candidates to Labour. So in four years I’ve gone from living in a Plaid Cymru stronghold to a Labour stronghold.

The pattern in Riverside ward was repeated across Cardiff, so that Labour achieved a sizeable overall majority, with the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru all losing seats:

Before the elections the Council was run by a LibDem/Plaid Coalition and such was the swing against these parties that Council Leader Rodney Berman lost his seat, although in apparent desperation to cling onto his salary he demanded two recounts before giving up. Afterwards he spoke to the press claiming that the result in Cardiff was down to Westminster politics rather than local issues.

I don’t think so.

I certainly voted on local issues and so did many of the people I talked to. The former administration of the Council was awful in many respects, including proven maladministration over the decision to build a waste incinerator. I’m not the only person to have remarked on the plethora of pointless roadworks going on in the city, including narrowing the busiest thoroughfares, and of course the ongoing over-development of Bute Park.

No, Mr Berman. You were voted out because you did a lousy job.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that Labour will do any better but I very much doubt they can do any worse. I hope I’m not proved wrong.

A Walk in the Park

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 30, 2011 by telescoper

I know my posts about Bute Park tend to be very critical of its “restoration” (i.e. commercial redevelopment) by Cardiff City Council, especially the ridiculous construction project that is doing untold damage opposite the cricket ground. However, I thought I’d balance that with a bit of credit where credit is due. The floral beds in the Park are looking really beautiful, as you can see from these snaps I took on the way home last night. See how many plants you can identify!

The problem is that you’re increasingly likely to come across this sort of thing these days too, as the Council seems to want to encourage private motor vehicles to drive around the footpaths and park on the grass. This was taken just down the footpath, to the south of the flower beds shown in the previous picture.

If you recognize the numberplate please tell the owner he’s a twat, from me. If I had my way there’d be a complete ban on cars and lorries in the park.

Another thing you might be interested to learn concerns the little refreshment kiosk just north of the flower beds:

This little Wendy House was built to replace a Victorian summer house as part of the Council’s “restoration” project. Actually, it’s not a restoration, just a new cafe, next to a paved seating area that doesn’t look anything like the original, doesn’t add anything to the aesthetic of the park,  and  eats even further into the  contiually dwindling green space. What I’d most like to know, however, is how this little building managed to cost the Council £165,778.20. That’s more than the cost of an average home in Cardiff….

…dare I suggest that somebody has been lining their pockets at the expense of the local Council Tax payers?

Rainbow over Cardiff

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 17, 2011 by telescoper

Nice to see the Rainbow Flag  flying at the Cardiff City Council building this morning..

This is in recognition that today, May 17th, is International Day Against Homophobia, or IDAHO for short. Please remember that although attitudes in the UK are much more enlightened than they were only a few years ago, homophobic violence still happens with distressing frequency. And in places such as Uganda, where a bill has been tabled calling for homosexual acts to be punished by the death penalty, matters are even worse…

If you’re wondering why May 17th was chosen for this, then I can tell you that it’s to commemorate May 17th 1990, which is when the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its list of “mental illnesses”.

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Why can’t Cardiff be like Copenhagen?

Posted in Bute Park, Cardiff, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 28, 2011 by telescoper

Walking into work this morning I was almost run over three different times by three different vehicles. The first was near the car park in Sophia Gardens, where there are signs and road marking clearly indicating that there is a speed limit of 5 mph but where the normal speed of cars is probably more like 35; the guy who nearly killed me was doing about 60.

Next, in Bute Park, a heavy lorry belonging to the Council, engaged in some sort of “tree-management” business, thundered along the footpath past me. These paths used to be marked 5mph too, but the Council removed all the signs when it decided to build a huge road into the Park and encourage more vehicles to drive around inside. The lorry wasn’t going as fast as the Boy Racer of Sophia Gardens, but the size of the truck made it just as scary.

Finally, using a green light at the pedestrian crossing at Park Place I was narrowly missed by another car who had clearly jumped a red light to get onto the dual carriageway (Dumfries Place) leading to Newport Road.

I have to say things like this aren’t at all unusual, but it is the first time I’ve had three close encounters in one day! Although most car drivers behave responsibly, there seems to be a strong concentration of idiots in Cardiff whose antics are exacerbated by the hare-brained Highways Department of the local council. There are many things to enjoy about living in Cardiff, and the quality of life here is very good for a wide range of reasons, but of all the cities I’ve lived in it is by a long way the least friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

If only Cardiff were like Copenhagen, one of the loveliest and most liveable cities I’ve ever experienced, partly because of traffic policies.

PS. In the interest of balance I should also point out that I was once actually hit on a pedestrian crossing in Cardiff by a bicycle steered by a maniac who went through a red light. In this case, however, I did manage to push him off his bike as he tried to get away, so he ended up more seriously hurt than I was. I was hoping that a friendly car would run over his bike, which was lying in the road, but sadly that didn’t happen.


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Come White Van Man to Bute Park Now…

Posted in Bute Park, Politics with tags , on November 20, 2010 by telescoper

If you needed any proof of Cardiff City Council’s dishonesty about the likely effects of their new road into Bute Park then just take a look at these examples of private vehicles littering this once beautiful site. I should also say that there used to be signs proclaiming a 5mph speed limit on the public footpaths, but these have all been taken away, giving the dreaded White Van Man a licence to drive at high speed around the Park. I’ve stopped walking through it, in fact, on my way to work in the mornings as it has become too unpleasant battling my way through the traffic. Much more of this and I’m afraid Bute Park just won’t be fit for humans…


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Scientology and Stupidity

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on July 20, 2010 by telescoper

The first bit of news that caught my eye this morning as I ate my toast was a local item about Councillor John Dixon of Cardiff City Council. I’m not a big fan of the Council, particularly their bizarre Highways Department which, on the one hand, is narrowing all the roads in the city centre causing ridiculous levels of traffic congestion and, on the other, has completed an appalling road into Bute Park for the purpose of promoting its use by heavy trucks and lorries. When I saw a councillor was in trouble and that the word “stupid” was involved, I assumed I knew what it would be about …

However, that turns out not to be true. The Councillor was on the receiving end of a complaint by the Church of Scientology because of something he posted on Twitter. The message was

I didn’t know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off.

The notoriously litigious “Church” complained to Cardiff City Council that this comment impinged on their right to religious freedom. The main point of the Scientologists’ argument was that offending tweet came from “CllrJohnDixon”, implying that he was acting in an official capacity. Indications are that Councillor Dixon has indeed transgressed the Council’s code of conduct and the case will be referred to their disciplinary committee.

This is an interesting situation that brought a number of questions to my mind. First is whether Councillor Dixon actually did anything wrong. I think it’s obvious that his comment wasn’t a criminal act. I doubt if it was actually defamatory either, so it’s unlikely to be involved in a civil case on that basis. However, he was identified as a Councillor and may well have acted contrary to the code of conduct that forms part of his terms of employment if the code of conduct says something about religious belief. That is a matter for the Council to decide and I don’t think it’s helpful to comment here, primarly because I don’t know what the Code of Conduct says.

The second question is whether one’s reaction to a quip that Scientologists are stupid should generate any different reaction to a similar remark about Christians. Or Muslims. Or any other religion. I’ve run into Scientologists myself and read a bit about their religion, which I regard as a hilarious  hotch-potch of laughable fantasies cobbled together by a tenth-rate Science Fiction author with the express purpose of duping the gullible and the vulnerable out of their cash. I believe that anyone caught up in it must indeed be a few sandwiches short of a picnic, but does that give me the right to say they’re “stupid” in public?

Actually, I think it does. And I think I should have the right to say such things about other religions too. For their part they also have the right to protest if they’re offended. But they do not or should not have the right for any form of legal redress simply because I expressed an opinion. I don’t have a problem with this, any more than I have a problem with lampooning people like Simon Jenkins for the stupid things they say.

I suspect there are atheists who think all religions and religious people are stupid, as well as religious people who think all religions are stupid other than the one they believe in. Then there are people, like me, who don’t follow any religion but also don’t think that all of them are totally silly. I think it’s a reasonable principle that the right to hold and to espouse religious beliefs should be respected, unless, of course, the religious beliefs in question contradict common law or basic morality. Should we consider racism or homophobia to be acceptable if motivated by religion but not if such views stem from an atheistic political philisophy?

Although I don’t have any particularly objective yardstick for judging how silly different religions are, and therefore find it quite difficult to be entirely even-handed in my attitudes to religions, I do find Scientology particularly ridiculous. But then looking at the Church of Scientology’s track-record I don’t feel the need to apologize for that.

Behind this is the whole issue of freedom of expression and the extent to which it should be limited, either by the law or by employment contracts. For a start, I know that nobody likes to be on the receiving end of abusive comments, but I can think of much worse examples than “stupid”. Abuse related to an individual’s beliefs also belong to a different category to those related to, for example, race, gender or sexual orientation. People choose their religion (as they do their political views) and while one must respect another’s right to have different opinions, that doesn’t mean those opinions should be immune from challenge or comment. That’s why I disagree with all laws, such as those relating to blasphemy, that put religious beliefs in some special category compared to other kinds of thought. I’m not so sure about laws relating to racist sexist or homophobic abuse. Part of me says that in a free society you have to put up with the freedom people have to be nasty. Another part says that people deserve legal protection from extreme forms of verbal abuse, especially when it becomes threatening to them or if they are in a vulnerable situation.

However, all this about laws is really irrelevant in this case (I think). Whatever the legal situation in the big wide world, employers have a right to decide on what sort of behaviour they will accept from their employees in their office. In many cases – especially, but by no means exclusively,  in the public sector – such things form part of the contract of employment. If an employee transgresses they should face disciplinary action. If that doesn’t happen, or it is done in a discriminatory way, then the whole system starts to look grossly hypocritical. Better surely not to have rules at all than to have them but use them only as window-dressing?

I think what I’m saying is that I think it’s at worst a bit impolite for a private individual to call Scientologists “stupid” but nothing more than that. It’s also perhaps a bit different for a Councillor to do so in their professional capacity than as a private individual. However, I myself would not say that the Church of Scientology itself is stupid. I think it’s much worse than that. I think it knows exactly what it’s doing.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens now in this case. I hope Councillor Dixon gets nothing more than a slap on the wrist. I fear, however, that the media spotlight will compel the Ethics committee to take more drastic measures. That would be a shame, especially when I can think of other examples where much worse and much more obvious  transgressions than this have gone completely unpunished by public bodies who have indeed also connived with the miscreant to conceal evidence of wrongdoing.

Cricket in the Park

Posted in Biographical, Bute Park, Cricket with tags , , , on May 24, 2010 by telescoper

I was walking home a couple of weeks ago and noticed that there were several cricket matches going on in the Park, just over the road from my house in Cardiff. I stopped to watch a few overs, taking one or two experimental pictures with my phone, and was quite impressed at the standard of play. Two distinctly lively quick bowlers were causing the batsmen quite a few problems, though they were not just blocking  but also taking every available opportunity to score. It was attritional, but absorbing stuff.

The use of these fields for cricket was interrupted in 2008 when the National Eisteddfod was held here in Cardiff, on this very spot. It tipped down with rain for the entire week and the fields turned to mud. It has taken the best part of two years for Cardiff City Council to repair the damage and get everything back to working order so that the many local clubs that use the fields here could resume their sporting activities. Of course they had nowhere to play for all that time, thanks to the fools at the Council who totally underestimated the time it would take, not to mention the amount it would cost. You can see in the foreground that some of the grass is still in need of attention.

Just a few hundred yards to the South (right in the picture) lies Sophia Gardens, and the SWALEC stadium home to Glamorgan Cricket Club, currently at the top of the Second Division of the County Championship. I hope the good weather stays with us long enough that I can actually get to see a decent amount of cricket once term finally finishes.

Incidentally, the view is roughly eastwards.  The River Taff flows from left to right, concealed by the trees which are part of the landscaping performed by Capability Brown. They don’t show up too well in the photo, but they were clearly carefully chosen to provide a variety of colour and texture, especially in the changing light of the spring sunshine.  Also hidden  is a weir (Blackweir), where the Dock Feeder Canal is taken off the river to supply water to the docks at Cardiff Bay, and a small bridge. On the far side of the river is Bute Park and, further South, Cardiff Castle.

I may not have a very big garden, but it’s lovely having this beautiful park just a short walk from the house. I hope the Council learn their lesson and stop buggering about with it.

The Bute Park Horror

Posted in Bute Park, Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 5, 2010 by telescoper

What could be nicer on lovely spring day than to take a walk through the local park? Even better if you live in the city of Cardiff, home to one of the largest areas of mature parkland in any urban setting, so you can take a stroll among lovely old trees and fields (landscaped by Capability Brown) in the shadow of a picturesque and historic castle.

At least that’s what it should be like. Unfortunately, Cardiff City Council has other ideas. Bute Park is currently being redeveloped by the Council in order to make it more accessible to lorries and other heavy vehicles. This is intended to allow more large-scale “Events” to take place on Coopers Fields, the area just behind Cardiff Castle.  Further commercial exploitation of this area will no doubt ensue. Despite vigorous opposition to the plans by regular users of the Park, including myself, and widespread condemnation in the press (including the esteemed organ Private Eye) the Council last year granted itself planning permission (surprise, surprise) to construct a new road into the heart of this precious “green lung”.

I’m depressed to say that work on the new road has gathered pace during the early months of this year. Irreplaceable trees have been felled, and a hideous new bridge is being built over the Dock Feeder Canal. Needless to say, all this construction is accompanied by frequent movement of heavy vehicles in and out of the park. Large areas are now out of bounds for pedestrians, and those that do bravely venture along the footpaths elsewhere have to vie with the trucks. Many of the paths have been resurfaced to make them more suitable for motor vehicles and the signs denoting the speed limit, which used to be 5 mph throughout, have now all been removed. It’s no fun sharing a footpath with a juggernaut doing 30 mph, I can tell you. Still, I suppose we better get used to it. Bute Lorry Park it’s going to be from now on.

I’ve just got one of those new-fangled Blackberry things (which I don’t know how to work yet). However, a few days ago I did use the old one to take a few pictures of the devastation on view from my usual route into work. The first one shows the view looking North from just behind the castle.

The Dock Feeder canal is just to the right. There used to be a relatively narrow trackway  running along the route taken shown here, which the Council decided to replace to make it more suitable for heavy road vehicles. Coopers’ Fields lie to the left and this road is used to bring equipment, temporary buildings etc for use there. On the Council’s literature this work is described as “resurfacing”, but, as you can see from the picture, in addition to the new tarmac surface they have taken the opportunity to construct a sort of lay-by which more-or-less doubles the width of the path. Here’s another view, showing the new stretch of tarmac snaking its way along the side of the canal. You can see more clearly the area of grassland onto which lorries will be driving in ever-increasing numbers. It would be easier for them to tarmac over the whole thing and be done with it.

Two short but wide spurs to the left cut into the fields, presumably to allow vehicles easier access to the grass in order to churn it up into a quagmire. Here’s a view taken from a vantage point to the left of that in the first picture, showing the dire state of disprepair that Coopers Fields are in anyway, even before the new regime of rapacious commercial exploitation. The grass has been left in this damaged state since last September. No doubt it will be similarly neglected in those brief future periods in between being covered by temporary buildings and mobile entertainments of various sorts.

To the left of the above picture you can also see the cranes involved in construction work further North. I’ve stopped walking in that part of the park because it’s just too dangerous. A main road far worse than the one shown here, and complete with traffic lights, now enters from North Road and cuts deep into the park in order to reach the Council’s nursery facility – the type for plants, not children – which is right next to the River Taff (which lies to the East of the site shown in the pictures). At least the Council says its so lorries can reach the nursery. But how many lorries are going to need to get to the nursery every day such that they require a whole new road to be built? I know I’m not the only one who thinks this is just a cover. Phase 2 of the operation isn’t hard to guess: an extension of the road Eastwards across the River Taff via a new road bridge to Sophia Gardens, completely bisecting Bute Park and creating a major thoroughfare to relieve congestion to the West.

If you think the Council wouldn’t dare, and that they’d never get away with it, just look at what they have got away with already. And not just here. The idiotic Highways Department of Cardiff City Council has been responsible for monstrosity after monstrosity in this city. Only now are they turning their attention to beautiful Bute Park. They must be stopped.