Archive for Cardiff City Council

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.

Nooks and Corners

Posted in Bute Park with tags , on November 30, 2008 by telescoper

bute-park-storyAs a subscriber to the esteemed organ Private Eye, I was delighted to see that the November 28th 2008 issue carried this article about Cardiff City Council’s disgraceful plans for Bute Park, and the bewildering behaviour of the Welsh Heritage Lottery Fund in supporting the proposal to increase the traffic of articulated lorries through it.

I understand there is to be a public meeting to discuss this on Friday December 12th, but the organizers are having some difficulty finding a representative of the Council who is willing to defend their conduct. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I also hope that it is not too late to persuade the Council to abandon their ridiculous scheme.

I have complained before about precisely the attitude noted in the Eye, namely that the Council sees its Parks mainly as venues for promotional events and other commercialised ventures, whereas I think a Park is best kept as a Park so people can enjoy a bit of Mother Nature in the middle of the City.

As it happens I walked  through Bute Park this afternoon on my way back from Cardiff Bay where I had been paying the deposit and ordering wine for a forthcoming Christmas celebration in one of the restaurants down there. It wasn’t too cold (considering it is the last day of November) primarily because there was very little wind so I walked there and back from my house, doing a little shopping on the way.

The Council gardeners have been hard at work preparing the borders and plots for the winter so these look pretty bare at the moment. The brown fallen leaves blend with the green of the lawns to produce a variegated groundscape which is very beautiful. Enough colour remains amongst the trees because of the presence of evergreens of various types thoughtfully planted amongst the deciduous trees.  On a bright day like this the lack of leaves on other trees really opens up the sightlines in the park so one gets a wonderful sense of space. The landscaping isn’t all that obvious when the woods are thick with greenery, but at this time of year through the minimal foliage the gentle undulations created by Capability Brown can be clearly seen. The Park is more spartan than in the summer, though not at all less enjoyable.

I love to see how Nature marks the passage of time like this. I would hate to live somewhere where the sun shines everyday and where the seasons offer no variety. With winter coming on there’s a sense of battening down the hatches and preparing for the tough times that might lie ahead, but also a reminder that eventually the cycle will begin again in the spring.  There’s a sense of peace that comes from being attuned to this reality that is deeply therapeutic and which, in modern life, especially in cities, is an increasingly rare experience. Please, Council, don’t take this away from Cardiff!

Event Horizon

Posted in Bute Park with tags , on October 29, 2008 by telescoper

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.