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Deputy Minister for Climate Change disappointed at decision to allow cars back into Cardiff City Centre

THE Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS has spoken about the decision of Cardiff Council to widen Castle Street using £300k of the clean air fund.

Protesters marched on City Hall to demand Cardiff council rethink the reopening of Castle Street as the Welsh Government said it is ‘disappointed’ cars would return.

About 60 people walked from Cardiff Castle on Thursday, June 17, along the road on Duke Street, North Road and Boulevard de Nantes, before gathering outside City Hall.

Raising air pollution concerns, they were protesting the cabinet’s decision on the same day to reopen Castle Street to private cars this autumn, after the road was closed a year ago.

In an interview with media student Elkanah Evans today, Friday (Jun 18) the Deputy Minister said he was disappointed seeing cars back in the city centre.

Elkanah asked Mr. Waters, if politicians were ignoring the voices of the communities and allowing highly polluted areas to go unchecked and neglected to the point where residents actually suffer ill health from the high levels of pollution.

Elkanah added: “In Cardiff alone, plans have been approved to extend Castle Street by an extra lane and narrow the pavements. Surely this deters eco-friendly travel and promotes more pollution in the form of even more car usage than before?”

Aberystwyth University media student Elkanah Evans

He asked Mr. Waters: “When can I as a young adult feel that my politicians including yourself are listening to us and will make the changes we so desperately need to ensure our children don’t suffer from the neglect of politicians today?”

The Deputy Minister replied: “I think the premise of your question I would challenge as it is a very ‘Us and Them’ way of framing a very difficult and complicated set of circumstances. There is no us and them in this, we’re all in the same boat because we’re all facing the impacts of climate change. The report of the UK climate change committee out this week confirmed that we are facing catastrophic effects if we don’t urgently and boldly tackle this problem. Just to outline the scale of the challenge we face, we are going to have to make double the number of cuts in the next ten years that we’ve made in the whole of the last thirty years if we are going to keep within the 1.5 degree centigrade rise that the Paris Agreement set out.

“Even with that, we are still facing a dangerous climate change because the impact of the carbon we’ve emitted until now are baked in so we are going to have more unstable weather, wetter winters, wilder winters, dryer summers and droughts commonplace with far reaching consequences.

“That’s going to face us all so phrasing the question in the way you phrased it I think reinforces the sense of ‘these people over there doing things to us we don’t like’. That is just not the way it is. because we’ve all got to figure this out together. Politicians are elected and they are generally as a group of people want to as you say to represent the people they are elected to represent. A lot of people they represent don’t want change, so the way you phrase this question does neglect the whole complexity of the interplay between those two things. How do we as people who are elected to lead create a situation where people are willing to make the choices to change.

“It’s not just me issuing an edict that says ‘we must do this’. People have got to be prepared to go along with that and that I think is the real challenge of leadership around climate change. Bringing people to the point where they are happy to do the things we need to do.

“Now the example you quote of Castle Street is an interesting one. There you have contrasting with the situation in Sandy Road in Llanelli where in Cardiff you have a Labour Council who have been the boldest in Wales in making decisions to take space away from cars across the city something like ten miles of segregated cycle lanes through the city in the last year or so. Contrast that in Carmarthenshire where none of that has been done. The focus has been on the rural cycle path through the Towy Valley, rather than addressing the every day journeys of tackling climate change and air quality.

“Now in Cardiff, we are going to have a permanent bus lane and a permanent bike lane right through the centre of the city. Through Coronavirus they banned cars all-together. What they found was that simply shifts the problem elsewhere, so you’re displacing the problem. In areas of Riverside and Canton in Cardiff you are having higher levels of air pollution in residential areas because the traffic has been diverted. They have taken the view, and this is about councils, so another complexity that you aren’t touching on where there are different levels of responsibilities in decision making here. Local roads and local air quality is the responsibility primarily of the local councils who are elected and up for re-election next year.

“They have made the decision there that they want to allow one lane of traffic each way through the city centre to try and address that displacement, and we will see how that goes. I spoke to the leader of Cardiff Council this week. I made it clear that I was disappointed to see cars coming back into the city centre, but it is their decision, and overall they’ve made a huge amount of progress and shown courage that others haven’t.

“What he made clear was that they will need to see how it works and they would monitor that very carefully. If they see adverse effects of that then they are willing to look at it again.

“The situation we’re dealing with in Sandy Road is a legacy of previous decisions made so its not a question about politicians who have made decisions and decided to do these things. What happens in practice is that incremental decisions are made. So a decision is made about planning of a housing development for example, not looking at the whole impact of that on congestion and air quality and the impact on the sewer system. Those are made in isolated silos and thats what we need to get away from. And to be fair, the Labour MP and a Labour MS at the time opposed the development of that estate because they predicted just what has happened would happen. So what is frustrating for me and for Nia Griffith is that we are now getting it in the neck for a set of decisions that we didn’t favour in the first place. We warned it would cause adverse effects. We asked the council to consult with the community before the traffic lights were put up on Sandy Road for a plan for the area. At each point they have done the minimum necessary and taken as long as they possibly can to get to the table. Now at last we have some proposals for dealing with the congestion but not dealing with the overall air quality. One of the things we have committed to as a government is to introduce an air quality act. One of the things the act will do is to make sure that the air quality management plans that are put in place when there are poor areas of air quality and there is one in place for Llanelli has to have targets and dates next to it as well as producing a plan which is what the county do they have to make sure they follow through with it and that’s not what’s happening currently locally.

Elkanah asked if using the clean air fund to extend the road and narrow pavements on Castle Street in Cardiff was one foot forward and one big step back for clean air.

Lee Waters replied: “It is not my understanding they are going to be narrowing pavements. They have extended the space available for sustainable transport. There used to be four lanes of traffic outside of Cardiff Castle. There is now going to be a permanent cycle lane and a permanent bus lane right through the city. In terms of how that is funded we agreed an air quality plan with the council and this is what the air quality plan said and we provided some funding for that. I have made clear to Cardiff Council that this is a temporary measure. If they want to make that permanent then we won’t be funding it.”

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