THE First Minister has been urged to ask Cardiff council to keep Castle Street closed to private cars.
Mark Drakeford defended the decision, taken by the council last Thursday on Clean Air Day, to reopen the busy city centre road.
Castle Street has been closed to private traffic for a year, and open to only buses and taxis since last November. The road will reopen to cars, however, this autumn.
The controversial decision sparked a protest, criticism from backbench Labour councillors, and now a row in the Senedd, during First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday, June 22.
Rhys ab Owen, Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales Central, said: “There are complaints in Riverside, Grangetown and Pontcanna about an increase in pollution levels. But we must move people away from the use of private cars, and reopening a road isn’t a solution to that.
“First Minister, could I urge you to please speak to Cardiff council and to encourage them to consider this move and to close Castle Street once again to private vehicles?”
The closure of the road led to drivers polluting nearby residential streets even more, Mr Drakeford said. He added that reopening Castle Street would “protect” residents living on those streets from air pollution.
The First Minister said: “The choice the council has made is a very difficult one. The closure of Castle Street did not simply lead to people leaving their cars at home. It led them to using their cars in other ways. It led them to using their cars to travel instead through some of the poorest parts of our city, where the air quality is already not what it needs to be.
“The figures the council has obtained, not from themselves but by independent analysts, show that the closure of Castle Street had that detrimental effect on residential streets in a way that Castle Street is not a residential street.
“It’s not going back to four lanes of traffic in front of the castle. It’s back to two lanes of traffic, as we had agreed [before the pandemic], with bus and bike lanes added.
“It will, for now, protect those people in those residential streets whose lives had been adversely impacted by the closure of Castle Street.
“That’s the balance that the council has struck, and until we are able to do longer term things to reduce the use of cars altogether, it is a balance that is entirely defensible.”