Welsh Green Dragon

A bridge too far? by tanyamercer
At the beginning of this week Bute Park was awarded the accolade of the best park in Wales in Britain’s Best Park competition, for the second year in a row.

The park is a popular retreat for Cardiff’s residents and visitors. It offers somewhere to escape the busy hubbub of the city centre. Somewhere for people to stroll on a Sunday afternoon. Somewhere to walk the dog or go for a jog.

It is always, whatever the weather, a hive of activity.

Cardiff Castle and Bute Park

And it has been this way since 1947 when a significant area of the Bute Park grounds was given to the people of Cardiff by the fifth Marquess of Bute.

Presentation of Bute Park 1947

Since then it has been expanded and developed. A variety of rare and ornamental trees have been planted to form the Bute Park Arboretum. Forty eight of these trees now have Champion Tree status – for being the biggest or best example of their species in the UK.

The park has won numerous green awards for its sustainable development and management.

But recently, Cardiff Council has been criticised for its proposed developments of the park. A group of local residents and academics have formed a group – the Bute Parks Alliance – to campaign against the Council’s developments.

Last week tree specialists starting felling 21 of Bute Park’s nationally significant trees. The felling is part of the £5.6 million Bute Park Restoration Plan.

Funded by over £3.1 million pounds from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the plan is to restore some of the important historic features within the park, including the medieval Blackfriars site and the Victorian animal wall. The council also hopes to provide new facilities for visitors and improve accessiblity to the park.

As part of this work the council is building a new bridge into the park from North Road. The council says the £1.4m constuction will direct heavy articulated lorries away from the busiest parts of the park and give them better access to the nursery in the centre of the park. But local residents say the bridge will destroy an important part of the park and allow more traffic into the area.

The council says the trees need to be felled because they are diseased or dead. According to the council, the trees have been independently surveyed and recommended for removal on arboricultural grounds.

Tree management work in Bute Park

But Professor Kevin Morgan, an expert in city development and chair of the Bute Parks Alliance, says he’s concerned there hasn’t been enough research into this.

The Bute Parks Alliance is also concerned that the council are removing healthy trees. Campaigners say they are suspicious that some of the trees are positioned so close to the controversial new bridge and the road leading to the nursery.

I asked Councillor Nigel Howells, Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Parks, if there was any truth behind this accusation.

Councillor Howells says the bridge is an important part of the park’s development. He believes it will reduce vehicle mileage in the park and direct traffic away from the popular area around the north gate.

But Professor Morgan thinks there has not been enough sustainable planning behind the bridge. He believes that the bridge development has been led instead by the council’s desire to cater for big events in Cardiff.

The next stages of development for the park will begin in the spring with the restoration of the animal wall.

Racoons on the animal wall that borders part of Bute Park

Developments will then continue with the conservation and preservation of the medieval Blackfriars site, preserved sections of the nineteenth century planted layout and the twentieth century Arboretum.

The stone circle in Bute Park

In addition, new visitor facilities will be provided, including a training and education centre, better seating, path surfaces and signage, improved visitor information, public toilets and refreshment outlets.

Professor Morgan says he hopes the future developments of the park will balance ecological, social and cultural needs in consultation with local people.

There are many aspects of this project that local residents support. Improved interpretation and facilities throughout the park and the restoration of its historical features are welcome developments.

But many local people are alarmed that despite the opposition and campaigning the bridge is still going ahead. They are suspicious that the council is not listening to their concerns and a distrust of the council has started to develop. Many people feel the decisions taken over the bridge have not considered the longevity of the park’s tranquillity and character.

It is, for them, a bridge too far.

To listen to the full interviews with Councillor Nigel Howells and Professor Kevin Morgan, please click on the links below.

Councillor Howells

Professor Kevin Morgan