Welsh Green Dragon

City Car Club Launches in Cardiff by deanjpoolman

There’s a new, greener way to travel in Cardiff and it still involves the car. It’s called the City Car Club.

Based in Leeds, the City Car Club lets you hire a car by the hour in 14 cities across the UK and the scheme arrived in Wales last month.

Cardiff’s City Car Club was launched in partnership with the council and it was officially unveiled on Tuesday, December 7th by the Leader of the Council, Cllr Rodney Berman and Executive Member for Traffic and Transport, Cllr Delme Bowen.

The scheme is being funded by the Welsh Assembly Government, as part of a project to make Cardiff a “sustainable travel city”.

However, it was also public demand, which attracted the City Car Club to Cardiff, as Richard Drew who manages the scheme here explains:

[Audio http://audioboo.fm/boos/239458-richard-from-city-car-club-cardiff-explains-why-they-chose-to-launch-in-cardiff.mp3%5D

City Car Club - Cardif Launch

Launch of the City Car Club in Cardiff with Cllr Rodney Berman and Cllr Delme Bowen (Courtesy of City Car Club)

It’s hoped the scheme will reduce pollution and congestion in the city, because research has shown car clubs reduce the number of cars on the road.

The independent charity, Carplus believes “one car club car replaces around 24.5 private cars”, which means the initial delivery of City Car Club vehicles in the city could remove 245 cars from the roads of Cardiff.

Reducing the number of cars on the road isn’t the only environmental benefit of a car club scheme, Carplus also state that car club cars are more environmentally friendly and produce less carbon dioxide than the cars they replace.

At the moment, there are 10 low-emission Ford Fiestas available to hire across the city, with cars located in the City Centre, Cathays, Riverside, Pontcanna and Cardiff Bay. However, two more locations are due to open soon:

City Car Club Fiesta – King Edward VII Avenue

City Car Club Fiesta – King Edward VII Avenue

Every car available through the scheme is fully maintained and comprehensively insured by the City Car Club and each location has a space permanently reserved for the vehicle, so users should not have a problem parking at the end of their hire period.

But are these perks enough to make people sell their cars and join the scheme?

Heather, aged 49 from Cardiff: “I’m not a particularly confident driver, so I’m only happy driving my car. I’m used to driving it.”

Daniel, aged 29 from Newport: “I don’t come into Cardiff that often, so it’s unlikely I’d use one here, but I might if they were in Newport”

Mike, aged 46 from Cardiff: “I would have to look into it a bit more, find out about the cost and how the insurance works, things like that, but I’ll definitely look into it”

Only people who have paid a membership fee of £50 for the scheme and have received a smart membership card can gain access to the cars, as Richard Drew told Welsh Green Dragon:

[Audio http://audioboo.fm/boos/239476-richard-from-city-car-club-cardiff-explains-how-the-scheme-works.mp3%5D

The hourly cost of using a car club scheme can even be cheaper than owning a car, which means the benefits are not purely environmental, they are also economical.

Research conducted by the RAC last year suggests that car clubs are more financially beneficial for those who drive less than 8000 miles per year, while Carplus say those who drive less than 6000 miles a year can save £3500 a year by using a car club.

However, the scheme isn’t available to everyone in Cardiff with a driving licence:

  • Under 19 years olds cannot join the club.
  • Drivers who have held their driving license for less than 12 months are not permitted.
  • Members aged 19 or 20 years old have to pay £10 per month (in addition to the £50 annual membership fee) to cover higher insurance premiums.
  • Drivers with more than six points on their license may not be eligible (This is checked during the application process)

The City Car Club isn’t the first pay-as-you-go travel scheme to launch in Cardiff. Back in September 2009, OYBike launched in Cardiff allowing people to hire one of 70 pedal bikes from 10 locations around the city.


Is the fight lost to save Llanishen Reservoir? by Chris Halpin

Is this the end?

It seems after months of draining Llanishen reservoir in North Cardiff is finally empty.

Welsh Green Dragon was there back in February when Western Power Distribution, who own the water body, started draining down the water for a reported safety inspection.

Although at the time the water level was falling, young sailors were still having lessons and it continued to be a valued recreational amenity for people living in northern Cardiff.

However after a local resident recently sent the photograph at the top of this piece to us,  it seems the pumps have been turned off and the stark reality of the drain down has been revealed.

What was once a large open mass of water is now a boggy bowl of mud.

Agencies have ‘not done enough’

Campaigners fighting to save the reservoir have always contested the need to drain down the reservoir and that it amounted to ecological and environmental vandalism.

Local anglers have also accused the Environment Agency of not doing enough to protect the fish whose habitat has been destroyed.

Argument that a recent move by Cardiff City council to officially make the area around the reservoir a nature reserve will save it from being redeveloped into a housing estate is optimistic.

Not much protection has been afforded so far by the listing of the structure by CADW or by the minimal intervention from the Environment Agency. Nor have objections by local MP’s or councillors.

Now it’s empty it really does look like there’s no going back.

A piece on the Lisvane News last week asked ‘Is the fight to save Llanishen reservoir almost won?’. I’d have to argue otherwise. Put simply – what is a reservoir without any water?

When will the inspection of the pipes start?

Western Power have always maintained they must drain the water to examine pipes they said sat on the bed of the reservoir.

They don’t seem to be there and as Llanishen RAG‘s surveyors said all along it seems the pipes must be encased in concrete underneath the bottom layer of the structure.

We’ll just have to wait and see how long it takes for this ‘inspection work’ to happen.

What next?

If the reservoir stays empty a number of things will most certainly change.

Damage could be caused to the linings of the clay lined walls as the Victorian banks of the reservoir dry out.

This means it could become structurally unsafe and not be strong enough to ever hold water again.

Despite South Wales rainfall being heavy – it’s thought it could take as long as a decade to refill naturally.

And local residents will no longer be fighting for a reservoir, they’ll be fighting for a swampy brown pit. One wonders how long it will be until support for the Reservoir Action Group will start to wane.

It seems this could be the end for the reservoir, and instead of being a triumph for the locals, they’ve been trampled on by a multinational company who favour profit over the environment.

Let’s hope this isn’t the end for Llanishen and the Lisvane News is right.

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

Dai the Dragon steals the show at ‘The Wave’ by Chris Halpin

This is the last call for the 7.00am bus from Cardiff next stop…

Despite  a very early start and it being a pretty dismal December day, people turned out in droves to march on the Houses of Parliament in London to demand action on controlling Climate Change.

The morning started for me with an early coach ride laid on by The Co-operative from Cardiff where I met a very friendly bunch of people from around South East Wales. I asked Christian, who’s a social worker from Cardiff, why he forfeited his lie in for a day of demonstrating.

After shamelessly plugging this blog I set about my mammoth task of documenting the day, which you may have seen on our twitterfeed and you can also listen to in the podcast/documentary that will be on the site by the end of the week.

… London Grosvenor Square

When we arrived in London, Dai the Blue Dragon emerged from his cave (well the underpass off Park Lane) to join the throng of people gathered for The Wave rally and march which would set off from Grosvenor Square.

At one o’clock the procession of blue began to snake its way through central London bringing traffic to a standstill and leaving tourists and onlookers bemused on the pavement. Bands played, drums were beaten, as we passed The Ritz and Picadilly Circus in a steady trickle towards our final destination, Westminster bridge.

Despite the numbers and strong feeling amongst campaigners, the day’s event passed by without trouble, except for a handful of climate change deniers who shouted abuse from outside the cordon as the procession reached Trafalgar Square.

Who represented Wales at ‘The Wave’?

I joined campaigners from the Stop Climate Chaos Cymru Coalition which included representatives from Oxfam and Friends of the Earth, and asked them why taking part in The Wave was important. I spoke to Haf Elgar, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth Cymru, who has been planning Wales’ presence at The Wave for months. I asked what she thought about the ‘ClimateGate’ scandal at the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia.

I also spoke to Luned Jones, who is a campaign officer for Oxfam Cymru who I managed to tear away from leading the welsh Stop Climate Chaos brigade for a mini interview. I asked her about the policing of the event.

On that note, one policeman confessed how he was glad to be at a protest which he could actually sympathise with, and how the atmosphere was more reminiscent of a carnival than a highly charged political rally.

The culmination of the day’s event was ‘The Wave’ itself, where by 3pm the line had completely encircled parliament. When Big Ben bonged three times, 50,000 pairs of hands painted blue or snug within gloves waved frantically towards the Palace of Westminster. Right on cue the heavens opened; what a great irony.

By three the protest was over and we were shepherded to the buses. Cheers for campaigning, now go home please! If there were a competition for the best protest declaration, Dai the Dragon would have come first. He got a lot of media attention and earned his spot on Sky News, BBC national news and BBC Online on Saturday. When he crossed the line we had shouts of ‘well done Wales’- we felt like we had run a marathon.

Was it all worth it?

The question is how succesful was the demonstration? It certainly gained plenty of media attention and recognition from our government, with Gordon Brown inviting 24 Stop Climate Chaos representatives to 10 Downing Street afterwards. Ed Miliband was also getting involved at the start of the protest down in Grosvenor Square doing interviews from the top of the media bus. Whether it will influence the politicians at the Copenhagen summit still remains to be seen.

I think its useful however to put the numbers into context. Fifty thousand people is a lot, but not extraordinary – you only have to look at the Anti War rallies in 2003 where an estimated one million people took to the streets in opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

Arguably, the threat of imminent war is more real than the omnipresent and invisible threat that Climate Change poses. In the developed world, and especially northern hemisphere, we are yet to see any lasting effects of climate change; it’s the poorest nations and far away shores who are suffering first. Yet climate change will affect everybody eventually and could have catastrophic consequences. The fact that the amassed crowd is representative of only 1,240th of the population of Britain is alarming.

A few of my colleagues went out into Cardiff today to randomly ask shoppers about what they thought of the Copenhagen Summit starting. Many people busy doing their Christmas chopping gave blank expressions and didn’t know a thing about what they were being asked. Other cynical people who had heard of the summit thought it was just the politicians’ excuse to ‘go on a jolly’.

I hate to end on a pessimistic note as you couldn’t help but feel upbeat after spending the day with like-minded environmentally aware people at ‘The Wave’. Unfortunately it seems that back in the real wide world such progressive thinkers are in the minority.

Eating our way to sustainability. by Chris Halpin

How can we be more sustainable through going shopping? Head down to your local farmers market apparently – I braved some blustery conditions over the weekend down at Riverside Farmer’s market in Cardiff and this is what one shopper had to say about the experience.

Eating more locally grown produce and reducing food waste were just two of the things spoken of at a debate that I went along to as part of Cardiff University’s sustainability week.

In a question time styled debate, a panel including Environment Minister Jane Davidson,  Dr Pam Robinson, School of Social Sciences (who knows her stuff about the supermarkets),  and Professor Kevin Morgan (of an Urban and Regional governance background), fielded questions from a fully charged audience of academics and students.

The most enigmatic of the bunch was Steve Garrett, who is the founder of the Riverside and Roath Farmers markets. Agriculture, farming and food production is one of the biggest contributors to global warming, and with populations set to rise food shortages will become a huge issue.

A big question is, how can you ensure a level playing field when supermarkets have economies of scale on their side to drive down prices and squeeze a farmer’s profit margins ever lower? Remember the dairy price fixing allegations of the ‘big four’ by the Office of Fair Trading in 2008? Even then the OFT got its fingers burnt with claims of defamation, so the supermarkets certainly have some legal clout behind them.

It’s inevitably about cultural change; how can people be persuaded it’s wrong to eat strawberries in December after accruing thousands of air miles to get to the fruit aisle?

There are some good reasons why people should make a farmer’s market a higher priority for their weekly shop.

There is a general misconception that farmers markets are for the bourgeoisie, and although there were stalls with specialist cheese’s and olives at riverside, you could still get all the staples. Also people fear that farmers markets just aren’t as cheap as the supermarkets, although that wasn’t according to the people i asked.

With pros there usually always come a few cons though.

So there are clearly things that a farmers market can’t do that the supermarkets can. Perhaps the answer is a mixture of the two, and this is something that was suggested at the debate.

Anyway back to the point, what are the three key things people need to do eat more sustainably?

  1. Eat less meat
  2. Eat locally grown seasonal food
  3. Throw less food away

Sounds simple. However, we’re struggling to get to grips with the thought of having to pay for plastic bags here in Wales, so the Welsh Assembly need to come up with something good to get people away from the supermarkets and out buying more locally produced food. Maybe they could even teach us how to grow our own!

Battle of the barrage – is the Severn tidal barrage under threat? by Chris Halpin

With one of the largest tidal ranges in the world, the Severn estuary has been mooted as the ideal place to harvest the earth’s kinetic energy since as early as 1925. Various schemes have been and gone, with most unable to justify themselves economically.

The latest proposal links Weston-super-Mare to Cardiff with a 10 mile long barrage, which could provide an annual energy output of up to 15GW, looked set to follow them last week with rumours in the Times on Friday that the government was pulling the plug.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change quickly responded to the article saying that nothing of the sort had yet been decided and that instead they were awaiting results of the latest feasibility study. With talk of savage cuts by the government as the recession still has us tightly in its grasp, I’m not entirely surprised that plans for sustainable energy schemes are facing the chop first – their denial seems mightily flimsy if you ask me.

Environmentally controversial

The Severn barrage has divided opinion among environmentalists for many years; it’s clean green energy but will displace thousands of birds in the estuary who rely on the mud as a bountiful feeding ground.  However, the environmental trade off is that water levels will rise with global warning anyway, and such habitats will still be lost.

Redshank looking for lunch

With the draw that this mega-barrage (set to be the largest tidal power station in the world) will be able to produce up to 5 per cent of the UK’s annual energy input, surely it’s a step in the right direction to cutting carbon emissions and hitting EU and global targets. Or the alternative is investing in nuclear, which will no doubt provide us with cheap energy and we’ll continue in our current wasteful ways. Ed Miliband’s proposals from July reported in the Guardian look set to slip if the barrage project does run aground.

Fellow WGD blogger Tanya and I recorded a radio two way interview on the whole debacle if you’ve got a spare three minutes.

Hanging in the balance – you can’t make everyone happy

The messages seem to be mixed, and obviously you can’t please every corner, but surely cleaner and more efficient energy production should prevail. There seem to be a multitude of arguments weighing up the pros and cons of the barrage, some stronger than others. As I’m no expert on the subject I wouldn’t want to belittle any of the arguments against as I am sure they are very valid, but I would see it as a crying shame if a barrage of some sort was not given the go ahead. Of course it would be a bad thing for thousands of birds to lose their habitat, but that’s what’s going to happen to us if we don’t face up to climate change and start to produce clean energy.

Ed Miliband in the Severn Estuary to see one of the proposed lines for the barrage - July 2009

Oooo , I’ve just read that back and it doesn’t half sound melodramatic – theres nothing like a mini Monday melodrama! I’m not saying that I’m entirely for the barrage, I just feel mightily deflated that the government seem to be abandoning a scheme that to all intents and purposes is a step in the right direction. The proposed alternatives to the bombastic Cardiff-Weston barrage might just give the concept the nip and tuck it needs here and there for it to please even the most ardent of bird lovers.