Welsh Green Dragon


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.

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Drainage is well underway at Llanishen Reservoir by Chris Halpin

Video Report by Chris Halpin and Jennie Clark

Llanishen Reservoir Action Group have been campaigning tirelessly for almost ten years to save one of North Cardiff’s largest green spaces from the developers.

In what some campaigners have called a battle of David against Goliath, the action group (or RAG for short), are taking on the reservoirs owners, Western Power Distribution, who want to build hundreds of new houses in its place. Western Power are the UK subsidiary of American firm Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL), thought to be worth £7.5 billion.

Brief history

Constructed in 1884, Llanishen was part of a network of freshwater reservoirs that brought water down from the Brecon Beacons to be used as drinking water in the ever expanding city of Cardiff.

It ceased to be used for this purpose about 35 years ago, and was sold off by Margaret Thatcher in the eighties when water companies were privatised.

Despite not being used for drinking water now, over the years it has become a valued recreational amenity for walkers, fishermen and aspiring sailors.

However, over the past decade its owners Western Power have gradually restricted access to the public, and soon its final users, Llanishen Sailing Centre, won’t be able to use it either.

Once the water level is too low, about 3 metres below normal, the sailors simply won’t be able to get their boats in and out of the water.

The dispute about draining down

Western Power claim they’re emptying the reservoir in accordance with a survey they had commissioned in 2008. They say they need to inspect underwater pipe work for safety reasons – these pipes lying on the bottom of the reservoir and can only be accessed through drainage, according to the report.

In light of newer evidence and an original copy of the Victorian reservoirs building specification, RAG have since had their own survey commissioned. This says the pipes are not where Western Power maintain, and in fact are encased in concrete underneath the reservoir. RAG are therefore arguing that this completely negates any reason to be draining down the water.

Although Western Power have been denied planning permission for this redevelopment twice, campaigners fear that once the water is drained it will never fully refill, as water levels are only kept stable through rainwater. They are concerned the empty reservoir will become an eyesore, and the council will eventually give in to redevelopment as a lesser of the two evils.

Silt and the threat to Roath Park Lake

Western Power are allowed to drain off the top three metres of water but the Environment Agency say they are monitoring the levels closely to make sure they do not exceed this. If Western Power drain off more than this there is the risk that over a century of underlying silt could be disturbed and enter the Nant Fawr stream, which is where the reservoir’s water is being pumped into. This flows into Roath Park lake and campaigners also fear wildlife there could be affected. The Environment Agency called on Western Power not to empty, but drainage began at the end of February.

Protected Status and Government support

The structure of the reservoir has been listed by CADW as historically important, the banks are protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the area surrounding it which is owned by Cardiff Council has been made a nature reserve.

Western Power is trying to refute each level of this protected status, and RAG estimates the company have spent around £10 million pounds on legal fees trying to get each of them overturned and appealing the rejected planning applications.

Cardiff Council and the Welsh Assembly are supporting campaigners, with MP for Cardiff North Julie Morgan and Assembly Member Jenny Randerson personally involved. Julie Morgan also recently voiced her frustrations to Welsh Secretary Peter Hain in the House of Commons, which allowed previously confidential information about findings in the engineers surveys to be reported in the press, under parliamentary privilege.

How to join in the campaign

If you want to join the fight to save the reservoir, you can sign the online petition here,  follow regular updates on the Wales Online blog, or discuss it on this forum.