Friday, 21 December 2007

Council v Campaign Group - Cardiff Education in Focus

Here's my online article that I discussed in a blog a few months ago.

My video intro to the story

Cardiff Council is locked in a heated clash with a group of local residents in the east of the city over a proposal to build on an extensive green open space. The Council wants to knock down Rumney High and Llanrumney High Schools and build one new school and leisure centre where the two schools geographically meet – on the Llanrumney recreation ground.

The proposal is part of a plan to deal with long-standing problems in Cardiff’s school set-up. Councillor Bill Kelloway (pictured below) is in charge of Education in the Cardiff and is adamant that major changes need to be made to the organisation of Cardiff’s schools: “We have far more places in our schools than we have children to fill them - and a fifty to sixty million pound repairs backlog”.

The proposal has been met with indignation as the recreation ground has over five hundred trees and a number of football and rugby pitches. Eight thousand people have signed a petition launched by the Rumney Recreation and Eastern Leisure Centre Action Group to stop the development. The group organises popular campaign meetings at the local British Legion club and distributes leaflets to all the houses in the locality. During a recent meeting Don Taylor, the group's chairperson (pictured below), rallied his hundred and fifty troops to oppose the Council’s proposal. He explained to me why he is so passionate about holding on to the green space: “We’re in the middle of an urban sprawl, we need the open space. It’s our jewel in the crown, our oasis”.

Councillor Kelloway however wants people to remember that a significant proportion of the recreation ground would still be open for public use: "There would still be plenty of space there for pitches and for people to walk their dogs”. In fact around a third of the recreation ground would be taken up by the new school and leisure centre, which you can see in the Council’s diagram (below).

I decided to have a good look round the recreation ground and bumped into Joan Lathen (pictured below), a resident of Llanrumney, on her daily dog walk. She has been walking her dog round the rec for around thirty years and is angry with the Council: “I think it’s terrible, because so many people use the recreation ground, from children to pensioners. Everybody uses it all day long. It’ll be chaos if the school is built with the traffic and everything”.

(Click here to listen to my interview with Joan)
The Council has put its schools plan out for public consultation which ends today. Whether the Llanrumney proposal goes ahead or not will partly depend on the public’s response. As part of this consultation, a public meeting was organised to discuss the Llanrumney proposal. Two hundred disgruntled residents turned up with placards (pictured below) to let the Council officers and Councillor Bill Kelloway know their thoughts on the proposal. One of the first points from the floor summed up the sentiment in the room: “We’re all going to be fighting this, you won’t take our land off us”, and later in the two-and-a-half hour meeting, a lady shrieked to mighty applause: “We’ll demonstrate and say enough is enough, you're not going our parklands away from us!” .

However this meeting, like the Rumney Recreation and Eastern Leisure Centre Action Group meetings, was dominated by people in their sixties and above - you do wonder whether everyone in the community would agree with the campaign to stop the development. How about the parents of the children who would benefit from the new school on the site? I spoke to Bill Kelloway at his office in County Hall and this was the point he wanted to get across to the community: “Don’t be blinkered. Look at the advantages to the community, particularly to the schools communities, who at present are operating in pretty sub-standard conditions.”

But Don Taylor and the rest of the campaign group believe the new school and leisure centre would not only take away precious green space but also cause serious problems for the community with the inevitable increase in traffic that a new school would bring. They are determined to get their voice heard: “We will fight it; they have to listen to us. They have to respond to the voice of the people.”

If the controversial proposal goes ahead, by September 2012 there will be a new school and leisure centre for the Rumney and Llanrumney community on their beloved recreation ground.

A new school here in 2012? The Llanrumney recreation ground

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