WalesOnline’s sister paper the South Wales Echo began fighting to help save Llanishen Reservoir 10 years ago – a fight that ended on Thursday, when the Welsh Government threw out Western Power Distribution’s plans to turn the site into a housing estate. Abbie Wightwick looks back at the ups and downs of a decade-long battle.
When US firm Western Power Distribution first announced plans to build 346 houses on the site of a treasured Cardiff beauty-spot, the proposals caused uproar.
Residents quickly launched campaign group the Reservoir Action Group and the Echo agreed to back them.
Over the years, as support for the campaign grew, the Echo was there every step of the way.
And that coverage was crucial in keeping the reservoir’s plight in the public eye, the campaign’s former chairman Andrew Hill said.
Mr Hill, who stepped down as chair last month after moving away from the city, is still part of the campaign and says the backing of a strong local paper ensured residents were heard.
“The Echo kept us in the public eye,” said Mr Hill.
“This wasn’t just a local campaign, it was about safeguarding something for the whole city.
“The Echo wrote about what was happening on the front pages and the middle pages. There was always something happening.
“The local paper is hugely important in showing we had backing.
“When nothing seemed to be happening, the Echo kept up with articles showing the campaign was carrying on and still needed support.
“It stopped people giving up and kept up membership.”
Campaigners knew a high-profile and money-raising were vital for the campaign to succeed, said Mr Hill.
The group spent more than £80,000 on barristers’ fees during its long battle, fighting its corner in enquiries and planning debates with money raised by local campaigners.
“When the council pledged to re-start sailing on the reservoir the Echo ran an article asking people to pledge money for facilities and builders offered their services free,” recalled historic buildings consultant Mr Hill. “The Echo publicised fundraising walks we held and some articles were even submitted to the planning inquiries.”
He said the fight had been “a constant grind” and without the support of so many people across the city, it would have been harder and some may have lost heart.
Over the years we reported the highs and lows from the first plans by WPD to build a 324-property estate on the reservoir in 2002 to the plans being thrown out last week.
We reported fury at sailing being stopped on the water and at WPD announcing access to the site would end in 2004.
There was a glimmer of hope in 2005 when the banks of the reservoir were designated a site of special scientific interest and we reported WPD’s failed High Court bid against that. With arguments going to and fro planning minister Jane Davidson rejected WPD’s second appeal against Cardiff council’s rejection of its plans in 2009 but still the company threatened to drain the site.
When the planning appeal was re-opened in 2011 we helped keep the story alive, talking to opponents and reporting fundraising activities as well as following the legal process.
Last week, when the Welsh Government finally threw out the appeal to build houses, the story was once more on our front page.
But that’s not the end.
WPD could still appeal against the decision in the High Court on grounds of a legal flaw.
Mr Hill thinks that’s unlikely but says even if WPD do finally back down the story of Llanishen Reservoir isn’t over yet – though the next chapter should a happy one.
With the empty site costing WPD around £80,000 a year to lie empty, perhaps now is the time for the company to gift it to the council to hand back to local people as a leisure place, he suggests.
“RAG could be re-started as a fundraising body to open the reservoir up once more to public use,” he said.
If it is, the Echo will certainly let you know.