The Real ‘Save The Northern Meadows’ Story

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What kind of people are we? The answer is: we are the same as you – human. 

We are not a special breed of person unaffected by cancer or not fearing what it could do to us or to our loved ones. We are not immune to its grasp. Cancer does notdiscriminate. Some of us are patients too, some have, or are currently supportingloved ones through treatment. Others of us have sadly lost people to this awful disease. Many of us have experienced the agonising wait for results for ourselves or the people we love. We have had the sleepless nights and feared the worst. Some of us have received devastating news and taken the long and agonising journey that is cancer. Others of us have been fortunate to receive good news at that point; whilst knowing that any one of us may not be so lucky next time. We are no different from you. 

So of course we’ve never opposed better cancer care. When it is told that we’reopposing the development of the centre, we urge people to not simply accept this and react with rage or despair without further thought or question. It would be nonsensical not to want better cancer care. Still, we have seen post after post on social media reporting such errors about us, as “if they’d ever gone through this they wouldn’t be objecting;” “if it was their family;” “I hope they never need Velindre’sservices” and more cruel posts, stating that anyone who wants a review or disagrees with the site should forfeit any future care and so should their families.

The issues that brought STNM about were those of protecting the environment and doing what is right for the community both local and much wider. This campaign indeed began as an environmental and public health campaign: a campaign to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of thousands of local people and to object to the over-development of Whitchurch – a densely populated community, already subjected to high levels of air pollution due to being positioned adjacent to the M4, the A470 and Coryton roundabout – one of the busiest roundabouts in Wales, and to frequently congested roads and queuing traffic. We also wanted to see the abandoned, listed Whitchurch Hospital put to use once again. 

Now the campaign has adopted pursuit of the right medical model for the new Velindre. Any campaign point here is never about the staff team on the ground working at Velindre now, the ones the nation has applauded every Thursday. It is the Transforming Cancer Services plans and the best location for the future cancer care centre.

We are not NIMBYs – we have happily lived alongside Velindre and Whitchurch Hospitals for decades and we aspired to have the new Velindre Cancer Centre housed on the Whitchurch Hospital site. The NIMBY label simply does not fit here.  

All this is important to say. 

We are aware some people have been offended by our campaign. This is an emotive topic which inevitably causes distress. But the distress to those under the weight of cancer might only be increased by angry posts they see on social media, demonising and scapegoating others. This has been, and continues to be, exacerbated by the misrepresentation of our campaign by another online group. This group’s narrative has sought to create a division between the campaigners and Velindre. 

For one Facebook group has repeatedly accepted comments from followers, like, “It beggars belief;” “What sort of people are they?;” “They can’t ever have been touched by cancer,” and its moderators seem to do very little to correct this narrative. In fact, this opinion is frequently encouraged by moderators who reply with a knowing response or with an acknowledging emoji. The misinformation spreads, misunderstandings are soon legitimised and then the divisions widen.

Shocking myths told about STNM

It’s important to STNM’s integrity and truthfulness with the public that urban myths about us are challenged. STNM was astonished during the summer at the narrative flowing from a social media site opposed to our campaign. It claimed that Velindrestaff had been “abused” and “shouted at” and created the image that staff needed to be protected from campaigners. There was even a most serious accusation made on the site that a member of staff was spat at by one of our supporters. The Facebook group’s founders claimed that this matter was being dealt with by senior managers.

Here’s why none of this can be true. Abuse of a front-line worker is a criminal offence and Velindre has a duty of care to their staff to report this to the police. But no crime number exists for this alleged attack. We would welcome evidence of these alleged abuses as we deplore any such behaviour. Any such wrongdoers certainly do not speak or act in our name. 

On the contrary, Velindre staff members have come to speak to us on the street at our STNM display stands and have chosen to share with us that they work at Velindre. 

Would they do this if they felt threatened and scared by us? A number have signed our petitions and tell us that many staff members at Velindre disagree with the current proposals but are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs or having to endure a difficult work life. Of course, some we have spoken with are in support of the development and we have respectfully and calmly been able to share our differing viewpoints with one another, without incident, anger of fear. 

These staff members we have met in the community have also told us that Velindre’s day-to-day running and work are quite separate from the Transforming Cancer Services project, who are proposing this build. A number have said that they do not really know much about it and staff have not really been consulted or kept informed. 

It is fantastic to read online about how the staff team at Velindre are valued and have provided comfort to so many at the most incredibly difficult and frightening times a person may face. However, nobody we know has ever suggested otherwise. 

A group online has managed to mould a narrative that staff and the incredible work happening at Velindre is being challenged or devalued by our campaign. And in hearing this, rightly so, people are jumping to their defence. This could not be further from the truth. As we have said above, the questions asked of the Transforming Cancer Services project must to be distinguished from the great day to day staff and work at Velindre.  

Sad to say, misinformation about us is extreme. We have been accused of being liars countless times. Of “dirty tactics” and “low blows.” We have absolutely no need or desire to lie. Apparently we have made things up about the car parking, the HGV lorry journeys, the number of beds and the damage to the environment. However, all these facts are visible in the planning and other documents which are in the public domain.

We were accused of “lying” being “low”, being “sad” when we advised that we had contacted the Police and Velindre in relation to threatening posts against a permitted march in September that STNM joined with 20 other recognised groups. We did not lie. Threats really were made on a Facebook group and we had a duty of care to report them. To their credit, Velindre replied to say they “deplored the comments made.” That email is not a secret. It will be made available on our website.

All the same we were called “pathetic” and told we were “wasting police time” etc. The vitriolic response online to the march by some was quite shocking. The language of many was highly inappropriate, yet seemingly condoned by moderatorsof the same online group. We do not know the people who made the serious threats and so we had no way of knowing if these words could actually turn into actions. Furthermore, the aggression and hatred aimed at us was visible to thousands of members of that group and so could incite somebody else to action. 

The same group has multiple posts and comments vilifying us. Screenshots can validate all of the following comments posted in just the last two weeks alone on the offending Facebook site:

We “have shite for brainsare only worried about our house priceslead cosy lives, are unaffected by cancer; only want land to walk our dogs onspread misinformation; We are “tossers; uncaring; thoughtless; selfish; pathetic tree hugging smelly hippie dippie freaking weirdos; absolutely pathetic; shameful; a bunch of morons; Covidiots; vile people; embarrassing; childish; snakes in the grass; insignificant people; bitter; miserable; lacking integrity; liars; low; sad; heartless; NIMBYs; idiots; load of fools; riddled with bitter (sic); absolute cretin; lonely; putting selfishness over lives; attention seeking hypocrites; infantile; quasi environmentalists; the most selfish group ever; selfish people who would soon jump sides if we or loved ones had cancer; pools of germs spreading people.

We have been mocked, ridiculed and threatened. In amongst all this a member of the same site has called us “bullies.” This is all mixed in together with so much negativity, hatred and vindictiveness, and it is really sad to see how some – a minority – can speak about other human beings, without ever having met them and more seriously, often without having the full account of what this is all about. 

However, it’s evident that patients, former patients, family and friends need an avenue to share experiences and support one another. Personal stories shared even on the online group critical of us are inspiring, brave and heartfelt. It is truly an awful illness which devastates families, and none of us have had the privilege of avoiding it. We want to extend our heartfelt sympathies to you and your family, and to all those who have experienced the devastation of cancer. Many of us share these experiences with you.

Some have suggested we lack integrity, humanity and compassion but when we are being called these terrible names, we invite consideration from those posting, of the impact of their words, and reflection on the vitriol aimed at fellow human beings. These may be people who share similar experiences, or who are grieving, unused to conflict and encountering such hatred. Also those who are elderly, vulnerable or unwell. Such venom can be triggering for those who have experienced past trauma or abuse. It is unkind, cruel and unnecessary. 

Despite allegations to the contrary, we welcome debate. Our group is public for this reason. 

Often when groups are private, we notice debate is not always welcomed. Just to ask a question or diverge from the strict narrative can result in blocking and the offending post being quickly deleted. Before making a decision and being wholeheartedly in favour of something, it’s crucial to have a rounded view of the facts.

STNM’s Local Concerns

The facts definitely missing from certain social media posts are what drive the STNM campaign. These include:

  1. This development will have a significant impact on the everyday lives of the thousands of people who live and access this area daily. Our critics should be aware that there is a primary school, sheltered accommodation and a block of flats on the Hollybush Estate metres away from where the emergency access road will be constructed. Vulnerable and elderly people are housed here, many with multiple health issues, as well as families with young children.
  2. Critics should also be aware a residential school for children and young people with severe autism backs onto the development. This means any noise from the construction and operation of the site shall permanently impact their education and care. Daily, pupils from this school are seen going for walks along Pendwyallt Road with support staff to assist them and ensure they remain safe. They also use the meadows and railway cutting for outdoor education, recreation and wellbeing. It must be a difficult and agonising decision for a parent to send a child with special needs to a residential setting and we imagine that the access their children have to green space and tranquillity within a city setting plays an important part in their decision making. This will no longer be accessible to them. The school has also opposed the build on the meadows site due to concerns for their pupils. 
  3. In order to reduce collisions with cyclists, the developers will remove guardrails from Pendwyallt Road, putting the children and pedestrians accessing school, Asda, or just going for a walk at risk with up to 200 HGV journeys on this road every day to and from the construction site. One such guardrail is outside one of the primary school’s entrances and on the corner of Whitworth Square where hundreds of people live. These guardrails are essential. This would be a tragedy waiting to happen.
  4. The emergency access road will run directly through the estate and past sheltered accommodation, and along a route walked by nursery and primary school children. Children also play outside their flats along this route. They do not have gardens. This clearly presents a risk to the community.
  5. For the hundreds of flats on the Hollybush estate the meadows are their only access to green space. Consider how much cancer and other life-limiting illness will be caused to these people by exposure to the construction pollution for over four years. The harm to their wellbeing and mental health at having to endure such a massive project on their doorsteps. And the permanent additional pollution and loss of green space and trees which currently clean the dirty air emitted from junction 32. It is proven that pollution can impact negatively on a child’s development. What about pregnant women? Those raising families? Those who attend school next door to the development? Those living with respiratory and other conditions? Those who are elderly? These are people too, and they absolutely deserve a say in this, as we all do. 
  6. The meadows are surrounded on 3 sides by Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and nature reserve. Throughout the planning process developers have stated that impacts on these important sites will be “negligible”; will be “low”. The Environmental Statement released a few weeks ago now states that the impact will be “high”. Further documents released in August propose draining surface water during construction into the canal and feeder river below. Not only will this destroy biodiversity and do irreparable harm to the SSSI and nature reserve but it is adding to the flood risk.
  7. A number of homes adjacent to the canal and along the river were flooded earlier this year. In February we saw the river break its banks in a number of locations. Flooding devastates lives and is a public health emergency. People can lose lives and lose everything they have ever worked for. We all saw, in February this year, the devastation to people’s homes and livelihoods and the big clean-up operations of communal, community spaces, such as Hailey Park, Bute Park, Treforest and Nantgarw, to just use some examples. The meadows and trees do a job in absorbing and diverting water. When we continue to concrete over our green spaces, we are increasing our flood risk significantly. We cannot simply sit back and allow a development to go ahead on this site when it will increase the flood risk to us all.

We are living in a climate emergency.

This was declared by both Cardiff Council and the Welsh Government in 2019. As the original planning is so old it is not being scrutinised based on our current legislation and policy. It ignores, breaches and disregards the following:

  • Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015
  • The Environment (Wales) Act 2016
  • The Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016
  • The Convention on Biological Diversity (1992)
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1991; enshrined in Welsh Law 2011)
  • Planning Policy Wales 10 (2018) and Building Better Places (2020)
  • The plans do not appear within Cardiff’s Local Development Plan (2006-2026)   
  • Our Strategic Plan 2019-2022 Public Health Wales 

Millions are spent each year by Cardiff Council and the Welsh Government in creating these policies and pieces of legislation. If they are then ignored, what is the point in them in the first place? 

We mention here the accusation made against us, that we are only now questioning the medical model because we want to save the meadow. It has also been insinuated that letter received by Welsh Government and the BBC was sent by the campaign, and questions have been asked about the “so called experts.”

We would like to set the record straight. The STNM campaign is largely made up of Cardiff residents and others further afield who know the meadows well. No, we are not run by Extinction Rebellion as has been suggested. 

Aside from the two doctors (who are also local residents) who have been brave enough to step forward and speak out and frankly have been subject to disgraceful responses for doing so; the campaign has had no other contact with the medical professionals involved in the letters sent. We understand that 57 medical professionals have written to the Welsh Government and 34 staff members at Velindre have written to the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board (CAVUHB) Chief Executive, to raise concern over the proposed model and plans. We heard the Radio Wales interview with a third, senior doctor but we have never spoken with that clinician. 

Critics are asked to take a minute to consider whether these medical professionals would put their reputations and careers on the line by speaking out, simply because the STNM campaign had influenced them to do so? The campaign does not know who these people are and we have not seen the letters sent. Nor do we expect or need to. But we are hugely grateful for each and every one of them who has taken the brave step in raising their concerns with decision makers.

The quest by some, to discover their names, is wholly inappropriate. There are laws in place to protect people who speak out and this should be respected. The Welsh Government and CAVUHB Chief Executive have the names and will be aware of their roles and qualifications. That is what is important here. 

The Bigger Picture

Additionally, many people are only aware of part of the picture. This whole matter is part of a wider master plan – with the meadows used for the cancer centre, Whitchurch and Velindre are prime sites for lucrative, executive housing and other uses. Cardiff and Vale Health Board have been renewing the planning consent on the Whitchurch Hospital site for over 20 years, all the while never bringing any of these plans to fruition and allowing a listed building to rot. Affordable housing within these plans has decreased as the years have passed. Their renewal in 2016 stated up to 40% affordable housing and by 2020’s renewal this has decreased to a maximum of 20%. 

They propose hundreds of apartments and houses, thousands of square metres of office space and retails units. Given our “new-normal” will these offices be utilised? New retail and hospitality outlets here would put immense pressure on many of the small, independent businesses in Whitchurch Village and likely result in closures. Many of these businesses are just keeping their heads above water post-covid. There are no plans for additional GP services or school places.

Some members of a group opposing us say we are heartless, selfish and lack compassion but this simply is not true. As well as cancer, people face other challenges daily, other serious health issues, other life-limiting illnesses and other life-changing events. We all have a right to a quality of life. Critics should not disregard or forget about them. Cancer is devastating, all-consuming and overwhelming and so are other difficulties experienced by people. 

As the campaign grew, we learned more from medical professionals who contacted us. This is why our narrative has moved away from siting the new centre on the Whitchurch Hospital site. It is not because we are “hypocrites” “can’t make up our minds” or are “grasping at straws”.

Clinicians and medical experts from all over the country have come forward to tell us the model proposed by Transforming Cancer Services on the meadow is clinically unsafe. The model proposed is an ‘archaic’ form of care. That is not to say that what Velindre has been doing for decades has been wrong. It is saying that as cancer care evolves the services and models of care need to as well. And although yes, it is desirable to have a new cancer centre as soon as possible, it is completely undesirable and unacceptable to have a large expensive cancer centre placed on a greenfield site, when it may not be able to offer the best, most up to date care available. 

In fact, this model is out of date before it is built. 

Although we understand the fears of being treated in a larger hospital, having the new Velindre placed on site would not mean patients would have to mix with others throughout the hospital, and could remain in a self-contained space purely for Velindre. In case of emergencies, this unit would then be in the right place to quickly assess, treat and possibly transfer patients with complications, which are common during the treatment of cancer. As UHW shall undergo a large renovation starting in 2023 the assertion our campaign shall add 10 – 15 years to the start date is false. Indeed, the Transforming Cancer Services own website states it shall add 2 years only to the development. Although frustrating, this would ensure we have 60 + years of the best care, rather than 60+ years of old fashioned care.

Surely patients and families want the best care possible for everyone. It is in this spirit that we demand an External Independent Clinical Enquiry into the choice of siteand medical model. If the model is inappropriate and outdated, then the care provided to patients will be also. That is unacceptable for all of us. 

And just to reiterate and make clear our position on the Whitchurch Hospital issue: 

IF, following an independent review it is deemed that a stand-alone centre is in fact the best option, then we would continue to campaign that the Whitchurch Hospital and existing Velindre Hospital sites are used. Not the meadows. 

Accessible pathways can easily run from the old hospital sites up to the meadows. The same healing and tranquil benefits will be available to all – patients, families,staff and the wider community; without the massive cost to taxpayers for the construction of bridges and the devastating destruction of the meadows and by proximity, significant damage to the biodiversity of the nature reserve below.  

When first built, Whitchurch Hospital had beautiful grounds and gardens which were considered forward-thinking at the time, as the hospital was designed to aid the healing of patients through having access to green space. The meadows were also used to grow produce for the hospital kitchen and as rehabilitation for patients, and so there is precedent set – patients have accessed the meadow space from the existing Whitchurch Hospital site in the past. There is no reason why this cannot be done again. 

Those in opposition to saving the meadows talk of Whitchurch Hospital being a listedbuilding (and wrongly say it cannot be touched because of this) and it is too small. The site is actually bigger than the meadows, especially if you incorporate the existing Velindre site too. Yes, it is listed, yet is being left to rot and be to vandalised. Last year alone the health board spent over £412,000 on security fencing, lighting and cameras for this abandoned site. That is heading towards half a million pounds which could be used elsewhere. It is criminal that this site has been left in this condition for so many years. 

Furthermore, architects regularly do incredible things in merging new with old buildings – in honouring the past whilst achieving what is needed for the future. Little consideration and research has been done on this. There is a grand theatre in Whitchurch Hospital which, if modernised, could lend itself to a conference centre as is included in the proposed plans for the new cancer centre. Cadw has not been involved in discussion about the possibilities and potential for restoration and adaption. The report released on the suitability of the Whitchurch Hospital site was actually completed in June of this year, following pressure from our campaign. It was never, ever given real, in-depth consideration. This is because it comes down to profit and lucrative housing. 

Nobody is trying to deny cancer patients a meadow and beautiful surroundings, if the current model of care was given the ahead. This has been our message all along:

WE CAN HAVE BOTH.

The use of Mutual Investment Model (MIM) to fund it, the impact on the community and the environment, and the lack of transparency in decision making all leads us to ask questions. We believe the model proposed is not fit for purpose, and will actually harm present and future generations. So we are asking that the location and many other aspects of the model are re-examined.  

We want the best care for us and for future generations, and if there is any question the new site cannot provide this, then it is our duty as a community to question it. We should not accept something so wildly expensive and important if there is any doubt about the quality of care it could provide.

We demand an External Independent Clinical Enquiry into the site and medical model to ensure the best for us all. 

We ask critics to consider we have also had family, friends, colleagues, and children treated by Velindre. Some of our members have also been treated there. Our page is open and transparent. People are welcome to speak with us and we had hoped supporters and those in opposition alike could discuss together, respectfully. 

We have seen many comments online stating, “Lives over leaves” and “Lives over lawns.” Our health – mentally and physically – is directly connected to nature and to the environment. We cannot separate them and choose one over the other. We are one and the same. We need to respect and nurture our environment better. That is a fact. 

Some are quick to raise awareness of fires burning the Amazon, in California, in Australia. But when it comes to at home conservation we are called crazy hippies who need to get over it.

Unfortunately, the global climate is interconnected and what happens to wildlife and natural spaces in your local area has implications worldwide. That is the nature of the climate emergency. And that is why we have to act locally, as well as working with other communities to influence how our state acts globally. 

We have to all accept responsibility in playing our part to preserve the planet, protect one another and help ensure the future health and wellbeing of generations to come. 

Social media comments have tried to devalue and weaken our connection to the meadows by saying that we named it the Northern Meadows at the start of lockdown and most people didn’t know it was there before. It is correct that many more people discovered this area during the lockdown and that is fantastic. It provided a good space, with social distancing and supported the mental and physical health of thousands throughout the period when we could only go out once a day and had to stay local. Why should that be mocked or criticised?

It is also true that not all of us called it the Northern Meadows. Some did and others called it “top fields”, “fields above the canal” and we are sure a number of other names too. The name makes no difference to the experience. 

For many of us, we and our families have used this space for decades.

We have taken our children, walked our dogs, had our first encounters with nature there. We have sledged in the snow, we have had picnics, we have explored as children, our teachers have sent us here as part of the cross-country route during PE. We have headed there for fitness, for fresh air and for tranquillity. We have had happy times with family and friends there and we have sought this space in the most difficult of times when we needed solace and a space for contemplation. Nature is powerful and healing

Most significantly in this situation we do not need to choose one over the other. 

WE CAN HAVE BOTH.

YES to Velindre. No to meadows’ destruction. 

Our health. Our future.

This is an overview of what we stand for. Please look at our Facebook page and website, or join our Facebook group if you would like to know more.

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