The fight for safe cancer treatment and protected land in Cardiff

Debra Cooper details the courageous legal battle Green Party member Cat Lewis has embarked upon by way of judicial review in order to protect the Northern Meadows in Cardiff against the construction of a cancer facility that many medics believe will be unsafe, and is a green space well loved by local people.

Northern Meadows, Cardiff

Gareth James (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Debra Cooper

Velindre Hospital currently is a non-surgical cancer treatment facility, providing chemotherapy and radiotherapy to the South East region of Wales. Cancer services need to expand and Velindre wants to build a new cancer centre on the nearby Northern Meadows. Over £20 million has already been spent by the Velindre Trust acquiring planning permission for the complex build, and it is years behind schedule. The Northern Meadows is a natural 23-acre area of open space in the North of Cardiff, and is an important wedge of uphill green space which protects Whitchurch from flooding, has hundreds of trees that absorb carbon from the M4 motorway, and is an important place for locals to walk, play games and explore nature with families. Nearby more than 200 locals live in flats with no gardens, so it is particularly valuable green open space for local residents. These residents have set up a Save the Northern Meadows campaign group to protect this green space. Green Party members Cat Lewis and myself, Debra Cooper, have been active members of this campaign group. Cat has received cancer treatment at Velindre and is due to undergo more treatment at another facility. Cat has decided to act as an individual to challenge both Welsh Government and Velindre Management to justify their decision.

The site is currently landlocked, and it is estimated that £27 million will be needed to build a bridge from the motorway and into the centre. With the cost of raw materials having doubled this year, this figure is sure to rise. Asda is limiting access via its land to build the bridge as it would interfere with its hours of business, so Cardiff Planning has granted an application for the trucks to use two other entry points. Both entry points are down the already busy Pendwyallt Road and during the school day an estimated 200 trucks will drive directly past the school and loop around the school, crossing a piece of land gifted to the people of Cardiff for recreation and leisure. The school and high-rise flats will have a loop of air and noise pollution directly around them for at least four years. A separate planned emergency access road and bridge to the hospital cuts between a warden-staffed complex for elderly residents and a high-rise block of flats. Children walk to school using this route, and the entrance to the school is approximately 50 metres from the emergency access bridge.

Local government involvement

The Green Party became involved in the spring of 2020, supporting a petition and letter asking the Welsh Government to call in the application. We have campaigned for the new cancer treatment centre to be co-located with trauma provision,  so that when patients have a crisis, such as a heart attack or stroke during cancer treatment,  they can receive immediate treatment,  rather than have to travel by ambulance to a hospital with an emergency room. We also campaign for all green spaces in Cardiff City to be protected.

The current Labour Health Minister Eluned Morgan, local Labour Senedd Member Julie Morgan and Labour MP Anna McMorrin support the centre being built on the Northern Meadows, despite the Welsh Government acknowledging the climate crisis. The local Conservative councillor who is on the planning committee also voted for the build to go ahead. This local councillor is also the Chair of Governors for the local school that will be most affected by this build. (This presents a conflict of interest.) Plaid Cymru’s local candidate for the Senedd supported the call in to look at the plans in 2020, but just before the election the party leader said that they would support the build. The local candidate resigned from the party in protest. 

Listening to medics 

It soon became apparent that cancer specialists were concerned that the standalone model is an unsafe design, and believe that the new cancer centre should be built on the University Hospital of Wales site, which has trauma and surgical provision for cancer patients: 163 doctors have written to the Health Minister to ask for the model to be reconsidered. It is vital that these medics are listened to, and their advice is acted upon. Despite fears of reprisals, more consultants are now speaking out as the build becomes imminent, unless it can be halted by way of Cat challenging the legal process. Some of the medics have felt so strongly about the injustice of this decision that they have donated their NHS bonus to Cat in the crowdfunder to support the judicial review. 

The Green Party view is that the Welsh Government should establish a cancer strategy for the whole of Wales, so that we can create cancer services fit for the future. At present Velindre Hospital sees itself as a ‘brand’ that needs to be protected. This business model should be replaced with a cooperative and cohesive medic-led model in which senior clinicians are at the heart of the planning of an All Wales Cancer Strategy. 

Saving the Northern Meadows 

The Labour Welsh Government has declared a climate crisis, and it should own this decision. Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales, should step in and protect this area for present and future generations. To allow this build to go ahead is in complete contrast to its stated policy of putting the climate emergency at the heart of every policy that the Welsh Government agrees. This means admitting that errors have been made instead of offloading the responsibility for this outrage onto the NHS managers or Planning Committees. This hospital needs to be built in a safe place: within a trauma hospital.

The future of this site is uncertain. Everybody has been affected by cancer or knows somebody affected by cancer. The media has only just started covering this issue with honesty, thanks to a local reporter at ITV. The debate has been clouded by an understandable desire to treat and prevent cancer without delay. Our Save The Northern Meadows campaign has never been about stopping the improvement of vital cancer services; it has been about protecting the environment, and acknowledging that nature itself gives us mental and physical health benefits such as protecting our lungs from cancer causing pollutants. We need to protect nature if we wish for our health and the health of our future generations to survive and thrive. We need to protect all green spaces in our cities.