Grangetown Ward Profile
As the Long Campaign begins Grangetown has become a crucial battlefield in the Labour verses Liberal Democrat fight for a majority in the Cardiff County Council elections next May.
The last two elections have returned a full set of Grangetown Lib-Dem Councillors but their lead is small, and with six months to go Labour is already making an unprecedented effort to secure support.
In the last Council elections the Grangetown Lib-Dems got 33% of the vote while Labour placed second with 28%. This was a slight narrowing of the Lib-Dem lead since their first win in 2004 when they took all three seats from Labour.
Labour candidate, Ashley Govier, 28, believes their recent poor performances trace back to the national scene. “We have a big Islamic community in Grangetown. I think we lost a lot of votes with the Iraq war.”
Across the UK nearly 800 Lib-Dem Councillors have lost their seats since the coalition with the Conservatives, mainly to Labour.
Association to the Conservative party is especially harmful to the Grangetown Lib-Dem candidates.
Grangetown has an exceptionally diverse population. A real melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, it has one of the largest Somali communities in the UK and strong Asian and Eastern European populations.
This diversity is long established with the first Somali settlers arriving more than 100 years ago as sailors working in Cardiff’s docks.
Conservative anti-immigration policies are unpopular amongst Grangetown residents.
Grangetown also remains a largely working-class suburb of Cardiff and traditionally Labour. Residents tend to rent houses, the rents being on par with housing benefits. Demand far outstrips supply and large families – Somali families usually have four to six children – cram into fewer rooms than they need.
Houses do not come up for sale often, when they do the mortgage price is usually higher than the property price. Residents who do own property tend to hang onto it, passing it through their families generation after generation.
Conservative economic strategies are perceived as too banker-friendly.
Although in the past Grangetown has elected Conservative Councillors, they are no threat in the 2012 election except to the Lib-Dem’s prospects.
Both the Lib-Dem and Labour candidates have started canvassing. Labour are already holding police and community meetings and have had Assembly Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, Vaughn Gething, also Labour, pay a visit.
Grangetown residents have been taken aback with the early activity of candidates this election.
Grangetown Labour has been accused of being complacent coming up to previous elections and taking their votes for granted.
“I’m unconvinced with Labour still,” says Vivienne Winspear of Corporation Road after a Labour outreach meeting. “They’re a bit of a mess; and this is coming from someone who used to vote Labour. I did vote Lib-Dem last time. Labour want for policies and were ineffectual.”
Lynda Thorne, 2012 Grangetown Labour candidate and former Grangetown Labour Councillor of 18 years, says: “It’s good to give people the opportunity to tell you what they think the priority issues are. As a community activist you think you know what the issues are, but it’s good to know if you’re of one mind.”
Perhaps the most important issue for Grangetown right now is building and maintaining wider community relations rather than developing several separate communities.
Grangetown’s many communities live for the most part harmoniously. Children attend mixed schools without trouble, but older members tend not to socialise with the wider community. The area lacks activities to encourage such mixing.
Grangetown Community Concern, an organisation partly funded by the Council but almost entirely run by volunteers, puts on a festival week every summer involving everyone as the wider Grangetown community. It tries to organise other events throughout the year but is limited by funding.
Grangetown Councillors are very hands off with Community Concern.
The current Lib-Den Councillors do not consult with them and the Labour candidates, though one of them, Chris Lomax, is the chairman of Community Concern, have not so far asked for any of their help with insight into the area’s community issues.
They seem similarly disinterested with other community initiatives, such as, St Patrick’s Church building a new Church Hall to host social activities for the town.
Without Council involvement, these initiatives and others like them are limited. A birds-eye view could link up these individual schemes and detail a strategy for improving wider community relations.
The Lib-Dem campaign focuses on keeping Grangetown clean and its community safe.
There is a persistence of anti-social behaviour throughout Grangetown. Though it is more of a nuisance than a problem.
Back door kick-ins, robberies, drugs, prostitution, fly tipping, dangerous driving and unsafe parking have proven difficult to put a stop to.
The Lib-Dem Councillors worked with police and set up a hotline for residents to report non-emergency incidents. Intelligence from those reports has cut down on anti-social behaviour.
In the last two years the number of calls reporting activities of prostitution has decreased from four a day to one in three months.
A more radical proposal, also ceased up on by the Labour candidates, is to gate off all the lanes in Grangetown so the perpetrators of anti-social behaviour have to go out of the area to misbehave.
Opposition contend alley-gating restricts access especially for the elderly, may close-off communities and not actually solve any underlying problems.
Both the Lib-Dem and Labour campaigns seem too superficial at this stage. Candidates should engage with the community initiatives in place and the heartening number of residents with overwhelming passion for their area and community.
“Being surrounded by the docks, the river and the railway it seems like we are separate from the rest of the city. We are a bit on our own. We’re like a village within a city; everyone knows everyone else and people live here for generations.” Christine Davis, Grangetown Community Concern.