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Wednesday, November 3, 1999 Published at 18:45 GMT

UK: Wales

Final step for Cardiff Bay Barrage

The barrage scheme has been dogged by controversy

The last piece of the scheme to regenerate the previously derelict Cardiff Bay waterfront has fallen into place.

Water has begun to be pumped into the lake bed created by the £197m Cardiff Barrage - the jewel in the crown of the vast regeneration scheme.

The 200-hectare freshwater lake will be the centre-piece of a vast economic renewal programme.

The eight-mile waterfront is fringed by prestigious commercial headquarters, leisure complexes and government buildings.

[ image: Ron Davies chose the Bay as the home of the National Assembly]
Ron Davies chose the Bay as the home of the National Assembly
It is a far cry from the image of the Bay in the 1980s.

By 1987, Cardiff was fronted by thousands of acres of industrial wasteland.

The south Wales port was built on coal and steel. The death of these industries saw the capital of Wales turn its back on the waterfront area.

But, fuelled by the vision of the then Welsh Secretary Nicholas Edwards, the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation was established in 1987.

'Put Cardiff on the map'

It's mission was clear - "to put Cardiff on the international map as a superlative maritime city".

By the time the corporation is wound up in March next year, it will have superseded that mission by transforming the face of Cardiff.

But the transition has been far from smooth.

The barrage has always been hugely controversial.

International wildlife site

The mudflats at the mouths of the tidal rivers Taff and Ely have sustained huge numbers of waterbirds and the area was considered a site of international importance for migrating wildlife.

Flooding the mudflats permanently meant the displacement of those birds.

Friends of the Earth and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds waged a 10-year campaign against the plan.

The pressure groups took their challenge to the dam as far as Europe.

But the economic benefits to south east Wales outweighed the environmental concerns, and the EU let the scheme go ahead as a special case.

Farmland flooded

Under the deal with the EU, compensation for the loss of the mudflats meant creating a new wildlife habitat by flooding 1,000 acres of farmland, 15 miles further along the coast in the Gwent Levels, with sewage water.

Farmers then joined the anti-barrage protests, fearing polluted pools would be created that would damage surrounding farmland.

At the time, FoE Director Tony Juniper said: "They are destroying a saline mudflat and creating a freshwater marsh.

"It's like knocking down the Tower of Pisa and building a cinema and calling it compensation."

Bitter campaign

A higher-profile campaign was waged by Cardiff West MP - and now National Assembly Economic Secretary - Rhodri Morgan.

He voiced the fears of many Cardiff people that the barrage would raise groundwater levels across the city and would lead to a flooding danger.

He was joined in his campaign by fellow Labour MP - and keen birdwatcher - Ron Davies. Both MPs fought the parliamentary bill that brought the barrage into being.

The Labour Party in opposition also pledged to stop the project if they were elected.

However, ironically, it was Ron Davies - appointed Welsh Secretary after Labour's landslide win in 1997 - who oversaw the agreements that removed the final environmental obstacles to the barrage.

He then gave the scheme the ultimate backing when he chose the Bay as the site of the new National Assembly for Wales.

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