by Aliraza Manji
Gair Rhydd spoke to Adrian Robson, Leader of the Conservative Group at Cardiff Council. Cllr Robson was re-elected as leader of the Conservative Group in May 2019 and has served as Conservative councillor for Rhiwbina since 2004. During his time in office, he has worked on committees scrutinising the work of the Council. Currently, he sits on the Economy and Culture Scrutiny Committee, Glamorgan Archives Joint Committee, and the Public Protection Committee.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself before you became a Councillor?
I’ve always had an interest in politics, right from a very young age, an awareness of it. I moved around the country, I was brought up in Watford originally and lived on the Wirral for a while, went to university at Aberystwyth which many do, and that’s where I really joined the Conservative Party and got heavily involved in politics. When I graduated from Aberystwyth I came out to Cardiff where the National Assembly was only 3 or 4 years old at the time. There was a lot of enthusiasm and a lot going on politically. I saw opportunities here to get involved in politics.
What enticed you about getting involved in local politics?
I think it’s about making a difference. I like the fact that as a local councillor you can make a difference that means things to people’s lives. Sometimes it’s very small, minor things, like getting a pothole repaired or getting their bins emptied if the Council has missed them. Other times its things such as, in Cardiff’s case, how the city will grow and develop; where the housing goes; what transport infrastructure is going to be like; education; care for the elderly or care for those who are not so elderly. All those big areas but still, whether it is me as a local Councillor in my ward or as one of 75 councillors across the city, you feel you can make a difference to people’s lives.
You have represented your ward of Rhiwbina since 2004. What is it about the role that you enjoy so much?
It comes back to making a difference. I have a great ward as every councillor will say. I have a very enthusiastic ward. There are a lot of community activities going on in my ward and a real strong sense of community spirit. When something happens, the community comes together. There are many different groups and interests; arts and crafts, charities, churches are all very active. As well as that, when people come to you as a councillor, you find that you can make a difference because one, you know them and two, you often know who is the right person to signpost them too.
As a councillor, what is your greatest achievement to date?
I’ve got a couple and they are all ward based which might surprise many people as a city-based councillor. One which is very current, unfortunately, about nine or ten years ago, the Brook in my ward Rhiwbina flooded about 20 houses. So, it was an awful night following the Brook upstream seeing people who had been affected, but the Council along with the Environment Agency started to put together a flood defence scheme and it was about implementing that. It was £1,500,000 in total, so it was not a small scheme, but it meant that areas of Rhiwbina do not flood, and water is held back from nearby Whitchurch and the River Taff. So, I hope it helped, in some small way, with the floods that we had over the weekend. That was a big scheme because it involved taking down some hedges in a conservation area and Grade II listed houses. So, some serious stuff about the conservation aspect.
Do you believe that docal Democracy is something we should continue to pursue?
Yes, absolutely. Whatever form that takes, you’ve got to have local democracy because when you look at higher levels whether that is the National Assembly of Wales or Westminster. They have a much wider reach and yes, they have their constituency, but they are there to govern the country and look at the big picture countrywide. Local democracy is for those who are living in the city or the local authority area. It is about having that direct and close link with a councillor. Most people probably cannot name their councillor, but they probably know that they have a councillor and where to go to find them, what party they are from and who won the last election.
There are a number of pressing issues which Cardiff Council is looking into, namely the transport white paper entitled “Vision to 2030”. What are your thoughts on this white paper? Do you see it as feasible and necessary?
I’ve been on the Council since 2004 and throughout all my time as a councillor, I’ve been talking about transport infrastructure. If Cardiff is going to be successful it is transport that is going to make or break this city. There are no two ways about it. Whatever other ways you look at it, transport is the key to this city, in my opinion. This white paper is good. There is a lot of good stuff in here; the Metro, Rapid Transit Buses, extra cycle provisions, walking provisions and so on. There are two aspects where I query it. One is deliverability – will it actually happen? It’s all very well having grand plans, but I’ve been here before on the Council and it does not happen. Let’s see if this time it does. I hope it will, certainly with the Metro. There is the issue around congestion charges. I represent one of the wards on the outskirts of the city where there are concerns of where the charge will go but we are a long way away from that detail being available yet. But, the principles of it, what is in that white paper in terms of transport and infrastructure improvement, is essential. We have got to do it.
Would you vote for this white paper?
Yes, with the caveat on congestion charges as that does cause me some concern. It’s not flushed out yet, this is only a white paper. So, let’s see what they come back with, our group’s view is that you only need to look at congestion charges once you have got all the transport infrastructure in place first. It is all about the carrot and stick approach. You need the carrot of the transport infrastructure before the stick in the form of tax.
The EU found that Cardiff was in the worst 30 cities in the UK in terms of dealing with pollution. As such, one of the aims of this white paper was to deal with that but what more can be done to deal with the climate emergency in Cardiff?
It’s about the realistic steps. You could say well let’s shut up all traffic to the whole of the inner city or something like that, but you have actually got to look realistic steps and it comes back to transport which is why this white paper is so important because there have two options there. At the moment, with the exception of a couple of key bus routes; the one up to Thornhill where there are regular bus services or those in the West. A lot of the other parts of Cardiff, even if they have a bus service, are not well served. I think of places like Lisvane in the North and the West of the city. Lisvane has one bus every hour or two on Saturdays or something like that. The railway line that runs through my ward and goes to Whitchurch and Heath does not run on a weekend. The train is every half hour. It is a great service when you get it right and time it, but all this transport infrastructure needs to be much more accessible and easier for people to use.
What are your thoughts on the UCU Strikes? Should students be compensated for teaching time lost?
I personally think that students should be compensated for teaching time lost. Students have to pay a lot of tuition fees. I have always had queries about that; I was around at university when they came about under Blair. Students have to pay a lot of tuition fees and for a lecture to be cancelled because of a strike, then my personal view is that there should be some recompense for that. It might be possible for the lecturers and the students to catch up in terms of the work at a later date, but they are timetabling these courses and there has been a great amount of disruption to the students.
Should student landlords be held more accountable?
Certainly, student landlords should be. If they are bad landlords, then they should be. There are some laws coming in to try and encourage landlords to be better landlords. It is a two-fold approach because the rental sector in a city like Cardiff is quite high. The student rental sector obviously has a high turnover and you do hear cases sadly, where landlords are taking advantage of students, houses are not up to scratch, fit for purpose and probably should not be lived in without some work.
To be fair, the council does try and tackle that as best they can. Equally, you have then got the other approach of those who are investors who are looking for longer-term leases and not looking for student tenants in other parts of the city and the laws affect them as well. I think there is a balance to be struck and I think that we have not quite got it right yet. I’ve seen some awful student accommodation in Cardiff in my time here through friends and contacts after I graduated and some of the places they lived in were awful. I like to think that many of those places have been improved, but I bet that some of them have not.
What would you like to see implemented in Cardiff?
Transport is a big issue and we have to get that right. As a growing city which is full in its land space, in the long term we will need to look into where we build our suburbs. The Welsh Government will need to look into boundaries as we do have strong communities on the outskirts of Cardiff who will be reluctant to come into Cardiff. You think of places like Penarth which like the fact that they are in the Vale of Glamorgan and those sorts of areas. Similarly, we cannot build much further into Newport as it is a city in itself. These are big questions which are not just for the Council but very much for the Welsh Government as well. They have got to start looking at the medium-term… the Welsh Government tends to look short-term.
Why did Cardiff North remain a Labour seat despite the big campaign to turn it blue?
You have got to understand the context of the election. It was a Brexit election and 60% of Cardiff voted to remain in the EU. So, that may have been higher in Cardiff North. I don’t know but I suspect that may have been the case. A lot of people felt that the Labour MP or the Liberal Democrats who are promoting a second referendum or remain were the options for them. That was the key issue in that seat. The majority for Labour MP is around 7,000 votes I think, but I do not think that is the realistic majority. I think Labour would have won it, but 7,000, I call that a false majority.
Do you have any future ambitions?
We will have to see. I have some personal care issues with relatives. I would like to be a higher office somewhere along the line. I think I could do a lot of good. I will try to stand somewhere even in a non-winnable seat, but of course, as group leader, my focus is on the 2022 local elections. If we win more seats and pick up targets, we are in a really good position to govern the city.
What do you get up to in your spare time?
I do not get a lot of spare time, but I browse the news websites, which sounds a bit dull particularly with Brexit. I was absorbing that all the time. I am a keen model railways enthusiast; see it all comes back to trains! I don’t really have a lot of spare time, but I am happy that way. I’d rather be busy; I go to a lot of events in Cardiff generally, out and about a lot. So, when people say what are you doing on a Saturday morning? I am at a coffee morning, fundraiser or something like that.
Finally, in the spirit of unity, can you name an example of when you’ve had to work with an opposition councillor and why?
Funnily enough, people think it does not happen, but it happens a lot. In the chamber, of course, we are there with our set speeches and people know what position each party or group is going to take, but certainly on a Planning Committee that is non-political. Last night, I was on the Economy Scrutiny Committee which is looking at the budget coming up from a non-political viewpoint. So, we are asking questions about the Cabinet’s proposals about tourism and strategy and also about how libraries and pubs will go forward. We ask questions because we are interested not because I’m a Conservative on this committee and I have to ask because that is the Conservative line. I ask questions because I am interested, and I think there are opportunities for the city to be strengthened.