Sunday, 16 January 2011

Construction continues

It has rained a lot recently, and many people in Aberystwyth have been heard grumbling about flooding. However in most cases it is not the rain that is the problem - it is the continuous human development of green spaces, roads and buildings covering hills that would have absorbed huge amounts of water, leading to the combined problems of run-off and compression from the weight of developments squeezing water out. Both lead to flooding lower down and loss of topsoil. Problems that get worse as we cover more and more green spaces in concrete.

We often get sent bits of news about Aberystwyth University, since it is such a large employer and land-owner in the area, and therefore has such a large opportunity to improve or degrade the natural environment. Unfortunately most of the news is not good: building extensions, tree cutting and developments on woodland. What has been the recent news? Are we seeing any slowdown in the university's publicly-funded building projects?

New IBERS building on Penglais campus
Work on this Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences building started at the end of August and is apparently expected to take sixty weeks to complete. The development is between the Cledwyn and Edward Llwyd buildings. See the image below, from the Aberystwyth University Estates website.

Before construction of the IBERS building (1)

Before construction of the IBERS building (2)

Construction site now

Unfortunately, as part of the construction a greenfield site has been built on for a contractor compound near the Cledwyn Bridge.

The 'contractor compound' before - open green spaces

The same view now - built on

Just in case you thought it was still grass inside the contractor compound - no, the grass is now gone. Presumably the university will later use this as a car park or space for another building.

A talent for destruction?

It doesn't look so considerate

Back in February 2010 the Director of IBERS announced proposals to press ahead with this multi-million pound building programme. At the same time it was announced that IBERS was facing a funding deficit of £2.4m and the Institute identified the need to lose up to 70 existing full time equivalent posts. In a later announcement the university said "We now expect no more than 61 posts to be deleted with no more than 34 members of staff to be made redundant as a result of this process." Mad isn't it? Millions are spent on a new building yet a huge number of staff are lost due to lack of money.

More tinfoil shacks at the Arts Centre
Yes, the university is building yet more of the bacofoil sheds where there used to be a wood.

"Yes, they really blend well into the natural environment..."

That used to just be a view of thick woodland

Other green spaces
Construction (and the inseparable destruction) has a wider impact than just the site itself. On Penglais Campus the university has a large area of land which has been cleared for storing piles of rubble and soil from construction projects, and trees which it has cut down. It is no surprise that the water run off from Penglais onto the nearby footpath is heavy enough to regularly flood and damage it.

Entrance to the storage area

All this construction is a good example of one of the ways in which we are ruining the global environment. Trees cut here, buildings on greenfield sites there, road extensions connecting them. Surely a civilised society would be cutting back on this kind of activity, not increasing it? There is a distinct lack of intelligence in humanity's endless growth. Then again, when universities can't even get basic grammar right (see above - missing apostrophe on Aberystwyth University signs, as confirmed by the APS) then perhaps it is not surprising.

Tree cutting on Penglais Campus last week...

...including a healthy tree that was over 47 years old according to the rings. No wonder there is water runoff when the plants which best prevent it are cut down.

Good news to finish
We may be losing green spaces at a fast rate but at least (for now) a meadow has been saved in Gwynedd, North Wales after a fourteen year battle. It is obviously harder work to save green spaces than to lose them, but generally in life that is the case for things of value. Lots to think about the next time it rains...

Update 29th January 2011: An interesting suggestion in the comments below, any mileage in this? Keep sending us emails or post a comment.


C. Smith said...

Why is the university building all the time? Apparently the vice chancellor gets a huge house by the campus as a perk - surely that could home some of the arts departments and free up space on Penglais, instead of constructing more buildings? The arts departments could then be based within an inspiring location rather than the house and grounds just being used by one person as a 'perk of the job' for those in power within the university, while students have to pay increasing amounts in fees? There is something not quite right in the state of Aberystwyth.

CIN said...

Thanks, that's an interesting point. However as you point out 'those in power' make the decisions, so are much more likely to appoint themselves perks than to use a building like that for the use of others.