A “ring of steel” likened to a prison or the Berlin Wall has been erected around the NATO Summit venues in Newport and Cardiff city center ahead of the military alliance’s conference next week.
Ten miles of nine-foot high security fencing has been set up to protect world leaders attending the September 4-5 conference amid fears issued by former foreign office minister Kim Howells of a possible attack by Islamic extremists.
“It will be a target, there is no question about it, that is why the security measures taken are so intense,” Howells said. “With a NATO summit there is going to be a raised expectation or raised awareness that there might be an attack – that is why all the special measures have been taken.”
In the biggest policing operation of its kind in UK history, at an estimated cost of £50 million, more than 9,000 officers from across the country have been drafted in to police the summit. Sixty-seven world leaders from the 28-nation military bloc and other countries will meet at the Celtic Manor in Newport.
Commander Chris Armitt, the officer in charge of policing the event, has dismissed complaints that Cardiff’s Ring of Steel looks like the Berlin Wall, and sought to justify the travel chaos it has caused.
“I don’t think it looks like the Berlin Wall at all really,” Armitt told the South Wales Argus. “It is designed to provide a secure perimeter. It is heavy-duty infrastructure and it’s there for a specific purpose.
“It is not ideal but the reality is we are charged with looking after 67 world leaders and there is a fair degree of attendant security that goes with that type of event.”
He echoed Howells warning that the event could well be a terrorist target but said security measures – including yellow barriers to guard against car bombs – were there to make any attempt extremely difficult.
Construction of the fence began earlier in August and it will likely be fully dismantled by September 12, over a week after the summit. Armitt explained that the gates and barriers in the fence will be closed on September 4, creating what he called an “island.” The lockdown will run from 2am on September 4 to 6am on September 5.
Local businesses believe their profits will be hit substantially by a combination of road closures and demonstrations. Commuters, too, have complained of traffic tailbacks adding hours to their journey.
Barry Hospital’s Minor Injuries Unit has been forced to close during the summit, with patients moved elsewhere. Resident Jeff Heathfield told Barry & District News the move was “a massive over-reaction.”
“The consequences for the Vale community could be unthinkable,” said Heathfield.
Schools in the area have been advised to close early on 3 and 5 September and open late on 4 September to minimize traffic disruption caused by delegates flying into Cardiff Airport. “It's completely disproportionate and a major misjudgment by the Vale local authority,” Vale of Glamorgan Conservative MP Alun Cairns told BBC Wales.
A couple due to hold their wedding reception at Cardiff Castle were disappointed to find security fencing will blight their idyllic backdrop. “I can’t even look at the fence yet, because I know it will upset me,” the bride-to-be told Wales Online. “It won’t have the same ‘wow’ effect.”
Protesters are expected to arrive in the city for a peace camp at Tredegar Park and demonstrations are scheduled for August 30 and September 4. A group of peace activists are due to arrive at the site of the summit after a three-week “Long March on Newport.”
More than 20,000 protesters from around the world are expected to take part in demonstrations, where the week-long peace camp and a counter-summit are among some of the events planned in what has been billed as Wales’ largest protest in a generation.
Previous NATO summits in Chicago and Strasbourg saw thousands protest against war, austerity and global inequality.
“Many of us are increasingly worried by the threat that NATO poses to world stability and peaceful relations,” said protest organizers. “Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has reinvented itself supposedly as a tool of the ‘international community’ to safeguard ‘freedom and security’.
“In reality it is a vehicle for US-led use of force in the interests of the rich and powerful, accelerating militarization, bypassing the United Nations and the system of international law, and escalating spending on arms,” they added.