Planning inspectors and LDPs attacked

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The Welsh Government are currently consulting on a new draft planning strategy (pdf) – it’s surprisingly readable. The general idea is to uplift the quality of the places we already live in as well as new developments.

Energy, Planning & Rural Affairs Secretary, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), said the planning system was about balancing complex and competing interests. The new draft planning strategy has been broadly welcomed, with Wales said to be “more competent” than England in the area.

A new National Development Framework (NDF) will set strategic priorities for development and infrastructure across Wales – with consultation open until July. It was nevertheless important that local council development plans (LDPs) are consistent in helping to create better places.

Shadow Planning Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central), reiterated the importance of good planning to the health and wellbeing of people – particularly green spaces. Nonetheless, he wants a system that will increase land for housing and to see that housing built to a high standard (don’t we all?).

Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) called for reform of TAN 20 (planning guidance with regard the Welsh language) as it was presently unclear whether language impact assessments had to be carried out for every development. Plaid Cymru also wants a Welsh Planning Inspectorate (the current system is on an EnglandandWales basis), as due to diverging planning policies and laws there is, effectively, a Wales-only planning system.

Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) underlined that planning issues often result in a strong public reaction, with many petitions relating to planning applications often having more signatures that people who vote in the council elections. He criticised what he saw as the interference of planning inspectors in local affairs, often overturning decisions made by councils.

Gareth Bennett AM (UKIP, South Wales Central) highlighted the problem of new residential areas being built without good public transport links and sited too far from employment sites. Mixed-use developments should be encouraged – with housing, retail and employment next to each other – instead of building business parks on the edge of major settlements.

Shadow Local Government Minister, Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) thought the Welsh Government were overzealous in the enforcement of national housing targets, recounting them sending officials to Conwy to tell the council how many houses to have. Greenfield and higher quality agricultural land is still coming forward for development before brownfield sites, despite policy dictating it should be the other way around.

Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) took up the mantle in his ongoing fight against the “Big Four Housing Cartel”, saying LDPs were skewed to favour big developers over smaller housebuilders. In Caerphilly, brownfield sites that had lain dormant for years were being spurned by developers in favour of greenfield sites because they were more profitable. He called for “light touch” LDPs that provide councils with greater flexibility.

Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central) said communities had already been sold out, citing the Plasdwr development in western Cardiff – “8,000 houses going up with no infrastructure”. LDPs didn’t work, with people often unable to afford the new homes. He echoed Mike Hedges comments about planning inspectors overturning democratic decisions made by councillors.

Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli) – as you might expect – called for more walkable and cycle-friendly communities; only 42% of children walked to school in 2016 compared to 70% a generation ago. A planning system which supports car-friendly development has led to this situation, while people living on traffic-heavy streets often cited fewer relationships with neighbours than those on quieter streets.

In reply, the Secretary defended planning inspectors by citing their independence – taking decisions in accordance with planning policy. She hoped the Welsh Government were “leading real change” in the planning sector with people and places becoming the main consideration in development decisions.

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