Urgent need to protect green belt land from speculative developments; local lockdowns not ruled out

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A summary of this afternoon’s questions to Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West).

Urgent measures needed to protect green belt from speculative developments

Mark Isherwood MS (Con, North Wales) believes green belt land needs more protection from speculative planning applications (planning applications which don’t fit the local development plan) after a complaint against Flintshire Council’s decision to approve such a development was upheld.

He went on to say that planning departments were facing increasing difficulty to protect the green belt given delays to the preparation of Flintshire’s Local Development Plan. Coronavirus regulations have also limited communities’ ability to challenge new developments, with consultations and site visits moved online-only.

The Minister bemoaned cutbacks to “non-essential” departments, which often includes planning, with a resulting loss of skills. There was work ongoing behind the scenes to ensure LDPs are completed to stave off developers:

“….as we ease out of the lockdowns, we’re working with each local authority to make sure that we get a reviewed and properly resourced plan to get their LDP in place. And the reason for that, Mark, is exactly what you pointed out: that authorities that don’t have a plan in place tend to be subject to speculative developments that they find more difficult to fend off because they don’t have an adopted plan.”
– Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James

Local lockdowns not ruled out

In light of localised outbreaks of Covid-19 focused on meat processing plants, Delyth Jewell MS (Plaid, South Wales East) asked what additional support was being provided to local authorities where an outbreak has occurred?

The Minister told the Senedd that while there was no need yet for a local lockdown, options are being kept open.

“….the Prime Minister said that they are working on local lockdown plans now as England comes out of its easing procedure. So, we’ll be working alongside them on the things that we rely on the UK Government for and in the meantime we are putting in place a series of regulations here that allow specific things to happen in particular areas if there is a need to do that. I would like to emphasise that we don’t think that there is a need just now, but we’re keeping a very careful eye on it.”
– Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James

Local authorities were also playing a major role in the Welsh Government’s track and trace programme and Delyth Jewell warned that due to issues such as insecure work and welfare reform, many employees may be pressured into returning to work when they should self-isolate; what extra support could be provided to ease pressure on local authorities when they coordinate track and trace?

The Minister said many of the key tools – such as speeding up welfare applications – are beyond the Welsh Government’s control. There couldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach as the circumstances behind localised outbreak will be different; many of the people involved in the meat processing outbreaks, for example, live in HMOs – so guidance is being updated there.

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