Building 8,000 new homes on Gwynedd and Môn is a defeat for Welsh democracy

 

Huw Williams

Gwynedd and Ynys Môn have just signed off on a Local Development Plan to build almost 8000 homes.

They did so despite it being openly acknowledged that building so many new houses would be damaging to the sustainability of Welsh as a community language.

The outcome raises several questions, not least with respect to the influence of a multinational on local democracy – for the company responsible for developing Wylfa 2, Horizon, have been allowed to intervene and influence clauses relating to the Welsh language and its importance in terms of planning.

In party political terms, the outcome in Gwynedd in particular raises equally pointed questions about the role of the Plaid Cymru hierarchy and the local councillors.

Only a minority opposed, whilst others were absent.

The rationale, it seems, is that rejecting the plan and returning it to the Welsh Government would only result in a worse deal for Gwynedd down the line.

The vote is all the more interesting because the one Labour councillor, Sion Jones of Bethel, rejected the plans.

Jones the Rejector

The response from some in the Plaid camp has been to pour scorn on this stand and accuse Jones of currying favour, with a view to furthering his political career.

To push this line seems somewhat presumptuous, if not insulting, insinuating that no one in the Labour Party – even a working class, Welsh speaking boy from Bethel – would dream of putting their head above the parapet, and rail against their own party for the sake of the community and its language.

More likely it is a response borne of frustration and an element of shame that their own councillors have not taken the same course of action. Perhaps he will benefit electorally in the future, but if so, then he has earnt it.

The accusation is even more disingenuous because his opposition was no secret before the vote, and Plaid could have used this to their advantage in making a powerful statement to the Welsh Government.

They could have rejected the plan and sent it back to Cardiff – whilst pointing out that even one of their own Labour councillors opposed it.

Sbia adre?

This last episode is in stark contrast to recent events in Conwy where there was much ado about the prospect of a Plaid Cabinet working with Tory Councillors.  It seems there were interjections from the party at a national level and a great deal of internal debate.

However, when it came to a major decision with implications for the last communities in Wales where Welsh is the default language, there seems to have been little hand-wringing.

Could there not have been some major coordination between Councillors and the party in Cardiff Bay, to send a message to the government that the LDP was unacceptable and at odds with wider aspirations and policy for the language?

The suggestion that the government would simply have returned an even worse plan seems an empty excuse – surely a rejection of this nature would have allowed further scrutiny at local and national level.

Indeed, it could, or should, have signalled a more general debate about a situation across Wales that is troubling more and more people

As referred to in an article last week, the rise in Wales’ population since 1992 of around 200,000 has seen this increase occur in the over 60s bracket – with nothing to suggest the next 25 years will be any different.

This is not only a major issue for public services and economic sustainability.

In the communities of Gwynedd and Mon this is a group far less likely than families to take to the language and to sustain the linguistic community over the long term.

Where’s the politics?

Ultimately the answer given is that the situation has come about because of a dictat from Cardiff Bay – Plaid councillors have been given no option on this.

There is no denying that the situation has been created by a Labour Government and that they share responsibility.

However, it is not only a defeat for Plaid, it is a defeat for Welsh democracy when a plan like this is passed without resistance – and a golden opportunity is passed up to question these developments at a more fundamental level.

Ultimately it is the opposition – and Plaid has set out its stall in this Assembly as a staunch opposition – that leads in holding the government to account, scrutinizing and ensuring it does not drift into lazy, unthinking and unreflective policy making.

Plaid wish to position themselves at the radical heart of Welsh politics, yet when an opportunity presents itself to attack the entire edifice of a policy area that needs reform, they fluff their lines.

Should they not be consistently asking what this is all about?  Why do we need thousands of new homes in areas that are seeing significant out-migration among the local population?

Where are the jobs for these new residents?  Why, in fact, do we need to increase our population and ‘develop’ in this way?

And most fundamentally of all, what, for the love of God, does development actually mean in Wales?

Self-harm

A statement rounding on the Labour Government was close to the mark, but it ultimately rings hollow when a chance for meaningful resistance has passed.

It feels all the more confusing in Gwynedd, where the Plaid led council have worked hard over time to successfully create an education system that provides a firm basis for the sustainability of genuinely bilingual communities.

Unlike in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, those who move into the area are not able to make an important, and fair point: that an expectation to learn Welsh is out of synch with an education system that doesn’t even teach the majority of its children the language (this, in my opinion, is actually the biggest elephant in the room – for those elephant spotters out there).

Given this admirable starting point, it is even less understandable why the Plaid councillors of this generation – and more senior politicians – seem to be letting these plans pass with little more than a whimper.

Plaid were happy to make a coordinated effort with respect to the #anusofthenorth, but this, of course, was an easy short term political score.

Perhaps it’s not only the Welsh Labour Government that needs to pull their finger out.

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25 Comments

  1. Thank you – this is all exactly what we up here are thinking: when it came time to write a letter and tweet and give interviews about a ring in Fflint, Plaid’s elected representatives were all over the media. With this, they kept quiet then released a measly weaselly useless statement when it was all decided.
    And yes, Sion Jones has earned the votes he’ll get – I bet Labour will put him as their candidate next election. If so Plaid are in trouble.

  2. It’s quite depressing to see yet another article missing the point on the LDP and choosing to focus on the alleged failings of Plaid Cymru rather than the entire LDP process. The parochialism of some of the arguments being made is equally depressing. The fact is that five of the six councils in north Wales have been forced to revise their preferred options for allocating land for housing (not building as claimed in the article) upwards by the diktat of the Welsh Government/Planning Inspectorate.
    Welsh Government population projections – since discredited and revised – led to inflated housing figures being demanded.
    In the case of Conwy and Denbighshire that resulted in land for an additional 1,000 homes being allocated, despite the population of Denbighshire only growing by 400 in the past decade (2001-11). Similarly Wrexham Council had its first LDP, submitted in 2012, rejected by the Planning Inspectorate because it *only* allocated land for 7,700 dwellings. Welsh Government projected a need (back then) for 13,000 new homes and the council was instructed to submit a second LDP based on that figure. While that work was underway, those figures were revised downwards – in light of mid-year population projections that showed the county’s population was at best static and even falling – so that LDP2 will now have a Welsh Government-approved figure of 8,450 homes allocated. So effectively, Wrexham is back where it started five years ago due to Welsh Government incompetence. The cost of developing a second LDP runs into the hundreds of thousands of pounds as well as allowing developers to effectively bypass the planning system to build on greenfield sites because there is no LDP in place.
    Gwynedd faced the same bullying tactics and pressure. The actual housing figures for the LDP’s lifetime of 2013-2028 are around 3,300 in Gwynedd – almost half of which have already been built or have planning permission.

    The real scandal is that democratic decisions by councils across Wales are being challenged and overturned by a Planning Inspectorate that bases its housing decisions on discredited and outdated population projections that even the Welsh Government has had to admit are flawed. Wrexham is still facing the prospect of allocating far too much land for housing that won’t be affordable and probably isn’t necessary because our LDPs are designed for developers and not for communities. The Cardiff Labour Government are complicit in this and yet have not faced any of the wrath that Plaid Cymru councillors in Gwynedd have felt.

    But, hey, let’s chuck in a few “Tryweryns” and “gwarths” and have a go at the only council that has ensured its internal administration is fully bilingual and ensures all its school children leave education with both languages.

    • If you are suggesting that the whole LDP process is a shambles I would agree wholeheartedly if you are including the WG in the equation. However, the quality of research carried out by the LPAs is the biggest problem facing Welsh communities, only lip service is being given to the Welsh Language, it is all about ‘locals only’.

    • Ian Johnson

      I agree with Marc, this really needs to be properly contextualised within LDP arguments that have raged in Wales for the past decade, particularly the failure to re-assess housing projections in light of the changed economic circumstances post-2007 and the appalling amount of unfettered power granted by the Labour run Welsh Government in the 2005 regulations to the Planning Inspector to make the final decision on what should be a democratic process. Changing the latter would have been amongst the first changes implemented by a 2016 Plaid Cymru Government, but that’s not how Wales voted, so we’re stuck with the current system for the moment.

      But let’s add some context anyway. Both Vale of Glamorgan and Gwynedd have recently passed LDPs for 2011-26. In 2011, both counties had similar housing numbers – the Vale of Glamorgan 53,600 and Gwynedd 52,400 .(https://statswales.gov.wales/Catalogue/Housing/Households/Projections/Local-Authority/2011-Based/HouseholdProjections-by-LocalAuthority-Year). The Vale’s agreed LDP targets a build of 9,460 houses, Gwynedd 3,712 – actually 600 *below* the Welsh Government’s 2011-based principal projection. That Gwynedd LDP (below 250 houses per year) looks a lot more sustainable and realistic than the over-development in other parts of the country (e.g. 630 houses per annum in the Vale of Glamorgan), so, for what it’s worth, I think Plaid in Gwynedd have done a good job. Marc’s right about the Tryweryn references as well – a bit like Godwin’s Law it makes sensible debate impossible.

      For anybody interested, the Vale of Glamorgan LDP debate can be seen here: http://cast.valeofglamorgan.gov.uk/VideoPlayer.aspx?video=S1a2FscGVSY. I start speaking at around 27 minutes. No Labour councillor speaks in the debate. It’s passed 40 – 5 (Cons, Lab & Llantwit Independents v 4 Plaid, 1 Ind).

  3. Dean Williams

    They’ll be calling to build a wall and for England to pay for it next.

  4. Isn’t Nation.cymru open to contributors? Why not submit a piece saying excactly what you say here, Marc. We need a critique of the recent LDP decisions, but balance is crucial.

  5. Glenn Swingler

    MarcVJones..perfectly answered.

  6. Gwynedd & Mon can’t stand in the way of the Welsh Gov’s target of 20,000 affordable homes, surely?
    Wales’s planning body is in England.
    Scotlands planning body is in Scotland.
    Expansionism Wales 2017.

  7. The real scandal is that for over a decade we’ve known that the Welsh Gov / Planning inspectrate have been dictating housing numbers to councils,with full knowledge of the damage to all aspects of Welsh identity,community life,and the environment ,that these numbers bring. Yet no serious,sustained fight to right this has happened. Housing is clearly set out as a devolved area in Wales,yet the only opinion that matters is the Welsh Labour party. What is the point of having planning commitees,planning policy panels, or any planning process in Wales. This is soft ethnic cleansing with many elected representatives being too easily manipulated. I don’t see the logic or point of taking the position of ” if we don’t have a plan then developers WILL have free reign”, because you’ve just given them free reign NOW!. Why don’t councils simply say NO,and then NO to the planning inspectorate. The Inspectorate/ Welsh Labour will not be able to justify their position. They will not even attempt to discuss the ins and outs in the open because the implications of what they’re doing
    would be disastrous for them. At the same time make a coordinated determined effort to change the situation. Welsh Labour are in suc avulnerable position on this,they would cave in and make their excuses within 3 months,and Wales could win back it’s recognised control over this devolved matter.

    • The inspectorate is based in England.

      • Officially ,the planning inspectorate is a Westminster office . Westminster has no role in either housing or planning in Wales.The position has no statutory mandate in Wales.However ,thanks to Welsh Labour, he does have an office “in” Wales, and is also given a mandate ,unilaterally by the Welsh Government. He is basically an agent of the Welsh Labour party and development companies.

        That’s why I say our elected representatives should be refusing to recognise his authority to dictate housing numbers and let Welsh Labour fight for his right to detrimentally socially engineer the population of Wales.

  8. We should remember that 12 Plaid councillors voted against the LDP in Gwynedd, also defying their party. As for Sion Jones, he is definitely an asset for Labour. But he will pick up votes for being a bloody good local councillor, not for this particular stand. From what I have learned he is a hard-working councillor in Bethel, trusted by the community as someone who will actually represent them. He reminds me of Plaid councillor Gruffydd Williams in Nefyn as someone who has his community at heart and has the staunch support of his constituents.

    What a stark contrast to the [I’ve edited the comment to take something out here, explained below – Ed] that also permeates Plaid’s (and others’) ranks. The Chair who’s casting vote passed the LDP in Gwynedd, for instance, has in her 4 years as councillor achieved positions on so many council committees that she hasn’t got the time to do anything in the community, or to answer any messages, questions and requests from the public in her ward.

    The row over her casting vote and the plan for 298 new houses in Blaenau Ffestiniog (the plans for which miraculously appeared in the public sphere within 2 days of the vote) is a case in point. Facebook is rife with outraged Blaenau residents, yet despite numerous ‘tagged’ questions and comments regarding her silence on what appears to many to be a secretive plan – and regarding the total lack of need for the houses in an area where depopulation is rife and streets are full of For Sale signs – the councillor has repeatedly failed to respond.

    The other ward in the town was also Plaid, but it was lost to Llais Gwynedd in the recent elections. The Plaid councillor who lost that vote happened to be miles better than the surviving one, but suffered from the deep-rooted feeling that Plaid wasn’t listening and was taking Blaenau for granted. Were it not for the lack of a credible Llais candidate in the other ward, it would also have fallen from Plaid hands, and the Chair would not have been in office to cast the crucial casting vote on the LDP. However, at the next election, Llais could put up a mountain goat and still take the seat from Plaid.

    It will be sad to see Plaid losing their last seat in Blaenau, but that’s what happens when you disrespect the people. And by disrespect I mean getting priorities mixed up. Councillors are elected to work for and with their communities, not to forge a career by towing the Party/Council/Cabinet line.

    • Ifan Morgan Jones

      Hi Prysgodyn. Just a message to explain and apologise that I’ve had to edit a few words of your comment. As we have very little resource behind us I’m rather too aware of legal matters than could arise, for instance anything that could be construed as lowering an individual in the estimation of right thinking people. Your comment probably didn’t do so but I just want to be on the safe side. Thanks.

  9. Simon Brooks

    I don’t think it helps for us to spin this as a Labour LDP imposed on Gwynedd. At every step of the process, over 5 years & more, there has been no attempt to stand up to Cardiff or anyone. The plan is a mistake, & like all parties which make mistakes, it is not helpful to blame others. The plan does not enjoy the support of a huge chunk of Plaid’s core support, & we should not rub the noses of our core vote in the dirt by trying to pretend that anyone but ourselves has messed this up.

  10. Bob y Bildar

    I’m confused. The biggest danger facing the Welsh language in its heartland areas is poverty, but it seems any attempt to grow the population, and hence the area’s economy, is treated as a threat to Welsh language and culture. Surely we have to embrace significant development in the hope that a boosted population will bring more jobs, providing livelihoods for young local people and their families. Yes, we should ensure that the resources and policies are there to provide a fully bilingual education for all, but ultimately – if the local economy doesn’t grow – in the words of Private Frazer (that’s giving my age away) – we’re all doomed…

  11. I really feel that this is a tipping point for Plaid Cymru. I really do.

    We have the weak, vacuous leadership of Leanne Wood with her craven and completely counter-productive pleas for a “progressive alliance” with the British left to defeat “those evil Tories”.

    We have just seen them gaining their lowest share of the vote in a parliamentary election for 30 years.

    They recently refused the opportunity to lead Conwy County Council in a four party coalition, with well-respected Welsh Nationalist Gareth Jones as leader: just because they did not want to be tainted by association with the Conservative party. An opportunity to LEAD Conwy Council! Have people any idea how radical, how transformational that could have been in a county which features parts of the most anglicised areas in the whole of Wales??

    As if by flourishing their tired and hackneyed socialist card, they could somehow magic out of existence, thousands of Conservative voters in Conwy, including many Welsh speakers in their midst.

    Now, we have this, the ultimate insult to nationalists all over Wales: deferring to the Planning Inspectorate of England’s housing dictates in the last heartlands of the Welsh language.

    A language which has been spoken in Wales for at least 1,500 years – and which is at the very core of Welsh national identity( whether you speak the language or not)- is to be wilfully jeopardised on the altar of yet more houses. By a Plaid Cymru council in Gwynedd of all places.

    We’ve known for 50 years and more that speculative building developments have always correlated with a decline in Welsh language communities in Wales. But all these years of experience were simply not considered.

    Talking of a Development Plan seems positively Orwellian in this context: there’s no emphasis on developing the Welsh language or identity here, no emphasis on developing Welsh entrepreneurship, no emphasis on developing Welsh confidence and public engagement and no emphasis on developing resilience and sustainability: two qualities which will surely be sorely needed in this next period following Brexit.

    We face an existential crisis internally because of Plaid’s weakness and an external crisis because of Brexit.

    There is however a way out of this crisis.

    In 2020, the Assembly Elections will probably feature a STV voting system. Every single vote cast in Wales will then count. This can enable new, and smaller parties to emerge as part of Welsh democracy.

    I would suggest that this is just the time to establish a new centre right nationalist grouping. ( let’s ditch the old tribal party label)

    Some initial ideas for such a grouping:

    * To stand unequivocally for Welsh Independence
    * To push for decentralizing power from Cardiff Bay and establishing different government departments all over Wales.
    * To promote a pro-business, pro-entrepreneurship country and launch a “Return to Wales” drive to attract Welsh exiles from all over the world.
    * Introduce digital democracy so that all citizens of Wales can be full participants in the governing process
    * To point out to people the huge burdens placed on our NHS by elderly retirees from England, and how those costs impinge negatively on the education of all Welsh pupils. To lobby the government of England to ensure that adequate finance follows these retirees..
    * Develop a Welsh Migration points system with an emphasis on attracting educated and dynamic working-age migrants( similar to the system just introduced by Canada)
    * Set up a new Welsh currency and a National Bank
    * Prepare for the potential loss of European markets by developing an internal market for Welsh goods and services( in Wales mainly- but also for England and Scotland)
    * Acknowledge the linguistic diversity of Wales: Special Linguistic status for Welsh speaking areas in the West; Intermediate Linguistic status for Less -Welsh speaking areas; Initial Linguistic status for mainly English-speaking areas: under the umbrella of a strong One Wales approach
    * Utilise the talents and resources of older people in Wales, not only that older people have the opportunity to keep earning and contributing in various ways: but also to mentor and encourage young people

    We really do not have anything to lose with the Brexit clusterfuck planned for us by the Tory and Labour London parties.

    Why not adopt a backbone and insist on being a nation at last? We really could become one of the best small nations in the world , if the vision is there.

    As the Good Word tells us: “the people perish where there is no vision”

    • So Simon Glyn and anyone who voted in favour of the LDP wouldn’t be able to be in this “new nationalist party”? Would any of the Plaid councillors who voted against it? If anything they’re probably Leanne Wood supporters.

      The Westminster result was not worst for thirty years, it was higher than 1997 and more MPs. So you would stand against four good Plaid MPs? Against AMs?

  12. Dylan Fernley

    there are 1800 people on the housing waiting list , are we to ignore the plight of the many who have no access to decent rented housing , the so called right to buy has seen the shrinking of the very housing designed to help those whose circumstance doesn’t allow for mortgages , there are millions of us in that situation nationally , and here it’s skewing the housing market , the plan is weak on commitment to social housing , but the opposition to the ldp were as well . interestingly the plan seems misunderstood , with huge figures banded about , yet in gwynedd the plan caters for a modest 140 units a year until the next plan is unleashed .

  13. Is there any provision for rented housing in the LDP? As far as us public knew it’s all private sales, with local need indulged by a proportion of builds for locals – at prices impossible for us to afford – with no rented homes. I think people would be more understanding if these houses were all for social housing. And I mean all.

    Then again, the agencies administering social housing are on an England and Wales points basis. Which means that (and this is the elephant our representatives ignore) the houses ar too often given to outsiders with serious baggage. Abuse of the system is a massive concern for locals.

    But at the end if the day, the LDP is there for property developers not for people.

    • The LDP only allocates land for housing – it doesn’t state whether for rent or sale. Plans do state a desire for X% of affordable homes but that is usually challenged by developers who use the “viability test”, i.e. can we afford to build them and still make 15-20% profit. I can’t speak for other areas but in the next couple of years Wrexham and Denbighshire will start to build new council homes, which will partially answer the desperate need for affordable housing. I take your point about the allocation system – there isn’t enough weighting for local connection and the shortage of homes means that it’s usually the most problematic families who get housed.

  14. Another TRYWERYN, you could say, or another BOMB FACTORY.

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