News

Call for Welsh Language planning reform as current regulations described as ‘farcical’

30 Jan 2021 7 minutes Read
New houses

Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter

The current requirements for applicants compiling Welsh language impact assessments are “farcical,” according to a councillor who recently completed his term heading a planning committee.

Cllr Elwyn Edwards, who has been a long-time advocate for planning reform in relation to the Welsh language, urged a council committee to debate the importance of the Welsh language in regards to planning matters, claiming it was long overdue.

He added: “In every single planning committee the applicant compiles their own language impact assessments.

“Having counted them myself, 70 assessments have been presented claiming their development won’t have an adverse effect on the Welsh language and it’s still going on.”

The member for Llandderfel, in his role as a member of the Snowdonia National Park Authority, recently proposed a motion with the park calling on the Welsh Government to insist on planning permission being in place before a regular house can be turned into a holiday home.

But during a meeting of Gwynedd’s language committee on Thursday, Cllr Edwards turned his attention to the impact assessments currently compiled by applicants for major proposals within the county.

Before adoption in 2019, claims that changes to the local development plan would reduce the circumstances where such assessments are required resulted in fierce opposition from language groups.

Gwynedd and Anglesey Councils – which share the development plan – say the current policies are “sound” and assist the process of approving “appropriate developments.”

But Cllr Edwards has now urged the committee to debate the importance of the Welsh language in regards to planning matters, claiming it was long overdue.

He suggested that applicants should be compelled to provide “much more information” when compiling such assessments, including:

  • Levels of local inward and outward migration over the past five years,
  • Housing waiting lists,
  • Proposed price of any homes as well as those sold over the past five years,
  • Local median wages,
  • The current strength of the language
  • The number of holiday homes in the community in question

Cllr Edwards concluded: “Why aren’t we going after that? The current situation is a complete farce.

“There’s an application in to build 60 homes in Bangor now and it will happen again, language officers seem to be in agreement with developers every time.”

Cllr Edwards requested that an item to discuss the issue be pencilled in for a future meeting of the language committee.

‘Guidance’

In response,  the authority pointed to the adopted Supplementary Planning Guidance as part of the Joint Local Development Plan agreed to by both Gwynedd and Anglesey Councils.

Consideration of the Welsh language was said to have been “central” to the process of preparing the development plan.

“The truth of the matter is that there is a national lack of methodology for assessing the Welsh language when dealing with planning applications,” said Cllr Gareth Griffith upon its adoption in 2019.

“However, as the Welsh language is so important to both Gwynedd and Anglesey councils, we have decided to lead the way and develop a detailed methodology for assessing the impact on the language when deciding on planning applications, where relevant to that application.”

Anglesey Council planning portfolio holder, Cllr Richard Dew, added: “We are confident that the policies of the Joint Local Development Plan are sound and will assist the process of approving appropriate developments in both counties.

“Significant work has gone into creating the new supplementary planning guidance. They will provide clear guidance to developers in dealing with the Welsh language and provide assurance that linguistic issues are receiving full and appropriate attention.”

‘Strong feelings’

Yesterday, a Welsh Government statement on measures to tackle a rural holiday home crisis was branded “extremely disappointing” and criticised for not going far enough to address the issue.

Housing minister Julie James announced on Friday plans to undertake further research on the issue of second homes and short-term holiday lets, as well as more regular checks on businesses said to be “exploiting a tax loophole.”

While not ruling out a change in the law, it was stated that a full impact assessment would be needed before any such moves could go ahead.

She promised the Welsh Government would “explore the potential” of a statutory registration scheme for all holiday accommodation – including short-term lets such as AirBnB’s, as is already the case in Scotland.
It follows sustained calls for action from local authorities including Gwynedd and Anglesey.

The minister highlighted how Wales already allows authorities to charge a council tax premium on second homes, but acknowledged “growing concern” in some areas about the impact of second homes on communities, access to housing and affordability and the Welsh language.

“Whilst not a pan-Wales issue,” she added, “It is one that is affecting communities and provokes strong feeling at local or hyper-local levels.”

Welcoming the “creative use” of councils in using the cash generated to develop affordable housing projects, the minister also endeavoured to work with the Valuation Office Agency to review how often self-catering businesses are reappraised – following claims that a “loophole” is being exploited allowing them to not pay any domestic council tax at all.

She added: “We are aware of claims that some owners are gaming the system, with a suggestion that they have had their properties listed as non-domestic, self-catering accommodation to avoid liability for council tax premiums.

“The available evidence indicates that properties listed as self-catering accommodation meet the required legal criteria and are being used as short-term lets.

“We have invited local authorities to identify any cases where they believe properties do not meet the criteria so that they can be re-examined: that invitation still stands.”

But following the statement, language campaigners accused the Welsh Government of “lacking substance” and “not going far enough”.

Mabli Siriol, the chairman of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, added: “What we need is for the Government to take action now, rather than conduct further endless discussions.”

While welcoming December’s decision to increase Land Transaction Tax (or stamp duty) by 1% on second homes, she added that ministers have “shown they are unaware of the real scale of the crisis.”

“Only by introducing a Property Act can we truly tackle the current crisis and ensure that the housing market works in the interest of communities, not capitalism”, she said.

Cylch yr Iaith, meanwhile, described the statement as “woefully inadequate,” stressing that a local family living in a home all-year round was worth more to the local economy than any second home use.

‘Take action’

The leader of Gwynedd Council, however, welcomed that the government was “finally” recognising the issue, but “extremely disappointed they do not see the need for swift action.”

“Considerable work has already taken place to provide evidence of the problem and indeed to offer solutions that the Government could and should implement without delay,” said Cllr Dyfrig Siencyn.

“Scotland is already moving ahead with legislative changes – why is the Welsh Government dragging its feet when our communities are begging for action?

“In the short term the Government could address the shameful, and indeed immoral situation, that owners of second homes can avoid paying tax of any kind on their property. It deprives local authorities of using the resource to create housing for local people instead of the properties lost.

“The loss to Gwynedd annually is £5.2m. Why do alleged socialist politicians not see this unfairness and be eager to resolve the matter without delay?

“There is no point giving us the powers to charge a premium on second homes if tax payments can be avoided in full.

“The Government could take action on this issue without any long-winded research or primary legislation. I am calling on them to act now!”

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