Concerns mount about Welsh planning system
Concerns about an increasingly important element of Wales’ planning system are growing, with some local authority officials saying their departments are being put under pressure.
CPRW, the Welsh countryside charity, has claimed that the new Developments of National Significance planning system, intended to fast-track renewable energy projects, is not fit for purpose.
The DNS system, introduced by the Welsh Government in 2016, is a type of planning application for large infrastructure projects of national importance, including all ground-based solar and onshore wind developments of more than 10MW capacity.
CPRW, one of the oldest charities in Wales – established to protect the Welsh countryside for future generations – says the process is not fit for purpose due to insufficient resources being provided to the body overseeing the applications, Planning Environment Department Wales (PEDW) which has resulted in a chaotic and jumbled process that leaves members of the public confused and ill advised.
CPRW spokesman Ross Evans claims that PEDW cannot cope with the level of applications before it: “In recent discussions with members of staff at PEDW, they have admitted to CPRW that they are struggling with the level of applications going through the system and just can’t cope,” he said. “PEDW staff are doing their best to stay on top of everything, but it is all just too much.”
For members of the public looking to find out more about a proposal in their area, there is just one source of official information: the DNS casework portal on PEDW’s website. Mr Evans said CPRW had pointed out several inaccuracies on the casework portal to PEDW, including wrongly described project websites, a lack of updating to the progress of proposals and the fact that the portal itself is hard to navigate, rarely updated, with proposal pages that are impossible to share.
In a recent analysis of the 83 cases on the portal the “status” of almost half are wrongly described, leading to a situation where members of the public would be fundamentally misled about the proposals concerned.
Blaenau Gwent council has now expressed similar concerns, agreeing that the DNS system is not fit for purpose, with officers “being stretched to the limit trying to deal with the daily grind of applications on top of these DNS schemes”.
Such comments also echo statements made by PEDW itself, which told CPRW: “We aim to keep the website up to date but we have an unprecedented number of DNS applications before us and need to direct resources where they are most needed.”
Ross Evans of CPRW said: “Given that PEDW have already admitted they cannot cope with the level of applications before them, and now local authorities are saying the same thing, what hope do we have of an adequate assessment of applications to ensure they take into account both the views of the community and the plight of nature?
“Moreover, if applications under 50MW are about to go back to local authorities under the incoming Infrastructure Bill – currently going through the Senedd – what extra resources and training will be given to councils to enable them to scrutinise these applications to the level they are needed?
“The only sensible solution would be to halt all applications until all the scrutinising bodies are given the resources they need to assess applicants. If they proceed under the current system where major stakeholders are openly admitting they lack the resources needed to do their jobs, all applications will be wide open to judicial review.”
Mr Evans also argued that in light of proposals to create a new national park covering the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley, there should be a moratorium on major new developments in the area.
He said: “Until the boundaries are agreed, we need to ensure that no development proceeds that may detract from the beauty of the new national park before it is even formed. How can we fully incorporate areas, or consider areas to be included, when they are earmarked for industrialisation?”
Bute Energy and its subsidiary Green GEN Cymru have in recent days announced plans for a new network of electricity pylons crossing north Powys alongside a proposal for another new windfarm near Llanerfyl. The route could pass through the proposed national park, depending on its final boundaries.
Jenny Chryss chairs the campaign group RE-think, which opposes Bute’s plans, She said: “We knew this was coming, we just didn’t know when or exactly in what form. Bute Energy knows no bounds in its quest to cover Mid Wales in giant energy parks and overhead power lines, while pretending it’s all for the benefit of local people.
“A Phase Two line going into Shropshire can only emphasise the disingenuous nature of Bute Energy’s mantra that it is providing ‘clean green energy for Wales’.
“This latest proposal only goes to demonstrate that this is absolutely nothing to do with providing clean green energy for Wales. It is about making a lot of money for themselves and their foreign venture capitalist backers at the expense of our rural communities.”
A non-statutory six-week public consultation on the power line plans runs until October 18.
The Welsh Government has said that the main purpose of the DNS portal is to enable the public and organisations to see appeal and application documents so they can comment on them. It says it is working to improve the system and hopes to launch an updated version of the portal later this year.
Bute Energy argues that its plans will make a major contribution to achieving the Welsh Government’s carbon net zero ambitions.
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