Decision to block housing development over Welsh language and traffic fears overturned
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Planning inspectors have overruled Gwynedd’s councillors by allowing permission to build 30 homes near Ysbyty Gwynedd, despite claims that traffic is already “bonkers” in the area.
December saw Gwynedd’s planning committee turn down a housing association’s application for the mix of two and three-bedroom homes at Pen-y-Ffridd, Penrhosgarnedd on the outskirts of Bangor.
Committee members had gone against the advice of the authority’s own officers in refusing Adra’s plans, citing the impact on the already congested road.
But after an appeal was launched, independent planning inspectors have decided to overrule the committee’s original decision.
According to Anthony Thickett, who led the appeal investigation, it was not felt that councillors’ concerns over highway safety and the impact on the Welsh language were enough to refuse the proposals.
Councillors had claimed that “insufficient information” had been provided that it would not be a negative effect on the Welsh language, also feeling that the site entrance was unsuitable for a development of the proposed scale.
Mr Thicket, however, wrote in his report: “The Highway Authority conclude that Pen y Ffridd Road its junction with Penrhos Road and Penrhos Road are capable of accommodating the proposed development.
“I am aware of the concerns of local residents but have seen no empirical evidence to lead me to a different view.
“I conclude, therefore, that the proposed development would not have an adverse impact on highway safety and would comply with LDP Policies TRA 2 and TRA 4.”
He also pointed to the view of the council’s own Welsh Language Unit, who felt that the development “would not be large enough to have a major impact on the area’s linguistic composition.”
When considering the application last December, local councillors raised concerns over the impact on an already strained road network, with Bangor councillor Huw Wyn Jones pointing to a 2018 report which described the nearby hospital roundabout as “already approaching capacity”.
This was despite warnings that any successful appeal could end up with the council having to pay costs.
But Cllr Jones, one of seven to vote against the plans with just three in favour, added: “Since then we have added a new and higher capacity Ysgol y Garnedd, which of course will mean more traffic on Ffordd Penrhos.
“We have also improved Ysgol y Faenol which also means more traffic, these developments have only been achieved so no one can tell what effect these have had yet.
“This is the only way in and out of Ysbyty Gwynedd and strategically vital, we have to be so careful as we have no plan B. What happens if we end up with major tailbacks around the hospital for ambulances for example?
“I can’t think of a single way we can sort that out retrospectively without shutting a school or knocking down a housing estate.
“Everyone working at Ysbyty Gwynedd will tell you that traffic can be bonkers.
“We’re playing a very dangerous game in approving an estate with 60 parking spaces, but if we have to go to Cardiff to defend ourselves we have a robust argument there.”
Despite the offer of 12 affordable homes a 74-signature petition was also submitted by locals, claiming that access to the proposed development along part of Pen-y-Ffridd Road was too narrow for construction or permanent traffic.
Gwynedd Council, which now faces having to pay the appellant’s costs, said: “We note the Planning Inspectorate’s decision.”
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This outcome demonstrates graphically why Wales needs control over final planning decisions and an end to interference by the englandandwales Planning Inspectorate. The crisis facing the Welsh-speaking communities as a result of housing and planning policy has already become an electoral issue, but it is fast morphing into an existential issue, far more important than minutiae such as ease of access for vehicles, etc. It will take a political struggle lasting years before this is resolved to Wales’ satisfaction, and by then it may be too late.
The Planning Inspectorate is not fit for purpose, whether it’s concerns about the Welsh language or indeed any other. In Brecon last year, as a result of widespread local opposition, the planning committee of the national park rejected a planning application by a landowner mainly on environmental impact grounds, including as the work would cause significant disruption, environmental damage, impact on local residents and the benefits were minimal. The landowner appealed to the Planning inspectorate (what I considered to be a weak argument and simply a rehearsal of the original application), and despite more vehement opposition (and coherent arguments put… Read more »