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Failure to publish report on plan to boost the economy of rural Wales ‘a scandal’

14 Jun 2024 7 minute read
Camping. Photo by Hội Nguyễn from Pixabay

Martin Shipton

The Welsh Government’s refusal to publish the findings of a public consultation on a proposal thought likely to boost Wales’ rural economy more than two years after it concluded has been branded a scandal.

Figures released under freedom of information legislation show that 81% more respondents want the right to operate temporary campsites increased from 28 days per year to 56 than oppose it.

Yet despite this, the Welsh Government still refuses to make the consultation’s conclusions public.

A total of 126 private individuals, businesses, voluntary organisations and public sector bodies took part in the consultation on extending Permitted Development Rights (PDR), but eight of these left the question blank, leaving 118 relevant responses.

Of these, 67 (57%) agreed PDR should be extended to 56 days, 37 (31%) said the current level of 28 days should remain in place and 14 (12%) provided no definite answer, opting to tick the “other” box instead.

Landowners

The consultation, which ran from November 21 2021 to February 15 2022, includes many responses from Welsh farmers and landowners who are having to rely on diversification such as campsites more and more to make ends meet.

On February 1 2022, the Welsh Government stated that “a formal consultation report setting out the next steps will be issued by the Welsh Government later this year”, but the report did not materialise.

Even the Senedd Petitions Committee has been unable to get a response from the Welsh Government after a petition calling for an extension to PDR gathered 430 signatures.

According to the Petitions Committee website, the Senedd must consider all petitions that attract more than 250 signatures.

Dan Yates, founder of leading outdoor accommodation booking site Pitchup.com which obtained the figures, described the situation as a scandal.

‘Vital income’

Mr Yates said: “There is a clear majority in favour of extending PDR to run temporary campsites in Wales. It would provide many farmers and landowners with vital income, more capacity for holidaymakers, would help the environment by reducing the number of overseas flights and fly camping, and boost rural communities as local businesses benefit from the tourism spend. But the Welsh Government just turns the other way and ignores the pleas from its own rural communities.

“This is particularly surprising as Wales has most to gain from increasing PDR. Data from VisitBritain shows that 34% of holidays in Wales involve camping or caravanning compared to just 20% in England and 21% in Scotland, meaning the country has a big opportunity to capitalise on.”

Mr Yates added that Wales also comes first and second in Pitchup.com’s annual review awards, with sites in mid and north Wales beating all other regions in the UK in terms of overall average ratings.

“In Wales, temporary campsites achieved even higher customer ratings than usual, scoring 9.2 out of 10 compared to 9.1 for traditional sites,” he said. “So to not even consider permanently extending PDR is nothing short of a scandal.”

Temporary extension

The consultation came off the back of a temporary extension to PDR from 28 days to 56 in England and Wales during the pandemic to help rural communities recover from the pandemic. Pitchup.com’s own figures revealed this injected an extra £25m into the rural economy in 2021, but the temporary extension ended on December 31 2021.

However, in a boost to English farmers, landowners and rural communities, last year the Westminster government permanently extended PDR to 60 days in England. This sparked hopes that Wales would follow suit, particularly in the light of the consultation, but the government has refused to be drawn on the issue for more than two years.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the identities of private individuals and businesses were anonymised, but many left comments as to why PDR should be extended.

One said: “In my view the 56 day rule is not only favourable to the people and economy of Wales, it is also a very important step for the environment. The world is facing a climate change emergency and flying is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. If more people will holiday in the country rather than flying abroad this will make a significant contribution towards solving climate change.

“This ruling will also allow more people to camp on farms and as such connect more with nature and find that all important peace and mental wellbeing. Furthermore, it will also support farmers in Wales who are struggling to make ends meet.”

Another added that being able to open for 56 days each year would enable their hill farm to continue. The farmer wrote: “We had not allowed camping on this farm until last summer. It was worth organising and setting up facilities for 56 days rather than 28, and it was successful – we had lovely visitors and all the reviews we had were 5/5.”

Emails

As well as the results of the consultation, Pitchup.com obtained emails between a number of stakeholders and Julie James, the then Minister for Climate Change, on the issue, including one from Cefin Campbell, the Plaid Cymru MS for Mid & West Wales, who wrote to her on behalf of one of his constituents.

Mr Campbell wrote: “I understand that early this year a change in planning law was undertaken, which saw the UK Government extend PDR from 28 days per year to 60 days across England. I understand that in Wales, the regulations currently remain at 28 days.

“My constituent argues that extending this period would provide a significant boost for many rural businesses, particularly as the industry continues to look to recover following the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges of the cost-of-living crisis.

“I would welcome any insight I could provide to my constituent on the Welsh Government’s stance regarding the above, and what consideration has been given to extending permitted development rights for camping sites.”

James Evans, the Tory MS for Brecon & Radnorshire, also wrote to the Minster, asking her to confirm whether the Welsh Government is looking to introduce similar laws to England.

“If there is to be no change to the current 28 day rule in Wales, this will place many farmers, particularly in the border areas in my constituency, at a considerable disadvantage to their counterparts in England,” he wrote.

“At a time when farmers need to diversify and have multiple income streams, I ask that you give consideration to adopting the same 60 day rule here in Wales. If you will not consider this rule change, I would be grateful to learn how you intend to support farmers in the border areas of my constituency so that they are not financially disadvantaged by the Welsh planning system.”

The Minster sent the same standard response to both emails, saying she had received “a number of concerns” about extending the permitted development rights for campsites from residents adjacent to sites, and further consideration was required.

She concluded: “We will consider whether 60 days is appropriate, taking into account the consultation responses already received on this issue when we make the amendments to permitted development rights. The next set of changes has yet to be scheduled.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “More respondents to the consultation were in favour of the proposals to extend the time for temporary uses but there were also concerns raised that cannot be ignored.

“These proposals could have a significant impact on people’s lives and businesses and so consideration must be given to balancing the planning impacts, as part of a wider package of amendments to the legislation. A consultation on proposed changes is likely to take place later this year.”


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

Welsh Gov…for the few not the many and certainly not for the north…

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