Government urged to overhaul Wales’ ‘failing’ planning system
Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter
An MS has called for an overhaul of Wales’ “failing” planning system to put people and communities at its heart.
Mabon ap Gwynfor argued the current planning system has been created to favour developers, not communities.
The Plaid Cymru politician, who is a former Denbighshire councillor, raised concerns about local development plans (LDPs) which are used to guide planning decisions.
He said: “The most prominent and recent example of this is the case of Wrexham County Borough Council.
“Now, in theory, an LDP reflects the aspirations of the democratic body and the democratic body takes ownership of the plan by adopting it.
“That’s the theory at least, but things couldn’t be further from the truth in action, because, as we saw in the case of Denbighshire and now in Wrexham, it’s not a democratic document.”
The Dwyfor Meirionnydd MS said Wrexham councillors repeatedly refused to adopt the LDP because they felt it didn’t answer the needs of the communities they represent.
He told the Senedd: “But, nevertheless, they were forced to adopt it in the face of threats of going to jail if they failed to adopt it.
“This is meant to be a plan designed and owned by the democratic body, but threatening politicians with jail for refusing to support a policy is not democracy.”
He explained that developers took the council to court for failing to adopt an LDP.
“This tells us everything we need to know about the planning system in Wales,” he said.
“It’s not designed in the interests of our communities, but rather is there for the benefit of large developers who want to extract as much profit as they can.”
Mr Gwynfor raised concerns about plans to build 455 homes on Mold Road after the forced adoption of the LDP in Wrexham.
He told the chamber that the health board has written to the planning committee, warning that primary care services could become unsustainable if the proposal gets the go-ahead.
The shadow housing minister said the idea that development can be an economic driver has failed, with long waiting lists and record numbers of people in temporary accommodation.
During the short debate on Wednesday, January 10, he cited Vienna as an international example of best practice, with the system putting people and communities at its heart.
Mr Gwynfor warned about a risk of overdevelopment in south-east and north-east of Wales while there is a shortage of development and depopulation in the west.
Carolyn Thomas, a Labour backbencher, said health, education, community facilities and public transport need to grow at the same time as housing developments.
The North Wales representative suggested residents of new developments should be given a year’s free bus pass to trial local bus services.
She also urged developers to help tackle the climate emergency by installing solar panels and water butts, planting for biodiversity, and being mindful of heavy rainfall and drought.
Peredur Owen Griffiths, the Plaid Cymru MS for South East Wales, called for animal welfare to be incorporated into planning applications.
He said the last remaining dog track in Wales was recently granted planning permission, allowing more events to be held at the Ystrad Mynach venue, despite fierce opposition.
Julie James, Wales’ climate change minister, who is responsible for planning, did not accept the proposition on which the debate was based.
“The Welsh planning system, unlike that of our nearest neighbour, is not failing,” she said.
She said the Welsh planning system was typified by a “top-tail-and-translate approach” prior to devolution which blindly adopted policy designed for England and applied it to Wales.
Ms James argued Planning Policy Wales has stood the test of time well, with Wales’ approach not being replicated in Scotland and even in England.
She said: “Local development plans require consistent and effective local political leadership to deliver. They provide a firm, rational and consistent basis for new planning decisions.
“Not to adopt and keep under review a local development plan would be an abdication of the primary responsibility of a local planning authority.”
Ms James told the Senedd that UK Government austerity has had a big impact.
She said Audit Wales found a 50% real-terms fall in planning budgets since 2008-09 with net spending falling from £45m to 22.8m in 2017-18.
Calling for collaboration between councils, the minister suggested having 25 planning authorities is unsustainable given declining professional and financial resources.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.