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New planning system not fit for purpose, says charity

22 Jul 2023 5 minute read
Wind turbines

Martin Shipton

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.”

Inaccuracies

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.

“CPRW has pointed out multiple issues with the casework portal to PEDW,” said Mr Evans. “Astonishingly they admitted to us in response that: ‘We [PEDW] 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.’

“Given the casework portal is the only official place for members of the public to get information on applications, this is frankly shocking and an abuse of the democratic process.”

The DNS application process was introduced by the Welsh Government to streamline the planning process for large projects. This effectively took the decision-making away from local authorities.

“CPRW has long argued that the DNS process has a deficit of democracy, taking the decision-making away from elected councillors and handing them over to a government department.” said Mr Evans.

“PEDW has already admitted it cannot cope with the level of applications before it, so how are we supposed to believe it can make adequate assessments of applications to ensure they take into account both the views of the community and the plight of nature?”

Map

CPRW asked PEDW for geospatial data, or to produce a map of all the current applications. As the government body has been unable to do so itself, CPRW members have painstakingly plotted and annotated a map of Wales to show all the current proposals for onshore wind and ground-based solar.

Mr Evans said: “In the absence of an official map to show the scale of applications facing the Welsh countryside, our members have produced a clear indication of what can only be called the industrialisation of our countryside.

“One thing noticeable from our map is the fallacy of the Welsh Government’s ‘Pre-Assessed Areas’. Most applications are outside of these areas and at least one foreign developer has withdrawn a major application within one of the areas claiming it wasn’t suitable.

“We will unveil this map, which shows the looming industrialisation of our countryside, at our stall at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show 2023 taking place next week.”

The CPRW stall at the Royal Welsh show will be directly behind the Welsh Government building in the Countryside Care section

As a matter of urgency, CPRW has asked for immediate changes to the DNS website and the casework portal including:

* All projects to be updated immediately;

* A “last updated on (date)” to be listed at the top of the DNS website, to clearly show when it was last updated.

* Shareable facilities on each project page, in order to be able to share publicly a direct link to a specific project page.

* A map of all proposals so the public can clearly see the extent of applications, and site boundaries / geospatial data to be made available so we can easily identify the exact location for each proposal.

A Welsh Government spokesman responded: “The main purpose of the portal is to enable the public and organisations to see appeal and application documents so they can comment on them. We are working to improve the system and hope to launch an updated version of the portal later this year.”


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Jonathan Dean
Jonathan Dean
8 months ago

The previous system hosted by the Planning Inspectorate was great, but once powers were devolved, I hate to say it, it all fell apart!

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