‘Outdated’ Gwynedd and Anglesey planning blueprint set for review amid housing crisis
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
The process of reviewing the “outdated” blueprint setting out the planning policies of Gwynedd and Anglesey is set to begin.
Ratified separately by both authorities, Anglesey and Gwynedd’s Joint Local Development Plan (JLDP) forms the backbone of both councils’ planning policies and earmarks where up to 8,000 homes should be built and employment allocated over a 15 year period.
But while controversial at the time of adoption in 2017 – passing in Gwynedd thanks only to the casting vote of the council chairman – pressure has ramped up on the need to revisit the policy in light of a growing housing crisis, impact of Brexit and the pandemic as well as heightened concerns over the number of second homes across both counties.
When drawn up four years ago, the plan also assumed that the area would need to house thousands of workers to help build and eventually work at the proposed Wylfa Newydd development in northern Anglesey, impacting communities not only on the island, but also northern Gwynedd.
This past June saw Gwynedd Council pass a motion calling for the speeding up of the three and a half long review process after being described as “outdated” and “not fit for purpose” to meet locals’ current needs.
Nefyn councillor, Gruffydd Williams, claimed there were too many existing policies open to officers’ discretion, leading to the “gentrification” of many communities.
Noting his view that councillors had been “misled” over the ease of later review and amendment, he added that a further three and a half year wait could not be accommodated in lieu of a “radical and far reaching” review.
But on Friday the Joint Local Development Plan Committee, which contains an equal number of councillors from both authorities, backed the kick-starting of the review process by setting out the aspects it will consider.
Starting with a six week public consultation from November 1, the committee expects to be in a position to submit the documents for Welsh Government approval by March 2022, before starting the review in earnest.
“There have been significant changes in the national and local context since the plan was adopted, ” noted the report.
“The repercussions of these changes mean that there is a need to re-examine the policies of the current plan.”
Additional factors that may have to be taken into account include the designation of the Gwynedd slate landscape as a World Heritage Site and the North Anglesey Economic Regeneration Plan, in wake of the loss of jobs at the former Magnox nuclear plant.
But here’s what the draft report – which will go out to public consultation and scrutiny by both councils – has to say on factors raised since its original implementation in 2017:
Second Homes and Tourism
The current plan stresses the need to develop tourism policies “to support the development of an all year round tourism industry, whilst balancing its impact on local communities and the economy and ensuring that the natural, built and historic environment is protected.”
But while it remains one of the biggest industries in the north west of Wales, it also acknowledges the need to protect that balance in light of offering more well-paid jobs as part of “high quality, well-located tourism facilities.”
While planning to consider Dr Simon Brooks’ research into second homes as well as the Welsh Government’s promised “three pronged approach” to alleviating the impact of holiday homes on rural communities, the draft report acknowledges the growing urgency to find a solution which is likely to be implemented alongside new legislation.
“The Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit have seen an increase in the number of people choosing to stay for holidays in their own country (‘staycation’) rather than travelling abroad,” it states.
“As a result, there has been an increase in demand for self-catering holiday accommodation in the plan area, which has also put a strain on the local housing market, with a number of houses in the traditional tourist areas having been bought as second homes.
“This has led to tensions between the tourism sector and the local community as a result of the huge increase in the number of tourists visiting parts of the plan area.”
Among specific issues likely to be looked at in greater depth with be the over provision of self-contained holiday accommodation in some communities and securing higher quality ‘glamping’ facilities.
When approved by councillors, plans for a multi billion nuclear plant on Anglesey were in full force.
But after the £15-20bn project was initially shelved in January 2019 after Hitachi failed to reach a funding deal with the UK government, last year saw the Japanese giant announce that it was withdrawing completely.
While nuclear has its detractors, supporters have consistently championed ts economic benefits, cited to provide around 6% of the UK’s electricity and create 8,500 jobs during construction and another 850 over its 60-year operational lifespan.
Despite the latest setback, some remain hopeful that a funding deal may yet be struck if the UK Government is able to provide assurances sought by the private sector.
The report went on to state: “In light of the lack of investment/certainty associated with Wylfa Newydd, it is considered that this will be a significant contextual change in the preparation of the replacement plan and could have a significant impact on the plan’s growth strategy and instruments compared to the original plan.”
Having struck much of western Europe in early 2020, the spread of the virus and subsequent restrictions have impacted the lives of Welsh residents as much as any.
But on a more local level, its impact on the housing market and local infrastructure has also been far reaching, with record visitor numbers in shorter tourist seasons placing pressure on local services and amenities.
The report states: “In the wake of the pandemic the ability for people to be working from home has emerged, there has been an increased demand for people to be spending their holidays in Wales (due to travel restrictions) and there is a greater general demand for space outside for people to enjoy, whether it is street space or space around their home that allows people to socialise outdoors safely.
“The importance of the quality and accessibility of our local areas to people’s health and well-being has been highlighted even more during the worst periods of the pandemic.
“The pandemic is likely to affect aspects of everyone’s lives for years to come and is likely to be leading to a demand for change in the way we live and work.
“Considering the impact of the pandemic and planning for a future will be an essential part of the process of preparing the Replacement Plan.”
While no part of the United Kingdom has escaped the impact of withdrawal from the European Union and single market, one of the main factors highlighted in the report is the subsequent affect on Holyhead Port.
One of the busiest roll-on, roll-off ferry ports in the UK, Holyhead is one of the main links with the island of Ireland.
But with crucial freight traffic acknowledged to be substantially down as a result of Brexit and the pandemic, the report reiterates the need to study any longer term effects on the port.
“As part of the preparation of the Replacement Plan it is likely that it would be beneficial to undertake detailed research to look at the effects of Brexit on the local economy,” it states.
“The fact that the United Kingdom has left the European Union without an agreement requires additional checks to be carried out on goods that will travel out of the UK before they are allowed into the EU.
“That meant the need to carry out additional checks on heavy goods that are being transferred from Holyhead to Dublin. It is likely that this procedure will lead to delays, which means that plans are needed in place to tackle the heavy goods vehicles that will wait their turn to travel to Ireland.
“In accordance with Future Wales in order to maximise the benefit locally, to the region and for Wales, the revised plan will have to ensure that it supports the Port of Holyhead.”