Questions over Cardiff’s local development plan as figures show capital will grow slower than expected
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Questions have been raised about Cardiff’s new local development plan and how many new homes the city needs.
Local development plans are major policies with huge impacts on setting out how land is used and how cities should grow.
Cardiff’s current plan, signed off in 2016, forecasted the city’s population would grow rapidly, leading to thousands of homes getting permission on farmland on the city’s outskirts.
But figures from the Welsh Government suggest the population will actually grow much less quickly than previously thought, leading to new questions about the replacement plan.
In late November, Cardiff council will begin the next stage of the long process of replacing its local development plan. A ten-week consultation will ask the public for their views on strategic options and strategic sites—how many homes should be built in Cardiff and where.
This summer, the council consulted on priorities for the replacement local development plan, looking at what issues are most important to Cardiff residents and how local planning policy should adapt to tackle those issues.
A total of 1,215 responses were received to an online survey for the first consultation, which showed people were in favour of lower levels of housing growth, strong preference for using brownfield sites, improved access to green space, providing community facilities, reducing crime, and good cycling routes.
More broadly, the survey results showed the development plan should as a priority take steps on tackling climate change, creating healthier environments, and protecting green infrastructure.
Next week councillors on four scrutiny committees will ask questions about the replacement plan, and how it might impact the local economy, culture, and environment.
On Wednesday, September 15, council chiefs were grilled on the replacement plan by the community and adult services scrutiny committee.
One issue raised was the changing forecasts of population growth. Council papers said this was due to fewer births, more deaths, life expectancy increasing more slowly, and people moving away from Cardiff.
The current development plan predicted the city’s population would grow to 403,684 by 2026. But more recent Welsh Government figures predicted it would grow to 372,944 by 2026 instead. The council is now reviewing these figures ahead of its next consultation in November.
During the scrutiny meeting, committee chair Councillor Shaun Jenkins said: “I remember nine years ago when the current development plan was being prepared. A lot of people were pretty shocked at the population projections, because they seemed to be framing this idea that we were in a panic to identify land we could give to developers to build on.
“There were lots of people who thought the projections were too steep, and lo and behold, nine years on the projections seem like they were way off.
“Thinking about the current local development plan, does that mean we have essentially almost allocated enough land in the current plan so that going forward, with this new plan, it will be less about establishing which land to build on and more about perhaps the nitty gritty and some of the details?”
Simon Gilbert, head of planning, denied the previous projections were wrong and explained reviewing the development plan was an opportunity to update it with more accurate figures.
He said: “We’re seeing a downward trend. So the population projections at the time were high and now they’re less high. That doesn’t mean they were wrong, it means they were the projections at the time when we prepared the plan. That’s why we review plans every four years and produce annual monitoring reports as well.
“This is an opportunity in the next round of consultation—commencing in late November this year—to consider the strategy for growth, to make sure this plan is in accordance with more up-to-date monitoring. The review is a good opportunity for us to ensure we have the right amount of land and the right types of land for future development if required.”
Andrew Gregory, director of planning, transport and environment, said the Welsh Government population forecasts could be “under-projections”. He added the balance could shift to building more on brownfield sites rather than greenfield, due to the thousands of homes already given permission around Cardiff since the current plan was signed off.
He said: “You could say of the previous plan there was an over-projection. You could say for the current figures that the Welsh Government are giving us, that there’s no uncertainty they’re not under-projections. Overall the course needs to be to try and find some middle ground.
“It’s about a balancing act between greenfield and brownfield sites. There are some very exciting brownfield site projects coming forward, but it doesn’t mean that the greenfield site projects aren’t still critical to Cardiff moving forward.
“One of the reasons for outward migration could be because there weren’t any newbuild houses, because we had so little land, people were moving to Newport and surrounding authorities. People were moving out of the city. And that was not because of any problems with Cardiff, it’s basically because there wasn’t enough new housing.
“One of the advantages of the heavy lifting that was done by the previous local development plan is that there is now more housing coming on. It’s taken a number of years to get those sites going, but now they are starting to produce high quality, place-based sustainable communities with a lot of housing. That should shift the balance.”
The next public consultation will begin in late November and will run until February next year. This will allow for feedback on candidate sites submitted to the council for major new housing developments, and also how many new homes the city needs up until 2036.
This will be followed by a consultation beginning in October next year, on the council’s ‘preferred strategy’, and then another consultation beginning in October 2023, on the ‘deposit plan’. In March 2024 the council will submit its development plan to the Welsh Government for approval. The final plan should be signed off by the council in October 2024.
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There clearly needs to be many more affordable and social housing. Also tackling empty houses and bringing them back into use. Building on Greenfield sites should be avoided. Maybe more people are happy to live in beautiful, more affordable areas like the Valleys since Covid. Which surely is a good thing. As long as they don’t feel driven out of the city due to rising costs.