Welsh Gov urged to allow speeding up of planning review amid housing crisis
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
The Welsh Government has been urged to allow Gwynedd Council to speed up a review of its planning blueprint amid concerns over the housing crisis engulfing parts of the region.
Adopted in 2017 as a requirement for all local 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 new homes should be built.
When drawn up four years ago the plan 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.
But following the apparent demise of the nuclear build and an unprecedented skyrocketing in house prices – partially prompted by an ever rising number of properties being snapped up as second homes – calls have been made for an urgent review of the “outdated” and “not fit for purpose” plan to meet locals’ current needs.
Monday’s extraordinary meeting of Gwynedd Council unanimously backed calls to allow the speeding up of the JLDP’s statutory review and potential amendment, which would take up to three and a half years if the existing legally permitted timetable were adhered to.
Cllr Gruffydd Williams pointed out that concerns over the plan – which was passed in Gwynedd only thanks to the then-chair’s casting vote – had been enhanced after taking into account the impact of Brexit and Covid-19.
Cllr Williams, who represents Nefyn and activated the meeting after gaining the support of at least five councillors, said there were too many existing policies open to officers’ discresion, leading to the “gentrification” of many communities.
He added: “Four years ago we outlined our concerns over the impact on our communities and the Welsh language, and the deficiencies in the plan have only become more obvious.”
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.
Legal officers stated that Cllr Williams’ proposal for the JLDP to be reviewed within six months could not be accommodated legally, prompting claims by Cllr Mike Stevens that the motion was “being nobbled by legalities.”
Cllr Stevens added: “Laws were changed overnight during the pandemic, but we have a housing pandemic in Gwynedd.”
However, members settled on an amendment calling for the Welsh Government to allow the speeding up of the process, with some calling for it to take place before the next local elections in May 2022.
The planning portfolio holder, Cllr Gareth Griffith, was clear that the process of monitoring the existing JLDP would start next month and would take into account “the latest situation” in regards to Wylfa Newydd.
But Cllr Steve Churchman welcomed the apparent demise of Anglesey’s planned nuclear development, adding: “At the time it was recognised we’d need additional houses, but we’re now left with an LDP that’s left the door wide open for more open market homes.”
Cllr Gareth Jones went on to say: “I realise that the LDP has meant a lot of work and is a document of great importance, but is now outdated and not fit for purpose.”
But others urged caution, with housing portfolio holder Craig ab Iago stressing that the JDLP formed “only part of the jigsaw,” and Cllr Ioan Thomas noting that Gwynedd Council “cannot solve these issues on its own.”
Council leader Dyfrig Siencyn added that the LDP forms “only part of the answer,” adding his view that issues the authority was already lobbying the Welsh Government to act upon, including licensing, planning classes and closing the tax “loophole” would have a greater immediate impact.
He did, however, agree to back the amendment and pass on the views of the authority to ministers in Cardiff Bay.
The amended proposal was approved unanimously with the authority to write a formal letter to the First Minister’s office over the coming days.