Building 8,000 new homes on Gwynedd and Môn is a defeat for Welsh democracy

 

Huw Williams

Gwynedd and Ynys Môn have just signed off on a Local Development Plan to build almost 8000 homes.

They did so despite it being openly acknowledged that building so many new houses would be damaging to the sustainability of Welsh as a community language.

The outcome raises several questions, not least with respect to the influence of a multinational on local democracy – for the company responsible for developing Wylfa 2, Horizon, have been allowed to intervene and influence clauses relating to the Welsh language and its importance in terms of planning.

In party political terms, the outcome in Gwynedd in particular raises equally pointed questions about the role of the Plaid Cymru hierarchy and the local councillors.

Only a minority opposed, whilst others were absent.

The rationale, it seems, is that rejecting the plan and returning it to the Welsh Government would only result in a worse deal for Gwynedd down the line.

The vote is all the more interesting because the one Labour councillor, Sion Jones of Bethel, rejected the plans.

Jones the Rejector

The response from some in the Plaid camp has been to pour scorn on this stand and accuse Jones of currying favour, with a view to furthering his political career.

To push this line seems somewhat presumptuous, if not insulting, insinuating that no one in the Labour Party – even a working class, Welsh speaking boy from Bethel – would dream of putting their head above the parapet, and rail against their own party for the sake of the community and its language.

More likely it is a response borne of frustration and an element of shame that their own councillors have not taken the same course of action. Perhaps he will benefit electorally in the future, but if so, then he has earnt it.

The accusation is even more disingenuous because his opposition was no secret before the vote, and Plaid could have used this to their advantage in making a powerful statement to the Welsh Government.

They could have rejected the plan and sent it back to Cardiff – whilst pointing out that even one of their own Labour councillors opposed it.

Sbia adre?

This last episode is in stark contrast to recent events in Conwy where there was much ado about the prospect of a Plaid Cabinet working with Tory Councillors.  It seems there were interjections from the party at a national level and a great deal of internal debate.

However, when it came to a major decision with implications for the last communities in Wales where Welsh is the default language, there seems to have been little hand-wringing.

Could there not have been some major coordination between Councillors and the party in Cardiff Bay, to send a message to the government that the LDP was unacceptable and at odds with wider aspirations and policy for the language?

The suggestion that the government would simply have returned an even worse plan seems an empty excuse – surely a rejection of this nature would have allowed further scrutiny at local and national level.

Indeed, it could, or should, have signalled a more general debate about a situation across Wales that is troubling more and more people

As referred to in an article last week, the rise in Wales’ population since 1992 of around 200,000 has seen this increase occur in the over 60s bracket – with nothing to suggest the next 25 years will be any different.

This is not only a major issue for public services and economic sustainability.

In the communities of Gwynedd and Mon this is a group far less likely than families to take to the language and to sustain the linguistic community over the long term.

Where’s the politics?

Ultimately the answer given is that the situation has come about because of a dictat from Cardiff Bay – Plaid councillors have been given no option on this.

There is no denying that the situation has been created by a Labour Government and that they share responsibility.

However, it is not only a defeat for Plaid, it is a defeat for Welsh democracy when a plan like this is passed without resistance – and a golden opportunity is passed up to question these developments at a more fundamental level.

Ultimately it is the opposition – and Plaid has set out its stall in this Assembly as a staunch opposition – that leads in holding the government to account, scrutinizing and ensuring it does not drift into lazy, unthinking and unreflective policy making.

Plaid wish to position themselves at the radical heart of Welsh politics, yet when an opportunity presents itself to attack the entire edifice of a policy area that needs reform, they fluff their lines.

Should they not be consistently asking what this is all about?  Why do we need thousands of new homes in areas that are seeing significant out-migration among the local population?

Where are the jobs for these new residents?  Why, in fact, do we need to increase our population and ‘develop’ in this way?

And most fundamentally of all, what, for the love of God, does development actually mean in Wales?

Self-harm

A statement rounding on the Labour Government was close to the mark, but it ultimately rings hollow when a chance for meaningful resistance has passed.

It feels all the more confusing in Gwynedd, where the Plaid led council have worked hard over time to successfully create an education system that provides a firm basis for the sustainability of genuinely bilingual communities.

Unlike in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, those who move into the area are not able to make an important, and fair point: that an expectation to learn Welsh is out of synch with an education system that doesn’t even teach the majority of its children the language (this, in my opinion, is actually the biggest elephant in the room – for those elephant spotters out there).

Given this admirable starting point, it is even less understandable why the Plaid councillors of this generation – and more senior politicians – seem to be letting these plans pass with little more than a whimper.

Plaid were happy to make a coordinated effort with respect to the #anusofthenorth, but this, of course, was an easy short term political score.

Perhaps it’s not only the Welsh Labour Government that needs to pull their finger out.

*

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Cofi Dre
Guest
Cofi Dre

Thank you – this is all exactly what we up here are thinking: when it came time to write a letter and tweet and give interviews about a ring in Fflint, Plaid’s elected representatives were all over the media. With this, they kept quiet then released a measly weaselly useless statement when it was all decided.
And yes, Sion Jones has earned the votes he’ll get – I bet Labour will put him as their candidate next election. If so Plaid are in trouble.

marcvjones
Guest

It’s quite depressing to see yet another article missing the point on the LDP and choosing to focus on the alleged failings of Plaid Cymru rather than the entire LDP process. The parochialism of some of the arguments being made is equally depressing. The fact is that five of the six councils in north Wales have been forced to revise their preferred options for allocating land for housing (not building as claimed in the article) upwards by the diktat of the Welsh Government/Planning Inspectorate. Welsh Government population projections – since discredited and revised – led to inflated housing figures being… Read more »

Dei Volution
Guest

If you are suggesting that the whole LDP process is a shambles I would agree wholeheartedly if you are including the WG in the equation. However, the quality of research carried out by the LPAs is the biggest problem facing Welsh communities, only lip service is being given to the Welsh Language, it is all about ‘locals only’.

Ian Johnson
Guest
Ian Johnson

I agree with Marc, this really needs to be properly contextualised within LDP arguments that have raged in Wales for the past decade, particularly the failure to re-assess housing projections in light of the changed economic circumstances post-2007 and the appalling amount of unfettered power granted by the Labour run Welsh Government in the 2005 regulations to the Planning Inspector to make the final decision on what should be a democratic process. Changing the latter would have been amongst the first changes implemented by a 2016 Plaid Cymru Government, but that’s not how Wales voted, so we’re stuck with the… Read more »

Dean Williams
Guest
Dean Williams

They’ll be calling to build a wall and for England to pay for it next.

Prysgodyn
Guest

Isn’t Nation.cymru open to contributors? Why not submit a piece saying excactly what you say here, Marc. We need a critique of the recent LDP decisions, but balance is crucial.

marcvjones
Guest

Hapus i wneud – Ifan?

Glenn Swingler
Guest
Glenn Swingler

MarcVJones..perfectly answered.

Tal Mac
Guest
Tal Mac

Gwynedd & Mon can’t stand in the way of the Welsh Gov’s target of 20,000 affordable homes, surely?
Wales’s planning body is in England.
Scotlands planning body is in Scotland.
Expansionism Wales 2017.

Dei Volution
Guest

Planning is a devolved area and the planning body is based in an urban area near Cardiff.

Tal Mac
Guest
Tal Mac

It’s is dictated by the department for communities and local government in London. Main office Bristol. Don’t be so naive.

Pol
Guest

The real scandal is that for over a decade we’ve known that the Welsh Gov / Planning inspectrate have been dictating housing numbers to councils,with full knowledge of the damage to all aspects of Welsh identity,community life,and the environment ,that these numbers bring. Yet no serious,sustained fight to right this has happened. Housing is clearly set out as a devolved area in Wales,yet the only opinion that matters is the Welsh Labour party. What is the point of having planning commitees,planning policy panels, or any planning process in Wales. This is soft ethnic cleansing with many elected representatives being too… Read more »

Tal Mac
Guest
Tal Mac

The inspectorate is based in England.

Pol
Guest

Officially ,the planning inspectorate is a Westminster office . Westminster has no role in either housing or planning in Wales.The position has no statutory mandate in Wales.However ,thanks to Welsh Labour, he does have an office “in” Wales, and is also given a mandate ,unilaterally by the Welsh Government. He is basically an agent of the Welsh Labour party and development companies.

That’s why I say our elected representatives should be refusing to recognise his authority to dictate housing numbers and let Welsh Labour fight for his right to detrimentally socially engineer the population of Wales.

Prysgodyn
Guest

We should remember that 12 Plaid councillors voted against the LDP in Gwynedd, also defying their party. As for Sion Jones, he is definitely an asset for Labour. But he will pick up votes for being a bloody good local councillor, not for this particular stand. From what I have learned he is a hard-working councillor in Bethel, trusted by the community as someone who will actually represent them. He reminds me of Plaid councillor Gruffydd Williams in Nefyn as someone who has his community at heart and has the staunch support of his constituents. What a stark contrast to… Read more »

Simon Brooks
Guest
Simon Brooks

I don’t think it helps for us to spin this as a Labour LDP imposed on Gwynedd. At every step of the process, over 5 years & more, there has been no attempt to stand up to Cardiff or anyone. The plan is a mistake, & like all parties which make mistakes, it is not helpful to blame others. The plan does not enjoy the support of a huge chunk of Plaid’s core support, & we should not rub the noses of our core vote in the dirt by trying to pretend that anyone but ourselves has messed this up.

Bob y Bildar
Guest
Bob y Bildar

I’m confused. The biggest danger facing the Welsh language in its heartland areas is poverty, but it seems any attempt to grow the population, and hence the area’s economy, is treated as a threat to Welsh language and culture. Surely we have to embrace significant development in the hope that a boosted population will bring more jobs, providing livelihoods for young local people and their families. Yes, we should ensure that the resources and policies are there to provide a fully bilingual education for all, but ultimately – if the local economy doesn’t grow – in the words of Private… Read more »

Al
Guest

I really feel that this is a tipping point for Plaid Cymru. I really do. We have the weak, vacuous leadership of Leanne Wood with her craven and completely counter-productive pleas for a “progressive alliance” with the British left to defeat “those evil Tories”. We have just seen them gaining their lowest share of the vote in a parliamentary election for 30 years. They recently refused the opportunity to lead Conwy County Council in a four party coalition, with well-respected Welsh Nationalist Gareth Jones as leader: just because they did not want to be tainted by association with the Conservative… Read more »

Martin
Guest
Martin

So Simon Glyn and anyone who voted in favour of the LDP wouldn’t be able to be in this “new nationalist party”? Would any of the Plaid councillors who voted against it? If anything they’re probably Leanne Wood supporters.

The Westminster result was not worst for thirty years, it was higher than 1997 and more MPs. So you would stand against four good Plaid MPs? Against AMs?

Dylan Fernley
Guest
Dylan Fernley

there are 1800 people on the housing waiting list , are we to ignore the plight of the many who have no access to decent rented housing , the so called right to buy has seen the shrinking of the very housing designed to help those whose circumstance doesn’t allow for mortgages , there are millions of us in that situation nationally , and here it’s skewing the housing market , the plan is weak on commitment to social housing , but the opposition to the ldp were as well . interestingly the plan seems misunderstood , with huge figures… Read more »

Prysgodyn
Guest

Is there any provision for rented housing in the LDP? As far as us public knew it’s all private sales, with local need indulged by a proportion of builds for locals – at prices impossible for us to afford – with no rented homes. I think people would be more understanding if these houses were all for social housing. And I mean all. Then again, the agencies administering social housing are on an England and Wales points basis. Which means that (and this is the elephant our representatives ignore) the houses ar too often given to outsiders with serious baggage.… Read more »

marcvjones
Guest

The LDP only allocates land for housing – it doesn’t state whether for rent or sale. Plans do state a desire for X% of affordable homes but that is usually challenged by developers who use the “viability test”, i.e. can we afford to build them and still make 15-20% profit. I can’t speak for other areas but in the next couple of years Wrexham and Denbighshire will start to build new council homes, which will partially answer the desperate need for affordable housing. I take your point about the allocation system – there isn’t enough weighting for local connection and… Read more »

Cymraes
Guest
Cymraes

Another TRYWERYN, you could say, or another BOMB FACTORY.