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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