We must resist the relentless development turning the north of Wales into ‘Cheshire on the cheap’

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Carrie Harper

From sprawling commuter estates in the north-east to holiday homes in the north-west, it’s clear we need to overhaul Welsh housing policy.

This week saw Wrexham Council submit a last-ditch proposal to more than halve the number of affordable homes in the borough’s Local Development Plan (LDP) – down from 1283 to just 505.

So, it feels like a good time to write about the urgent reforms needed to tackle the imbalance in our planning system and in Welsh housing policy generally.

It always comes back to the same basic question, just who is our current system there to serve?

There is no doubt that reforms and a strategy re-think in terms of housing has been needed in Wales for a very long time. Councils across the country have struggled to resist the enforcement of housing numbers being dictated from the Labour Welsh Government through Local Development Plans for the last decade.

Their policy of build, build and build and then build some more has met with a fierce backlash in communities up and down the country, each from a different local perspective but all in agreement that this current approach to housing in Wales is fundamentally flawed.

Welsh communities are fed up with the ever-expanding sprawl of speculative development eating up green fields, merging villages and increasingly piling pressure on stretched local infrastructure, all whilst local housing need goes unmet.

I often hear defenders of the current system, usually developers, claim that more housing drives down house prices but if anywhere is a concrete example of why that’s nonsense, it’s Wales, where prices have surged despite large-scale building.

There is also a growing frustration at the lack of local control over planning generally and particularly over the ironically titled ‘Local Development Plan’ process, which is evidently more about facilitating developers to build on every last blade of grass, than it is about responding to genuine local housing need.

 

Sustainable

Rather than being a protective filter against unsustainable development, which is surely its core purpose, our planning system has instead been hijacked to open the flood gates.

This is, of course, great if you’re a developer making millions in the process, but not so good if you’re struggling to afford a home whilst watching your local green fields disappear under concrete.

The vast majority of houses planned, certainly in the north-east and along the northern coast, are “market housing” rather than affordable homes. The volumes proposed by the Labour Government do not meet local needs, they are designed to meet demand for in-migration from across the border, a strategy that has been openly discussed and documented by councils locally and the Welsh Government for a number of years.

Although some migration is of course welcomed and has in fact always happened organically, the result of the excessive over-development we’ve seen since the 2000s is tens of thousands of three- and four-bedroom executive houses, advertised with commuting distances to Chester, Manchester and Liverpool. It goes without saying that they are not affordable for the majority of local people.

This is not exactly what you could describe as sustainable in any way shape or form and is resented by many who feel aggrieved at their local area becoming ‘Cheshire on the cheap’.

In areas such as the Gwynedd and Ynys Môn the challenges are slightly different, with out-migration a huge problem due to locals being priced out of the housing market. Holiday homes are a growing blight in the north-west, pricing local people out and in turn undermining the future of Welsh as a living community language.

Although this problem has been spiralling for many years, it has generally been ignored by a Government focused on opening up the A55 to the queue of developers waiting to cash in.

It’s also difficult to see how this current approach to housing fits with legislation such as the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act – how can the current policies possibly be sustainable either in the short or longer-term?

Relentless development like this also jars completely with the Welsh Government’s recent declaration of a climate emergency. How is it sustainable either environmentally or socially to encourage the building of houses that aren’t needed on such a massive scale, whilst also failing to get to grips with local housing needs?

Alienation

Having been directly involved in the process on a local level and seen my council try to bend the LDP to meet Welsh Government demands, the current approach has always struck me as highly damaging, out-dated in its thinking and completely illogical from a Welsh perspective.

The basis for the allocation of land for housing is based on flawed population projections that reflect past unsustainable growth rather than looking forward and designing land use for the future.

Local development plans need to be just that – locally driven and designed to respond sustainably to local housing need, not driven by the market. Local planning committees need to be free to make decisions that benefit their local communities without fear of being overruled by some remote Planning Inspectorate on appeal.

This is not rocket science. We have had sustainable communities in Wales for generations, and we know how to do this better than most. We simply need to acknowledge that our communities are delicate eco-systems in their own right and stop damaging them.

The Government has a direct responsibility to not only to safeguard and meet community needs but also to respect local voices. With Government comes responsibility and sometimes even more importantly, accountability.

As communities grow increasingly angry and alienated about having their needs cast aside in favour of developers profit margins, it’s clear that Welsh Labour will not get away with using sleight of hand to dodge this issue for much longer.

The finger is pointing in a very clear direction in terms of who is responsible for the current chaotic mess and it’s obvious that reform is urgently needed. Labour have had long enough to acknowledge their mistakes and to change direction, they’ve failed miserably to act and worse, have pushed on regardless.

It’s now time for them to get out of the way, so we can transform Welsh housing policy and bring it back into balance.

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PenderynJonathan GammondpeteHuw DaviesRhosddu Recent comment authors
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Ben Angwin
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Ben Angwin

The Welsh-speaking community can learn from Tejanos, and Italian-Americans and the Jewish community of pre-1948 Isreal.

They take other peoples money. But when it comes to land and property, they don’t sell to other peoples in areas their demographic is a majority in or needs to become a majority in to survive.

jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

Lots to learn from Israel. Yes.

Richard Jenkins
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Richard Jenkins

Important consideration in this is the lack of support the local economy gets from Volume house builders? As they purchase most of their materials from a central location to maximise buying power, they bring little to the local economy! They often do not employ locally and when they do its often at low rates. They tend not to devote as much time and effort into training and apprenticeships as small local companies. On top of that, as the piece illustrates so well, they don not build for local need, so why is Labour (Welsh Branch) cooperating in this modern day… Read more »

Pol Wong
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Pol Wong

Actually it is Welsh Labour enforcing these amounts of housing on councils. They are not merely cooperating, they are aggresively driving it. They do so by running roughshod over local democratic processes and even National democratic policy. Housing is a devolved area but Welsh Laboif hand over the final say to the Westminster planning inspectorate. This is Welsh Labours choice. The planning inspectorate has no statutory standing in Wales but is appointed by our government. This acts as a cover for them when it comes to unpopular decisions.

Pete Rogers
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Pete Rogers

I disagree. This is narrow minded tosh. If you halt new property development you will cause a housing crisis, which will drive up property prices and price locals out of property ownership. That will force more people to rent and to be at the mercy of ruthless sleazy landlords.

Paul Matthew Roberts
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Paul Matthew Roberts

Where does it stop though? Build more to bring prices down on future housing, that also needs further building to bring its prices down and so on and so on. Do we need the whole north coast to become the size of Rio De Janeiro, before we’ve built ‘enough’?

Penderyn
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Penderyn

Congrats on your naivety …… this article is not narrow minded….it just said that affordable housing was cut in half ……

Most centralised corporations dônt even hire local builders. What is your end goal or agenda here? Wales is a like a simpering colony in its empowerment. Internationalism means nothing without strong localism,
Corporations monopolising every aspect of humanity until everything is a cold homogenous grey gloop…….sorry not my thing

Ernie The Smallholder
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Ernie The Smallholder

We should build for local need and for people that wish to live AND WORK in Wales. The Welsh government must not over develop parts of Wales to solve England’s housing policy mess. Long distance commuting is not a good thing for the economy of Wales or for the people that are expected to actually travel long distances to work on a regular basis. Having large areas of higher priced commuter houses actually inhibits growth and destroys local the local economy losing local employment and can even in the long term create big social problems – There is many examples… Read more »

pete
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pete

Easier said than done when public sector employers effectively ban non welsh speakers

David Roberts
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David Roberts

Hello Jacques!

Penderyn
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Penderyn

absolute tosh …. I dont speak Welsh and have worked in several recent Public sector jobs

Penderyn
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Penderyn

They are building simply to enrichen further the top 10% wealthy in Cheshire and beyond.

Cheshire has some of the worst inequality in Britain

pete
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pete

This is more Anglophobic claptrap, the ”border” in north east wales is nothing more than a line on a map the locals have more in common with Cheshire than Carnarvon

David Roberts
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David Roberts

Hello Jacques, how are you?

pete
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pete

Grow up

Penderyn
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Penderyn

your perception to make it anti-English …….. the authors family is English … you must be careful assuming things in life or you get burnt in the open.

What is wrong with Building sustainable communities and not dormant commuter burbs?

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

David It can’t be the infamous Jacques cos he just goes on and on and on and ……….

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

You’ve not only come out with utter tosh but have managed to insult a quarter of the Welsh population. Llongyfarchiadau!

However, “more in common with Cheshire than Caernarfon” may well eventually come about if unwanted and unaffordable housing policy continues to cater for Cheshire and Merseyside’s surplus population rather than for local need. So thanks for reinforcing Carrie Harper’s point.

pete
Guest
pete

I stand by my point, 1000’s from wales have good jobs on the Wirral, I am more in tune with non cymry wales than this insular blog.

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

No such place any more. The number of Welsh-speakers is increasing in the Anglophone areas (despite the machinations of Redrow and the Planning Inspectorate). Get used to it. The issue is how much land does this country have to give up before the situation becomes irreversible and we do indeed become “like Cheshire”.

pete
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pete

Yeah you just keep telling yourself that

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

We’re agreed, then.

Penderyn
Guest
Penderyn

Why cant we have good jobs in Wales then? Why only the Wirral?

And dont give my nonsense about how great Cheshire is …. has some of the worst income inequality in the entire Island ……. its not to be looked at as a great role model for sustainable empowered communities

pete
Guest
pete

This story reminds me of one the BNP put out some years ago, the only difference is the ”foreigner” happens to be people from the same nation state.

Welsh nationalism claims to welcome ”all colours and creeds” but obviously not people from Cheshire?

Jonathan Gammond
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Jonathan Gammond

Housing policy is dysfunctional across the UK. If you think they are building a lot of houses in Wrexham and Flintshire, try driving along the A54 and A556 into Cheshire, it’s housing development after housing development, and the further you go south and east across England,the larger the housing developments are. By the time you reach the M1, M5 and M6 nexus, there is little more than warehouses and anonymous housing sites. There are loads of alternatives available, just look abroad, reflect on and update the solutions delivered by previous generations and take note of the publications of the numerous… Read more »

Penderyn
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Penderyn

Pete is part of that tired and failed neoliberal system that has destroyed communities and is leading to a dystopia where the human aspects of existence are swept away – and we just tolerate going back to the unequal economic days of the Victorian times …. with its smug imperialism
……… there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve your area …………. If England can have an empire imposing on everyone else….why cant the Welsh at least think about the communities around them ………. its ridiculous logical fallacies and contradictions being spouted by Pete
Imperialism on the sly