The Plaid driven One Wales National Assembly Government is aiming to take a longer more thought out view when it comes to economic development. One part of the process that is being admirably addressed by Plaid leader and Economy Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones AM ,Deputy First Minister is economic development with “Economic Renewal: A New Direction” which sets out the role the One Wales government should play in providing the best conditions and framework to enable the private sector to grow and flourish.
There are however, two key elements (amongst others) when it comes to creating economic circumstances which will favour the growth and development of small to medium sized local businesses and enterprises. One key element is planning policy especially comes to development (or redevelopment for that matter) our Local Authorities need to develop a realistic and sensible long term economic view when it comes to planning policies to match that being developed by the National Assembly.
To match the economic vision we need a planning process that favours local businesses and small to medium sized enterprises - we need to have much better thought out and far more consistent planning policies for in, out and edge of town retail developments - before our communities are damaged beyond repair. Our Local Authorities are far too often tempted by planning gain as developers offer includes, sweeteners and inducements to ease the passage of proposed developments.
County Council's fear the costs of supermarket applications being taken to appeal if original outline planning permission is refused - they may be advised by officers of the potential costs if a development proposal involving a larger more aggressive retail company goes to appeal - so much for local democracy! Now to make matters worse Local Authorities often fail to have properly researched retailing policies within their development plans.
If retailing needs have not been assessed then it is very difficult for Local Authority planners to refuse any potentially damaging planning applications from developers, and local small businesses and consumers end up playing the price. Every Government since the 1980’s has talked about promoting the vitality and viability of our small market towns, yet, over the last twenty years retail developments have consistently undermined this aim, as local authorities have effectively turned a blind eye to the consequences of out of town or edge of town retail developments on the edge of market towns in England and Wales.
The economic reality has fallen well short of the verbal aspiration, just look at the damage that has been done to Abergavenny, Chepstow and Monmouth within Monmouth constituency and elsewhere in Wales. Can we seriously expect our Local Authorities local regeneration schemes to work, when the once thriving commercial heart of our high streets has already been seriously damaged by an inability to compete on level terms with the increasingly aggressive tactics of supermarkets and retail chains who are chasing an ever larger market share.
More than ever, our planners need to think about the long term economic consequences of planning decisions, to take the longer term view, rather than get fixated on short term financial gains and questionable inducements (why not call them what they are "backhanders") from developers. They need to support local small to medium sized enterprises and support local communities with well developed and well thought out planning policies.