Planning permission can be a touchy subject, especially when a development (whether for commercial, housing or energy development) is controversial or the final decision is made against the wishes of local people by a fairly distant and indifferent authority. It's pretty obvious that we lack a coherent national strategic development plan for Wales judging by the half-baked way local unitary development plans have been put together over the years, doing some pretty serious damage to our environment in the process.
News that the developers are set to appeal against a decision by Torfaen council to reject controversial plans for 1,200 homes in Sebastopol, should come as no surprise to most dispassionate observers. The original application was made by a consortium of developers (including Asbri Panning Ltd, Barratt Homes and the Welsh Development Agency) for the housing to be built on farm and woodland near Cwmbran Drive.
Torfaen County Council (wisely in my opinion) rejected the application on a number of different grounds including highways, transport, access and circulation and threat to surrounding green wedges of land. The development consortium has decided to skip negotiations with Torfaen County Council and go straight to an appeal against the planning decision. Back in July, Torfaen County Councillors refused the planning application, but, have until next week to formalise the exact wording of the reasons for refusal of planning consent.
You do have to ask yourself why the Welsh Development Agency, now an arm of the Welsh Government is working against the best interests of the people of Torfaen and seeking to develop the few surviving green wedges between Cwmbran and Pontypool. For the record, our county only has one notional green belt, and that lies between Cardiff and Newport, Scotland has 7 and Northern Ireland has 30 - each has its own policy guidance.
The idea of Green belt worked and worked well, as of 2007, Green belt covered something like 13% of England (around one-and-a-half million hectares) which despite the best efforts of previous Conservative and New Labour Governments it is still relatively well protected both by normal planning controls and against "inappropriate development" within its boundaries. It's worth noting that 'Green belt' is a useful planning tool, which was introduced for London in 1938 but then ended up being rolled out to England as a whole by a government circular in 1955.
We have seen in the south east, especially along the coastal belt and in and around Torfaen, over the last twenty years a spectacular growth in the amount of housing. The fact that a significant percentage of which was never aimed to fulfil pressing local housing needs may be of note, along with the fact that Newport City Council (and no doubt others) have encouraged a growth in housing to fill predicted anticipated gaps in demand for housing in and around a large city across the bridge.
As a result the infrastructure along the coastal belt between Chepstow, Caldicot, Rogiet and Magor is struggling to cope with existing developments and this is well before the projected expansion of housing on and around the former Llanwern site. The north of Newport has now been linked effectively to the south Cwmbran - something that has brought little material benefit or improved quality of life to either urban area.
We often seem to fail to note that once the Green belt or Green wedge is gone it's gone forever, we cannot restore it. The Con Dems in England (in Westminster) are seeking to free up green belt and agricultural land for housing (and other) development. There is a real need for a Welsh equivalent to Green belt, to fringe our urban areas, to help focus out of town and fringe of town developments, not to mention helping to protect rural green spaces between and within some of our urban areas for current and future generations.