Wednesday, 24 July 2013


Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) refused outline planning permission for 340 houses in Sudbrook (in South Monmouthshire) because of concerns about the scale of the development which would triple the size of the village. The proposed development put forward by Harrow Estates Plc (a part of the Redrow Group) which specialises in land acquisition) proposed the development of some 340 houses with new roads and infrastructure, public spaces and landscaping, etc.

After MCC throughout the planning application, Harrow Estates Plc naturally appealed, hence the ongoing (4 day) Planning inquiry. Sudbrook it should be noted has around 150 houses with the nearest secondary school and shopping area being some 3 kilometres away in Caldicot. Sudbrook, now without its paper mill (which closed in 2006) sits pretty much in the shadow of the Second Severn Crossing. The village has five buses a day and is about an hour’s walk away from the nearest railway station. 

The scale of the development managed to motivate Monmouthshire’s Planning Office to object because of the large number of houses in the proposed development. Now don’t get me wrong, there is room for well planned and integrated (and affordable) housing development along the increasingly crowded costal fringe of south Monmouthshire. I question just exactly who these proposed houses are for? and how they will be marketed?

No doubt (as has happened previously) all sorts of offers will be included with any purchase house (should the planning appeal be granted) including perhaps free bridge tools for a year, etc.  Just exactly what is in for local residents who happen not to work across the Severn Bridges for one thing?

Simply building houses in south Monmouthshire to cash in on the projected housing shortage in the Bristol area is not acceptable, it fails to solve the local housing shortage. I have no doubt that local residents will be effectively priced out of the market. As any proposed houses will be priced to maximise profits and effectively marketed and sold in Bristol (as has happened in the past).

What is clear is that we badly need a sensible properly planned housing strategy, not just for south Monmouthshire and the rest of Gwent, but for the rest of our country. Based on previous observations, I can pretty much predict what will happen next. If the planning inquiry come out against the proposed development then there will be another appeal to Cardiff – where I have little doubt that the proposal will be rubber stamped by the Government in Cardiff.

Our planning appeal system, appears to favour the developers at the expense of local people and local communities. The planning process in Wales is pretty much  designed to work as far as I can see in a non-devolved planning environment. There appears to be no joined up housing plan or strategy for Wales, other than to carry on rubber stamping and approving housing developments that bring little benefit to local people and local communities, certainly not affordable housing.

Local democracy on a county borough level has been undermined, as developers (and here we are not just talking about housing) simply appear to carry on appealing until they get their way or get their development retrospectively approved at a higher level. Local government officers will (and do) advise local councillors not to turn down developments (whatever the grounds) because the developers will simply appeal until the cows come home and that local government just does not have the finances to cope with this situation.

Westminster ministers are in favour of changing the planning rules (in England) to boost house-building to revive the economy. The Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff also favours changing to planning rules in Wales to ‘tilt the balance in favour of economic growth over the environment and social factors’. This decision may be aimed quite specifically at overturning those few occasions of late when our Local Authorities have rejected some developments (often at the behest of local residents) rather than putting economic needs ahead of economic and environmental benefits.

Fundamentally this is bad news for those residents of south Monmouthshire, and the residents of Torfaen, who have fought the plan and the good citizens of Abergavenny who fought to retain the livestock market. Not to mention the concerned residents of Carmarthen who have worries about the impact of over large housing developments or the residents of Holyhead who have opposed a planned new marina development.

The bottom line is that over the years our communities have been ill-served by the planning system, by our local authorities (and the system of Unitary Development Plans) and more recently by our own Government in Cardiff. I think that we need a planning system that takes account of local housing needs, the environment and looks sustainability at the whole of Wales. 

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