Tuesday, 25 November 2014


The news that the Labour in Wales Government is making it more difficult for local communities to stop developers building on green spaces should not surprise many people. The Planning Bill will make it more difficult for communities across our county to resist housing developments by requiring ‘village greens’ to have been in use by local peoples for at least twenty years. The reason why this is happening is because land once it is registered as a town or village green cannot be built on.

Housing Development - just exactly who for?
The Labour in Wales Welsh government has suggested that its Planning Bill would stop "vexatious" bids to register greens intended, it claimed, simply to frustrate development. Applications for village greens must show people have had a right to use the site in question for at least 20 years. If the bill passes un-amended then, village greens cannot be registered if there are already plans to build on them.
The reality of the relationship between local and central government is that when it comes to housing developments those members of the public who question or challenge planning decisions are seen as part of the problem. The Labour in Wales Welsh Government has missed a real opportunity to actually deliver a modern planning system to meet the needs of the people of Wales in the 21st century. Our planning system is in need of root and branch reform so simply tinkering with the existing out-dated legislation as suggested the Welsh Government White Paper on Planning simply won’t do.

Our planning system, along with our pretty much nineteenth century local government setup is not designed to coexist with devolution or for that matter to deliver planning decisions with real and lasting benefits for local people and local communities. There is a real need for root and branch reform and reorganisation of our planning system; the Welsh Government’s simply decided to tinker and tweak with existing out-dated legislation rather than reform it.

Our current planning system remains far too focused on railroading through large housing developments that bring little benefits for local people and local communities and often fail to resolve real and pressing local housing needs. We need a fundamental change in planning culture to encourage appropriate and sustainable smaller scale housing developments, which are based on good design and actively promote energy efficiency and good environmental standards.

An opportunity to address the shortage of affordable housing, to encourage more small-scale renewable energy projects, and to actively support small businesses in relation to the Planning Bill has been missed.  It is time to start the process of actually addressing the flawed LDP (Local Development Plan) system, which does not deliver for local communities and fails to serve our national interests.

Our planning system and planning processes are too slow, too bureaucratic and too unresponsive to real local needs and local opinions. The current system is based on the post-war Town and Country Planning Act from 1947 and is simply out-dated; our country needs a modern planning system that meets the needs of modern Welsh society. In line with the realities of devolution our country needs an independent Planning inspectorate for Wales as the old single planning inspectorate for England and Wales is increasingly unsustainable.

What we badly need a sensible properly planned housing strategy, not just for south Monmouthshire, the rest of the former county of Gwent and Cardiff, but also for the rest of our country. When it comes to large-scale housing developments, based on previous observations, I can pretty much predict what happens next. If a planning inquiry come out against a proposed development then there will be another appeal to Cardiff – where I have little doubt that proposals will be rubber stamped by the Labour in Wales Welsh Government in Cardiff (while many things may have changed this mirrors pretty much exactly what went on when Wales was run by the old Welsh Office).

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 favour changing the planning rules (in England) to boost house-building to revive the economy. The Labour in Wales Welsh Government in Cardiff favours changing to planning rules in Wales to ‘tilt the balance in favour of economic growth over the environment and social factors’. This is something that appears to be aimed quite specifically at overturning those few occasions 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.

The Planning Bill is fundamentally 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 Cardiff and Carmarthen who have real worries about the impact of over large housing developments or the residents of Holyhead who 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 our country.

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