Plaid Cymru has responded to the UK Government’s command paper on further devolution. Click here to read Plaid’s full response in the paper, 'Who Speaks for Wales?' Plaid entered talks with the UK Government in a spirit of cooperation but felt unable to celebrate proposals that amounted to a row-back on a compromise. The party said the proposals would still leave Welsh devolution languishing behind Scotland and Northern Ireland and the announcement on funding public services still leaves Wales worse off compared to Scotland. While the powers over fracking that are to be devolved to Wales after Plaid Cymru’s long campaign to protect Welsh communities from the practice until it is proven safe are to be welcomed, this was one small measure amongst the raft of the wider powers that were being discussed.
Friday, 27 February 2015
Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Some 15 years have passed since Assembly Members voted in favour of establishing a public holiday on March 1st. It has also been nine years since an opinion poll showed that some 87% of Welsh people backed the idea, yet nothing has happened since. That must change, if you believe that St David’s Day should be a bank holiday, then sign Plaid’s petition.
Monday, 23 February 2015
The grim reality is that by the time we get to Polling Day (in May) we will be 40% through the planned Con Dem Coalition Governments austerity programme of public sector cuts, which means that we have another 60% of cuts to follow. Austerity hits in so many people in so many different ways, yet almost unnoticed it has also changed what ‘Government’ at various levels actually offers to do for us.
The future trend is for Government at all levels to simply be there and to provide nothing or at least next to nothing for this costs the least if it can get away with it. The big society has quietly been ditched (along with the photo opps with the huskies) and despite the spin the new bottom line, particularly when you have ineffective and inert Government, is focused intense campaigning to get things done.
If we want to get something done that government won’t provide then we will have to fight for it like we have never fought before. If we want regeneration, decent facilities in our towns and communities or want to reopen an old railway station then we have to make Government act on our behalf, whether it wants to or not.
Small-scale local transport projects and well-organised local campaigns may provide the best opportunity to make a real difference when it comes to reopening or improving the services of our railway stations. There are plenty of good examples of successful campaigning groups to follow; including the Carno Station Action Group, the Severn Tunnel Action Group have campaigned to restore rail services and improvements in the passenger infrastructure, Better Trains 4 Chepstow who are campaigning amongst other things for more stopping services at Chepstow, and the campaign for a railway station at Magor.
Locally our rail network remains unconnected in so many ways, with the tantalising possibilities of small changes delivering big wins. The final stage of the rail-link from Ebbw Vale to Newport needs to be completed and railway stations at Caerleon and Magor would help to reduce road congestion and enable commuters to get to work in Cardiff, Bristol and other nearby destinations.
Such developments would provide a regular rail service to local residents and reduce the ever-increasing traffic burden from already overcrowded roads. The re-opening of Pontrilas Railway station (in south Herefordshire) for passenger traffic (and timber shipments) would also help, as would a feasibility study into developing regional rail freight services, removing heavy Lorries from local roads.
We should nudge our government to commission feasibility studies into the development of a Parkway Station at Little Mill and the possibilities of re-opening the old line from Little Mill to Usk and the development of a new railway station at Usk. We need Abergavenny and Chepstow railway stations to be real gateway stations; with integrated local bus services and the provision of more and cheaper safe secure parking. We still need better facilities at Severn Tunnel Junction and Caldicot railway stations and the provision of adequate safe secure parking facilities.
Wednesday, 18 February 2015
The more I hear about the proposed Planning (Wales) Bill the less I like it. The draft bill has been proceeding through various stages for a while, in its present form, it will actually take decisions further away from communities and further erode the democratic accountability of decision-making over land use in our country. Now none of this should surprise anyone, Labour in Wales at various levels of government have over the years long seen people as part of the problem when it comes to planning.
In essence the Labour in Wales Government has aimed to makes it more difficult for local communities when it comes to trying to stop developers building on green spaces. It was originally 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.
The reality of the current 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.
Plaid is right to call for root and branch reform of our planning system to strengthen local voices. That probably does not suit the labour in Wales Government who’s current Government Bill looks to be enshrining a top-down regime that will take decisions one step further away from the decisions that affect them.
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 outdated legislation rather than reform it.
The current Bill has proposed a system where a National Development Framework sets the parameters for Regional Development Plans, which in turn set the parameters for Local Development Plans. This will create a top-down approach, which runs contrary to any notions that our communities should have a stronger say in planning decisions that will directly affect them.
It would be more democratic, if even at this late stage, the Labour in Wales Welsh Government began its bill again. Starting with the simple idea that the development aspirations of our communities should be the primary building blocks of our planning system.
The introduction of unelected and effectively unaccountable members to the Strategic Development Panels must be unacceptable. While there is a need for a wide range of different voices be heard it would be both sensible and democratic for any co-opted members not have voting rights.
What should be more disturbing is that current legislation as is, contains some 65 examples of Ministers being empowered to make subordinate legislation, which will be afforded significantly less scrutiny. The legislation is effectively a government power grab with the Minister literally picking and choosing powers without any clarity as to how he intends to use them, if at all.
This potentially sets a dangerous precedent for increasingly unaccountable governance and an even more unresponsive planning system. The bill includes the creation of a National Development Framework, which would replace the deeply flawed but at least nominally publically accountable Wales Spatial Plan, which at least periodically required the actual endorsement of the National Assembly.
Whether Wales needs new strategic development plans at present is open to question? Especially as there is about to be a significant (and perhaps more ominously) a largely Labour in Wales driven reorganisation of our local government, which will by default create larger planning authorities.
Is there a need for Strategic Development Plans, as the Local Government reorganisation will create much larger planning authorities, which will inevitably take on more of a regional and strategic roll? There is a need for development planning to take place on more of a regional basis but this could be dealt with joint Local Development Plans rather than another whole new tier of Development Plans.
What is not being addressed is the observed reality that the current planning system remains too focused on railroading through large housing developments that often bring little real 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 clearly 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 outdated; 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.
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 (whether grounds are reasonable or not) because the developers will simply appeal until the cows come home and local government just does not have the finances to cope with this situation.
The Labour in Wales Welsh Government in Cardiff favour changing the 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.
|KALM Rally in Abergavenny|
The proposed Planning Bill is bad news for those residents of south Monmouthshire, and the residents of Torfaen, who and the good citizens of Abergavenny who fought to retain . Not to mention the concerned residents of Cardiff and Carmarthen who have real worries about the impact of or the residents of Holyhead who opposed a planned and people who are genuinely concerned about how their communities develop.
The bottom line is that over the years our communities have been increasingly 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. We need a planning system that takes account of local housing needs, the environment and looks sustainability at the whole of our country and above all it needs sit firmly within local democratic accountable local authorities which are elected by STV.
Monday, 16 February 2015
The current Tax Gap is scandalous and exposes how much the Westminster elite has completely disregarded any commitment towards fairness and social justice at a time of unprecedented cuts to public services. Beyond the tax evasion, the real problem is that the Westminster based political parties have been fundamentally compromised by the prolonged and unhealthily close relationship with the City.
We are where we are because of the cumulative effect of the legacy of 18 years of Conservative and 13 years of New Labour government. Over recent decades, successive Labour and Tory governments have literally looked the other way, when it comes to tax evasion, allowing the UK's tax gap to grow to an eye-watering £34 billion each year. Total fiscal consolidation over the course of this Parliament amounts to £120 billon pounds, which indicates the scale of the problem.
Labour can cry wolf as much as it likes over this scandal, but these lost billions are as much their legacy as the Tories'. Back in 2005, the last Labour UK Westminster Government merged Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise and then proceeded to cut almost a third of jobs in five years (99,000 to 68,000). They also slashed the budget for tackling the tax gap by nearly 50% (£3.6 billon to £1.9 billion) between 2006-10.
Simply relying on ‘business as usual’ to fix this problem just won’t do – despite the bluster and the rhetoric from the usual suspects to expect Westminster to fix the problem is simply naive. Tax evasion needs to be dealt with worldwide – recently the Swiss banks have crumbled in the face a number of court cases in the US (and a few Swiss banks even collapsed) in relation to tax avoidance by US citizens.
If the USA can do it, then why not the UK - clearly there is a lack of any desire to do anything about it (hence Ed Ball’s silence and George Osborne's lack of urgency). The UK’s Crown Dependency Tax havens are based in some of the few remaining (fiscally useful) scattered remnants of Empire lie at the heart of the tax evasion problem.
Plaid Cymru will not compromise on its commitment to tackling tax evasion. Vast sums of money that should have been collected properly and invested in vital public services such as health and education have been lost. Plaid Cymru, while the Westminster parties fall over themselves to appease the City bankers and their wealthy backers, puts Welsh communities first.