Monday, 2 November 2015


New plans to build 209 homes on the former paper mill site in Sudbrook have been submitted to Monmouthshire council’s planning department. Harrow Estates plc (who acquired the site in March 2011) now propose to build 209 homes on the 10.7 hectares of brownfield land. Harrow Estates Plc (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 rejected the planning application, Harrow Estates Plc appealed, something that resulted in a planning inquiry. The then Welsh Assembly’s housing and regeneration minister, Carl Sargeant, following a four-day public inquiry, dismissed a subsequent appeal against the decision in 2014. In the new application – the proposed houses will be a mixture of two, three, and four bedroom homes.

Sudbrook incidentally has around 150 houses with the nearest secondary school and shopping area being some 3 kilometres away in Caldicot. Sudbrook, without its paper mill (which closed in 2006) sits 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 moved Monmouthshire’s Planning Office to previously 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 (including affordable) housing development even on the increasingly crowded costal fringe of south Monmouthshire.

I question just exactly for whom 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?

This is part of the failure of the Unitary Development Plan based system of planning – which does not fit with devolution as it has developed. Simply building houses in south Monmouthshire, Newport or Torfaen to cash in on the projected housing shortage in the Bristol area is not acceptable; it fails to solve the local housing shortage. Local residents are being effectively priced out of the market as any proposed houses are often priced to maximise profits and effectively marketed and sold in Bristol (as has happened in the past).

It is clear is that we need a sensible properly planned housing strategy, not just for south Monmouthshire and the rest of Gwent, but for all of Wales. Our planning appeal system, historically favours the developers at the expense of local people and local communities. The planning process in Wales is pretty much designed to work in a non-devolved planning environment.

There appears to be no joined up housing plan or housing strategy for Wales, other than to carry on mostly rubber stamping and approving housing developments that bring little benefit to local people and local communities, certainly not affordable housing.

Local democracy 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. Or the process of land acquisition literally begins before the proposal even goes to inquiry almost as if the decision has already been made.

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 during the heady days of the Con Dem coalition were in favour of changing the planning rules (in England) to boost house-building to revive the economy. The Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff similarly favoured changing to planning rules in Wales to ‘tilt the balance in favour of economic growth over the environment and social factors’.

Ironically that sentiment was perhaps aimed specifically at overturning those few occasions of late when our Local Authorities have rejected some developments (often at the behest of concerned local residents) rather than simply putting economic needs ahead of economic, environmental benefits and community cohesion.

Over the medium to long term this is fundamentally bad news for those residents of south Monmouthshire, or 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 opposed a planned new marina development.

Over the years our communities have been ill-served by the planning system, by our local authorities (via the flawed system of Unitary Development Plans) and more recently by our own Labour in Wales Welsh Government in Cardiff. With increasing pressure for development community cohesion is under threat, along with increased demand on overstretched local amenities, our NHS and our green spaces.

Perhaps before constructing large numbers of new houses which fail to tackle local housing needs we should take a long hard look at the number of empty properties – something that remains largely unaddressed in many of our communities. We need a planning system that takes account of local housing needs, the environment (and develops protected green belt land) and looks sustainability at the whole of Wales – and we need it now…

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