Monday, 6 March 2017

GREEN BELT? FOR WALES??

There is a clear need for a Welsh Green belt across all of our country, to fringe our urban areas, to help focus out of town and fringe of town developments, not to mention helping to protect green spaces between and within some of our urban areas. It's worth noting that 'Green belt', if respected is a useful planning tool, originally introduced for London in 1938, it was then rolled out to England as a whole by a government circular in 1955 but interestingly enough not to Wales.

The original concept was to allow local councils to designate green belts when they wanted to restrict or control urban growth.  The idea worked and worked well, as by 2007, Green belt covered something like 13% of England (about one-and-a-half million hectares) despite the best efforts of previous Conservative, New Labour and Conservative–Liberal Democrat Governments it is still remains relatively well protected by normal planning controls against "inappropriate development".

Here in Wales we have one patch of notional green belt (or Green wedge) and that lies between Cardiff and Newport. Scotland has seven and Northern Ireland has 30 - each has its own policy guidance.  The preservation of green spaces aside, it comes down to planning permission, which 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.

It should be pretty clear to most dispassionate observers that in Wales, 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. A number of which are focussed on housing developments, which have done (and will do) some pretty serious damage to our environment in the process without any necessary improvements in infrastructure e.g new railway stations with reasonably priced (or even free), adequate and secure park and ride facilities at Caerleon (closed as a result of the Beeching cuts in 1962, in the UDP since 1984) Llanwern and Magor.

In the south east, along the coastal belt and in and around Newport and Torfaen (not to mention Cardiff and Caerphilly) the last thirty years has seen a significant if not spectacular growth in the amount of housing, a significant percentage of which has never aimed to fulfil local housing needs. 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 really kicks in.

Northern Newport has now been linked to the south Cwmbran - something that has brought little material benefit to the residents of either urban area but has contributed much to traffic congestion. Similarly linking Cwmbran with Sebastopol will bring scant benefit to local residents. Even if eventually housing is built on the land just exactly how much of it will be affordable to local residents?

When the Severn Bridge tolls are reduced (rather than removed) after 2018, there will be a significant bump in house prices as people living in and around Bristol move cash in on cheaper housing over here.  This will impact on both affordable and available housing, developers will no doubt pitch their developments accordingly to cash in on perceived higher wages in the Bristol area and perceived cheaper housing over here (and no doubt our local authorities will fall over themselves to accommodate the developers wishes regardless how local people feel).

The National Assembly should know better and act accordingly, the institution when established was supposed to have sustainability enshrined in its actions, but, at times you really have to wonder, especially when it comes to the impact of some of the proposed developments on our communities. We need to protect the green wedges around and within our urban communities – because once developed they are gone for good.

The problem caused by a lack of protection to our Green wedges, etc is aggravated by the fact that what one generation of elected officials (and council officers) envisages as a green wedge, green lane, etc is often seen by later generations of elected officials (and council officers) as either prime land for development or a nice little earner to help balance out the books - this means that there is a real lack of stability and a long term vision for many of our urban areas and impacts on our quality of life. 

The National Assembly needs to act like the Welsh Parliament it should be and take the long view and create Welsh Green belt land with full legal and planning protections. This might go some way to calming things down when it comes to development planning and might introduce a more long-term sustainable democratic element into the process. This is something that could be accomplished by creating Welsh Green belt land, as part of the process we also need an urgent and open debate into the planning process in Wales - something that has been long overdue.

Successive Westminster government’s (in England) over the next few years will continue to talk about getting planning officers "off people's backs" with a relaxation of current rules. When they talk about ‘people’ they mean developers. In true Spiv fashion ‘for a limited period, people are able able to build larger extensions on houses (up to eight metres for detached homes and six for others). Shops and offices will also be able grow to the edges of their premises as Plan A (harsh Public Sector Cuts) continues to unravel and on the back of BREXIT a note of desperation may begin to creep into Westminster’s attempts to boost stabilise the economy.


These sounds good; it seems very reasonable save for the fact that somewhere amongst the smoke and mirrors the plan will reduce developer’s obligations to build proportional amounts of affordable housing and avoiding flood risk will go out the window. Not that long ago the previous Westminster government rewrote the entire planning framework (for England) despite some fierce resistance from countryside campaigners. No doubt Westminster ministers will want further changes to planning rules (in England) in an attempt to boost house building and revive the economy.

Not wanting to be left out (and bereft of any fresh ideas), a few years ago the previous Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff also pursued major changes to planning rules in Wales aiming to ‘tilt the balance in favour of economic growth over the environment and social factors’. This decision was in my opinion aimed quite specifically at overturning those few occasions when our Local Authorities have rejected developments (often at the behest of local residents) rather than putting economic needs ahead of economic and environmental benefits and will do little for sustainable, flood free development to deal with local housing needs let alone preserve our green spaces.

Friday, 3 March 2017

PLAID CYMRU SPRING CONFERENCE SPEECH

Being a Plaid member opens your eyes to the fact that we are indisputably one nation, undivided, north; south; east and west are simply compass bearings.

The map simply goes up and down... even if the A470 can feel like it goes on forever.

Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales, is the only party that puts Wales first all the time, we are not answerable to any Westminster based political masters, we are not running a branch office.

"Labour are indifferent to the interest of the people in Newport and the nation. It's time for Plaid."
Our communities face similar problems, the loss of green space, over development, a shortage of affordable housing and sustainable long-term jobs and opportunities.

In Newport we have a self-serving ruling clique that locally mirrors the Welsh Labour government’s indifference to our national and local interests...

Save for public opinion, the Newport ship would be matchwood, the transporter bridge scrap iron, Tredegar House a ruin, and there would be an inner city ring road.

We need to make politics work again, and that starts with making people’s day-to-day lives better. 

Plaid does not, cannot and never will write people and communities off, we can think and act for all of Cymru / Wales, all of the time.

We have always wanted our country back, we have not lost our way or an Empire, nor struggled to find a role.

Our focus has always been Wales and the people who live here.

Most of us do not wish to live in some nostalgia drenched fantasy island bedecked with ermine, baubles, gongs and trinkets.

We look forwards to living in a prosperous outward looking nation, one that has much to offer the world.

We recognize that we have to start from the bottom up and that it will be hard work, even the work of years…

Our communities are the literal fabric of our nation - they are the safety net that supports our most vulnerable and give us a sense of place and belonging.

Our planning system and our local government, remains largely nineteenth century in structure and outlook, it does not recognise for our national interests, and with a few exceptions does not recognise the realities of devolution.

Here in SE Gwent, much of the proposed housing in various UDPs (in Newport, Torfaen and Monmouthshire) remains focused on the projected housing shortfall in Bristol.

No offence intended, but that is not our problem.

The Severn Bridge tolls, remain a tax on jobs, on businesses and long suffering commuters.

The failure to invest in infrastructure, stalling over the metro, and the often-dreadful rolling stock used by ArrivaTrainsWales can make the M4 the longest linear car park in Western Europe.

The problems of the M4 are actually a symptom of economic weakness!

Successive Welsh governments (and the Welsh office) been content to live with a Welsh economy that is so weak that many thousands of our compatriots make daily treks across the Severn Bridges to earn their daily bread - and pay for the privilege.

Our focus should be on developing small to medium size local enterprises. SMEs create wealth, employment opportunities and trade with each other. They are unlikely to leave for fresh development grants elsewhere.

If we are serious about changing our country for the better, it starts at a local level. Simply replacing the Labour Party with some sort of Labour Party lite is not acceptable.

We have to show people we are different, we will listen, we will be accountable; we will deliver on our commitments. Only then can change our communities and our nation for the better.


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If not now? Then when? If not us? Then who?

Thursday, 2 March 2017

PLAID CYMRU SPRING CONFERENCE 2017


Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales Spring Conference is taking place in The Riverfront Centre in Newport on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th March 2017.

Spring Conference will be an opportunity to discuss and share the party’s vision with delegates and our members.

There will also be keynote speeches from party leader, Leanne Wood, her cabinet team, our candidates and a number of special guest speakers.

Click here to download the opportunities pack, which includes information relating to the sponsorship and exhibition opportunities. 

Click here to download the booking form.

If you are a party member then click here to see the timetable and for information about the Conference Dinner and other social events taking place during Conference weekend.

WHEN:  March 03, 2017 at 9am - March 04, 2017
WHERE:  Riverfront Centre, Newport