The Wales Planning Bill received Royal Assent in July 2015 establishing a tier of regional planning. The aim was to co-ordinate development at a regional level via the creation of Strategic Development Plans (SDPs) for Cardiff, Swansea and the A55 corridor. However, a year on and we are yet to see much progress made, with even the geographical boundaries of the Strategic Planning Areas not defined yet.
Of course regional planning is considered to be a positive move for Wales. My concern is that this intervening period as we move away from Local Development Plans in isolation to Strategic Development Plans underpinned by LDPs, does not become a vacuum of policy and ultimately lead to the delay of development plan preparation and planning by appeal.
In June 2016, First Minister Carwyn Jones set out the Welsh Governments objectives of SDPs stating:
‘It’s not realistic for local development plans to be developed in isolation of each other. There is huge sense in having a strategic development framework across Wales, particularly the south-east of Wales, where there is great pressure. We do need to ensure that there is a proper regional framework in place when it comes to planning for the growth of the various parts of Wales over the course of the next few years.’
But despite this we remain in a position of uncertainty, which could lead to the collapse of the plan led system in the interim. Caerphilly County Borough have already withdrawn their replacement LDP and Rhondda Cynon Taff have delayed the commencement of their review while Monmouthshire and Torfaen are due to commence their reviews over the next few years, all well in advance of the likely realisation of SDPs in 2021. The Strategic Plan will take their lead from the new National Development Framework which we are told is unlikely to be completed before 2019. So we could swiftly find ourselves in a planning by appeal situation across the majority of South Wales if these authorities hold back LDP reviews pending progress of the new national and strategic plans.
In my view, a consistent and efficient planning system should be in pace to help us deal with the challenges presented by the wider economic climate and Brexit rather than having to recover in spite of it.
Surely the Welsh Government therefore needs to take control of the situation having long advocated full development plan coverage as a critical requirement for the delivery of enough new homes, jobs and associated infrastructure, yet there appears to be very limited action at present. Wales does not need so many LDPs and a regional approach would have the ability to advance and realise the potential of Wales as an economic region, enabling homes, jobs, facilities and supporting infrastructure to be delivered in a co-ordinated manner. It should not however, be used by Local Authorities to stop or delay the production of LDPs in the interim. Instead the Welsh Government and Local Planning Authorities need to work with the development industry to ensure that the new homes and jobs required in Wales are delivered at an increasing rate. LPAs need to embrace the ethos of ‘Positive Planning’ set out within the Wales Planning Act and work pragmatically with the development industry to find solutions.
Ultimately if regional planning is rolled out correctly in Wales, I do believe it can deliver great benefits - but action is needed now. Here at Barton Willmore, the team and I will continue to explore what regional planning in South Wales could look like and the development opportunities that it will create, in a hope that we can encourage a greater degree of activity, but in the meantime, the voice of the welsh development industry needs to get loud on this topic.
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Wales Planning Bill, Wales, Regional Planning