Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs
It is almost 14 years since the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act (2004) introduced the requirement for Local Planning Authorities to prepare, monitor and keep review Local Development Plans (LDP). Progress has been made with 20 adopted LDPs now in place.
The latest round of LDP Annual Monitoring Reports, submitted in October, has demonstrated mixed success for plans adopted between 2010 and 2015. This is particularly evident for critical planning outcomes, including supporting the delivery of housing in sustainable locations. I believe it is right to pause and reflect on the correct path to take to maintain effective LDP coverage ahead of adoption of a Strategic Development Plan (SDP) for each region. It is also necessary to provide a robust framework for the delivery of the land use implications of existing and emerging City and Growth Deals.
The role of the planning system in delivering excellent outcomes for Wales at national, regional and local levels has never been more prominent. Our newly adopted National Strategy: Prosperity for All, acknowledges the key role the planning system must play by recognising planning decisions as a critical lever to deliver the central goal of prosperity for all. It notes planning decisions affect every area of a person’s life. They determine where homes are built, where services are provided, the quality of the local environment, the promotion of sustainable economic growth and access to open space. The right planning system is critical in delivering the objectives of the strategy – this includes ensuring better LDPs and SDPs are produced in the future.
Our vision for LDPs is not just to have full plan coverage. It must be achieved in the most effective and efficient way, whilst also making a real difference for people and places. This does not mean replicating the procedures of the past, such as preparing plans on an individual basis. Often this has led to lengthy timescales for preparing plans, numerous delays in the process, a lack of effective consideration for issues crossing administrative boundaries and a difficulty in demonstrating the benefits of the system. The average time taken to prepare a first generation LDP was almost 6½ years. This is totally unacceptable and cannot be replicated in the future. Evidence for the Planning (Wales) Bill demonstrated the cost of preparing a LDP to be between £1.4m and £2.2m. Since then local government expenditure on planning services declined by 53% between 2009/10 and 2016/17 as a result of the UK government austerity programme imposed on Wales with many of these reductions borne by the teams responsible for preparing LDPs. I do not believe many Authorities currently have the capacity, capability or resilience necessary to progress LDPs on an individual authority basis.
There are 13 local planning authorities (LPAs) that have either commenced a full review of their LDP, or will trigger a full review by January 2019: The LPAs are:
Blaenau Gwent, Brecon Beacons NPA, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Conwy, Denbighshire, Monmouthshire, Newport, Pembrokeshire, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Torfaen.
These LPAs are on similar timelines in terms of reviewing their plan, most commencing spring 2018, common geographical boundaries linking LPAs and common issues crossing administrative boundaries. There is an opportunity to significantly improve planning outcomes by preparing joint LDPs compared to first generation plans in the following areas.
Mid and West Wales
Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire
Conwy and Denbighshire
South East Wales – East
Blaenau Gwent, Monmouthshire, Newport & Torfaen
South East Wales – Central and West
Bridgend, Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf
I have written to these authorities to invite them to come together and submit proposals to prepare Joint LDPs. Where LPAs ignore this opportunity I will consider whether to use my intervention powers to ensure Joint LDPs are put in place and better planning outcomes realised.
At the strategic level of planning, legislation has, since October 2015, provided the opportunity for SDPs to come forward. So far no proposal has been forthcoming. Preparing a SDP in parallel with Joint LDPs would ensure the most efficient use of resources across a wide range of LPAs and maintain an effective decision making framework. Realistically, early progress on SDPs can only be secured if Joint LDPs are prepared.
Commencing preparation of a SDP would not mean duplicating technical work, or require additional resources. The key issue is how LPAs reconfigure their resources on a collaborative basis to deliver both, bearing in mind they will inform each other and collectively form the strategic and local level plans. As expertise has been lost it is critical that such resources are better utilised on a wider basis, supporting both processes. I have written to all LPAs inviting them to submit proposals for SDPs for each of 3 regions covering North Wales, Mid and West Wales and South East Wales.