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Statement on the future of Planning in Wales (Saesneg yn unig)
I am delighted to announce the issue of "Planning : delivering for Wales", a consultation document which sets out proposals to change the planning system in Wales.
I believe it will start the process of delivering:
- A positive tool for economic regeneration and the management of change
- A transparent process that gives everyone a chance to participate and debate the future of their communities, and
- An emphasis on quality decisions to create and maintain attractive and sustainable places
In early December I issued a statement to say that I was undertaking a review of the planning system for Wales. On 19 December I chaired a meeting of the Welsh Planning Forum at which over 30 representatives of business, the public and voluntary sectors discussed the issues and our initial thoughts about how we could improve the system. The results of the discussion have been used to prepare the consultation document to be published tomorrow.
Of course we share the basic structure of the planning system with England. The system has its roots in the same primary and secondary legislation. Last December Stephen Byers published a Green Paper "Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change". His proposals address concerns expressed by businesses and communities about the planning system in England, and are designed to improve the preparation of development plans and the development control service offered by local planning authorities there. Some of the proposals are equally relevant to Wales, but we are evolving our own policy to meet Welsh requirements and so we need a different approach.
This approach derives from the fact that we have an elected Assembly in Wales with duties to promote sustainable development, support the Welsh language and to develop and implement policy for a wide range of issues affecting Wales. We are working with our partners to deliver the sort of changes we need to help meet the Welsh Assembly Government's economic, social and environmental objectives, in line with our “Plan for Wales 2001”.
I want to reassure that this consultation does not involve any changes to our emerging planning policy, as contained in Planning Policy Wales, which is discussed in more detail below.
The Assembly has devolved responsibility for setting the national policy context and making regulations to govern how the system operates, but the 25 local planning authorities (twenty two unitary authorities and three National Parks) have the major responsible for delivering the majority of the planning system in Wales. In Wales, we have the advantage that they form a single tier delivering both development plans and development control.
At the outset, I’d like to emphasise that I do not intend to seek increased involvement in the day to day working of the planning system. I want to continue to work in partnership with colleagues in local planning authorities to ensure that planning is operating effectively and well. However, we must be prepared to continue to intervene if issues of more than local importance arise.
I want to capitalise on the undoubted strengths of the planning system in Wales, to retain what is best, but to change what’s not working well enough. There is a balance to be struck between the pace of delivery and ensuring that people’s views, interests and other material factors are taken into account. We must get the procedures right, and we must incorporate involvement at the right stages of the process to ensure well-informed decision-making.
"Planning : delivering for Wales"
With the Planning Forum, we have reached general agreement that the planning system should :
- be open, fair and transparent
- inspire public and business confidence
- deliver improved quality and speed of decisions
- integrate with other plans , processes and actions, and
- meet our objectives in Plan for Wales.
Our consultation document sets out proposals which we believe will address these objectives. Putting them into effect will need action by the Assembly, and by local authorities preparing development plans and taking planning decisions and by all those who use, or come into contact with, the planning system.
National Planning Policy
Planning Policy Wales will provide clearer, more focussed guidance for development plans and decisions in Wales. We are on target to issue this in April. Early last year we published Minerals Planning Policy Wales, and to further integrate policy we propose to integrate these two main documents when they are next reviewed. Technical Advice Notes will continue to be prepared to supplement the main policy documents.
Work is in progress to prepare the Wales Spatial Plan, which we consulted on this last Autumn. We are now considering how best to take it forward to provide the sort of guidance we need to support delivery of Assembly policies with spatial implications, to guide future decision-making, and to provide a national context for development plans.
We are fully committed to retaining a single tier system of development plans, currently called Unitary Development Plans (UDPs). These are prepared by the 25 local planning authorities, and give certainty for the community and developers alike. Some authorities have made good progress on their UDP’s and are well on course for adoption. However for other local authorities progress has been too slow. In many cases they are attempting to incorporate too much detail which leads to very cumbersome documents and processes. So we propose to streamline this process by requiring each local planning authority to produce a simpler “local development plan” using a more streamlined procedure. The new LDPs will need to be linked to the authority’s community strategy and elicit support from the wider community including business and the voluntary sector. These plans will incorporate an overarching strategic vision, with key policies to guide development control decisions, but leaving much of the detail to Action Plans covering areas of major change.
This and other changes could improve the speed of handling of a wide range of major proposals. In addition views are sought on Business Planning Zones (BPZ’s) as proposed in the English Green Paper. BPZ's would enable certain types of high quality high tech development to take place without the need for detailed planning permission.
It is vital to strike the right balance in the resolution of public and private interests. The proposals in the Green Paper also require that each LDP includes a statement on community involvement, both in formulating the plan and as an indication of how it will continue into other local planning activity.
Decision making and development control
Planning decisions must continue to be based on up to date development plans. This will enable Councils to take consistent and well-informed decisions which applicants and objectors have a right to expect. The proposals in the consultation paper are grouped under four main headings with the aim of
- improving certainty, consistency, clarity and speed;
- modernising the system;
- improving access and consultation; and
- improving skills and awareness.
There are a number of proposals under the first heading. For example;
- strengthening the link between development plans and development control, which should improve the quality of day to day decision-making;
- ensuring up-to-date development plans are in place to improve certainty in development control, and also help consistency and clarity;
- returning to the already demanding overall targets for speed of turn-round for decisions, but aiming to make a real difference by encouraging pre-application discussions, and introducing delivery contracts for major applications. It is envisaged that these delivery contracts being agreed between the applicant and the lpa, and giving a framework and indicative timescale for consideration of the application.
Modernising the planning system could involve reviewing the Use Classes Order, and considering whether to amend permitted development rights. There is also need to update policy on planning obligations, on which there is to be a separate consultation shortly.
Improved access and consultation includes access to premises as well as information. Improved access through the medium of Welsh will be encouraged and further consideration will be given to the needs of all sections of the community. We must ensure that there are opportunities for objectors to be heard before decisions are taken, to review the number of statutory and non-statutory consultees and introduce safeguards for those applications in which local authorities have an interest.
Proposals to update and improve the planning system need to be complemented by human resources. It is essential that the system is delivered in a professional manner. This means ensuring that - in line with the proposals in “A Winning Wales” - both officers and elected members dealing with planning matters keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date. We will be working with the Welsh Local Government Association to make this happen.
We need to consider carefully the resources available to local authorities from for example, planning fees, and to review the role of planning obligations in delivering community benefits.
There are possible implications for both UK Government primary and Assembly secondary legislation, which we will need to look at carefully.
On a number of issues – for example enforcement – further work will be required both in partnership with DTLR and through original research in Wales.
“Planning: delivering for Wales” is being posted onto the Assembly ‘s intranet site and so will be available to all AMs and their staff after this session ends. The document will issue for public consultation tomorrow. We intend to consult for 12 weeks, closing on 29 April. I will be discussing the results of that consultation with EPT Committee before considering the way forward.
I look forward to hearing your comments and ask that you encourage your constituents and interested groups to respond. This is our opportunity to design a system fit for the future of Wales.