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Statement on the Welsh Assembly Government’s Response to the EPC Committee Report on Planning Aspects Associated with the Provision of Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities in the Countryside

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Carwyn Jones, Minister for Environment, Planning & Countryside
I welcome the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee’s report on the role of the land use planning system in the provision of affordable housing and maintenance of sustainable communities in the countryside. I am pleased that the Committee, in the main, was able to achieve cross-party consensus on how the issues identified might be tackled.

The Welsh Assembly Government recognises that measures taken in relation to affordable housing must be taken across a number of portfolio areas. My responsibility is to ensure that the framework of national policies that we put in place for the planning system helps to deal with this and reflects our priorities. Our priority for housing is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live in a decent home, whether it is for sale or rent, in the community in which they wish to live.

I want to ensure that the planning system helps this process properly and effectively and, therefore, contributes to the maintenance of viable and thriving communities, including those in rural Wales. It is for our partners, the local planning authorities, to deliver sustainable development through their planning and decision making in a way that reflects the needs of their communities. An important part of that is facilitating the supply of affordable housing. The planning system can help to deliver more affordable housing by ensuring that sufficient and suitable sites for housing are identified and that local planning authorities are empowered to negotiate with developers for an element of affordable housing, whether it is for sale or rent, to be provided.

An important negotiating mechanism for providing affordable housing through the planning system is the section 106 agreement or planning obligation, which we refer to as planning contributions in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. These can help to provide affordable housing and can control occupation for local needs and set out resale arrangements.
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While we will not accept recommendation 4.9 in the report—certainly not in its entirety—we do accept that there is evidence that section 106 agreements are not working well and that they need to be revised. We have already taken steps to make the agreements more transparent by requiring planning authorities to put the details on their planning register. Consultation on a draft Order has been completed and, subject to Assembly legislative procedures, it should come forward in May and come into effect later this year. An enabling planning contribution clause for Wales is included in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill and the Assembly Government will have the power to develop the necessary policy and secondary legislation to put this into effect. Before doing so, we will consult on options, taking into account research that Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has recently commissioned on improving guidance. We will also take into account the final recommendations for the planning system arising from the Barker review of housing supply, commissioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Deputy Prime Minister.

I accept most of the report’s recommendations, as my written statement makes clear. In the main, the planning recommendations will be taken forward by means of the revision of technical advice note 2, ‘Planning and Affordable Housing’, which we have already scheduled to be revised as part of the ‘Planning: Delivering for Wales’ programme. We will invite stakeholders from the public, private and voluntary sectors to work with us in revising TAN 2 to further define the concept of affordable housing and advise on how it can be delivered most effectively. We will also consider whether there is a need to clarify and revise aspects of the housing chapter in ‘Planning Policy Wales’, and any policy changes will be issued in a draft ministerial interim planning policy statement, which will be subject to full public consultation.
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Local planning authorities already have the ability to respond to the differing needs of their communities, provided they have in place housing needs assessments or other evidence to support their policies, as the Committee recognised. I support the report’s recommendation that local communities should have a key role in helping to identify potential landowners and sites for the development of affordable housing. Local knowledge is best, and we have recognised that in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, which requires local planning authorities to take community views into account when preparing their local development plans. Finally, I thank the Committee for its report and for its contribution to the debate on the future of our rural communities. I look forward to enhancing the positive role that the planning system plays in providing more affordable homes in the future.