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Written Statement - Planning for Economic Development

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John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development

As part of our commitment to delivering Sustainable Development, the Welsh Government is determined to use its powers to create the conditions necessary for economic growth and the creation of long term sustainable job opportunities for the people of Wales. We work across Government portfolios to ensure that our polices are integrated and appropriate.


The planning system is a devolved responsibility of the Welsh Government and is pivotal to ensuring that job creating opportunities are facilitated and that they are located in the most appropriate and sustainable places. I am determined to ensure that the planning system supports economic growth in Wales and is recognised as an integral element of sustainable development, which is the central organising principle of the Welsh Government. 


Recently I issued a new edition of Planning Policy Wales, updating our national planning policy for economic development. The new policy framework seeks to ensure that local planning authorities put in place a robust, locally appropriate evidence base which reflects the economic development issues associated with new development proposals. In so doing, I expect all planning authorities to factor the economic benefits of proposals into their decision making on planning applications in a coherent and transparent way; this will ensure decisions include a rounded balancing of social, economic and environmental considerations. 


The revision to Planning Policy Wales also provides a clear statement strengthening and clarifying the presumption in favour of sustainable development. This reiterates the need to have an adopted development plan in place and the need to take decisions in accordance with the development plan with the objective of contributing towards sustainable development. It is essential that local planning authorities put in place up to date development plans; where their development plan policies are outdated or superseded by other material considerations such as national planning policy, our policy requires authorities to give their policies less weight in the decision making process.
To supplement the new policy, we will be producing a new Technical Advice Note next year which will assist local planning authorities gather the evidence necessary for their Local Development Plans. 


Whilst the revision to the national planning policy framework is important, I also recognise that the process of making planning applications for business and other applicants needs to be proportionate and rational. I have instigated a number of changes to the development management process which are intended to help.


Earlier this year we introduced legislation to allow local planning authorities to implement Local Development Orders (LDOs) which would grant planning permission for a type of development specified in the Order so a developer need not submit a planning application.  To assist with this we have made funds available to local planning authorities in order to bring forwards LDOs and I am pleased to note that to date 3 authorities have sought assistance.


I have issued best practice guidance on pre-application discussions to encourage local planning authorities to provide the best possible service at a crucial time - the beginning of the development process.  Early engagement can assist mutual understanding between developers, communities and local planning authorities, leading to improved design and reduced delays in the determination process.  


Such discussions support the changes I made earlier this year, introducing the standard information requirements for applications across Wales, thereby reducing inconsistencies across local planning authorities.  I intend to pursue further changes to make procedures more efficient through the Planning Reform Bill, including looking at how elected members can best engage with development proposals.  I have just initiated a research project to secure the evidence base for future reforms.


These changes will improve how planning applications are dealt with but I have also sought to increase the range of business improvement projects that do not require planning permission.  In October I set out new permitted development rights reducing planning requirements relating to micro-generation equipment on business premises, saving the cost and time involved with submitting a planning application.


I also intend to allow more extensions to business premises; a consultation has been issued seeking views on the extent of the proposed changes,  inviting comments before 11 January 2013.  Informed by consideration of the responses, I will consider what relaxation of controls is appropriate to support sustainable development, encouraging economic growth.