The Assembly will consider the general principles of the Planning (Wales) Bill on 10 February. The Minister for Natural Resources introduced the Bill on 7 October last year. There is a long history to its development, including a 2012 report by an Independent Advisory Group on reform of the planning system in Wales and scrutiny of a Draft Planning Bill by the Assembly in 2014 – see previous blogpost.
The Finance Committee also wrote to the Environment Committee commenting on the financial aspects of the Bill.
The Environment & Sustainability Committee supports the general principles of the Bill, but has made 42 recommendations that, according to the committee, “seek to make the provisions of this Bill more democratic.”
The committee believes that “when taken together, implementing these recommendations will address concerns that this legislation will create a ‘democratic deficit’ whilst ensuring the efficiency and consistency of the system is improved”.
Some of the key recommendations are:
- Giving community-level ‘Place Plans’ more formal status in the planning system and enhancing the role of communities in other development plans;
- Various amendments to strengthen consideration of the impact of development proposals on the Welsh language;
- Statutory links between transport planning and land use planning and also between marine and terrestrial planning;
- No mergers between Local Planning Authorities and National Park Authorities;
- Strengthening the arrangements for the Assembly’s scrutiny of the new National Development Framework that will replace the Wales Spatial Plan;
- Removing the voting rights from non-elected members of the Strategic Planning Panels that will be responsible for producing new ‘regional’ Strategic Development Plans for some parts of Wales;
- Various changes to the new Developments of National Significance (DNS) regime, where the Welsh Ministers will be responsible for making decisions on certain applications – the changes include defining DNS in the Bill rather than in secondary legislation and introducing a timescale for Welsh Ministers to make decisions on these applications;
- Allowing for some local flexibility in the proposed National Scheme of Delegation that will set which applications are decided by local planning authority officers or committees;
- Retaining the requirement for Design and Access Statements for some planning applications;
- Amending the Town and Village Green registration proposals in the Bill that currently seek to limit opportunities for such registrations when land has entered the planning system.
Some initial stakeholder reactions to the committee’s report:
RenewableUK Cymru has welcomed the committee’s report on the Bill:
“We are particularly pleased the committee has recommended statutory timescales for the examination of the new category of Developments of National Significance be included on the face of the Bill. This was a key ask from us and our members, and if taken forward will help ensure developer confidence in Wales’ planning system and bring forward the investment we need to transform our energy supply.”
Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg has also welcomed the report and the recommendations concerning the Welsh language:
“We very much welcome this report, in particular its support for putting the Welsh language at the heart of the system and measures to return power to communities. We now expect the Government to amend the Bill so that the system is more sustainable for every community in the country. If the Government doesn’t listen, we will consider challenging this law in the courts. This is such an important issue for the language, we must consider every possible option available to us.”
The Open Spaces Society is “delighted that a National Assembly for Wales Committee is calling for better protection of village greens.”
Article by Graham Winter, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.