Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 760-779)



  760. Do you think planning reforms will work without a spatial strategy having been drawn up first?
  (Ms Essex) We think it is very important for Wales, we have never had one in this form before, because what it will do will be to force the kind of integration that we think is important in delivering sustainable development, so that key development strategies, particularly economic development, will be in harmony with the transportation, with the planning base, the spatial base too. Also, I think, importantly, it means that we look beyond our boundaries. Wales does not exist in a vacuum, and what has been interesting, in the process that is going on, is we and other organisations who have done that, it has made us perhaps re-evaluate the links to Ireland, in the west, and also it makes us conscious of the links we have got across border, certainly in the North West, where the border is virtually indefinable on the ground, and then in the south, to perhaps the M4 corridor and wider.

  761. Finally, I was going to ask, do you think it should have a statutory status?
  (Ms Essex) We have put that out to consultation. I think it would be fair to say that the presumption has been—

  762. But what do you think?
  (Ms Essex) I think it should have, because that will give it a sustainability and will give it, I think, a clarity, should it need to be used at public inquiries, etc.

Mr Betts

  763. At a local level, when you went out to consultation, you put forward three options, either keeping the unitary development plans, or the other option is a local development plan, or something like the Local Development Framework model that is proposed in the Green Paper for England. Could you explain why you came down on the side of the local development plans?
  (Ms Essex) On option B, as we said, yes, we think that that is an appropriate vehicle; obviously we will wait to see what comes out from the consultation, our consultation has only recently ended, we were slightly behind the English system there. But because it does have an element of a plan base to it, where that is needed, and we still think that is important, particularly if it is not to unravel, so you have a series of public inquiries, on appeals. But also it is flexible enough to allow action plans, and I think, if probably we talk about a generic action plan, it may be of a different type, depending on locality and issue, to be part of the local development plan. The previous system, the unitary development plan, has proved to be very long-winded, in practice, progress has been slow, whether it is in Wales or England, and I think there is general agreement that that system needs to be changed in order to deliver timely.


  764. Can you just tell us what proportion of authorities within Wales have actually got them done?
  (Ms Essex) That is a good question, and I will go to one of my colleagues here; my answer is, probably, none completed at the moment.
  (Ms Powell) None completed at the moment, no.

  765. None completed; so it is considerably worse than England?
  (Ms Powell) We started with reorganisation of local government in Wales in 1996 and, in fact, ten plans are now post-deposit stage in Wales.

  766. Ten, out of how many?
  (Ms Powell) Ten out of 25, we have 25 local planning authorities.

Mr Betts

  767. In terms of the new proposal for the local development plan, as I understand it, the whole of the area would not have a detailed map to be prepared. What happens then when applications are made for development in one of the areas where you had assumed at the beginning informing the LDP that there was going to be minimal change, and therefore you had not got a detailed map; is that really then from square one that the authority has to decide whether planning permission would be granted or not?
  (Ms Essex) No, because they would have a strategic element, which would be perhaps related to housing demand, etc., a strategic policy base, in which to work. There may also be, and we are still having the consultation on this, a need to have some criteria based policy, but we feel that, if that is in place, and certainly in terms of the major areas of change, a combination of a plan where the authority is expecting change, say, on housing, to deliver major housing numbers, then we feel that that identification on a plan would be important; plus areas where we have an action plan, that would be areas where we see perhaps regeneration proposals coming forward.

  768. So you would have action plans for those areas where you were expecting significant change and, in order to plan ahead for housing, you would be allocating on the map the areas where housing was likely. Is not this going to be more complicated than a system where you have simply a land use map for the whole area, and how does it differ from what the Government's proposals are, with the LDF, with action plans attached?
  (Ms Essex) The Local Development Plan (LDP) should be for the whole area, in our experience. We have just talked about the numbers of plans that have gone through, which does take an enormous amount of time, because you are covering areas that, by and large, are not going to be susceptible to major change, and we feel more general policies could underpin decision-making on that. However, the plan base will include those key land availability issues the essential need to develop, whether it be housing, whether it be commercial opportunities. We feel that if a local authority decides that they have to be identified (and bearing in mind that in Wales we have got many areas that are not under pressure for change, but if you are talking about Cardiff, the south east areas, the north east, there is pressure for housing development) we feel that those areas probably will need to be identified on the plan, and then a further element of detail, in terms of design frameworks. I take your point, that it is introducing, if you like, different elements, but it is, we feel, being flexible to respond to the reality on the ground; the problem with a completely detailed plan is that it does take a long time, going through the process and going through inquiry. The other thing I think it is important to say, with this, is that we are expecting annual monitoring statements to be prepared; that is important, in terms of take-up of land, whether it is housing land or commercial land. So we see it as a much more fluid document coming through.

  769. Let us be clear, in the areas where you have currently a detailed map because there is a presumption for minimum change, would the presumption also be that planning applications would generally be refused in those areas, a presumption that they would not be granted because no development is going to happen?
  (Ms Essex) No, you could not say that, because planning applications, if you are talking about change of use, or a small change, they are inevitable, you cannot stultify a planning system so there is no change. However, should there be a major application for housing expansion, etc., and that has not been identified and has not gone through the consultative system, then I guess the presumption would be that that would not be appropriate.

Helen Jackson

  770. Wales has got a poor reputation for protecting rights of way in countryside areas, I think that is fair to say. How will you be able to do that without definitive maps in areas where you are expecting minor change?
  (Ms Essex) Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, obviously, there are definitive maps, but also local authorities are producing rights of way plans.

  771. So they will take precedence, if there is, say, a definitive map; through the Countryside and Rights of Way legislation, that will take precedence in an area which is not otherwise covered by a detailed planning map?
  (Ms Essex) They have protection through the legislative system, so that would have to be resolved outside the planning system anyway; the planning system does not allow the destruction of a rights of way, that is my understanding. I think Martin wants to come back on ownership.
  (Mr Evans) I was only going to add, to Mr Betts's question, in terms of the sorts of applications in areas which were not necessarily covered in detail, in a development plan, there is an awful lot of policy that would help decide that. We have got the whole Planning Policy Wales document, which sets out a range of policies which would apply; above that, we are proposing again to have the spatial plan. So all that would apply. We have technical advice notes which hang off the back of our planning policy to give detailed guidance on best practice. So all that would apply, and a lot of that would help determine an individual case, and indeed a lot of that now gets repeated in development plans, and some of that is what we are trying to simplify out of it, to get rid of that duplication.

Mrs Ellman

  772. When land is allocated for development, in either type of plan, how are you going to make sure that objectors whose property might be affected are actually going to get a hearing?
  (Ms Essex) I think it is important that we recognise it is not just objectors whose land is affected, there are other people who clearly have a view, the general sort of third party rights view. What we feel is, if we introduce a more proactive, forward-looking system, if we really put that on the agenda—and I think the community plans, in a way, help to do that—we will get the public, the public in general, involved in a much more substantial way than they are now. Now it has perhaps always been the prize, I know it has been a lot more difficult to do on the ground, but I think in parts of Wales perhaps there is more affinity to the locality and more interest in the locality; so we have a situation where people are involved in that more forward-looking role. When it comes to particular planning applications, we are looking to have a system where there is more support for people actually to be able to understand what the planning system is about, what the decision-making system is about, making that more transparent. And, in terms of working with local government, whether there should be an opportunity for people to speak at planning committees, can I say, in a former life, I was a chair of a planning committee, and it has always been my experience that if people have the ability to make their voice heard and feel that their voice is heard, they may not like necessarily the outcome, the decision, but they feel much happier about the process. And those are, I think, the two key elements. The forward part of plan making, if we can get more people involved in understanding what change is and less fearful of change, that sometimes change can be there for the good; but, secondly, during the decision-making process, that that is seen as an open and fair way, that sufficient information is there. We are looking at whether we can support Planning Aid, which is established in Wales, but, also, with local authorities, the fact that objectors, third parties, are given help to understand the system, and maybe at the end an opportunity to speak at planning committee, if that is where we get to.

  773. You say "maybe", does that mean there will definitely be a formal hearing, at some stage, a formal hearing; you are talking a lot about people being involved in a long-term process, but do you mean there would be a formal hearing where objectors to a specific plan would be able to make their views known there?
  (Ms Essex) At the development plan, not the planning application, stage; at the development plan, yes, I think you would not offset that, the system does not offset that. At the planning application, where it is not a delegated decision to officers, clearly, that comes in front of elected Members for a decision, then you would have the opportunity to be heard; and many authorities, obviously, operate that system at the moment. We would need to look at ways that that could be consistent across Wales. I think that is one of the issues that has come back to us from on the ground, is this issue of consistency; at the moment we have different practices by different authorities, obviously they have got different geographies and different societies, but we are looking with the Welsh Local Government Association to get more consistency, so whether somebody lives in Cardiff, or they live in Carmarthen, they can see what their rights are and what the process is. Did you want to comment?
  (Mr Evans) I was only going to add that we have said we are proposing to make neighbour notification mandatory on planning applications, so everybody knows if something is proposed next door to them. We also have a piece about access to planning papers, as well as saying we want to see open, well-advertised planning committees, with a full record of proceedings, and giving third parties a reasonable opportunity to speak.

  774. Your proposals want to review plans every five years, the English proposal is every three years; why have you kept to five?
  (Ms Essex) I suppose, for the most part, there is not the same degree of pressure in Wales for change that there is in England, but we feel the annual monitoring statement will keep a close eye on change; it does not offset further action plans being undertaken, if you have got a specific area that has come up for change, perhaps in a part of a market town, etc. So we feel that the combination of those will help.

Mr O'Brien

  775. Looking at the brief that you submitted, Minister, it says at the end: "There is separate consultation on Planning Obligations," and so you have not consulted on that situation yet. What are your views on the current Planning Obligations?
  (Ms Essex) We have consulted jointly with the English paper—

  776. So you are waiting to see what the response is from the English ones?
  (Ms Essex) The English ones, yes.

  777. So what are your views on the one in Wales at the present time?
  (Ms Essex) On the existing system that we have, I guess the answer would be that it is not transparent enough. What we get from developers is that they find it hard to know exactly what is going to be required of them through the current system; those requirements might change during the course of a planning application, even right to the end of a decision that may change. And that, I feel, undermines the process, as it stands. I am not against the Section 106 agreements, some planning gain, as we call it, coming into being, clearly that is very important, but we feel perhaps it is not transparent enough, it needs to be much more up front, much more obvious to potential developers what will be required of them, and indeed much more transparent, quite honestly, to the general public.

  778. Why do you not consult with the people in Wales on that then?
  (Ms Essex) Yes, people in Wales are being consulted, but it is a joint consultation with England, so we are part of that consultation.

  779. When do you expect to have that report before you?
  (Ms Essex) That is with the DTLR at the moment, I have not seen the responses.
  (Ms Powell) Could I perhaps clarify that what we did was issue the DTLR paper under cover of a letter, which actually asked for views across the piece; so, whereas the DTLR paper was suggesting the tariff system, what we asked people was to consider all the options in the paper and to give views, and consultation on that closed last week. So we will be looking at that separately, when we get to analyse the responses.


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