The Role of the Planning System in Placemaking
Motion NDM6721 Julie James
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
1. Recognises having high quality, well designed developments and places is essential to the long-term health and well-being of the people of Wales.
2. Believes the town and country planning system is well placed to make holistic decisions on the built environment which maximise the well-being goals.
3. Acknowledges that having strong national placemaking policies in Planning Policy Wales and the National Development Framework shows leadership to planning authorities and others in shaping and making good places.
4. Recognises the role of built environment professionals to deliver placemaking and calls on local authorities to effectively resource planning departments.
Gareth Bennett AM
Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
Thanks to the Minister for bringing today’s debate. There is a particular term that we’re using here today, and that is ‘placemaking’. It’s a pretty term, but we do have to make sure that it actually means something. The Welsh Government’s chief planner recently spoke about planning needing to take a holistic approach so that planners can shape places that are attractive and sociable. Yes, we do need a holistic approach—that’s beyond doubt—but often it seems that, at the moment, there is really no holistic approach to planning.
Mike Hedges made some very valid points just now. He was talking about a particular area in Swansea, Swansea Vale, I believe, but the problems that he highlighted there are probably endemic. We have in Cardiff similar issues of many new residential estates being built that are far away from employment opportunities and also there is a lack, in many cases, of public transport. So, we need to be building residential areas with access to jobs.
We also need to be thinking about where the jobs are actually created. In and around Cardiff, there are plenty of places where jobs have been created in the past 30 years that are not particularly accessible. There are factory units in an area known as Wentloog, and informally as ‘the Lambies’. A few years ago, I was having a look at job vacancies down there, but it was pretty much impossible as I didn’t drive and the weren’t any buses going over there. I’ve just had a look at the Cardiff Bus route map today, and there is more development down there now in terms of employment—we now have, for instance, a major film studio down there—but there are no buses going down there still; it’s a complete black hole as far as public transport’s concerned. So, we do still have these problems.
Business parks are a particular issue because they’re often built far away from residential areas, so I think it really would be a good idea to think about embracing this idea of the Swansea Vale-type development where you do have the employment opportunities close to the new residential areas.
There are other things that could help in urban places. For instance, in Cardiff, we don’t have many circular bus services. It seems that everything has to go into and out of the city centre. So, if you have a business park on one edge of the city and you have a new housing estate on another edge, you have to get a bus in let’s say from Pontprennau — 40 minutes into town — and then a bus out to St Mellon’s business park, that’s another 40 minutes, when they’re only three miles apart. London has plenty of circular bus services, but in Cardiff we don’t really have them. We’re having this whole debate in Cardiff about the local development plan, which will see lots of new housing development in the west of the city, without the transport infrastructure to back it up. So, we have to wait for the south Wales metro to turn up at some point in the future. In the meantime, until that arrives, we are heading for traffic gridlock in the west of the city.
We’ve been talking a lot about strategic planning recently, and again today, and there doesn’t seem to be any real strategic thinking there. Now, the placemaking system, we’re being told, is being reworked, to take account of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. But the well-being goals are coming in the midst of a massive concreting over of the greenbelt. The bus station in Cardiff has disappeared; we now have a lovely collection of shiny new office blocks in Central Square, which means more people coming into the city centre to work. Why? Jobs are going from the edge of the city, such as the tax office in Llanishen, so that more people can work in the middle of the city. Again, this doesn’t appear to be great planning. And many of these jobs are public sector jobs, like HMRC and BBC Wales. We seem to have no control in this place, or perhaps in any other place, over decisions that are taken on these issues, even in major public sector organisations.
Mike Hedges makes lots of points on these issues. Now, he’s raised again today the county plans, which I’m very interested when he raises them, because, essentially, it seems that when the Welsh Office scrapped the county councils, in the mid 1990s, so that we had unitary authorities, nobody seemingly thought to replace the county council strategic planning functions. So, I’m rather intrigued as to why nobody thought of this, because we didn’t get the Welsh Assembly—maybe Hefin can enlighten me when he speaks in a minute—until a few years later. So, certainly, it wasn’t the intention at that time that the job of strategic planning would be moved up a level to the Assembly, because the Assembly didn’t exist. So, I await to be enlightened, and I’m sure it will be very interesting.
Looking at the motion, we in UKIP agree broadly with the motion today regarding placemaking, but we hope that the process we end up with will be more than just platitudes—we hope there will be meaningful change. Of course, we do like the idea of local referenda when there are major planning decisions affecting people in their neighbourhoods. We do broadly support the opposition amendments. There are issues with the Conservative amendments, we don’t really want—of course we want housing, but we don’t want major developments that aren’t welcome by the established residents. But we share doubts over Planning Inspectorate Wales; we may be replicating mistakes that led to the creation of Natural Resources Wales, with expertise being lost. So that’s certainly an issue; we do agree with the broad thrust of what Plaid Cymru are generally saying. Yes, there is a role, theoretically certainly, for Welsh speakers have struggled in the housing market in parts of rural Wales. But we know there are differing opinions, even within Plaid, as to how far local housing and planning decisions should be and can be influenced by Welsh language considerations. But of course Siân is right, it is a major consideration; we have to think about these things.
We’re not actually disagreeing with anyone today, but we do need to get beyond platitudes, and to get to a planning system that actually works for local people. Diolch yn fawr iawn.