Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs: The National Development Framework
Gareth Bennett AM
Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
I thank the Minister for today’s statement. We’re talking today about plans and planning and, as the Minister just outlined a moment ago, we seem to be heading towards broadly three types of plan: local development plans at the bottom, a national development framework at the top, and strategic development plans in the middle.
We have had issues of public contention over LDPs in recent years, with councils feeling that, in some cases, their hands were tied in having to proceed with LDPs that were not always universally popular with some, or large portions, of their electorate. So, I think one of the problems, or one of the issues, or, to use a popular phrase in Government, one of the challenges that you’re going to have going forward is: how do you retain democratic consent for a major overhaul of planning, involving decisions taken at regional and even national levels? That may be the main challenge that you have, going forward, because if we’ve had a problem at a fairly localised level with LDPs, how do we ensure that we don’t actually magnify these problems, going forward, with larger-scale planning like the SDPs and the NDF as a whole? So, I suppose my first question is: broadly, how will you ensure that you retain a large measure of democratic consent to these kinds of proposals? It’s going to come down a lot to the structure of what you set up.
David Melding, who spoke first, gave us what I found a very interesting historical look at what was attempted in the first Assembly term with the spatial plan, which, I must confess, I wasn’t much aware of. I don’t remember it being a matter of massive newspaper talk at the time, but perhaps my memory fails me. But, obviously, it was a major development of the Government in the first term, which didn’t really work. So, now we are where we are with a new scheme. So, how will you learn from the lessons of the spatial plan? I wonder what lessons you take yourself, Minister, from the relative failure of the spatial plan and how we can ensure that this plan will not replicate those failures.
I think there are problems, and I’m hopeful that this will be broadly a success, but I can see issues, going forward, because you also have a local government reorganisation, which is still in the mix, which your colleague sat two doors down from you is in charge of. Obviously, there’s a separation between you as the planning Minister and him as the local government Minister, and that can sometimes cause problems. You’re obviously going to have to work closely together on this to ensure this is a success. I wonder how these things are going to dovetail. At the same time, we’ve also got the city deals coming in, the growth deals, so I hope this all doesn’t become very messy and I hope that you can retain between the two of you, and the housing Minister as well, a broad measure of control over this. So, I wonder broadly what your thoughts are on those points.
One issue that I did particularly want to ask about was the SDPs. I know you stated that these are going to be statutory—sorry, the NDF will be statutory. So, this will influence, is bound to influence, decisions taken at the lower tiers. I’m just slightly puzzled as to who actually takes the decisions with the SDPs. It seems to be the local authorities together. You said you were trying to get them to work together at a strategic level. How does that work with your statutory powers? How will that actually work in practice? Will they be working at the same level as the city deals? Will it be the city regions that actually take the decisions over the SDPs, or will it be some other conglomeration of different local authorities? Diolch yn fawr.
Lesley Griffiths AM
Title: Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs
Party: Welsh Labour
I thank Gareth Bennett for his comments and questions. I think I need to reassure —. Well, I’ve ensured my officials have reassured local planning authorities, and I’m very happy to reassure members that the NDF isn’t some kind of power grab or a bypass for good, effective local decision making. If we think about it, over 25,000 planning applications are dealt with by local planning authorities each year, and only a handful are taken by Welsh Ministers. That won’t change as a result of the NDF. What the NDF gives us is a better means of showing the major development priorities for Wales and ensuring that that planning system is aligned. You’re absolutely right; you heard me in my answer to Siân Gwenllian that the NDF will sit at the top of a pyramid of development plans and the SDPs and the LDPs will be underneath at a regional and local authority level.
Local authorities have already played a very significant part in reaching this very early consultation stage. They’ve been very involved with early engagement. However, I do think there is much more we can do with them. I have an offer on the table to all local authorities to work with us as we gather our evidence now ahead of bringing forward the draft NDF. I will continue to seek the views of local authorities, but of course there is an onus on them to play a very full and active role. I’ve also made it very clear that the NDF is not an excuse to delay any work on local development plans or the review of LDPs that is currently taking place by all the planning authorities. There won’t be any surprises in terms of the content of the NDF, because we expect them to work with us in preparing it.
You referred to the Wales spatial plan, which you didn’t know about, being a failure. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that, but I will go—. I think David Melding referred to the sort of enthusiasm that the first Wales spatial plan was greeted with, and I think it’s absolutely fair to say that it didn’t deliver the meaningful change that the first Government wanted.
You asked me what lessons we’ve learned and I think the big lesson that I’ve personally learned, and clearly officials have learned, is that because it didn’t have that framework and that status of being a development plan, it didn’t have the teeth, if you like, to bring forward that meaningful change. So, that’s why we’ve given that status to the NDF, because I don’t want it just to become some sort of glossy document that sits on the shelf and it doesn’t have the teeth to drive that change that we want to see.
I work closely with all my Cabinet Secretary and ministerial colleagues. I mentioned that I’ve met them all before we’ve even got to this stage to see what their priorities are. It’s very much a cross-Government document. We don’t work in silos. We work very closely together, and I referred to what work I’ve been doing with my colleague the Minister for Housing and Regeneration. The Cabinet Secretary for Local Government, as you say, is initiating work around reform. This will dovetail with it. Obviously, we’ve got 25 local planning authorities with the 22 local authorities and, clearly, in the work that Alun Davies is taking forward, I will work very closely with him on that.