Memorandum by Sue Essex AM, Minister for
Environment, Welsh Assembly Government (PGP 66)
PLANNING: DELIVERING FOR WALES
1.1 Since the National Assembly for Wales
was established on 7 May 1999, it has taken responsibility in
Wales for a wide range of policy areas including agriculture,
economic development, education, health, planning, transport and
1.2 The Assembly's work is underpinned by
its goals for:
building a dynamic and advanced economy,
supporting economic regeneration, creating wealth and good quality
tackling social disadvantage, developing
an inclusive society; and
promoting equal opportunities, and
a culture which values diversity, including promoting the Welsh
1.3 The Assembly has no power to make primary
legislation, but may make subordinate legislation. Wales shares
with England the primary and much of the subordinate legislation
which underpins the planning system.
1.4 The Assembly has 60 elected members,
and has delegated nearly all its powers to the First Minister.
There are eight Cabinet Ministers who form the Welsh Assembly
Government. My responsibility as Minister for Environment covers
sustainable development as well as environmental protection; water
and the water industry; transport and highways; countryside, coastal
planning and conservation; spatial planning; land use planning
1.5 I am a member of, and work with, the
Environment, Planning and Transport Committee. The "Committee"
scrutinises and contributes towards, policy development, and provides
members for the Planning Decision Committee which takes decisions
on a small number of major planning cases each year. The Committee
has proportionate representation from all four political parties.
2. PLANNING IN
2.1 The Welsh Assembly Government is responsible
for the procedural and policy framework within which the planning
system operates. As in England, responsibility for the day to
day operation of the planning system rests with the local planning
authorities (22 unitary authorities and three National Park authorities)
which prepare unitary development plans, determine the vast majority
of the 30,000 planning applications submitted each year in Wales,
and take enforcement action.
2.2 The Assembly has power to intervene
in the development plan and control process by the issue of directions,
and by calling in planning applications for its own determination.
It also has responsibility for deciding appeals; most of this
work is undertaken on its behalf by the Planning Inspectorate,
which is jointly sponsored by the Assembly and the Department
of Transport, Local Government and the Regions.
2.3 In recent years Wales has prepared its
own planning policies. The latest major review of policy, Planning
Policy Wales, was published on 16 April. It draws together in
one document, policies on the full range of land use planning
issues. Minerals Planning Policy Wales was published in 2001.
The two policy documents are supplemented by a range of Technical
Advice Notes which provide additional procedural and technical
guidance. All policy documents are kept under review and are updated
as necessary. They are used in the preparation of development
plans and may be material to decisions on planning applications.
2.4 Unlike England, there is no formal system
of regional planning guidance. Local Planning authorities have
formed themselves into informal groupings based on geographical
or policy considerations, and have produced statements for different
parts of Wales. These are used in the preparation of unitary development
2.5 Significantly, as a new initiative,
the Assembly is committed to preparing a Wales Spatial Plan which
will give spatial expression to the Assembly's policies and address
land use planning issues on a broad scale. Work has begun, and
we are making good progress on developing the content of the plan
with a wide range of partners.
Turning now to the topic under discussion, I
will set out key points about the consultation document, "Planning:
delivering for Wales" (a summary is in the Annex).
Opportunities for Change
3.1 The introduction of the English green
paper gave us an opportunity to review the planning system in
Wales to ensure it fulfils the Assembly goals, and those of Welsh
people, its organisations and businesses. We consider that an
effective planning system is an essential tool to enable the Assembly
and its partners to improve the quality of life in Wales.
3.2 Many of the proposals which eventually
appeared in the English Green Paper are relevant to Wales, and
feature in our consultation paper, but there are some significant
3.3 Wales shares primary legislation on
planning with England, but Wales has its own distinct characteristics.
The Assembly has a duty to promote sustainable development and
to support the Welsh language. It also addresses Welsh environmental,
economic and social issues. Although diverse, Wales is a small
country, with an already simplified local government structure
and strong networks to enable different sectors to co-operate
to address planning and other issues.
3.4 Nevertheless, there are similar concerns
in Wales to those in England. Some development plans are too long
and detailed, and take a very long time to prepare. Whilst overall
performance on decision-making is reasonable, some planning authorities
are slower at processing planning applications than others, and
decisions on many of the major applications take too long. There
is evidence from the representations I receive, that many members
of the public, businesses, and other organisations do not have
confidence in the ability of the planning system to deliver speedy,
clear and consistent decisions in a transparent way.
3.5 It is important to state that we do
not want to tackle this by increasing the Assembly's involvement
unnecessarily in the day to day running of the planning process.
The job of the Assembly Government is to set an appropriate framework
for local decision making. Looking at our objectives, it seems
sensible to build on the strengths of the current planning system,
to retain those elements which are working well and to change
those which are not.
3.6 In doing this, we will need to strike
a balance between the pace of delivery and ensuring that people's
views, interests and other material factors are taken into account.
We believe that when people and organisations are involved early
in the planning process and get a chance to make their views heard,
it contributes to better policy and more informed decision making.
For example, we used such an approach when we reviewed our planning
policy guidance, by involving the Planning Forum from the outset.
3.7 In that same spirit, the consultation
document "Planning: delivering for Wales" was prepared
in partnership with a wide range of Welsh interests. A meeting
of our Planning Forum in December allowed invited representatives
of business, public, voluntary and other sectoral interests to
input to the thinking at a formative stage in drafting the document.
3.8 Most of the measures to improve the
operation of the development control system set out in the English
Green Paper have been included in "Planning: delivering for
Wales". We too need improvements in the provision of access
to the planning system for all its users and to ensure that people
are consulted and involved in the planning process. In order to
achieve this we want to see a measurable improvement in performance
in handling and determining planning applications by local authorities,
statutory consultees and the Welsh Assembly Government.
3.9 We also think there is a need for effective
officer and member development, to ensure that they are equipped
to take good quality decisions in which the public are involved
and in which they can have confidence. We want to work with partner
organisations in Wales to ensure that the necessary framework
to provide this training is in place.
3.10 The Assembly Government is working
with the DTLR to establish the Planning Portal which will be a
major vehicle in delivering a modern planning system and e-democracy.
3.11 However, as a direct result of concern
expressed to the Assembly by individuals and communities in Wales
we have, in addition, consulted on ways to improve public confidence
in the system for handling development proposed by local authorities.
We have also consulted a consistent approach to neighbour notification
about planning applications, and ways of ensuring that the planning
system takes into account public health risks. The proposals for
a new Parliamentary procedure set out in the English Green Paper
relate only to decisions that are not devolved to the National
Assembly. We have yet to decide on whether new procedures should
be introduced in Wales.
4. HOW WE
4.1 "Planning: delivering for Wales"
was published on 1 February . When consultation ended on 29 April
we had received approximately 170 responses. These are now being
analysed to enable us to decide which proposals to take forward,
but I can say that there has been a positive and encouraging response
to the proposals. After the initial analysis has been completed,
I will share a summary of results and preliminary conclusions
with the Welsh Local Government Association, and a re-convened
meeting of the Planning Forum. Their views will be fed into the
analysis, and I will then consult with the Environment, Planning
and Transport Committee before coming to conclusions, and making
an announcement, on the way forward.
4.2 We propose to continue to work with
local government and other key players to implement the changes
needed to meet our objectives, in particular to ensure that the
planning system in Wales is more open, fair and consistent. We
are very keen to ensure that there is more integration between
the forward planning and development control processes and between
the system and other plans and processes, including community
strategies, transport and housing plans. Integration will allow
us to build confidence and to maximise the value of use of evidence,
consultation and partnership on a more continual basis. It should
allow speedier plan review and updating.
4.3 We will also continue to work closely
with Lord Falconer and his colleagues to introduce the changes
in Wales that need primary legislation, and will prepare subordinate
legislation for consideration by the Assembly to implement other
4.4 I welcome the opportunity to address
the Select Committee on this important topic, and to share views
and experience. The planning system has a vital role in delivering
sustainable development. The Assembly Government is committed
to ensuring that the system delivers this in Wales. We are also
very keen to continue to work with Ministers and officials in
England (as well as Scotland and Northern Ireland) to ensure that
the right planning framework is in place to ensure sustainable
development for the UK as a whole.