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


Annex

Summary of "Planning: Delivering for Wales"

INTRODUCTION

  The Welsh Assembly Government is responsible for setting the framework for the planning system in Wales. We believe there is a consensus that the planning system should:

    —  be open, fair and transparent;

    —  inspire public and business confidence;

    —  deliver improved quality and speed;

    —  integrate with other plans, processes and actions; and

    —  meet our objectives in the Plan for Wales.

  "Planning: delivering for Wales" sets out proposals for changes to improve the operation of the plan preparation and planning decision-making processes. The majority of the planning system is delivered by local planning authorities, but the Assembly Government establishes the framework and sets the policy context. A Planning Agreement between the Assembly and Welsh Local Government Association, setting out their respective roles, is in preparation.

THE NEED FOR CHANGE

  We need to ensure that there is confidence in the planning system. People need to be able to find out about the relevant plans and policies and to understand their implications. There is a fundamental requirement for up to date development plans and speedier plan-making. We want to achieve this whilst ensuring that all sections of the community really feel involved in the land use planning process. People also need to know that decisions will be taken openly, fairly and consistently, and be able to see this happening in practice. Overall, we want outcomes that give us an improved quality of life, better standard of living and an enhanced environment.

  For all its strengths the present planning system falls short of meeting these needs fully. We must make sure that it provides appropriate procedures which can take account of complex issues, enabling key decisions to be taken within reasonable timescales. This will ensure that the planning system is seen as a positive mechanism, not as an obstruction.

FORWARD PLANNING—POLICIES AND PLANS

  We consider that the existing system is basically sound but it needs updating to meet the objectives and the new context of spatial planning.

Policy

  At national level this comprises Planning Policy Wales, Minerals Planning Policy Wales, and the Spatial Plan. The Wales Spatial Plan will need a strong sub-regional content. It will therefore be important for groups of local authorities to continue to work together on collaborative working across boundaries.

Development Plans

  Development plans describe the intended use of land in a specified area and provide an objective basis for the day to day operation of the planning system. Each local planning authority has a statutory duty to prepare a unitary development plan (UDP). UDPs should deal with the land use aspects of the community strategy and other plans; they need to be up-to-date, relevant, and prepared with full community and business involvement.

  The first generation of UDPs is currently being prepared but it is clear that there are difficulties in operating the system. The time taken to prepare them is too long. Most emerging UDPs are too complex and detailed, while almost all unnecessarily repeat national planning policy. We need to change both the procedures for preparing development plans and their content. A clearer community involvement in the process is essential, particularly since development plans and community strategies have to be consistent.

  Having decided that it is essential to have a plan led system to guide development, we consider three options:

    (a)  to leave the present system in place;

    (b)  to introduce new "local development frameworks"; and

    (c)  to introduce new style "local development plans".

  We propose Local Development Plans as the preferred way forward. These plans would build on the work already done by Welsh planning authorities on their current round of unitary development plans while encouraging less wordy, more focused documents, prepared in a shorter time. To minimise disruption to plan preparation already underway, Assembly subordinate legislation would require a unitary development plan to be adopted before individual local planning authorities would be allowed to progress preparation of their first local development plan.

  Local Development Plans would comprise:

    —  a strategic vision and key strategic policies;

    —  a proposals map;

    —  supplementary planning guidance;

    —  Action Plans for areas of change where site-specific policies are needed; and

    —  a statement of community involvement.

DECISION MAKING AND DEVELOPMENT CONTROL

  Local planning authorities take most planning decisions. Each year the 25 authorities in Wales receive around 30,000 applications. The Planning Inspectorate—a joint agency of the Assembly and the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR)—decides around 600 planning appeals a year in Wales. The Assembly's Planning Decision Committee takes about 20 decisions annually on "called in" planning applications and planning appeals "recovered" from the Planning Inspectorate.

  The principles on which the planning decision-making process is based are sound. However, we aim to make a radical change in culture and delivery of the service. We want plan-led decision-making which has the confidence of the public and business. We need:

    —  improved certainty, consistency, clarity and speed—this will require clearer links between plans and policies and decisions, more emphasis on quality of outcomes, and checking what has been achieved;

    —  a modern system—this will involve considering whether the regulations should be updated to make them more relevant to meet new requirements;

    —  improved access and consultation—this will involve making sure the service is user-friendly, allowing proper consideration of views; and

    —  improved skills and awareness—this is needed to underpin continuous improvement in the quality of the service.

  The document includes 28 proposals for changes to the framework for decision-making and development control to meet the above objectives. Key proposals are to:

    —  introduce a user-friendly checklist and standard application form;

    —  introduce delivery contracts for major applications;

    —  confirm existing targets for processing applications, but require improved monitoring;

    —  encourage pre-application discussions;

    —  ensure access for all; and

    —  improve scrutiny of planning applications in which local planning authorities have an interest.

  There is separate consultation on Planning Obligations, which is proposing the same changes as the English paper.

RESOURCES

  We consider the overall level of resources available to the planning system, and make specific reference to the issue of planning fees, and fees for monitoring of minerals applications.



 
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