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Nations & regions focus: Wales

Words: The Planner

A snapshot of planning in Wales, looking at key planning themes, major projects, skills requirements and RTPI activities in the region.

Popularly known for its rugged and rural landscape, Wales is nevertheless a nation of contrasts. In the north, the mountainous Snowdonia National Park (one of three) is a haven for tourists; the south is home to much of the country’s industrial output and population. Agriculture, mainly in the form of sheep and cattle farming, is widespread; yet 80 per cent of the three million population live in cities – notably the southern cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport. 

From the Industrial Revolution, the Welsh economy was built on coal and steel. Yet these industries were already declining by the 1930s; the 1970s saw a difficult transition towards a light industrial/service-based economy. Poverty lingers in former heavy industrial areas; in some parts of the Valleys the number of jobs available is half the UK average.

Although tied to England and the UK for centuries, Wales has maintained a distinct cultural identity and language, which has gathered strength since devolution in 1999. The National Assembly for Wales is gradually acquiring more powers; music and sport have experienced a renaissance.

"Cardiff has become a centre for media, tech and finance"

In business, Cardiff has become a centre for media, tech and finance. Wales has also committed to become a world leader in clean energy generation and hosts a number of large wind projects. A power-generating tidal lagoon is proposed for Swansea; the island of Anglesey will be the location of the proposed Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station.

Brexit, however, could prove a severe test for the nation’s economic resilience. Since 2000, Wales has received more than £4bn in European funding. Even so, its electorate chose to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.

Since devolution in 1999, the Welsh planning system has evolved distinctly from England’s. The Planning (Wales) Act 2015 reinforced the role of local development plans, and cleared the way for the National Development Framework (NDF). The Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015 requires public bodies to support well-being goals and adopt new ways of working – including when planning places.

Proposals to consolidate planning law in Wales are undergoing consultation. These changes would likely be welcomed by local planning authorities, which have lost 53 per cent of their budgets between 2010 and 2015, according to a government report.

Major projects

1. New homes for Cardiff

Since adopting a new local development plan in January 2016 that includes 40,000 new homes over the next 10 years, Cardiff Council is dealing with proposals for a number of large housing schemes.







2. Wylfa Newydd

Wylfa Newydd – ‘New Wylfa’ in English – is a nuclear power plant proposed to replace the Wylfa plant, which operated between 1971 and 2015 on Anglesey. The scheme will bring major energy benefits to North Wales, but concerns remain over how to house construction workers, and the impact on the island’s culture and language.

3. M4 relief road

Originally proposed in 1991, plans to extend the M4 motorway south of Newport have now reached the inquiry stage. The existing road around Newport does not meet motorway standards, but the plans have been attacked by environmental groups.

Insight: How Welsh entrepreneurial talent is bringing tech to planning

Daniel Mohamed is the founder of Urban Intelligence, creators of a software platform that aims to make planning policy more accessible.

Urban Intelligence is a ‘PlanTech’ start-up bringing the UK planning system into the 21st century using data and technology. We’ve developed a central repository for planning policy information by processing policy and spatial data from local authorities. Planners can find information in an instant, either by using our search tool or clicking on an interactive map. It is used by consultants, architects, property developers and public sector planners.

Our product reduces time spent trawling through council websites and PDF documents, freeing planners to focus on more creative tasks, as well as other things like community engagement. In the future, technology could empower planners and policymakers to plan proactively by providing data-driven insights on the most sustainable locations for different types of development. It is clear that technology will transform planning – it’s up to us as a profession to shape that impact, or we will have it shaped for us.

"The city has an emerging digital technology scene and offers great quality of life, as well as helping us to reduce our operational costs"

We began considering Cardiff as a headquarters after the Development Bank of Wales became one of our seed investors. The city has an emerging digital technology scene and offers great quality of life, as well as helping us to reduce our operational costs. It’s also just a quick train ride from London should we need to go in for meetings.

Given the accessibility of the Welsh Government, we’re hoping we can make rapid progress on new ideas that might take longer to adopt in England or UK-wide. The government has introduced a number of progressive measures such as the Well-being of Future Generations Act, which requires the public sector to focus on long-term goals, as well as meeting the immediate needs of communities. We’re hoping that working in this kind of environment will make it easier to get our data-driven ideas off the ground, boosting public sector productivity at the same time.

Valuable skills

In light of the Welsh Government’s commitment to become a leader in clean energy, planners with experience in planning for energy infrastructure – particularly in renewables – will be in demand in years to come.

Post-industrial decline in many rural areas has created a need for planners with an understanding of the issues affecting rural communities and how planning can help to solve them. Community infrastructure and economic development are required in many parts of Wales.

Economic development is also a requisite in the country’s larger towns and cities, along with regeneration skills and the capacity to plan for and deliver housing on a significant scale – particularly in Cardiff.

Any planners seeking work in Wales will need a good understanding of sustainability in all its forms, in accord with the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

Search for opportunities in Wales on The Planner Jobs: http://jobs.theplanner.co.uk/

Recent successes

1. Rhyl High School
Th e £25 million redevelopment of Rhyl High School in Denbighshire won the RTPI Wales Planning Award 2017. It combined extensive consultation with high-quality,sustainable design. The building, which achieved an ‘excellent’ BREEAM rating, has seen uptake of pupil places return to capacity levels.






2. Newport Commercial Road
A planning-led programme helped to transform locations that had suffered lack of maintenance, decline and dereliction, breathing new life into landmark locations. One of the projects involved the sympathetic restoration of shops facades and the creation of a public open space.






3. Plas Heli Welsh National Sailing Academy and Events Centre
As Pwllheli became known as one of the finest sailing venues in Britain on the strength of its world-class waters, its status was threatened by inadequate on-land facilities. The £9 million National Sailing Academy and Events Centre was designed to meet this need, as well as to contribute to the wider economic landscape.







RTPI Cymru has a membership of 1,100 and is overseen by a management board chaired by Tom Watson. A Policy and Research Forum contributes to planning consultation and debates nationally. It offers a regular and affordable programme of CPD-focused seminars and events, and it publishes a quarterly newsletter – Cynllunio.