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Committee says Planning Bill should be more democratic

Words: Laura Edgar
Wales / Shutterstock_164056865

The National Assembly for Wales' Environment and Sustainability Committee has found that if greater consistency in making planning decisions is to be achieved, the process should be far more democratic.

Although a reform of the planning system is supported in Wales, concerns were raised in the committee’s Planning (Wales) Bill Stage 1 Committee Report (pdf) that the bill would complicate the system as well as move decision-making away from local communities and their politicians. 
Furthermore, the committee expressed that the bill could make it more difficult to engage local communities in the plan-making process.
The Planning Bill aims to give Welsh ministers powers to make changes to the ways that Local Planning Authorities operate.
But lawyers who gave evidence during a review of the bill by the Environment and Sustainability Committee, highlighted an “overarching concern that a number of the bill’s provisions […] could potentially limit people’s rights to a hearing on a development that impacts on their lives.”
The committee has made several recommendations in its report, including that ministers bring forward an amendment to the bill to give Place Plans a formal development plan status. They should, says the report, also give “further consideration to how local communities can be given greater opportunities to engage in the preparation of community plans.”
Another suggestion the committee has made is that amendments to the bill should be brought forward “to link statutory national and regional transport planning arrangements to the National Development Framework and Strategic Development Plan.”
Alun Ffred Jones, chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee, said: "While there is broad support for improving the efficiency and consistency of the planning system in Wales, it is important that these reforms do not make it a less democratic process. "Throughout this report we have made recommendations that, accumulatively, seek to make the provisions of this bill more democratic. We believe that, when taken together, implementing these recommendations will address concerns that this legislation will create a 'democratic deficit' whilst ensuring the efficiency and consistency of the system is improved".
When the Planning Bill was first launched, it was criticised for failing to do enough to protect the Welsh language. The Environment and Sustainability Committee has therefore also recommended that the position of the Welsh language in the planning system be strengthened and that assessments should be undertaken to discover the impact on the Welsh language when preparing policy as Local Development Plans.