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Planning (Wales) Bill is a ‘gift from me to you’ – Sargeant

Words: Laura Edgar
Cardiff City Hall

The natural resources minister for Wales, Carl Sargeant, described the Planning (Wales) Bill as “a gift from me to you” at the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Wales Planning Conference 2015.

Opening the conference at Cardiff City Hall on Wednesday 20 May, the day after the Planning (Wales) Bill was passed, Sargeant emphasised that the occasion was “incredible for Wales”.

He said that to ensure a clever Wales, “we have to have a clever planning system”, noting all the hard work that has gone into the bill, which he explained was “very complex, but is very thorough”.

Going “way off script”, Sargeant said: “I see the Planning (Wales) Bill as a little bit like a Christmas present - a gift from me to you”.

“It can stay under the tree or in the cupboard for as long as you wish it to, then unwrap it carefully. Enjoy your present and make use of it.”

Themed around ‘planning for a changing world’, here are just a few key quotes from the Wales Planning Conference:

“How do we work together and how do we bring people with different skills and different baggage, professional baggage, locational baggage and experience of the planning process together and how do we share that?

“If we come from Wales we might see things this way, from Scotland exactly the same thing tends to be seen that way, but it’s the same place. And you can imagine looking at it from Europe or London, exactly the same thing and all having a different angle or different perspective.

“What we are trying to do with this place leadership and collaborative approach - the different agencies and professional perspectives, both within and beyond planning, need to work together and integrate their themes and issues and not see health and transport and so on as completely separate entities. Our planning schools should be part of this re-thinking of how we approach these things.”

Kevin Murray, Kevin Murray Associates, speaking about ‘Who leads planning’ and collaboration.

Four speakers took part in a plenary discussion, chaired by Carole-Anne Davies, chief executive of the Design Commission for Wales. The session was entitled ‘How should planning and design practice respond to a changing world?’

“My main kind of issue is the fact that land value does directly impact house price. It feels that the pressure is just to cut costs and that’s what we hear from our clients and developers.

"I wonder why the value generated by a development can’t be reinvested in the infrastructure as you see in Northern Europe and other countries, and why something can’t be rated on the cost of the quality of the product rather than how much it cost to buy the land in the first place.”

Victoria Coombs, architect, Loyn & Co

“It is a challenge for our town and city centres to create vibrant people-focused places at the human scale.

“There are lots of great examples of recent people-based placemaking interventions: the reclaiming of Times Square in New York City for people over cars; the great integrating multi-model transport system in Paris; and transformations of forgotten, left-behind places in Adelaide through music and events.

“But I think we need to understand how we can achieve this in the Welsh context, with our town and city populations much lower and with the wonderful climate that we are blessed with, and how the wet weather we have influences how we move around and how we use public spaces.

“I think this challenge starts at the most strategic level of planning and works right the way through to detailed design, and I don’t think any single project can solve the problem. But I think we need to be working towards a sum of individual projects that add up to something greater that results in real change.”

Jennifer Heal, design adviser, Design Commission for Wales

“This may be the root of the problem - trying to measure quality. Qualitative judgements are so much trickier than quantitative, as they involve the subjective as well as the objective.

“Are there other ways of producing plans with a toolkit to measure quality, or does this erode the local judgement, skill and interpretation of the individual officer? Is there a need for a design champion within every local authority, maybe even a design champion at planning committee level? Should regional design panels be active for all substantial applications?”

Niall Maxwell, architect, Rural Office for Architecture

“Alarmingly, and I don’t want this to turn into a political debate, the Conservative government are set to make further cuts to social housing grants and further cuts to welfare reform, so the question should not merely be can we afford high-quality homes for all those who need them, but can we afford homes for all that need them full stop.”

Ian Carter, planning enforcement officer, Newport City Homes