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Welsh Government tells Monmouthshire to cut housing numbers to conform with regional plan

Words: Simon Wicks

The Welsh Government has asked Monmouthshire Council to lower its housing targets amid concerns that it would conflict with the nation’s wider strategic growth plans.

Allocations within the county’s emerging Replacement Local Development Plan – which runs from 2018-2033 – would see the county build a total of 7,605 homes during the period. 

However, the Welsh government has proposed a “maximum” growth of between 2,610 and 4,275 homes only. In a letter to Monmouthshire’s head of placemaking, it expressed “fundamental concern” about the county’s housing proposals and stated that the emerging plan “undermines Future Wales' focus for strategic economic and housing growth in the SE Wales National Growth Area”. Future Wales 2040 is the national plan for Wales.

The South East Wales National Growth Area includes Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys – but not Monmouthshire. Mark Hand, the county’s head of placemaking, told The Planner that he felt the two bodies – Welsh Government and Monmouthshire Council – were working to two different sets of figures and that Monmouthshire’s proposed plan was in conformity with Future Wales as a whole. 

“Would 3,000 homes in Monmouthshire – 222 a year – really undermine that national ambition? I really don’t think it would,” he said.

Monmouthshire’s Replacement Local Development Plan proposes allocating land for 7,605 new homes over the period from 2018 to 2033. The county has 4,708 homes in its landbank, comprising 1,218 homes already built, 1,642 with planning permission and 2,897 form windfalls based on past trends. Complying with the Welsh Government’s maximum level would result in a plan with no new housing site allocations, Hand pointed out.

In its letter, the Welsh Government stressed a considerably lower target of between 2,610 and 4,275 homes, warning that the proposed plan will result in displacement of housing, jobs and population from elsewhere in South East Wales to Monmouthshire and thus “undermines the role of Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys as the main focus for growth and investment in the South East region”.

It continues: “The level of growth proposed has the potential to negatively impact on environmental assets and have adverse consequences for climate and nature emergencies.”

Hand, however, noted that Monmouthshire’s replacement plan was responding to a number of stimuli: projected population growth, affordable housing need and pressure from the neighbouring South West England housing market. The Welsh Government, he suggested, was only looking at demographic growth.

“We're looking at what we want to achieve for the county and then how many homes do we need? How many jobs do we need to get there?,” said Hand.

“We’re a border county with England so we’ve got pressure coming from the east and the west. We’ve got 2,440 households on our affordable housing waiting list and like much of the UK we have an ageing demographic, and ours is ageing quite significantly.

“The combination of all of these things means that young people can’t afford to buy in the county and they’re moving out. Our economically active workforce is shrinking. We’re trying to think ‘How do we balance that demographic? How do we get socially sustainable communities?’”

The county’s strategy sets out plans to provide 2,169 affordable homes, with a desire to increase that number. A council report says Monmouthshire’s economically active workforce would increase by 2,661 people between 2018 and 2033 under its strategy. But under the Welsh Government’s maximum growth level it would only increase by 357 people.

The Welsh Government, he said, had pointed out that Monmouthshire’s plan was required to be in conformity with Future Wales 2040, but would not be in conformity with two polices – 1 and 33 – which address where growth is focused.

“General conformity with Future Wales is one of the tests of soundness that we have to meet,” accepted Hand. “But it is general conformity with the whole of Future Wales I would argue, in the same way as you read a local development plan as an entire document. There’s other policies in there – polices four, five and seven in particular – which look at sustaining rural communities, making sure they’re socially sustainable with a balanced demographic, looking at delivering affordable housing. Would 3,000 homes in Monmouthshire – 222 a year – really undermine that national ambition? I really don’t think it would.” Other tests of soundness require the plan to be sufficiently aspirational and to meet locally-evidenced need.

Hand added: “One of my concerns is that they’re basing their kind of growth levels on population projections, which is just a baseline need. The guidance is clear that you then look at things like your local housing market assessments and other policy aspirations to get a housing requirement. So I think we’re working to two different figures.”

A special meeting of the council’s economy and development select committee has been called to consider the implications of the Welsh Government’s maximum homes requirement.

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