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Welsh planning in need of better resourcing to deliver wellbeing outcomes

Words: Laura Edgar
Placemaking / iStock_000036031766

The Welsh Government should put in place a series of mechanisms that better monitor the outcomes delivered by a planning system aligned with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 – along with the resources to realise those outcomes.

The recommendations are outlined by the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, whose role is to act as “guardian of future generations”.

The Future Generations Report 2020  draws on information gathered since the act came into force four years ago, considering progress made by all public bodies, including the Welsh Government, towards its implementation. It comprises chapters on leadership, progress against the wellbeing goals, setting good wellbeing objectives and areas of focus including land use planning and placemaking, as well as transport and housing.

On land use and placemaking, the report predicts that:

  • Climate change is likely to increase the frequency of flooding, with consequences for property, livelihoods, infrastructure, agricultural production and ecosystems.
  • There is likely to be less suitable land available in Wales for development as flood plains and other low-lying land become increasingly prone to flooding.
  • Population growth and demographic change will increase pressures on the availability of land.
  • Demands for land for settlements could increase from 8 per cent to 12 per cent by 2050 because of population growth (based on Committee on Climate Change (CCC) analysis of UK data).
  • There will be a 30 per cent increase in the next 20 years in the number of households in Wales.

As to the recasting of the Welsh planning system, which it notes is still “many years from completion”, the report suggests that the different stages at which local development revisions are taking place across the country represents a significant challenge for planners as they seek to balance out “competing interests and implement several new policies, legislation and guidance with dwindling funding and diminished resources”.

To recast the planning system, “the Welsh Government needs to invest in supporting the planning profession in the public sector, while also recognising the role that private sector consultants and developers play”. 

Halving land use planning resources in the past 10 years has already affected the ability of the system to handle its everyday activities, the report states, while in many councils the chief planner is no longer on the executive team.

“It is, therefore, challenging for local authorities to maintain the status quo, let alone find the time and space to support the transformational change needed to embed placemaking and the act.”

A key recommendation is that the Welsh Government should explore how financial levers – such as the newly devolved stamp duty tax and green finance funding for major infrastructure projects– can be used to bring back adequate resources to planning. 

The government should also invest significantly in the implementation of placemaking and Planning Policy Wales 10 (PPW10) to ensure that placemaking is delivered and that skills are not lost.

Other recommendations include:

Welsh Government

  • Put in place mechanisms to better monitor the outcomes delivered by the planning system aligned with the act.
  • Provide additional resources to the Design Commission for Wales to increase the number of applications they can provide advice on, specifically on the application of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, as well as on the revisions and the productions of new local development plans.
  • Review the impact, in five years’ time, that PPW10 and the act are having on changing the presumption on which planning law is based.

Advice for public bodies and boards covered by the act, including the Welsh Government 

  • Ensure that wellbeing objectives relating to planning are based on placemaking and integrated with other objectives so that wider benefits are achieved. 
  • Understand the connections between housing, the environment, technology, transport, access to services, culture and language now and for generations to come in order to help them achieve multiple objectives and steps.
  • Ensure that resources and training are provided by planning authorities to improve involvement in the design of their local plans.

Public bodies and boards covered by the act, including the Welsh Government, should start:

  • Taking every step to integrate work between agencies impacting placemaking and the built environment.
  • Aligning local development plans and wellbeing plans/wellbeing objectives. 
  • Refusing development that is not fully aligned with PPW10 and the act.
  • Using the Value of Planning Too to identify ways to build a case for increasing investment in planning. 

Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, said: “The world has changed and I believe society in Wales can be significantly reshaped for the better.

“Our health service is under tremendous pressure, the economy is facing unprecedented challenges and households across the country are feeling huge financial and emotional strain. 

“As we deal with the current crisis, we must think long term. We’re being presented with an opportunity to enact change. With a progressive and inclusive approach, we can build a Wales which gives everyone a stake, including the most vulnerable.

“Covid-19 needs a holistic response and one that focuses on the wellbeing of people and the planet so that we can future-proof now, and learn from previous mistakes.”

Roisin Willmott OBE FRTPI, director of RTPI Cymru, told The Planner: “The RTPI welcomes the report and the recognition of the value and importance that planning has in delivering for current and future generations. Many of the recommendations directed at planning, as well as other related recommendations, are what the profession already strives to do. However, they need to be given the resources to enable them to achieve this. The report, through its recognition of planning, provides strong evidence to support the need for investment in planning.”

The Future Generations Report 2020 can be found on the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales website.

The Planner spoke to planning consultancy Lichfields about the report and placemaking in Wales. Read that here.

Image credit | iStock