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White paper spells out new-look regional and sub-regional planning service for Wales

Words: Roger Milne
Mark Drakeford

The Welsh Government has laid out more details of its proposals for mandatory regional and sub-regional working to deliver council planning services.

Clarification has come in a white paper on local government reorganisation just published for consultation.

Among the proposals are a mandatory economic development footprint that would also cover certain planning functions and transport.

Reforming local government: Resilient and renewed noted that currently regional working arrangements for planning were limited with the exception of collaborative working on minerals and waste planning.

“We believe that the introduction of a systematic approach to regional delivery of planning services will significantly improve service quality, provide greater resilience and enhance opportunities for workforce development and profession,” it says.

The white paper pointed out that provisions within the Planning (Wales) Act could “provide the basis for the regionalisation of planning services. We have modernised the arrangements for joint planning boards so they can prepare local development plans (with the exception of National Parks) and determine planning applications. We have also introduced the ability to prepare strategic development plans (SDPs)”.

The government added: “Where considered necessary, the preparation of a SDP should be undertaken on a broader economic development footprint. This would allow strategic issues to be addressed across the wider area ensuring that connections are made to regional economic regeneration, transport and natural resource management opportunities.

"The Planning (Wales) Act makes provision for SDPs to be prepared by a single purpose body, a strategic planning panel. With the emergence of regional governance arrangements, such as those linked to city deals, it may be possible to use these governance arrangements instead.”

The white paper has identified a suite of planning services that the government believes should be undertaken at a sub-regional level, at a larger scale than individual authorities.

These are:

  • Preparation of local development plans (LDPs);

  • Setting and collecting Community Infrastructure Levy;

  • Development management (processing of planning applications and enforcement functions); and

  • Specialist advice on the following services: minerals and waste; built environment conservation services; green infrastructure, landscape and ecology; viability and section 106 agreements; urban design and highways development management.

The white paper states that the new-look planning service arrangements could be overseen by new joint planning boards. An alternative approach would see responsibility for planning decisions remaining with the existing principal authority/National Park Authority. The preparation of the LDP and processing of applications would be undertaken by officials at the regional level.

“In this way the regional service delivery unit would service a number of planning committees (a shared service model),” it says.

Ministers have stressed that councils would still have the option of merging under the new plans and, where there is local agreement for this, the Welsh Government would work with them to make it a reality.

The consultation document can be found here. It closes on 11 April 2017.