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The NDF offers Wales the spatial planning it needs

The National Development Framework in Wales heralds the return of spatial planing with 'bite', says Roisin Willmott

I’m proud to say I was a fan of the Wales Spatial Plan; it allowed us to look at wider issues across local boundaries. Not just the important planning stuff, but to coordinate all government policy.

It was intended as the plan of plans, bold and innovative for its time. But unlike in Scotland, it lost buy-in from politicians and stakeholders. CEOs invested time in it, but when its ‘bite’ did not meet expectations, involvement was delegated. It is now extinct in all but the statute books.

Scotland has demonstrated the value of such a plan and is now working on the fourth iteration of its National Planning Framework.

The vacuum of this national spatial framework has been recognised by the Welsh Government and a new offer is now required by the Planning (Wales) Act 2015. In August 2019, the National Development Framework (NDF) was born, at least in draft form. Its development and content demonstrate the influence of the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015. The government must be commended on the different formats produced to engage widely on the consultation.

Learning the lessons from the Wales Spatial Plan, the NDF will form part of the development plan in Wales – giving it that all-important ‘bite’.

“Does a national tier development plan need to be as detailed as a local or regional plan?"

The act does not require it to be examined, like other parts of the development plan; after consultation, a revised version will undergo scrutiny by the National Assembly for Wales before adoption by the minister.

Its status as part of the development plan is arguably at the core of the debate around the draft, which will undoubtedly continue. There is a direct comparison with local development plans and the evidence and testing they undergo. Proposals, evidence and spatial detail for some policies is lacking, e.g. the national forest and mobile action zones. Onshore wind and solar are notable exceptions.

The RTPI Cymru response highlights the need for more detail on national transport routes. Perfect alignment of strategies and evidence is rare, and the NDF suffers from the lack of an up-to-date national transport strategy. This policy, if bold enough, could transform Wales to help it meet future climate demands.

The question is: does a national tier development plan need to be tested and to be as detailed as a local or regional plan? Or is this debate based on a reluctance to move away from a process we understand?

We shouldn’t lose sight of the significant step forward represented by the publication of the draft NDF. It is an important tool which can help shape Wales’ future. Long live spatial planning!

Roisin Willmott FRTPI is director of RTPI Cymru

Image credit | iStock


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