It has been a week since the release of Future Wales: The National Plan 2040 and the latest edition of Planning Policy Wales (PPW).
We have digested their contents and gather our thoughts. Herein, we provide our opinion on Future Wales, before summarising the changes to PPW.
Future Wales: The National Plan 2040
Thus far, Spatial Planning in Wales has failed in delivering any meaningful change, being subject to criticism of being overly vague and lacking any real “teeth”. The Wales Spatial Plan (‘WSP’), which has been revoked with the introduction of the National Plan, struggled to find its place in the traditional planning sphere. Part of the problem was that the WSP did not form part of the statutory development plan, whereas the National Plan now does, heightening its importance in plan making and decision taking. Its ambition is to provide a framework for planning in Wales, setting out its priorities for what Welsh Government identifies as distinctly spatial national priorities that require national leadership. Its standing as a national tier document setting out the direction for strategic and local development plans seems a step in the right direction. It is allowed more powers to realise the ideal of a holistic, truly integrative system – how will this fare in reality is another question.
Future Wales demonstrates long-term strategic thinking through its clear vision of addressing key national priorities through the planning system over the next two decades. Housing policy is focused on delivering affordable housing, with 48% of the of the 7,400 additional homes required to be delivered annually over the next five years expected to be affordable. Local Authorities will set overall housing requirements which will be identified in the forthcoming Spatial Development Plans. Close to two-thirds of these homes needed in South East Wales, just over a fifth in South West Wales
and the remaining additional homes largely in North Wales, with only a relatively small number needed in Mid Wales. It is noted that a shift in delivery is required to meet this ‘basic human need’, however the lack of discussion regarding market housing is noticeable. In this regard, it noted that a balance often has to be found between competing priorities, how this balance is struck will be key. Furthermore, to ensure that these targets are met and to avoid questions regarding its legitimacy, it must enact on its commitment to continually review and adjust the Future Wales plan.
Alongside the Placemaking agenda that came to the fore in national policy via PPW10, a focus of Future Wales is to provide quality development in the right places for the right reasons. 11 Future Wales Outcomes are set out to achieve its ambitions, which collectively are a statement of where Wales ‘wants to be’ in 20 years. However, in trying to cover everything, there is a risk of becoming too broad and lacking any true focus. Delivery of the forthcoming Strategic Development Plans will be key to achieving these Outcomes. The framework at regional level is required to support Future Wales and to avoid it suffering the same anonymity experienced by the Wales Spatial Plan.
Another key principle of Future Wales is to help Welsh Government address the Climate Emergency declared in 2019. The move towards sustainable development is a clear motive throughout, building on principles of urban growth and Active Travel established within Planning Policy Wales. It will guide development towards urban centres to “utilise untapped potential of places and their infrastructure”. Welsh Government are doubling down on their push towards finite supply of previously developed sites despite clear evidence, even within the document, that housing delivery is declining whilst housing need continues to grow.
This is accentuated by the introduction of Green Belts, which will, it seems, restrict any greenfield development to the north of Cardiff, Newport, and the eastern part of the south-east region, and immediately adjoining the administrative borders of Wrexham and Flintshire as well as, potentially, around the Swansea Bay and Llanelli area, until the publication of Strategic Development Plans. The implications of this are not yet clear, and may not be for some time as it states, “in advance of a Strategic Development Plan, the areas shown for consideration for green belts should be treated as if they have been designated as green belts by a Strategic Development Plan”. There is a lack of clarity around the green belts, with this vagueness allowing it to contain a range of potentially conflicting ideas and discourse.
The idea of setting out the abstract nature of spatial planning in reality will seem alien to many of us, and there will be a need to adapt to an increasingly complex system with multiple layers and dimensions within the planning system, whilst simultaneously being required to clearly communicate the vision to a broad audience. Despite this, it is from these complex and sometimes untidy approaches that transformative practice can take place, which will be necessary to reform and tackle the challenges that lie ahead, including the period of economic recovery and restructuring that look bound to frame its early years.
Planning Policy Wales 11th Edition
The publishing of Future Wales as a national development plan required the revision to Planning Policy Wales to ensure that the two documents align. The latest version, the eleventh edition of Planning Policy Wales was published on the 24th February along with Future Wales. The most notable change is reducing the threshold of Welsh Ministers call-in powers, from significant (150 units for housing developments) to major development (10 units), the impacts of which has already been felt within the industry. The Housing Minister will come under a lot of pressure from the public to utilise this power, which could almost be viewed as a third party right of appeal, however, we remain hopeful that it will be used thoughtfully and only in exceptional circumstances, otherwise there is a real danger of undermining the work of Local Authorities.
Overall, PPW11 is a refresh of PPW10, with the majority of changes reflecting changes to legislation, policy and guidance. Notwithstanding this, the added emphasis on Climate Change in light of the Climate Emergency is evident throughout, adding an emphasis PPW10’s principles of encouraging affordable housing, reducing car dependency and tackling climate change. The main changes relating to housing are as follows:
- Reduction of threshold for Welsh Ministers to call-in sites;
- Further detail provided on Placemaking via the Placemaking Charter produced by DCfW;
- The Covid-19 Pandemic and Building Better Places reflected in the plan;
- Added emphasis on Climate Change in light of the Climate Emergency declared in 2019;
- Alteration to the Use of Compulsory Purchase Powers;
- Added emphasis on Active Travel, and streets to be designed to have a speed limit of 20mph from the outset;
- Housing trajectory to form part of the evidence base for the development plan Annual Monitoring Reports (AMRs), replacing Housing Land Supply and TAN1;
- Added emphasis on Local Authorities making provision for affordable housing-led housing sites in their development plans; and
- Policies required to be introduced for energy reports to accompany major developments.