Exclusive - Welsh city-region plan mooted

Local authorities in south-east Wales have been working on a proposal for a Cardiff city-region development framework since the beginning of September, it has emerged.

Rhondda Cynon Taf: one of the councils working on the strategic framework
Rhondda Cynon Taf: one of the councils working on the strategic framework

The news follow comments from Edwina Hart, the country's business minister, who announced earlier this week that she is putting together a task force to look at which areas of government activity, including planning, could be organised on a city-regional level in order to best support future economic development.

Hart said: "I am keen to examine if the Welsh economy could benefit from identifying and nurturing potential Welsh city-regions and whether they could become drivers for future economic growth across Wales."

Her comments came as evidence emerged of support for regional planning among councils in south-east Wales. A discussion document drawn up by council network the South East Wales Strategic Planning Group and seen by Planning proposes introducing a strategic framework for south-east Wales. It has been in circulation since the start of September.

To ensure that the strategic framework has real power, the report says that it would have to be agreed by the ten local authorities in the planning group before then being "formally endorsed" by the Welsh government, thus creating a binding and statutory planning document.

Wales' current local development plan system allows authorities to work together on matters of strategic interest but does not offer any means for them to establish binding cross-boundary plans.

The report was last amended after a meeting last month between the planning group and its sister networking groups the South East Wales Transport Alliance and the South East Wales Economic Forum.

Hart said last week that Dr Elizabeth Haywood, the director of the economic forum, would chair the city-regions task force.



Mixed messages from government

News of south-east Wales councils' regional planning hopes came after an apparent disagreement emerged within the Welsh government over the future of planning.

In addition to business minister Edwina Hart's announcement that she is setting up a city-regions task force, planning minister John Griffiths announced earlier in October that he is setting up an advisory group to look at how the planning system should be delivered in the future.

The group has been given a wide remit by Griffiths and will be under pressure from some quarters to recommend introducing a regional planning tier.

However, the establishment of the city-regions working groups seems at odds with recent remarks by Mark Newey, head of the Welsh government's plans branch.

Speaking to Planning last month, shortly before Griffiths announced the review of the planning system, Newey denied that regional planning was on the agenda. "We are not looking to go for a regional strategy approach. It is about encouraging councils to work through the issues between them," he said.

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