Welsh Assembly Government gives planning a distinctive national voice

Devolved government arrangements for Wales allow the principality to introduce its own land-use legislation. As a result it has been able to tailor its planning policy to meet specific local needs, Roisin Willmott discovers.

This year, the profession has been dominated by consideration of issues relating to England. This has been the case with the planning white paper, the housing green paper and the defunct planning gain supplement (PGS) proposals. But following a period of serenely waiting in the wings, land-use planning in Wales is on the rise and will gain higher status in coming months.

The Welsh Assembly Government has been developing a planning policy framework over the past five years that is tailored to the needs of Wales. At the start of last year, the Government of Wales Act came into force. This offered the principality the opportunity to secure its own legislative powers, which are known as assembly measures.

Following national assembly elections in May, Wales has a coalition government formed by Labour and Plaid Cymru. It outlines its manifesto for the next four years in One Wales, a document that includes clear and ambitious targets for planning. The coalition has a number of ministers and deputy ministers who will play key roles in planning. Drawn from the two parties, they have clear goals for the nation.

All of these factors combine to create a distinct policy. Wales now has a clear confidence to stand alone. Some may question why there is a need for Welsh policy to be different to that of England. However, there are some valid reasons, such as democratic priority-setting.

The Welsh Assembly Government has introduced higher targets for reducing carbon emissions than in England to mitigate the effects of climate change. It takes into account the impact of the varied geography of Wales, which means that rural areas are particularly cut off. Anyone who has travelled down the length of the principality will appreciate this. The Welsh language also enhances the distinctiveness of local communities.

The assembly government has been given food for thought by an independent report published this summer on the processes that it uses to develop national planning policy in Wales. This found strength in the framework used in Wales and provided recommendations on how to build on existing practice.

The assembly government's proposals are due this autumn. These will consider town and country planning legislation and powers for local development plans, as well as the way in which the Wales Spatial Plan relates to land-use planning. The assembly government is also looking at reviewing Planning Policy Wales, the national planning policy framework, in the light of the fact it is now five years old.

Since the decision not to take forward the PGS, the RTPI is waiting to find out the assembly government's proposals for ensuring that sufficient resources are secured to achieve balanced development with appropriate infrastructure. A recent study on the leverage of planning obligations in Wales by the University of Sheffield, which was commissioned by the assembly government, found a low level of agreements in the nation.

RTPI Cymru's policy and research forum, which was formed last year, will provide a lead on the development of planning and related policy and identify supporting research. In preparation for Welsh planning policy to take its place centre stage, and in reflection of RTPI Cymru's aim to be inclusive, all its members have been invited to contribute towards the forthcoming position.

The forum decided on this action as a way in which to encourage professional planners to engage with development. It aims to demonstrate to members that they have a voice and are welcome to be involved in the institute's planning policy debate in Wales.

Forum chairman Owain Wyn says: "The forum wants to offer professional planners in Wales the opportunity to feed in their views and experiences and to be actively involved in this process."

The forum will use this input from members not only to inform RTPI Cymru's position and comment on proposals but also to engage and lead the debate on planning policy wherever it can in the future. Wyn concludes: "We can look forward to interesting times ahead for planners in Wales."

Roisin Willmott is national director of RTPI Cymru. For details on how to contribute to the debate in Wales, email welshpolicy@rtpi.org.uk.

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