Creating the right infrastructure for future generations
The majority of letters that we have received in 2017-18 relate to concerns about planning decisions.
People and communities tell us that they often feel that developments are imposed on them against their will and with little opportunity for involvement.
Whilst we recognise that planning decisions are often complex and polarising issues this suggests that public bodies might not be finding the best ways to communicate with the public in harnessing their vision and knowledge of their community. These concerns can be addressed by applying the principles of the Act and in particular the five ways of working.
Around 25,000 individual planning decisions, including 700 major projects, go through the planning system each year (2015 figures). It is impossible for us to undertake an assessment of each one and the Commissioner’s role as set out in the Act does not provide for the office to be an extra layer to appeal against unpopular decisions. However, we recognise the frustrations that many communities have with the current system and the need to ensure that the built environment meets the needs of the future.
In light of this and in line with the Commissioner’s functions, in particular to carry out her duty to promote sustainable development, we have decided that our input this year is more effective at a strategic level to influence the policies and processes within which the planning system operates.
Welsh Government has started updating the suite of national planning policy documents, starting with a full revision of Planning Policy Wales (the national planning strategy for Wales), in parallel with the design of the National Development Framework (the national statutory spatial plan for Wales) created by the Planning (Wales) Act.
The Commissioner welcomes the commitment the Government has shown to recasting planning policy in light of the Well-being of Future Generations Act and it is encouraging that the Government has been keen to work with us from the inception of this work. We have worked closely with the Planning Department to ensure that new planning policy is in line with Well-being of Future Generations Act while responding to the concerns raised with me by individuals, action groups and politicians.
The Commissioner’s advice has influenced Welsh Government’s processes (involvement) and content of the draft Planning Policy Wales – ensuring a strong narrative on the Well-being of Future Generations Act throughout the document and consistent focus on the seven well-being goals. We have ensured that the aspirations contained correct references to the five ways of working, to the well-being goals in their holistic nature, including low carbon, equality and reduction in poverty.
The team have also provided support to the Planning Inspectorate for Wales and the Royal Town Planning Institute to develop their understanding of the Act.
We will continue to build on the relationship and work to date to ensure a steady flow in future work on the National Development Framework and Local Development Training Manual. We continue to engage with the Planning Inspectorate including observing at a small number of local planning hearings and inquiries, and we will also continue to provide advice to individuals and groups on how to use the Act in their dealings with the local planning authorities and Planning Inspectorate.