A ‘can do’ culture? Planning reforms in Wales

Flag of Wales in the windDevolution in the UK has seen the development and continued divergence of public policy and governance arrangements. The land-use planning system is just one area where devolution has been seen as an opportunity to devise more appropriate arrangements to tackle specific issues.

In a recent article in Scottish Planning & Environmental Law, Professor Greg Lloyd (Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Ulster) considered recent moves by the Welsh government to reform and modernise the planning system.

As the political landscape of devolution has matured, the modernisation of planning has taken place within the context of wider reforms. In Scotland, for example, the National Performance Framework and the community empowerment agenda have added new dimensions to local governance and planning. Wales is also engaging in creating a new context to land-use planning and effectively repositioning planning.

A series of reviews (including the Welsh Assembly’s Legislative Statement 2011-2016; the inquiry into the planning system by the Sustainability Committee of the National Assembly in 2010-2011; and the Simpson Review in 2011) laid the foundations for further change.

In summer 2014, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill was introduced which will place a duty on public bodies to make decisions that leave a positive legacy for future generations. Professor Lloyd highlights that this “adds an explicit intergenerational articulation of what is considered to be sustainable development practice. The context to planning in Wales is being changed significantly and dramatically”.

This was followed in October 2014, by the introduction of the Planning (Wales) Bill 2014. At the time, the Minister for Natural Resources – responsible for land-use planning – said “I look forward to seeing these reforms, coupled with a “can do” culture across the planning sector, providing a system which can make a positive and lasting impact on our communities.”

The Bill seeks to provide a modern delivery framework for the preparation of development plans and planning decisions, including allowing Welsh Ministers to decide a limited number of planning applications in defined circumstances.

It also aims to strengthen the plan-led approach to decisions on planning applications by providing a legal framework for the preparation of a National Development Framework and Strategic Development Plans.

Improving collaboration and engagement with communities are other key objectives.

Professor Lloyd argues that while the rhetoric of reform and modernisation of the planning system is familiar, there is a real sense of purpose about the drivers of change.

“Could it be that planning in Wales is rediscovering an explicit ambition for planning to serve the public interest – both for the present and the future? There are lots of lessons from elsewhere in the Celtic fringe.”

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This blog draws on the article by Professor Greg Lloyd, “A can do culture? Planning reforms in Wales”, Scottish Planning & Environmental Law 166, December 2014, pp123-124

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