Planning Bill needs to be more democratic says National Assembly for Wales Committee
The National Assembly for Wales's Environment and Sustainability Committee has found that while there is broad support for a reform of the planning system in Wales, to achieve greater consistency in the approach to making planning decisions, this process should not be a less democratic one.
Some stakeholders raised concerns that the Bill will add complexity to the system and shift the decision-making power too far away from local communities and local politicians.
The Bill will give Welsh Ministers quite broad powers to make changes to the ways that Local Planning Authorities operate and also to its own role in taking planning decisions on certain applications.
However, lawyers who gave evidence highlighted an overarching concern that a number of the Bill's provisions, when taken together, could potentially limit people's rights to a hearing on a development that impacts on their lives.
Some also believe that the Bill will make it even more difficult to engage local communities in the plan-making process, given the new tiers of development plan.
The Committee recommends that the Minister brings forward an amendment to the Bill to give Place Plans a formal development plan status and give further consideration to how local communities can be given greater opportunities to engage in the preparation of all development plans.
The Committee has also recommended that the position of the Welsh Language in the planning system should be strengthened to put it on a level-playing field with other considerations. The Committee recommends that the Minister brings forward amendments to place a requirement on plan-makers to undertake an assessment of the impact development plans will have on the Welsh Language; to identify the Welsh Language as a material consideration in primary legislation; and that the Welsh Language Commissioner should be given a formal role in assessing the quality of language impact assessments, both for development plans and for major planning applications.
Alun Ffred Jones AM Chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee said:
"While there is broad support for improving the efficiency and consistency of the planning system in Wales it is important that these reforms do not make it a less democratic process."
"Throughout this report we have made recommendations that, accumulatively, seek to make the provisions of this Bill more democratic. We believe that, when taken together, implementing these recommendations will address concerns that this legislation will create a 'democratic deficit' whilst ensuring the efficiency and consistency of the system is improved".
Planning (Wales) Bill stage 1 report