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Kathryn Williams, a senior planner, looks at why Wales' planning system is lagging some way behind England.
Having recently transferred from JLL's London office to Cardiff, I find myself making a natural comparison between the English and Welsh planning systems. It is evident that Wales and this cannot be beneficial for Wales when developers are deciding where best to invest. A positive step in the right direction is the forthcoming changes proposed in the draft Planning Bill (Wales) (December 2013). The regulations which sit alongside the legislation have just been published. The timing in delivering this is crucial so let’s make it an Act soon! If we look at the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) (March 2012) produced by UK government - a single condensed national policy document, that provides clarity on sustainable development, economic delivery indicators, housing requirements (minimum five years plus 20 per cent buffer where there is persistent undersupply) and acts as the development plan where LPAs have an out of date plan, Wales has no document to rival these proactive policies. Planning Policy Wales is a comprehensive document which captures every aspect of planning, rather than solely decision and plan making guidance, as the NPPF does. While it is a good guidance document, it also does not carry the same weight in determining applications of the NPPF. A concerted effort with a clear top down, proactive approach is needed from WG here. England also now has Planning Policy Practice (March 2014), which consolidated all UK Circulars and Guidance into one easy to comprehend, manageable web-based tool. Wales would benefit from producing similar guidance with 23 TANs and numerous Circulars, which would streamline and make planning transparent. The introduction of the National Development Plan (through the Planning Bill (Wales)) now presents the opportunity to deliver guidance that proactively supports investment and the development sector. Especially when so many LPAs in Wales do not have an up to date plan. To make the whole process quicker another contentious move by the UK government, was to radically overhaul the permitted development right (PDR) legislation with the end goal of making planning quicker, simpler and less costly. The introduction of the General Permitted Development Order (May 2013) has seen a significant increase in PDR applications being approved for the conversion of offices to residential. This has sped up the planning process (56 days and if no response becomes deemed consent), kick-started construction, creating jobs and generating housing to meet high demand levels (minus the affordable housing element), making development economic and profitable. This would be a big tick in Carl Sargent's agenda if Wales were to look at reviewing the PDR legislation in the same way. Overall, Wales is catching up, but more needs to be done to make this country competitive against our neighbours.
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