Planning (Wales) Bill – Welsh policy update

On 6 July 2015 the Planning (Wales) Bill received Royal Assent.

The Planning (Wales) Bill

The key purposes of the Act are to:

  • Strengthen the plan-led approach to planning. The Bill introduces the National Development Framework for Wales which will set out national land use priorities and infrastructure requirements.
  • Provide for production of Strategic Development Plans, to tackle larger-than-local cross-boundary issues, such as housing supply and areas for economic growth and regeneration.
  • Provide for pre-application consultation, and to require local planning authorities to provide pre-application services.
  • Provide for planning applications for nationally-significant projects, and planning applications where a local planning authority is deemed to be poorly performing, to be made to the Welsh Ministers.
  • Streamline the development management system to ensure that applications are dealt with promptly, providing certainty for developers and communities.
  • Improve enforcement and appeal procedures.
  • Make changes in relation to applications to register town and village greens.

Whilst many of these changes will require secondary legislation or consultation which will see the finer details of the legislation emerge, the key changes are clear and summarised below.

New National Development Framework

The National Development Framework (NDF) will set out priorities, focus on nationally significant development and  land use, and inform strategic and local development plans (LDPs). Preparing the NDF will require a series of consultations and a statutory 12-week public consultation. Ministers aim to adopt the document in spring 2018.

Statutory sub-regional plans are enabled

Sub-regional strategic development plans (SDPs) will be introduced to deal with difficulties faced by some councils in preparing LDPs, such as meeting housing needs, identifying strategic employment sites and planning transport infrastructure. Areas are due to be finalised by Spring 2017 and Plans for Cardiff, Swansea and the A55 corridor are likely.

Local development plans face time limits

The Act aims to improve preparation and review of LDPs, which will expire after a set time unless they have been reviewed. Areas with an SDP will be required to have a lighter-touch LDP, forcing plan reviews in some places.

Large-scale application category created

The Act creates the category of developments of national significance (DNSs) to be introduced by spring 2016.  Larger generation schemes will still be handled by the UK nationally significant infrastructure project regime. DNS will mean that certain schemes until now handled by councils will be dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS).

Pre-application consultation mandated

Pre-application consultation is to be made compulsory for DNSs and other major schemes. Councils will need to provide pre-application services to developers, with secondary legislation due to outline duties and specify affected projects.

Other important changes

The Welsh language becomes a material consideration with the same statutory weight as the environment and sustainability.  It must also be taken into account in sustainability appraisal of strategic and local development plans and the national development framework.

Certain applications can be made direct to Welsh ministers for schemes of national significance and where the local planning authority has been designated as under-performing and the application meets certain criteria (yet to be defined). There will be no right of appeal from a decision made following a direct application.

The planning enforcement system is revised to prevent developers from repeatedly submitting applications or appeals to delay effective enforcement action where they have failed to obtain planning permission, and provides a power for local planning authorities to require the submission of a retrospective planning application. If a retrospective planning application is not submitted, an enforcement notice may then be served. Local planning authorities can refuse to determine a retrospective planning application where the development is subject to an enforcement notice.

The appeals process is changed and will prohibit variation or amendment of an application after an appeal is made.  New matters can be raised only in exceptional cases. Welsh ministers will also be able to write rules for inquiries and hearings, previously the prerogative of inspectors and the secretary of state. A new validation appeals procedure, to the Welsh Ministers, is intended to resolve validation disputes quickly. The appeal procedure will deal solely with whether an application is valid and will be dealt with by written representations only.

Measures affecting planning committees are proposed to achieve a more consistent and efficient approach to determining applications by planning committees. Welsh ministers will have the power to prescribe the size and make-up of planning committees and establish a national scheme of delegation.

Introduction of trigger events preventing Town and Village Greens registration unless and until a terminating event (also provided for in the Act) occurs. This brings village green legislation in Wales in line with that in place in England. The main trigger events include where an application for planning permission has been granted and where land has been allocated for development in a development plan. In addition landowners will have the power to make a declaration ending use ‘as of right’ over land.

‘Living’ decision notices. Planning permissions will be updated to reflect changes such as discharge of planning conditions and amended plans.

For further information, please contact Tim Pearce.

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