Tuesday, July 08, 2008

At one with The Duchess

We all adjust our opinions as we grow older, as clouds of uncertainty drift across the stark clarity of youthful vision. One area where I've adjusted relates to the freedom people have to live where they want. When I contested my first election, hoping to become the Montgomeryshire District Councillor for Berriew, the main plank of my manifesto was that people should be free to build a new house wherever they wanted to. My suspicion of 'The State' which underpins my politics to this day, was undiluted in those days. My policy stance was that development control should be abolished.

How on earth can a man capable of such thoughts ever become President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales I can almost hear you hiss. Well such a man couldn't. I've adapted my opinion. But I've not changed it completely. Which is why I welcome the new approach to development in rural Wales being taken by Jane Davidson, Assembly Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing.

No longer do I want there to be a free-for-all. We do need a planning system. But I do want more flexibility given to Local Planning Authorities to grant permissions in support of the indigenous population. I welcome the Minister's proposal to allow housing for part-time help on farms. I also welcome her proposal to allow housing in support of other rural businesses. And I welcome new 'local needs' housing being allowed next to small clusters of existing houses. These changes will deliver more social stability in rural communities - a return to the position before the planning Taliban took over a few years ago.

Another area I hope will be supported by the Minister is granting greater freedom for Planning Authorities to adapt policy to suit their own areas of responsibility. Local democracy will only thrive if Councillors are allowed discretion. There is an unhealthy obsession with 'training' Councillors before they can serve on LPAs. I've never trusted this. Too much like brainwashing to support officer guidance. Mustn't complain though. Minister has moved policy a long way towards where I want to see it.


Anonymous said...

By indigenous populations, do you mean those of Welsh blood, Welsh birth, Welsh phonics or live within a certain radius of the plot at time of applying to build? If yes, what radius? 1 mile, 5 miles or just within Wales?

Martin Eaglestone said...

Oh Glyn, give up the habit of a lifetime and don't shoot the poor planning officer (I am one!).

If the guidance shifts then perhaps the planning officer won't have to keep reminding people about the policy.

Do you think you might have some interesting debates with CPRW colleagues in the coming weeks?

Glyn Davies said...

Roman - I'd like to see different Planning Authorities adopt different rules which suit their areas. The changes that are currently proposed by the Minister relate to rural employment, and I welcome these changes. The only one of the definitions that you refer to that could apply would be distance, and that would depend on what the LPA decided was appropriate,

Martin - Actually, its not the individual planners that I criticise. Its the guidance and planning straight jackets that they are required to work within. Since I became President of CPRW, we have done a lot of work on this issue, and I am not that far out of line with policy now.

Martin Eaglestone said...

Only joshing Glyn - the challenge of the policy will be some consistent application at a local level. I have always seen scope for some more innovative appraoches, although a few houses here and there won't tackle the big affordable issue in communities.

Glyn Davies said...

martin - this is a hugely important issue, and a real challenge for planners. It will bring a lot more pressure, because it will introduce more flexibility, and demand for judgement by planners, rather than simple interpretation of what's written in 'the guidance book'. It will be interesting to see how much difference it makes, but there will be an attempt to undermine any new flexibility by some LPAs. In Powys, for eg, I believe a truly mad system of trying to limit the size and cost of the 'affordable' house has been introduced, the effect of which has been to stop landowners releasing land for development.