Wales planning rule change puts jobs before environment

House building Councils will be told to think fully about the economy when considering planning applications

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A major change in planning rules in Wales will tilt the balance in favour of economic growth over the environment and social factors.

It follows critical reports about planners rejecting developments and failing to grasp economic benefits.

The Welsh government will formally announce the controversial move next month.

It means councils will be told to fully consider the economic benefits of planning applications.

Start Quote

It is now much, much easier to look to Europe than it is to develop in your own country”

End Quote Ashford Price Dan yr Ogof Showcaves, Abercrave

On occasions these will now outweigh factors such as the environment.

But the first major rewriting of the rules for a decade will pit business interests, which have been demanding change, against conservation groups.

An award-winning tourist attraction told BBC Wales it was now investing in France rather than in Wales, largely due to frustration with the planning system.

Applying pressure

The latest figures for planning applications decided within the eight-week target period show a marked difference between authorities.

Top of the list between January and March this year is Pembrokeshire.

It had 85% of applications determined within the target time.

Other high performers are Bridgend with 84% and Neath Port Talbot with 82%.

But bottom of the list is Monmouthshire, which decided just 49% of applications within the target period.

Ashford Price, chairman of Dan yr Ogof Showcaves in Abercrave, Swansea Valley, said after a number of costly planning appeals, he had decided - with regret - to expand his business by opening self-catering holiday accommodation in France.

He said: "I do hope that there are going to be reforms to the planning laws because at the moment they are just grinding businesses like ours into the ground.

"It is now much, much easier to look to Europe than it is to develop in your own country."

Emma Watkins, director of employers' organisation CBI Wales, said: "We're in a deep recession, we need to grow our way out - the only way we can grow our way out is through the private sector creating jobs.

"Sometimes we might have to make a decision that prioritises the economy over the environmental and social considerations, and sometimes not everyone will be happy."

Conservation groups have called on the Welsh government to maintain protection for the environment.

Start Quote

Whereas we thought the environment was going to become more important in decision making, there are some hints that is not going to be the case if this change does take place”

End Quote Peter Ogden Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales

Peter Ogden, director of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales, said he was very disappointed as the new guidelines appeared to "distort" the definition of sustainable development.

He said: "It sounds as if two parts of the government are not talking to each other - whereas we thought the environment was going to become more important in decision making, there are some hints that is not going to be the case if this change does take place."

Draft guidance says planning authorities "should recognise that there will be occasions when the economic benefits will outweigh social and environmental considerations".

Local councils are required to have a plan setting out areas appropriate for development.

But in future they will be told to "look favourably" on applications which are not in line with these plans if the economic benefits are demonstrated to outweigh any adverse impacts.

Responding to Mr Price's comments about the planning system, Brecon Beacons National Park said it hoped to continue to liaise with local businesses to find the balance between fostering economic development and and protect the landscape.

A spokesman said: "It is certainly not in our interests to see any local firms moving abroad."

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