Wales politics

Welsh ministers could decide on wind farm plans

Media captionMany big projects could go straight to the Welsh government for a decision

Big planning applications, including for some wind farms, could be decided by the Welsh government rather than local councils in future.

The changes are part of efforts to reform the planning system to make it easier to understand and to use.

Publishing its draft Planning Bill, the Welsh government said it wants a "culture change" in planning authorities.

The Conservatives said a "clear strategic vision" was needed.

Publishing a draft Planning Bill on Wednesday, the Welsh government said it wanted a "culture change" in planning authorities.

Welsh government officials said they wanted a "can-do culture, instead of being risk averse".

They say they want to "re-energise" the system to support economic growth.

Developments of "national significance" will be decided by the Welsh government, instead of local authorities.

That could include energy projects which generate between 25 and 50 megawatts, including wind farms.

Responsibility for bigger energy schemes remains with the UK government.

The changes, which are out for consultation, will also allow people to bypass their local councils if they miss targets.

Instead, planning applications could be submitted directly to the Welsh government.

A review by Welsh government advisers last year found a "system under strain".

There are 25 local planning authorities in Wales - 22 councils and three national park authorities.

About half have prepared local development plans (LDPs) which allocate land for certain types of building work.

But there are concerns about the length of time taken to draw up these plans.

The reforms would give ministers powers to direct planning authorities to work together on strategic development plans to address problems, such as ensuring there is enough land for housing.

They could also merge authorities.

Housing and Regeneration Minister Carl Sargeant said: "We want to reposition planning from regulating development to enabling appropriate development.

"Our planning system must deliver the growth in homes, jobs and infrastructure that current and future generations have every right to expect."


Gareth Williams, a director at planning consultants Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners in Cardiff, said: "The system has ground to a halt over the last few years.

"Local development plans aren't being prepared as quickly as they should be, which means there isn't a proper basis for the consideration of planning applications.

"So things are taking longer there's a greater degree of uncertainty in the process, so it's far more difficult to achieve the economic growth associated with development."

Shadow Environment Minister Russell George AM said the Welsh planning system needed a "comprehensive overhaul".

"As it stands, the planning system is muddled and officials are snapping under the strain of too many guidelines and too much paperwork.

"I have long called for a clear strategic vision and it is my hope that this bill will result in real change."

Plaid AM Llyr Gruffydd said: "At the moment the whole culture around planning in Wales is about blocking, is about obstructing development."

Moving to regional development plans "does make sense on many levels", he said.

"But of course the danger there is that you lose that local accountability in terms of democracy," he added.

"There is a rationale behind that possible shift away from local development to regional development but of course that needs to be offset so that we don't lose that democratic accountability."

CBI Wales director Emma Watkins said it was a step in the right direction "but we must be bold and brave to deliver the changes we all wish to see.

"When viewed together the proposals form an ambitious programme for improvement."

But a spokesman for Friends of the Earth Cymru said: "Setting up 'strategic planning panels' to by-pass councils would be a blow for local democracy - there is a real danger of losing the voice of communities and no assurances of who would sit on these panels."

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