Wales politics

Planning system shake-up 'puts new emphasis on economy'

Wales' planning system must be reformed to help the economy grow, the minister responsible has said.

He defended proposals for new planning rules after they met with dismay from conservationists.

Changes will tilt the balance in favour of the economy and against environmental and social factors when decisions are made about applications.

Planning officers must find out what their local economies need, Environment Minister John Griffiths said.

Although welcomed by business leaders, the new guidelines could get a hostile reception from some green groups when they are unveiled next month.

Already, WWF Cymru has expressed concern.

Planning authorities will be told that on some occasions considerations about the economy should outweigh the environment when deciding whether to grant permission to build.

'Economic renewal'

Mr Griffiths told BBC Wales: "We want to do all we can to ensure the planning system in Wales supports economic development, particularly at such a difficult time for the economy.

"There will be a new emphasis I think to ensure that local authorities do the work to understand what their local economic characteristics are, where there is land available locally for employment land use and ensuring that their economic development officers are properly consulted when it comes to taking decisions on planning.

"Let's have consistent high-quality decision made right across Wales supporting economic renewal at this very difficult time."

The changes would provide an "evidence base" for making decisions about applications, he said, denying that they weakened a commitment to sustainable development.

"We remain as a Welsh government entirely committed to sustainable development, and the three strands: social and environmental as well as economic."

Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry said: "The industry wants to see a faster, quicker, more efficient planning system.

"For too long it's been too slow, holding up investment."

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.

Anne Meikle, head of WWF Cymru, said: "The Welsh government claims it wants to be a world leader in sustainable development and have sustainability at the heart of everything it does.

"WWF Cymru would not agree that putting economic interest first and at the expense of social and environmental needs is the best way forward for the people and economy of Wales."

Commercially unviable

Also on Thursday, the UK government announced it would be relaxing the planning system in England, allowing people to extend homes without planning permission.

Control over the planning system is devolved to Cardiff and Mr Griffiths said the Welsh government was looking at what it could do to help private homeowners and business build when planning permission was not required.

But he suggested it was unlikely it would follow the Westminster coalition and remove a requirement for developers to include affordable homes if they prove they make a site commercially unviable.

"That's not our thinking at the current time," he said.

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