The concept of new settlements in Wales is not revolutionary. The Welsh Government recently published the responses to its ‘Call for Evidence and Projects’ as part of the preparation process of the National Development Framework (NDF). There were 78 responses received from a variety of organisations and individuals, with new settlements advocated by both the public and private sector. So why haven’t more come forward in 50 years since Cwmbran and Newtown were established?
The supply of readily developable housing land in Wales is poor, with only two local planning authorities (LPAs) in Wales (Neath Port Talbot and Newport) able to demonstrate more than five years supply in 2017. Even those with newly adopted Local Development Plans (LDPs) struggle and the problem is particularly acute in south east Wales. The withdrawal of Caerphilly Council’s Replacement LDP proved how difficult some councils find it to identify deliverable and available sites for development, and also whether any of Cardiff’s growth can and should be accommodated in its hinterlands.
A number of Councils, even those with recently adopted LDPs are beginning to recognise the likely difficulty of meeting identified housing need in the next Plan period. You only need to take a look at Cardiff Council’s LDP which has allocated large areas of greenfield land on the outskirts of Cardiff to recognise that in their next Plan they won’t have the same luxury of choosing strategically placed greenfield land within its administrative boundary.
This identified housing need and lack of options on the edge of settlements is encouraging both the public and private sector into considering alternative solutions to meet housing need. New settlements could be just the solution south east Wales needs to solve its rapidly growing housing problem. The city deal for Cardiff Capital Region provides a fresh opportunity to invest in transport infrastructure, improving skills in the workforce and regeneration projects. The South East Wales metro will provide a multi-modal integrated transport network; a sign of confidence in the economy, providing an opportunity for growth.
New settlements can capitalise on infrastructure improvements and planned growth by focusing development around new stations and areas which will see improved connectivity. In my view, new settlements are crucial to address housing need in Wales and there is a great opportunity to create high quality sustainable communities in which people want to live and work, through the provision of a mix of uses and open space with beautiful countryside dispersed throughout.
As it stands Planning Policy Wales (Edition 9, November 2016) (PPW) is not particularly supportive of new settlements, stating that: ‘New settlements on greenfield sites are unlikely to be appropriate in Wales, and should only be proposed where such development would offer significant… advantages’.
In contrast, the approach taken in England is much more positive with the NPPF stating that: ‘The supply of new homes can sometimes be best achieved through planning for larger scale development, such as new settlements or extensions’
As we highlighted in our Finalist entry to the Wolfson Economics Prize in 2014, we need to be forward thinking and visionary in order to address the acute need for housing and pressure on infrastructure in Wales; one garden city will not solve the housing crisis. With the right policies to incentivise smart settlements, there could also be opportunities to secure additional investment in smart infrastructure. This would help make these developments even more sustainable in the long term and put Wales on the front foot with technology.
The approach in Wales to new settlements is out-of-date and if the Welsh Government are committed to meeting the scale of need in a sustainable way, it will need to change PPW. The full revision of PPW next year is a crucial opportunity and we will be ready to engage and make our case to the Welsh Government.
We have a real opportunity to influence the NDF and PPW and we are working with our clients to identify potential new settlements around major areas of population and transport in Wales.
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