Spatial Awareness: A National Development Framework for Wales
Historically, and notwithstanding Henry VIII's "singular zeal, love, and favour" towards the Welsh, the Principality has experienced both a cultural and political lag from the traditional seat of power in London. That delay has, over many centuries, helped Wales retain the distinct and varied character that Henry's 1536 Act for the Government of Wales sought to expunge. In these days of advanced technology and mass media, the lag is measured in nanoseconds and Wales enjoys the closest thing to its own central government in modern history.
More recently, Wales has synthesised the historical lag to its advantage. It has adopted a 'wait and see what happens in England' approach. For the most part, it has worked to Wales' benefit being able to cherry-pick 'English-trialled' tweaks and add-ons to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
So, when Wales was given primary legislation powers, planners and lawyers leaned forward attentively to see how far it would stray from England's lead on planning in the 21st Century. The resulting Planning (Wales) Act 2015 is considered by some to be a missed opportunity to take the bold step of consolidating planning law in Wales that would clearly distinguish the increasingly divergent neighbouring planning systems, iron out the wrinkles of 25 years of amendments and addendums and set Wales up to paddle its own coracle.
On the face of it, the Act laid the groundwork for a Welsh version of England's National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in the form of the National Development Framework for Wales (NDF). However (and perhaps surprisingly), rather than Wales towing the English line, the NDF appears to be ploughing its own furrow. It looks like it will give the localism tenets of the NPPF and the kneejerk abolition of regional spatial planning a wide berth and will seek to remedy the deficiencies of the ineffectual Wales Spatial Plan – which it replaces.
The Planning (Wales) Act's sister legislation, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, seeks to focus government policy on where development sits in terms of its impact on Wales, the United Kingdom and, building on its 'One Wales: One Planet' initiative, the World. It is here that we can see how the indicative and grand aspirations of the NDF may be distinguished from the NPPF which sought to move away from regional strategies and focus more on neighbourhood planning. The 4 year lead-in to an adopted NDF (which shall form part of the development plan and inform subsequent Strategic and Local Development Plans) should be sufficient time to focus Welsh intent for a cogent, strategic and sustainable planning system that leads to coherent infrastructure projects and connectivity rather than ad hoc and isolated (albeit locally pleasing) development.
The current Welsh Government consultation issued on 1st February 2016 with a closing date for responses of 25th April 2016 revolves around the Statement of Public Participation which sets out how the devolved government in Wales will engage with the public and stakeholders when preparing the NDF.
This non-statutory 12-week consultation period falls within Stage 2 (of 11) of the Welsh Government's timetable for the NDF (although it's also confusingly referred to as Stage 3 in the Statement). It is a rather lengthy period for a consultation based on the limited content of the Statement (which falls just short of asking if the font they've used is acceptable). It appears to be a prime opportunity for those potential stakeholders not on the current and rather eclectic 'contact' list to be added and kept in the loop when the substantive elements of the NDF process are scheduled to commence in mid-2017. Hopefully, the drafters are pressing ahead with laying the groundwork for Stages 4 and 5 now because, notwithstanding the Welsh Government's commitment to engagement, nothing fundamental will change from the proposed timetable as a result of this consultation.
The consultation can be found here.