A55

Aug 072017
 

Everybody seems to have had their say on this subject so I might as well make my contribution.

First, remember that what was passed a week last Friday was the LDP for Gwynedd minus the Snowdonia National Park, which has its own planning authority and its own LDP. Even though the Park covers most of the county, in population terms it accounts for just over a fifth.

This is due to the largest towns being outside the Park, while Blaenau Ffestiniog, Barmouth and Tywyn are surrounded by the Park but form ‘islands’ covered by the Gwynedd LDP. The largest towns within the Snowdonia National Park are Bala and Dolgellau.

I’ve read the arguments on both sides of this debate, thanks in part to Nation.Cymru, where we were offered, ‘Building 8,000 new homes on Gwynedd and Môn is a defeat for Welsh democracy’ by Huw Williams, with the counter argument from Dyfrig Jones in ‘Building fewer houses would drive up prices and drive away our youth’.

In a sense, both are right. But Dyfrig Jones is also wrong. Let me explain.

‘WHERE WILL OUR YOUNG PEOPLE LIVE?’

Once upon a time, when tribunes of a fraternal bent controlled rural councils, Ceredigion was ruled by Dai Lloyd Evans and his crew, one of the most corrupt, self-serving groups ever to run a Welsh council. (And by God that is saying something!) Not for nothing did Paul Flynn MP refer to Ceredigion in some Commons committee as “the Wild West Show” when it came to planning matters.

Because most of these fraternalist councillors were landowners they wanted to build lots of houses to enrich themselves. Dai Lloyd Evans even bought a field – or was it two? – outside of his native Tregaron and then made sure that the settlement boundary was moved to include his field(s). Planning permission was of course granted for said fields.

In defence of this bonanza of housebuilding all sorts of bollocks was trotted out; from Dai Lloyd himself I remember, ‘But without these new houses where will our young people live?’ We were asked to believe that three- and four-bedroom houses selling for £180,000+ (in 2005) were targeting young, local buyers.

Now I’m not comparing Dyfrig Jones to Dai Lloyd Evans, but . . . the ‘young people’ argument does echo the timeless hypocrisy of the former Ceredigion council leader.

For a start, too many of our young people can’t afford to buy a new house – full stop. But these properties are not intended for local buyers anyway, something made clear from where the new developments are located.

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The new housing planned for Gwynedd is mainly in the north of the county (as is the case in Conwy and Denbighshire) and there’s a very good reason for that – the A55 Expressway. What is taking shape before our eyes is a commuter corridor along the A55 that will allow people working in the Merseyside and Manchester conurbations to live ‘in the country’.

OH, GIVE ME A HOME WHERE THE MILLIONAIRES ROAM

Let me start explaining this with a wee digression.

When I was growing up in Swansea, someone who moved out to Gower was usually thought to have ‘made it’, done well for themselves (or maybe knocked over a bank). I suppose the Vale of Glamorgan fulfils a similar function for Cardiff.

On a larger scale, Cheshire entices those who wish to, and can afford to, avoid the urban sprawl of north west England. Some of the communities with the highest property prices outside of London and its ‘stockbroker belt’ are to be found in Cheshire.

Human nature being what it is, if you’ve paid a million or two for your house in Prestbury, Wilmslow or Alderley Edge, then you don’t want your idyll spoilt – and the value of your property lowered – by a new estate full of double-glazing salesmen and Stockport County footballers. It’s ‘Him off the telly’ and Wayne Rooney or nothing. Which results in many of those who’d like to live in leafy Cheshire being moved on. (This also explains why, in the code used by estate agents, Wrecsam is now ‘West Cheshire’.)

But even if giant ‘Sod Off!’ signs were placed at regular intervals on every highway and by-way approaching the Golden Triangle it would do little to stem the flow of the upwardly mobile out of the nearby cities. And as there’s not much of a welcome further west, around Chester, either, they trudge on further.

Another reason for building so many new houses close to the A55 is that politicians, being what they are – lying bastards, generally – can interpret this protection of Cheshire property values as an indicator of a healthy economy along the north coast. It’s nothing of the kind, or course, but politicians will never miss an opportunity to pat themselves on the back.

Just picture it – Guto Bebb, David Jones, Michelle Brown plus Carwyn and his cohorts fighting over the best spot in front of the cameras!

Finally, let us not forget the grand design to assimilate Wales into England. New housing built in Wales for which there is little or no local demand is a vital part of that strategy.

‘STATISTICS, WHAT STATISTICS?’

Huw Williams was right to argue that accepting this LDP was a defeat for Welsh democracy, though not only because Gwynedd council caved in but because of the way in which housing ‘need’ figures are arrived at, or contrived, and the ruthless inflexibility with which they have been enforced.

I’ve dealt with Local Development Plans and the Planning Inspectorate many times before. (Just type Planning Inspectorate into the ‘Search’ box at the top of the sidebar.) Reading ‘Planning Inspectorate: New Gauleiter for Wales’ will help.

The problem with LDPs is that the Planning Inspectorate predicted future need on a combination of population and household size estimates produced before the data from the 2011 Census were available, and using recent demographic trends – i.e. English immigration!

When the Census findings became available, and they showed that population increase from 2001 to 2011 was less than the Inspectorate had predicted, and that household size was greater – combining to mean fewer properties needed – these inconvenient truths were brushed aside to insist on sticking to the original, and now discredited, predictions.

One example is Denbighshire. The council there argued that in light of new figures the county now needed far fewer properties than had been called for by the ‘Welsh’ Government’s projections, which argued for 8,500 new units between 2008 and 2023. For what the Census and the ONS’ predictions told us was that the projected population increase for Denbighshire in that period was now 4,134.

The Planning Inspectorate accepted the council’s argument (how could they contradict the Census and the Office for National Statistics?) but insisted on sticking with the original – and now discredited – projection! The clip below is from the Inspectors’ report.

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So, for a predicted population increase of just 4,134, and a household size of 2.31 reducing to 2.23 in 2026 Denbighshire must still build 8,500 units.

Of course, it helps to understand all this when you realise that the Planning Inspectorate is an Englandandwales body answering to the Department for Communities and Local Government in London . . . though the ‘Welsh’ Government is allowed to pretend that it has control of the Inspectorate in Wales. It doesn’t.

As might be predicted with such a body, the Welsh language is a vital concern. The recommendation for Denbighshire being . . . bilingual signage.

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A SYSTEM TO SERVE WALES

Where Dyfrig Jones is right is in arguing that building fewer houses will drive up prices . . . but to follow that argument to its illogical conclusion is to believe that house prices will start falling, will come within the reach of Welsh people, only when the external demand is sated – but the external demand is insatiable.

With Local Development Plans we are dealing with a broken system, certainly one that does not work for Wales. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, and as I hope I’ve explained, is the role of the Planning Inspectorate, an Englandandwales body working within an Englandandwales strategic framework that sees Wales helping meet England’s need for housing. There is no way that such a body can serve Wales.

Second, when it comes to strategic planning, the ‘Welsh’ Government has willingly subordinated itself to the UK government to the detriment of Wales’ best interests. So much for devolution!

Third, as Huw Williams suggested on Nation.Cymru, the whole system is a negation of democracy that sees those we elect bullied by persons sent into Wales to serve a dubious agenda. That is bad enough, but too often the Planning Inspectorate finds ready accomplices in the higher ranks of council employees.

Radical change is needed.

It should go without saying that Wales needs a planning system that serves Welsh needs, not the interests of those who can’t afford to buy the property they’d like in Wilmslow. This must be a priority. No more imposed LDPs.

To build fewer houses yet ensure that Welsh people are not excluded we need legislation to guarantee that a majority of the housing stock is restricted to those with strong local connections. To those born and educated in the area, perhaps those who have lived locally for a given period.

It might be worth considering the models that operate in the Channel Islands.

On the largest island, Jersey, there are four categories of resident: ‘Entitled’, ‘Licensed’, ‘Entitled to Work’ and ‘Registered’. As the website tells us, “The “Entitled” category is attributed to those who are Jersey born and have reached the required aggregate residency period.  This category also applies to people who have lived in Jersey for a continuous period of 10 years.”

Jersey

On the second largest island, Guernsey, the system is even simpler. There they have a Local Market and an Open Market, which is almost self-explanatory. The Open Market covers larger, more expensive properties (some 7% of the housing stock), and while locals can buy in the Open Market the Local Market is reserved for them.

‘Ah, but Jac’, I hear you protest, ‘to implement such a policy in Wales would be decried in the English media as ‘racist’. Really! How could it be racist in Wales yet no one complains about the Channel Islands using these methods?

Might the silence have something to do with so many English newspaper proprietors and others having money hidden business interests on the islands, with the Barclay brothers, owners of the Telegraph, actually owning one of the smaller islands, Brecqhou?

CONCLUSION

As someone who has been involved in nationalist politics – often on the ‘hairier’ fringes . . . sometimes very hairy – I know that for fifty years our masters have carefully avoided gifting us another Tryweryn, or another Investiture, anything that might mobilise armchair patriots and produce converts.

Instead, the strategy employed since the 1960s has been to chip away at what makes Wales different. The most effective tactic being demographic change; reduced to its crudest expression – ‘Welsh out, English in’.

The beauty of this strategy is that no single blow ever rouses enough people to challenge the strategy . . . so on it goes . . . chip, chip, chip. The Gwynedd LDP, the managed decline of the Valleys, turning our countryside into a recreational and retirement area for England . . . all these are chipping away at the distinctiveness of Wales, and the survival of Welsh identity.

This strategy is succeeding; soon there will be little left at which to chip. If we don’t wake up soon and grasp that we are in a struggle for national survival, one that must transcend politics and take precedence over everything else, then we might as well stop kidding ourselves and call it a day.

A national struggle against English colonialism is our only hope. No party politics. No divisive ideologies. A national struggle.

♦ end ♦

 

Jul 222014
 

If you scroll down my sidebar you’ll see that, under ‘Jac’s Reads’, one of the blogs I follow is Wales Eye, written by Daran Hill, managing director of Positif, a political lobbying firm in Cardiff docks and an integral part of the self-important but ultimately impotent Cardiff bubble. Don’t think I’m being nasty to Daran Hill, I don’t know the man; to the best of my knowledge our paths have never crossed. But today he posted a piece that made me think, ‘Why doesn’t he get it?’

The information for the piece I’m referring to had probably been fed to him by disgruntled BBC journos. It seems that Edwina Hart, the minister for Economy, Science and Transport does not give live interviews, everything must be pre-recorded. The piece on Wales Eye contained much harrumphing about ‘democracy’ and ‘accountabilty’ but none of those expressing their concerns to Hill understood the real reason for Hart not giving live interviews – the truth is, shAlun D dummye doesn’t know what she’s talking about. And she’s not the only one. Let me explain.

Back in January I posted this, about a statement made by Alun Davies, at the time Minister for Natural Resources and Food, trying to explain why he was taking money from Welsh farmers and transferring it to ‘rural development projects’, i.e. subsidising good-lifers, hippies, Greens and others Wales would be better off without. Here’s a link to the excruciating footage of a squirming, stuttering, Alun Davies telling us why he has decided to do this. (Skip past DET’s intro to 2:03.) The thing to note here is the two civil servants flanking Davies, like prison officers with the defendant in the dock, making sure chummy don’t do nuffin stupid.

After watching Davies’s performance I gave him the benefit of the doubt by thinking that he didn’t believe what he was saying, or that he may not even have understood the full implications of what he was saying, and that he was simply repeating, parrot-fashion, what someone had told him to say. The civil servants were there to make sure he didn’t succumb to a debilitating attack of conscience or patriotism that might have rendered him unuseable.

In short, he was no more than a ventriloquist’s dummy, and the same applies to other ‘ministers’ in the absurdly named ‘Welsh Government’. This is why Edwina Hart doesn’t give live interviews – it’s because she can only repeat what she’s been told to say in a recording that can be re-started when she fluffs her lines. Because, obviously, live interviews run the risk of her being asked questions she cannot answer about policies she had no part in formulating.

Edwina dummyThe piece in Wales Eye was prompted by Hart’s announcement of the Newport by-pass, welcomed by very few in Wales (none that I can see outside of Cardiff). The clue to Hart’s camera shyness is that chancellor George Osborne has been consistently urging the ‘Welsh Goverment’ to improve the M4: here on November 29, 2011; April 3, 2013; March 19, 2014 (and there have been other occasions). Make no mistake, this was a decision taken in London; but rather than have London fund it, the ‘Welsh Government’ was given new powers to get into debt! Once the details were worked out the scheme was passed on to civil servants in Wales, who then coached Hart in her delivery. Result: Wales will get at least £1bn into debt, other projects around the country will be shelved, and all to facilitate the flow of English goods into Wales. Wasn’t that good of Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, children?

Because believe me, that’s what will happen. Improved communications mean that ‘peripheral’ areas can be served and supplied from further away. Always. Take the example of the A55 in the north. Great benefits were promised from this ‘Highway of Opportunity’ by Wyn Roberts et al, but one of the first changes to materialise was the Post Office transferring its sorting office from Bangor to Chester. And the PO was not alone. Once the M4 is improved, depots serving the south from Cardiff and Newport will start to be lost because, for example, if south Wales and the west of England can both be supplied from its Avonmouth depot then Tesco won’t keep its depot in Magor open. In a colonial economy such as Wales, where the overwhelming majority of retailers, utilities, major contractors, financial services, etc., etc., are headquartered in England, improved communications always means job losses. So we are paying £1bn for the economic benefit of England! Welcome to devolved government, ‘Welsh solutions for Welsh problems’.

The bigger problem, as I’ve hinted above, is civil servants operating in Wales but taking orders from London. I have dealt with this in countless posts, often when I write about planning and housing. I remind people that, despite a cupboard in Cardiff, the Planning Inspectorate is an executive agency of the Department for Communities and Local Government in London. The ‘Welsh Government’s own StatsWales also answers to the DCLG. The housing directorates that control social housing and other areas are also subject to the DCLG. They have a presence in Wales, and a ‘relationship’ with Welsh ministers, but it’s a ventriloquist and dummy relationship. This is why Carl Sargeant always looks out of his depth when dealing with LDPs, because just like Edwina Hart he has difficulty remembering details about policies and decisions he had no hand in determining.

It also helps explain why the EU funding has been squandered. In the south it has been wasted on professional grant-chasers, invariably English, who, instead of combating poverty and deprivation, have celebrated it, made a political and social cause of it, in order to secure funding and careers for themselves. As for those they are supposed to be helping . . . well, they’re only a bunch of losers anyway! In the west and the north the EU funding has been used to subsidise the same people who will benefit from the announcement made by Alun Davies back in January. That’s because the complete colonisation of rural Wales faces one last obstacle – too much land is still owned by the natives, farmers and the like. So fund the good-lifers and the Greens to buy land for fluffy environmental projects, protect our countryside from nasty over-grazing (i.e. farming), and let’s turn rural and coastal Wales into a land fit for the jodhpured heroes of the English middle class, escaping those frightful, multi-racial cities.

Welsh Assembly building, Cardiff

All of which makes devolution the biggest load of old bollocks in Welsh political history. We had less interference from London back in the 1950s before we had a Welsh Office or a Secretary of State than we have today, fifteen years into devolution. Because back then we were considered no threat and so we were just left to get on with things. That all changed in the 1960s, as did London’s attitude towards us. The long term policy decided upon was colonisation leading to assimilation. Devolution is just another stage in that process. We have the delusion of a ‘government’ in Cardiff, but the big decisions are taken in London. All part of the wider strategy for Wales: turn Cardiff into one of the more agreeable English provincial cities; allow the north east to merge into England’s north west; oversee the managed decline of the rest of the south (west and north of Cardiff); use rural and coastal Wales as retirement and recreation areas for England.

And that’s why Edwina Hart doesn’t give live interviews – because she’s just a ventriloquist’s dummy. But maybe no more a dummy than those who think this M4 project is good for Wales. Or those who can’t see what’s being done to this country.