National Development Framework

PLEASE APPRECIATE THAT I GET SENT MORE INFORMATION AND LEADS THAN I CAN USE. I TRY TO RESPOND TO EVERYONE WHO CONTACTS ME BUT I CANNOT POSSIBLY USE EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION I’M SENT. DIOLCH YN FAWR

Last week the self-styled ‘Welsh Government’ produced the first version of the consultation document for its 20-year National Development Framework (NDF). Those of a masochistic bent may read it here.

Should you wish to make your feelings known, then the response form is here.

(Unless otherwise attributed, all images are from the National Development Framework and belong, presumably, to the ‘Welsh Government’.)

The front cover might be a sensible, if unoriginal, place to start.

There we see the Sail Bridge over the Tawe with, on the left, the University of Wales Trinity St David’s new campus. Behind the buildings in the middle distance there’s the Prince of Wales Dock; this is now an area of flats, offices, hotels, restaurants and bars.

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Almost all these were drawn to the area on the promise that the Prince of Wales Dock would become a marina. But the money allocated for the project was used elsewhere by the ‘Welsh Government’. Which means that the shiny new buildings look out onto an expanse of brackish water.

In the article I’ve just linked to you’ll read the decision being defended by the Cardiff-based South Wales Chamber of Commerce, on the grounds that the marina was not the “right priority” for public money. But the money we’re talking about was raised from the sale of land in the area and ‘ring-fenced’ for the PoW Dock.

That contribution tells us a lot about which areas have benefited from devolution and which areas have lost out. Also, who wields influence in 21st century Wales. I mean, why did WalesOnline ask South Wales Chamber of Commerce for a quote?

The NDF document is so self-congratulatory in parts, and elsewhere full of promises that, on reading it, I was reminded of a child’s letter to Father Christmas. You know the kind of thing, ‘Dear Santa, I have been very good this year and I would like . . .’.

Can’t help wondering if a copy of the NDF was posted to Lapland.

Part 1 is the Introduction, and this is what the NDF has to say of itself:

“The NDF is the highest tier of development plan and is focused on issues and challenges at a national scale. Its strategic nature means it does not allocate development to all parts of Wales, nor does it include policies on all land uses. It is a framework which will be built on by Strategic Development Plans (SDPs) at a regional level and Local Development Plans (LDPs) at local authority level.”

Part 2, ‘Wales – An Overview’, begins with this gem.

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All of which is true, no doubt, but it neglects to mention that the population of Wales is ageing faster than the other countries of these islands, and that life expectancy in Wales is falling faster than the other countries, also that in addition to these factors the main reason our population is ageing at such an alarming rate is because people retire to Wales from England.

The 2011 Census told us that in some areas the majority of those in the 65+ age bracket were born in England. In Conwy, just 37.1% of the over 65s were born in Wales. This movement is encouraged by a number of factors, including a care fees threshold of £50k, compared to £23,250 in England.

And then there’s the added incentive of free prescriptions.

This means that the poorest country in the UK, where the population already contains the highest percentage of elderly people, is actively encouraging yet more elderly people to move to Wales.

Figures supplied by ONS. My table. Click to enlarge

This phenomenon obviously puts a strain on health and associated services, which results in funding being diverted from other budgets, such as education. Perhaps it could even be argued that Welsh kids get an inferior education due to retirees from England.

But of course no Welsh politician or civil servant will dare admit this. Worse, they’ll even try to put a positive gloss on this population movement, as I found when I submitted a Freedom of Information request. Here’s an extract from the response.

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An ageing population is viewed as a problem across the developed world. The prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, recently declared the issue of a falling birthrate and an ageing population to be “a national crisis”.

So across the world it’s a problem or a crisis, but here in Wales an ageing population is “something positive”. I leave it to you to decide whether the ‘Welsh Government’ doesn’t understand the problem or whether it’s just lying.

The National Development Framework says nothing about limiting or mitigating the effects of this damaging influx. Which could be achieved by reducing the care fee allowance to £10,000 for people who have not lived in Wales for ten years prior to applying for care.

Part 3 is a wish list entitled ‘Outcomes’, eleven in all. ‘Outcomes’, that word so beloved of bullshitters and con artists in government, academe, the third sector and elsewhere.

This is virtue signalling on steroids. Anyone reading it should pause and ask, ‘Why should I believe that the same clowns who have run Wales into the ground over the past 20 years will deliver a land of milk and honey in the future?’

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Only intellectually-challenged Labour supporters and desperate Unionists will believe this. Because, believe me, those who wrote it don’t believe it.

Part 4 is headed, ‘Strategic and Spatial Choices: the NDF Spatial Strategy’. It tells us what’s planned to happen and where; this section contains a bit more ‘meat’.

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It begins by telling us that there are three ‘national growth areas’. These are: Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys; Wrexham and Deeside; Swansea Bay and Llanelli.

The first speaks for itself seeing as the ‘Welsh Government’ and others have been pushing the ‘city region’ idea for decades. Our north east is merging into north west England, an arrangement the ‘Welsh Government’ has helped create by prioritising cross-border links and pouring money into Deeside to create jobs for Merseyside and Cheshire. Which leaves the Swansea area as Wales’ only natural and organic conurbation. And, inevitably, the area most neglected by the ‘Welsh Government’.

A word that crops up throughout the document is ‘sustainability’, often coupled with reference to the Well-being of Future Generations Act. This provides more opportunity to list pious hopes, but it also sets out where investors will be allowed to exploit Wales.

The map on page 42 (and below) shows the areas where wind or solar power is to be allowed. With a few district heat networks in the cities and larger towns. Most of Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion seems to be given over to wind and solar farms.

Will there be any room for farming? Click to enlarge

Take out urban areas, national parks, unsuitable terrain, and it seems that most of what remains is to be covered in solar panels and wind turbines.

And then wonder where our ‘National Forest’ will fit in. For on page 35 of the NDF we read, “The Welsh Government has therefore set a target to increase woodland cover in Wales by at least 2,000 hectares per annum from 2020.”

The same page tells us, “Any sites or development proposals, which require planning permission and forming part of this project, should be supported where appropriate.” Which I take to mean a presumption in favour of new woodland. Perhaps refusal of planning permission at local level will be over-ruled by the ‘Welsh Government’ or the new planning inspectorate it has promised.

Is it a coincidence that the area earmarked for the Summit to Sea land-grab north of Aberystwyth is free of wind and solar farms?

I believe that woodland and carbon capture will be the new subsidy/tax break wheeze for investors, multinationals and others. With the scale of the exploitation disguised by ensuring maximum publicity for a few small, locally-owned projects.

I say that because a couple of recent newspaper reports point in that direction. (The image is quite large, so you might prefer it in PDF format.)

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When the UK government puts a monetary value on the carbon-capture qualities of our uplands, and academics urge the planting of trees on grazing land, then we can almost guarantee that various forms of  ‘greenwash’ largesse are not far behind . . . hotly pursued by a slavering horde of shysters.

Part 5. As we saw in Part 4, the National Development Framework breaks colonial Wales down, like Caesar’s Gaul, into three parts. Just to remind you, these are North, Mid and South West, and South East.

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Starting with the north again, we see that in addition to the main growth points of Wrexham and Deeside, the ‘Centres of Regional Growth’ are all on the north coast – Prestatyn, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno, Bangor and Caernarfon.

To see four towns on the Costa Geriatrica that are already over-developed (in the sense that they don’t really serve Wales) marked for further development is absurd. Especially as they’re so close to each other.

The northern hinterland is presumably given over to tourism, tree planting, ‘re-wilding’, etc. But couldn’t Blaenau Ffestiniog, almost slap-bang in the middle of the ‘forgotten zone’, have been made a Centre of Regional Growth instead of Colwyn Bay or Prestatyn?

I’ve added ‘Blaenau Ffestiniog’. Click to enlarge

The emphasis on the coastal strip looks like the A55 commuter corridor, designed to take the housing not wanted by the upmarket towns and villages of Cheshire.

Moving south and west we have the Swansea conurbation as the main growth point complemented by eight Centres of Regional Growth with another example of ‘bunching’. For while I understand the need to do something for Pembroke and Pembroke Dock, do they really need to be treated separately?

I wish defenders of the NDF the best of luck in the Severn Valley explaining to the people of Welshpool why Newtown was chosen and not their town. Newtown that has seen much investment in recent decades from the Mid Wales Development Corporation of the 1960s up to the new by-pass that opened earlier this year.

More surprising though is the choice of Llandrindod. Why not Brecon? Llandrindod could serve as the archetype for ‘sleepy rural town’, enlivened only by the riff-raff dumped there by various agencies.

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Just like the north, the Mid and South West region is to have its own Metro. If these ever materialise then in the north it will result in better links with England, while in Swansea, a new Parkway station at Felindre will mean quicker travel times between the west and Cardiff, and a change of trains to go into Swansea.

Finally, let’s consider the master plan for the south east. Though if the management team in Corruption Bay gets its way then the south east of Wales will soon be Greater Cardiff.

There are fewer Centres of Regional Growth in the south east than in either of the other regions. In the north, there are four CRGs within 22 miles of each other, but just four in the whole of the south east, which has double the population of the north.

Specifically, and seeing as the ‘Welsh Government’ has promised Ebbw Vale so much in the wake of the Circuit of Wales fiasco, I’m surprised that Glyn Ebwy isn’t a CRG.

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You may have noticed a small green belt between Wrexham and Chester, well there’s a much bigger green belt, or ‘wedge’, in the south east. It seems to be a tapering, westward extension of the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It takes in the area around the town of Usk, pushes on past Newport, and ends just south of Caerphilly. Presumably this protects Caerphilly Mountain from development? But not, apparently, Gwern y Domen.

I thought there was also a green belt between Cardiff and Newport, but apparently not. So maybe it’s a case of ‘Good-bye Newport – hello Cardiff East!’

The NDF document admits on page 67 that “Prosperity is not uniform across the region.” Wow! what a surprise. The same could be said for the whole bloody country. And we know the problem – the mini-me London that is our capital.

CONCLUSIONS

This uninspiring document was put together by people, many of whom don’t really know Wales, and to compensate for this ignorance they’ve relied too heavily on vested interests, and local big-wigs interested only in their patch.

When suggestions dried up, they adopted a ‘more of the same’ approach. Which probably explains why a passage from the Bible came to mind when I was reading this document: “For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath”.

The National Development Framework is not – and could never be – a document setting out desirable national development over the next 20 years because the contributors were incapable of taking a truly national view.

For example, there has been a campaign running for a few years to re-open the Carmarthen-Aberystwyth railway line. This would provide an environmentally-friendly north-south link, the ‘Welsh Government’ has given £300,000 for a feasibility study, county and town councils support it, so why is there no mention of this project in the National Development Framework?

Why the emphasis on cross-border links in a document supposedly serving Wales?

And if this document is about serving Wales, then why is so much of our country being surrendered to wind farms and solar farms? There is little local benefit, very few jobs, and the argument that these reduce Wales’ carbon footprint is nonsense.

When it comes to wind turbines, we could do more for the environment by not importing these things from the continent, by not letting them trundle through our countryside on huge, smoke-belching trucks, and by not cutting down trees or destroying peat deposits to erect them.

Yet if the environment is the issue, and if the desire is for Wales to play its part, then why is there no support for locally-owned hydro and other schemes? I think that question answers itself – it’s because they’ll be locally owned.

Anyone who says wind farms are good for Wales, or for the environment, is either a liar, a fool, an ‘investor’, a landowner, or a politician spinning a line in ‘greenwash’. Click to enlarge.

The National Development Framework also mentions ‘affordable housing’ more than once, but no definition is offered. If you think it means rented social housing then think again. ‘Affordable housing’ is a ‘flexible’ term that can mean whatever the person using it wants it to mean.

That’s because the housing market itself is rather confusing, what with housing associations building properties for sale and for rent, even ‘fleecehold’ properties. Many Registered Social Landlords have also set up private subsidiaries that are little different to Redrow and Persimmon, and competing unfairly with smaller, local building firms. This sector really does need a shake-up.

If only to cut down on the waste of public funding when social housing providers allocate properties to people with no Welsh connections, and often people that nobody’d want as neighbours.

Insisting that no one could be given a social housing tenancy unless they’d lived in Wales for five years would both save money and improve social cohesion.

In addition to the ignorance and ineptitude at lower levels, the deeper problem is that the National Development Framework is essentially a colonial strategy – ‘Let Wales continue to serve England’s interests, with the local management team providing a smokescreen by virtue signalling to their little hearts’ content.’

Let us hope and pray that the current political and constitutional chaos results in the collapse of the United Kingdom and the emergence of independent and reunited countries in these islands.

All copies of the National Development Framework can then be pulped. Along with the buffoons down Corruption Bay that put their names to this national insult.

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M4 relief road

By now everyone’s aware of the decision announced last week by the ‘Welsh Government’ not to proceed with the planned M4 ‘relief road’ through the Gwent Levels and Newport docks.

This decision that took most of us by surprise needs to be examined and certain ramifications and possibilities considered. For last week’s decision might have significance beyond a single road project.

ALL CHANGE?

When Carwyn Jones was First Minister it was understood that the relief road would go ahead. So for a start, the decision announced last week means that things have changed under his successor, Mark Drakeford.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of last week’s decision is that Mark Drakeford, and the ‘Welsh Government’, have gone against the wishes of their superiors in London. It’s impossible to over-stress that what happened last week was a form of insubordination.

For make no  mistake, London wanted this road. The Planning Inspectorate for Englandandwales backed the plan, with inspector Bill Wardrup waxing lyrical about the relief road while being almost insultingly dismissive of alternatives.

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Our Secretary of State, Alun Cairns, that most London-loyal of individuals – and, we now learn, a Boris Johnson supporter – was “hugely disappointed” by the decision. It may have come as a bit of a shock to him, for Cairns knew long ago what the inspector’s recommendation was, and he probably expected the new management team in Cardiff docks to follow Compliant Carwyn’s lead and do as the inspector (and London) recommended.

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So maybe any consideration of this shock to the system political boils down to two questions:

  1. Why has Drakeford refused to do London’s bidding in this instance?
  2. Is this a one-off act of rebellion or does it herald a fundamental change of course for ‘Welsh’ Labour?

CUI BONO?

One possible explanation might lie in the fact that despite all the criticism of London-centricity, and the disproportionate amount of infrastructure spending in London and the south east of England, for two decades Wales has followed exactly the same course.

Because a curious feature of devolution is that those areas that voted against devolution in 1997 have been the areas to benefit most since 1999. Maybe this is related to the phenomenon that has seen successive Labour administrations in Cardiff Bay neglect those areas that vote Labour.

So, to be generous, this decision not to proceed with the M4 relief road might mark the beginning of attempts to ‘rebalance’ the Welsh economy.

Even if I’m being too generous there, on a purely financial level, it would have been difficult to justify expenditure of £1.5 bn (at the very least) in a country of just over 3 million people unless the benefits are widely enjoyed. That would obviously not have been the case with the M4 relief road, and further, expenditure on that project would mean fewer infrastructure projects elsewhere in the country.

It’s even being suggested that areas of England – notably Bristol – would have benefited more from an M4 relief road than areas of Wales just twenty or thirty miles away, such as the Heads of the Valleys.

This is how Alun Davies, AM for Blaenau Gwent, put it in a couple of tweets.

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Weighing up cost and benefit, the M4 relief road would have meant the ‘Welsh Government’ borrowing a great deal of money for a project that at best would only benefit one corner of the country, and at worst, might have been of more benefit to adjacent areas of England.

On those grounds alone, no body claiming to be the ‘Welsh Government’, serving the whole of Wales, could have given the go-ahead for the M4 relief road.

But that consideration has never before stopped an administration in Cardiff Bay from pouring investment into the city at the expense of the rest of the country. So there may be other explanations.

THE PLANNING INSPECTORATE FOR ENGLANDANDWALES

Having mentioned the Planning Inspectorate this is a good time to remind you of the malign influence this agency has exerted over Wales.

In this example from March 2014 I wrote about the plan to expand Bodelwyddan and how it linked with the Local Development Plan (LDP) for Denbighshire. In this post we see how the Planning Inspectorate was forcing a Welsh local authority to allow housing greatly in excess of any local need.

And even after census findings made it clear that the county would need less new housing than had previously been anticipated, the Planning Inspector insisted on keeping to the now discredited figures:

The planning inspector’s response to Denbighshire arguing it needed less new housing than previously projected. Click to enlarge.

“Objects and aspirations” can only mean catering for an influx of new residents from outside of the county, and almost certainly from outside of Wales. Which means that in many cases the LDPs that have been forced on our local authorities by the Planning Inspectorate are ‘local’ only in the sense that they affect areas of Wales.

In Denbighshire, the northern part of the county lies within the A55 corridor, which is being developed as a linear commuter belt for north west England. The ‘Welsh Government’ will never admit this – in fact, it might not even be consulted – but others know, and are planning for it.

This map was produced by Lichfields (planning and development consultancy), it makes clear that there are three strategic planning areas in Wales, Two we know about, the third is never mentioned.

This is part of a wider and ongoing plan to integrate northern Wales into north west England. This 2019 report from Transport for the North makes the medium- to long-term planning clear, and it goes beyond a narrow corridor.

What’s being done here could be done without devolution – so what’s the point of having a ‘Welsh Government’ if it doesn’t live up to the name? Is devolution just a chimera, a smokescreen?

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Cross-border co-operation is one thing, and desirable, it happens all over the world; but it must be done on a basis of mutual respect with both sides benefiting. The map you see above is Englandandwales in operation. Anyone arguing otherwise would probably describe Tryweryn as a mutually-beneficial project.

Without labouring the point I hope you get the gist – the Planning Inspectorate has done a lot of damage to Wales over the years. Which explains why the agency’s relationship with the ‘Welsh Government’ has always been a source of confusion for Welsh politicians and others.

Taken from a ‘Welsh Government’ publication. Click to enlarge.

The truth is that the Planning Inspectorate for Englandandwales has a desk in Cardiff but takes its orders from London, with the ‘Welsh Government’ allowed to pretend it has some control.

The truth is driven home when we see an inspector adjudicating on a Welsh case one week and being in Yorkshire or Devon the following week. (Though of course, never in Scotland.)

It was no surprise then that the Planning Inspectorate wanted the M4 black route. Because that’s what London wanted.

Though if Mark Drakeford can see the problem with the Planning Inspectorate for Englandandwales then he must also be aware that this is only the tip of an iceberg. That ‘iceberg’ being the problem of ‘Welsh’ civil servants relaying orders from London. 

PLANNING FOR A WELSH FUTURE?

The fact that the ‘Welsh Government’ went against the recommendation of the Planning Inspectorate, its London masters, and a number of powerful lobby groups (perhaps even . . . whisper it – Deryn!), means that Mark Drakeford has really stuck his scruffy neck out.

Which leads me to suspect, or hope, that this decision might be about more than the explanations we’ve been given on cost and environment damage. There might be things bubbling below the surface that could prove to be more important in the medium term than the M4 decision itself.

First off, I am convinced that the M4 decision links with this announcement from a month ago that Wales will soon have its own planning inspectorate. Let’s look at what the article in The Planner says.

“Currently, the Planning Inspectorate for England and Wales is responsible for making decisions and recommendations on planning-related land issues and appeals. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Welsh Government fund it.

Based in Cardiff, the inspectorate’s Wales Division manages casework on planning and related applications and appeals, including developments of national significance. It examines local development plans, which set out land use planning policies and form the basis of local planning decisions, using a team of dedicated Welsh inspectors and administrators.

The new planning inspectorate for Wales is expected to be fully operational by the end of the current assembly term, which is May 2021.”

This move was explained by the ‘Welsh Government’ thus: “planning law and policy has diverged and continues to diverge at an accelerating rate from England”. Which makes a certain sense, but if that’s the real reason then policing, broadcasting and many other powers would also be fully devolved.

Though a cynic might suggest that Drakeford is launching the new agency because he’s burned his bridges with the Planning Inspectorate after giving them two fingers over such a high-profile project as the M4 relief road.

Whatever the reason, I’m hoping Drakeford and his cabinet want a separate Welsh planning inspectorate to do things differently in future and for the right reasons. Otherwise, why set up a new and separate agency?

IN CONCLUSION . . .

Does the dropping of the M4 relief road coupled with the announcement of the new planning inspectorate herald a change of direction for the ‘Welsh Government’?

The cynic in me thinks, ‘Nah, this leopard ain’t gonna change its spots, Jac. After twenty years of screwing up on devolution Labour’s only pretending to do things differently now because it’s slipping in the polls. Any change will be purely cosmetic.’

But then, the optimistic side to my nature (long dormant) asserts itself and says, ‘Wait! Maybe from now on they will put the interests of Wales and Welsh people first. Perhaps they’ll realise that there are communities within twenty miles of Corruption Bay approaching third world standards of deprivation. And that our rural areas need more than zip wires and granny farms. 

‘Perhaps it’ll mean no more insane legislation to encourage hippies, ‘rewilders’ and other enviroshysters; no more grants showered on multinationals’ branch factories and con men with ludicrous ‘projects’; no more red carpet treatment for exploitive ‘celebs’ such as Bore Grylls; no more funding and other encouragement for the third sector to import England’s problems so as to maintain thousands of unnecessary jobs with our money.

‘Maybe, at long last, Wales will be treated as a country, in which the interests of those who belong here are considered more important than kudos gained from playing to galleries that only seek to exploit and marginalise us. Perhaps our kids will be given a decent education to prepare them for better jobs than scurrying around an Amazon warehouse or desperately waiting for Easter in the hope of some low-wage tourism job.’

Over to you, Mark Drakeford.

♦ end ♦