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Councillor asks Betsi: What would it take for Health Board to comment on major housing planning applications?

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Wednesday, Oct 11th, 2017.

A Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) representative gave a woolly answer to a councillor this morning after he asked why they do not respond to major planning applications in the Wrexham area.

Cllr Rob Walsh, who has seen a number of large applications made locally to his ward in Llay, plus across Wrexham in his role on the Council’s Planning Committee, asked the question this morning at the Safeguarding, Communities and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee – which had BCUHB before them.

Cllr Walsh took the discussion slightly off topic, although did point out it was linked to demand for GP services in Wrexham, pointing out that there has been numerous planning applications for ‘substantial’ numbers of new houses in the area, and ‘likely more in the future’.

Noting that residents responses usually ask “how will GP surgeries cope?”, he enquired why the various planning consultations and invitations for comment usually have a blank space next to the health board’s name.

Speaking of his own experience after sitting on the Council’s Planning Committee for two years, he said: “What tends to happen is it is noticeable BCUHB do not make comments with large scale planning applications in Wrexham even if residents make comments asking how are GP surgeries going to cope?”

“If these go to to the Planning Inspectorate in Cardiff on appeal, Planning Inspectors are very quick to say ‘well Betsi Cadwalader have not commented, there cannot be a problem’.

“My question is, what would it take for BCUHB to comment on a major housing application?”, pointing out that it appears that the Health Board are being ‘reactive’ dealing with resulting issues in the years to come after a planning application is approved and developments are built.

No assurance was given that BCUHB will start responding to Planning Applications, or an explanation as to why they do not, but a vague response was offered.

The health board representative Rob Smith (BCUHB’s East Area Director) pointed out it was not his direct responsibility, but there was apparently a ‘planning department’ at the health board that ‘liaises with the Local Authority’, recounting recent ‘conversations’ about making such contact ‘work more effectively’ and to ‘engage in those types of conversations’.

The BCUHB representative said the health board ‘very much want to be involved in the development of the plan, not necessarily as a consultee as part of the proposal, but in the development of proposals’. Giving an example of this he added it could manifest itself as giving ideas to what type of health facilities a new development might require.

He added: “We need to be working together on those issues”.

After the meeting Cllr Walsh told us: “Whilst I am grateful to Rob Smith for admitting that there must be greater dialogue between Planning Departments and BCUHB, I am not yet convinced this will happen anytime soon.

“Even if we were to see greater contributions to planning consultations from BCUHB, then it is too late for some communities such as my own in Llay who have been stitched up by the Planning Inspectorate.

“I can understand that BCUHB have more pressing issues to deal with, but unless they use forward thinking and speak out when they see the potential for pressure to be put on GP services in affected communities, the Planning Inspectorate will always use their silence as an excuse to allow unsuitable housing development to be granted.”

Earlier this year a housing development for 365 houses was approved on appeal by First Minister Carwyn Jones. At the time Cllr Rob Walsh said he was disappointed with both the Planning Inspector and the First Minister for approving the development.

The current top result in Google for ‘Wrexham Council responding to planning application’ is this page on the Council’s website that allows any organisation or individual to look through and respond to planning applications.

Top pic: Rob Walsh.

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