Calls have been made for ‘respectful’ debates as Wrexham’s new Local Development Plan ahead of a debate by councillors, which could then trigger a further debate and key vote to decide if the plan should be deposited with the Welsh Government.
Back in 2012 it was announced that progress on Wrexham Council’s original new LDP had been halted after Planning Inspector concerns with the level of housing provision proposed within it.
The new Deposit LDP makes provision for over 8,000 new homes up until the year 2028, however existing planning applications and developments will count towards that figure. It is also estimated that the plan could also help create 4,200 new jobs in the area.
There have been claims that due to having no LDP in place Wrexham has been subject to ‘predatory’ developments, with the Council Leader Mark Pritchard saying developers have ‘taken full advantage of it’.
Cllr Pritchard went on to warn of any failure to submit the LDP in time could mean Welsh Government officials in Cardiff taking control of such overall planning policies rather than more local decisions: “It would not be a Local Development Plan, it would be a National Development plan out of our hands.
“That would be a disaster for Wrexham. I hope there is common sense on the night.”
Tuesday’s Executive Board meeting will see the LDP consultation findings presented along with ‘Focussed Changes’ to the Plan. If the Executive Board agree, the LDP will move to Full Council meeting with a recommendation that the Council submit the LDP to Welsh Government ready for the Planning Inspectorate Wales to conduct an independent Examination in Public – where members of the public get to feedback further, as well as see their current consultation responses be considered.
Details are given to the number of interactions in the consultation earlier this year with 3588 representations received from members of the public and a wide range of statutory consultees, developers, landowners and agents.
434 people attended drop in sessions and an estimated 400 people attended various public meetings held in relation to the LDP. Overton Village Hall (95) and New Broughton Community Centre (72) events had the highest attendance of the drop in sessions. One day’s session at the Contact Centre in Wrexham had one single attendee.
The report before the Executive Board gives a full breakdown of the data, but notes of the 3588 representations received, 2448 are objections to the Plan and 307 in support.
A large number of objections relate to some of the proposed housing allocations , in particular Sites on Berse Road (363) and Gatewen Road (378), but the largest number oppose in some way proposed Gypsy and Traveller site allocations with 1,443 responses (1266 objections).
The report before councillors notes “Only two types of changes can be made to the Deposit LDP prior to its Submission for Examination in Public: ‘Focussed Changes’, which can be made in exceptional circumstances and ‘Minor Editing Changes’. ”
With major changes not possible the document notes the large amount of feedback but explains: “The proposed Focussed Changes do not include the deletion of any existing, or the inclusion of any new, proposed sites because this would be a fundamental change to the Plan that would risk its overall soundness.
Whilst a large number of objections have been made to the Gypsy & Traveller allocations, the Council has a duty to provide such sites where a need is identified and the objections received are not considered to override the need to provide such sites in accordance with that duty”
Likewise the housing objections received are noted but ‘do not warrant the removal of the sites from the LDP as the issues raised can be mitigated as part of any detailed Planning Application in due course’.
The ‘Risks’ part of the report is detailed, with it noted that if for any reason the LDP is not submitted Welsh Government could use its powers to direct submission: “If this takes place, Welsh Government could impose a wide range of actions on the Council, including appointing consultants to pick up the work”.
It is claimed failure to have the LDP submitted could also see A483 upgrades shelved and ‘could risk future investment in such key infrastructure by Welsh Government’.
Although Tuesday will likely see the usual progress of Executive Board reports, perhaps with a mystery absence or abstention or two, when the LDP comes to Full Council a full free vote is likely across all councillors if they are able to attend.
Speaking to a range of councillors it appears there is not full confidence the LDP will pass that hurdle.
Wrexham Council’s Chief Executive Ian Bancroft wanted to point out that there was a huge difference between the LDP and the Planning Inspector testing the LDP, and then the more day to day planning applications that members of the public commonly see,
He said: “Many are seeing this as planning applications, it is not, this sets out the principles and provides the basis for that and that is the importance for it.”
Mr Bancroft acknowledged the passion held by many over some areas of the LDP, with many people not keen on developments in or around where they live: “This will create differences of opinion regardless. Clearly there are individual issues for communities, and we have to recognise people have strong views on specific issues and there is a real risk that the debate could become very negative and could also become divisive for individual communities and groups.
“This is not agreeing to the Local Development Plan, this is being ready to pass it to the Planning Inspector, where all consultations will be fully heard.”
Perhaps with comments aimed at Tuesday or future Full Council debates, he added he expected a ‘respectful debate that listens to peoples opinions’ and respectful presentations of said opinions: “We are all about creating an atmosphere where people are genuinely listened to”, noting that included ‘inside the council chamber’.
Mr Bancroft noted that Group Leaders had been ‘fully briefed’ with various individual meetings taking place, with a Member Workshop also taking place prior to a possible Full Council meeting, “…explaining the point of the plan, and the way we conduct debate.”
Cllr Pritchard said: “It is important how we have the debate, elected members are elected to represent their local communities, it is very difficult but we have to manage it.
“This is the most difficult decision have had to make in this council for very long time, as it impacts across all wards. The most important thing is we allow members to come to table to have the debate and to raise issues and concerns. There is nothing wrong with that at all.”
Cllr David Kelly, the Lead Member for Planning, acknowledged concerns from some of the public and explained it as ‘the fear of having something they have not had to deal with in the past’, pointing to the role of individual councillors to bring residents concerns to the table.
Cllr Kelly said: “There are a lot of representations coming from the point of view they don’t want anything in their back yard. Some want the status quo. If you ask them ‘where do you want your kids to grow up?’ If if there are new or affordable houses nearby, then they want a few houses in the community.
“It is a complete contradiction, people do not want things, but they do. Fear is the size of it. A lot want a quiet life, but we all have got to accept we need some degree of it.”
If the Executive Board agree to send the plan to Full Council, and councillors agree to submit it to Cardiff it could take around 12 months before it is formally adopted locally assuming delays occur.
You can view the report and documents before councillors on Tuesday via this link on the council’s website, several appendices (starting at Appendix 2 despite labelled ‘full list’) are on that page without description. At the bottom of one of the report the detail to what the documents are (below) to help with your reading pleasure.
“Appendix 1: Summary of all representations received during the Deposit Plan consultation” is listed in the report, however is not linked in the usual place on the Agenda list – however there is a link to the full 730 page response document in the main report – you can access it here in a 15meg PDF.
Appendix 2: List of Deposit LDP documents that were available for consultation
Appendix 3: Welsh Government response to Deposit LDP
Appendix 4: Gypsy & Traveller Site Assessment Methodology
Appendix 5: Gypsy & Traveller Site Allocation Appraisals
Appendix 6: Schedule of Proposed Focussed Changes (including Minor Editing Changes)
Appendix 7: Typical schedule of LDP process from Submission to issuing of the Inspector’s Final Report
Appendix 8: Summary of Equality Impact Assessment of proposed Focussed Changes