Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus - Y Bumed Senedd
Public Accounts Committee - Fifth Senedd24/02/2020
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Delyth Jewell AM|
|Gareth Bennett AM|
|Jenny Rathbone AM|
|Mohammad Asghar AM|
|Nick Ramsay AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Vikki Howells AM|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Adrian Crompton||Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru, Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Auditor General for Wales, Wales Audit Office|
|Marie Brousseau-Navarro||Cyfarwyddwr Polisi, Deddfwriaeth ac Arloesi, Swyddfa Comisiynydd Cenedlaethau'r Dyfodol Cymru|
|Director of Policy, Legislation and Innovation, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales Office|
|Nick Bennett||Ombwdsmon Gwasanaethau Cyhoeddus Cymru|
|Public Services Ombudsman for Wales|
|Nick Selwyn||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Sophie Howe||Comisiynydd Cenedlaethau'r Dyfodol Cymru|
|Future Generations Commissioner for Wales|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Claire Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:04.
The meeting began at 13:04.
Can I welcome members of the committee to this afternoon's meeting and also welcome our witness, Nick Bennett? As usual, headsets are available for translation and for sound amplification. Please ensure that any electronic devices are on silent. In an emergency, follow the ushers. We've received no apologies—
One apology today: Rhianon Passmore. And no substitutions. Do any Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make? No. Okay.
Item 2, and a couple of papers to note. First of all, the Minister for Health and Social Services wrote to me following the evidence session with the Permanent Secretary on 3 February, copying his recent correspondence with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Auditor general, did you have anything you wanted to say about the ministerial direction?
I think it's helpful that the committee has got sight of the correspondence. I think you resolved previously to write to the Permanent Secretary after the budget in March, and I think it would be helpful if we could pick up some of the issues that come from this correspondence in that.
Okay. I've written to the Permanent Secretary advising her that the committee has noted the ministerial direction, and will write after that budget, as you just said. Secondly, Tracey Burke from Welsh Government has responded to my letter of 17 December, following the evidence session held with her in November, in which several matters arose that the committee wished to seek further detail on.
The auditor general publishes annual reports on financial management and governance, community and town councils, and the Welsh Government issued a statement on 12 February. The statement implies that up to £500,000 of funding in 2020-21 to strengthen the financial management and governance across the sector is being made available. The auditor general is also consulting on the future audit arrangements for community councils in Wales. Was there anything you wanted to add to that?
That's quite straightforward. So, we need to note that correspondence, and would Members like me to respond on behalf of the committee? Yes, okay. I'll do that, then.
Medicines management now, and Dr Andrew Goodall has written with progress on a number of recommendations made by the Public Accounts Committee's report on medicines management. Members will note the correspondence, and we are scheduled to receive a further update in late spring, so I can note that.
Public procurement: and we have been busy, haven't we? Andrew Slade has written on the subject of the potential impact that any future tariffs arising from Brexit may have poor procurement. Anything you wish to add to that? No. So we need to note that correspondence, and we are scheduled to receive a further update in late spring, so I propose that we look at that matter then.
So, one more item, and that's the NHS Wales Informatics Service, and Dr Goodall has also written to me with an update on developments that occurred following our evidence session in November, so if we note that. I suggest that we receive an update as scheduled later in the autumn term. It seems some time away now, but time moves on quickly, doesn't it?
Okay, we got there in the end, our substantive item for today: the effectiveness of local planning authorities in Wales, and an evidence session with the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Nick Bennett. Welcome, thank you for being with us, or back with us, on the committee.
Thank you for the invitation.
We have a number of questions for you. I will kick off with the first ones when I can find the appropriate paper. The first question: could you describe what the role of the PSO, your role, and the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales—sorry, your role, I should say—in respect of local planning authorities?
Yes. It's a role that is restricted. Obviously, we deal with planning complaints, but it's probably easiest to characterise us—we don't do appeals; we're there to review the process, rather than appeal a properly made decision. And I'm afraid that, too often perhaps, that's an issue that isn't clear to people who come to my office.
I'd also say as well that we're the tip of the iceberg, and unfortunately, we don't know how big the iceberg is, but I'm hoping that the new powers that we've received from the Finance Committee this year will mean that we'll be able to scope and to provide this committee and others with a lot more information about what's going on in terms of local government services—all local government services, including planning services, in the future.
Thanks. What support and information are you providing to help local planning authorities?
A range of existing support. So, every year, I write to all 22 local authorities. They receive an annual letter that will touch upon the complaints that I receive across their jurisdictions. We've also done some specific thematic work. We've done some improvement work, looking at issues around improving complaint handling for planners across the 22 local authorities, and for some individual local authorities that seem to have a particularly interesting set of planning statistics, shall I say.
And then, as I referred to earlier, we've now got these new complaint standard authority powers. We've appointed two members of staff, who I think already this year have been around 20 of the 22 local authorities and are starting to scope the size of the iceberg to get the data in terms of what's going on across local government when it comes to complaints. So, not so much the complaints that come to us—we're very clear about that data—but more broadly, what's the citizen's experience: how many complaints are out there that go to local government authorities across Wales?
Thanks. The Planning (Wales) Act 2015 gives Welsh Ministers powers to mandate collaboration, merge local planning authorities and/or require the production of joint local development plans. Should local planning authorities be merged to improve their performance and impact?
I'd best declare an interest: I was a member of the Williams commission some years ago, which did make some recommendations when it comes to the future shape of local government in Wales. I think at least one member of the committee took evidence from us back in 2013 or 2014, I think.
I also worked in local government some years ago. I seem to remember, under the old system, you had the counties with the strategic planning function and, at that time, 36 districts undertaking the local planning function and of course, on top of that, the national parks as well. So, I think it would be difficult to argue the local function is overcentralised, given that we've got 22 compared to 36 in the past. But I do think there'll be scope, perhaps, for more strategic collaboration on what was the old county function strategic planning. I think that's happening, but from what I hear—I may be wrong—that's being done on a pretty piecemeal basis. So, I think north Wales is looking at collaboration on minerals planning. I think there are different proposals for the Cardiff city region. I would have thought that there is scope for more collaboration there, perhaps a less piecemeal, more uniform approach to strategic planning on a regional basis across Wales.
There might well be scope for more collaboration as well when it comes to the availability of data. I think, certainly, a lot of what I'm picking up in terms of the number of planning appeals that occur is there's still a lack of evidence. I did work in housing for a while as well. We were making recommendations on improving the information that was available in terms of housing needs assessments over a decade ago. I'm pretty sure that a lot of that work hasn't been conducted, for obvious reasons given the level of cuts that have been to planning services in particular. So, I think having that data available on a regional and a local basis might make a substantial improvement to planning in Wales.
And a slightly different question: are there any areas where Ministers should not mandate collaboration? Or is it a fair feast, fair game, across all areas?
Have they mandated collaboration? I seem to remember taking evidence during the Williams commission, and we were pretty clear that there were 925 public bodies in Wales, as I remember: two for every supermarket. Nobody could tell me how many partnerships there were. Obviously, there is collaboration. Leaders and certainly chief executives from local government at the time were complaining that they were going to partnership meetings from Monday to Thursday, then doing their day job on a Friday.
There's been an awful lot of collaboration in Wales. I would hesitate to put a number on it, but I would say, rather than thinking about mandating collaboration, it's better to make it clearer and perhaps reduce the amount of collaboration, but make sure, where that happens, that it's more uniform, that it adds value, and also it doesn't create confusion for the citizen.
Because I think people do understand which local authority they live in. And if they're seeing lots of regional collaboration on certain services—certainly, we've seen this in the past as well—they might have a complaint and might be residing in Merthyr and the partnership's being run from Caerphilly. And in terms of accountability for that local elector and service user, they find that that partnership's confusing. So, it's not so much about mandate, I think it's got to be about clarity, and clarity for the citizen as well as the service deliverer.
Great. Thank you. We move on now to some questions on dealing with and deciding on planning applications. Jenny Rathbone, question five.
The auditor general's report concluded that the reduction in funding and the complexity of the planning system has resulted in local authorities taking longer to make decisions about planning applications. What's your view as to whether the applying, managing and assessing of planning applications is too complicated?
I think that there's a sense of complexity. I don't doubt, either, the fact that 50 per cent cuts over the past 10 years have had an impact on the service. I don't think that's the only impact. I think there's been market competition as well. There's a lot of evidence out there that there have been more private sector opportunities for planners in terms of recruitment of good-quality staff. I think that's been an issue for a number of those authorities as well.
In terms of the complaints that we receive, dealing with planning applications, or the way in which they're dealt with, accounted for 60 per cent of our planning casework last year. That's up from 45 per cent in previous years. So, as I say, our data here is not huge, but from what evidence we do have, it would support that view.
So, do you think that the complaints you're getting about the way in which planning decisions are being handled is down to the shrinking of the number of people on the ground who are handling the day-to-day paperwork associated with those things?
I think it could be described as a cinderella service, in the sense that it has lost a huge amount of resource for a number of issues. From the complaints that we've received this last year, as I say, when it comes to the handling of applications, it is up to 60 per cent now in terms of the overall number of planning complaints. Within that, we're talking about: a failure to notify; a delay in handling; I also hear anecdotally as well that there have been some very creative ways in which the clock is stopped at various points in the process—I'm sure some of this goes back to trying to cope with less resource, trying to cope; and then other assertions, certainly in terms of the complaints that we receive, of objections not been taken into account properly. So, again, these would tend to be, in their nature, suggestive of a service that is stretched.
Okay, you say they're trying to cope, what are the things they could be doing to address these weaknesses that they don't appear to be doing? So, for example: paying people more in this department so that fewer of them are being lost to the private sector; increasing their charges so that the applicant has to pay the cost of processing their claim; or joining up with adjacent authorities to pool resources.
It's not really for me to say. That's a policy choice, isn't it? I'm here to deal with maladministration, rather than criticise policy. But if I were in that position, in terms of local leadership, if you're up against the ropes, your financial resource is being drained, isn't leadership about making the most of the resources at your disposal? I think that then begs the question, 'How can we have meaningful collaboration that can reduce back-office costs without affecting front-line services in a detrimental way?' So, 10 years into austerity, I would try to look, personally, at trying to do as much as you can with neighbouring authorities, rather than increasing the cost for local taxpayers.
So, beyond changing policies, what do you think the Welsh Government could do to improve the performance of planning authorities?
There are a number of things that can be done. As I alluded to earlier, good intelligence and evidence should not be expensive if you think of that as a resource across Wales, particularly given the number of appeals that we hear about and the fact that, certainly on the housing side, those are increasing. So, I think a modest but meaningful investment in greater data would actually pay off and lead to savings in other parts.
I also have to say, I think the proposals to have a separate, wholly independent, planning inspectorate for Wales is something that I would very much welcome, because we are going to see more divergence in terms of planning between England and Wales. I think Wales is the only jurisdiction without its own planning inspectorate. We have had dealings, not very often, but some dealings with the Planning Inspectorate and, obviously, there is this confusion between appeal and review of process. So, I think having a wholly autonomous Welsh body there, which I think the Minister responsible has indicated she's going to make progress with, would be a very welcome development.
Okay, that's good. Most of the casework examples you cite in your submission seem to be around enforcement, or lack of enforcement, although some of them are about failure to tell interested parties about modifications in a planning application that materially affect them. So, how much dissatisfaction is created by the quality of planning advice that is provided to citizens, and how much on other matters?
I don't think that we've got enough data currently, because we're only seeing the top of the iceberg, but I would hope that, certainly by next year, we'd be able to give a much more informed answer there. Because if we do receive the data, which we now have the statutory powers to seek from all 22 local authorities, we'll be able to receive that from the 22 and really compare much bigger data sets in terms of planning, and I hope that will be of assistance to the committee.
Okay. Some voices are concerned about delays holding back desirable investment, given the time it takes from the beginning of a major application, including infrastructure projects, to actually a decision being made, and that it can take years rather than months. What do you think is needed, if anything, to improve the efficiency of decision making on major applications, given that it's perfectly appropriate that everybody trawls all over a major application?
Yes, it is, but going back to the issue of 50 per cent cuts over the last decade, clearly there has to be—. However much collaboration there is locally, I think there is a case to be made for an increase in investment in planning services. I think I've alluded to the fact that we need better data. So, certainly in terms of major projects, housing projects, there's still a lack of evidence there in terms of housing need. I think it was in 2008 that we saw the publication of the Essex review on housing, which made a number of recommendations there in terms of improving access to reliable housing data for local housing authorities.
I think proportionality is an issue here as well. Again, this is anecdotal, but there are stories of—was it Amazon? The Amazon application went to the planning committee and in minutes, hours, it was done; subsequently, within the same planning authority, somebody was trying to get an extension and there was a site visit with 15 councillors on a bus. I don't think that feels proportionate to the citizen.
Planning can be a confusing game. I say this personally. Years before I was ombudsman, by the way, I got an extension done to my house and I was very surprised: 'No need for any planning permission for your extension, but we will be insisting upon you getting planning permission for the path that you're building.' It is bizarre that you can create a structure with no planning permission, but a tiny path next to it has to receive planning permission. I still don't understand that. I went along with it at the time, for obvious reasons, it was very convenient to me personally, but I think these issues tend to create more confusion for the citizen as well, don't they?
Okay. Well, I think we can certainly agree with that. Just moving on to the quality of decision making by planning committees, from the appeals that you do, how effective do you think planning committees are in terms of having the skills and expertise to set planning policy and then apply that to making decisions about major planning applications?
Well, first of all, obviously, we don't do appeals, we're dealing with reviews. We cannot enter into the business of second-guessing properly made professional decisions. We can only look at mistakes around the process itself. I think there is clear variance there. I think there was another report out last week, which certainly got a lot of coverage on BBC Cymru, where I think it was Ceredigion that accounted for the highest number of planning appeals anywhere in the whole of Wales.
I think there is a variance in performance. But I think we've got to be careful—you're looking at reform as well, moving forward. It has been described to me as a curate's egg. There is expertise out there as well in terms of officer and member capability and there has been a substantial amount of training of members in certain parts as well. But I think, looking at the data and perhaps looking at the system in its entirety, it is possible to see, 'Why are there some strange data, particularly on the fringes here?', which would suggest that there's some dysfunction in the system and where improvement can be targeted.
Okay. You make reference to where breaches of conduct could have occurred, both by elected members but also officers. Obviously temptation can be put in front of people if there's somebody with very deep pockets who wants to influence the outcomes. Is there anything you want to add to that? You obviously refer anything you hear of concern to an adjudication panel, but is there any concern in your mind that the planning process, whilst under-resourced, may also be open to corruption?
Well, there is the potential—certainly there's a potential for corrupting the planning system. I've got powers—it sounds very grand by 'powers'—in terms of the code of conduct, but my office does have powers to maintain the code of conduct for local government members rather than local government officers. That is a reactive power. We can't go out there seeking complaints, but where they come to the office, we assess them and we assess them against a public interest test so that, clearly, if there has been any issue of corruption—
What sort of public interest test?
It would be issues like bullying, using public office for private gain, corruption—other significant issues—whereas in the past, we've had a number of vexatious lower level complaints. We received I think, this year, probably 300 complaints on the code. A number of those, of course, were from community and town councils, not just the 22 local authorities. But I'm pleased to say, from those that we receive and assess, it's a very low number—a very, very low number—that we refer, either to the adjudication panel, as you say, or to a local authority standards committee. So, I actually think, without wishing to be complacent, because we would always look at any issues, and given the powers that the auditor general has as well, we would always look to share information where appropriate, when we're looking at perhaps some similar bodies. But I'm pleased to say, currently, from what we're receiving, issues of corruption or financial gain in the planning system have been very few and far between. Apart from that one that's in our paper, I would struggle to think of any others over recent years.
Okay, well, that's important to put on the record, so we're not setting hares running. You've already mentioned the Amazon planning application that was whizzed through while somebody else's garage extension took forever. How do you think we could improve the appropriate weight that planning committees are giving to substantive or marginal issues?
Well, I think that's an issue of culture, of confidence. I think that training and clarity would be other issues that are relevant and I think, as well, if one was to go down—and again, I've declared my interest in terms of the Williams commission, but if one was to take away the strategic aspects of planning and deliver that on a regional basis, would that not create a bit of freedom and resource for more emphasis on local planning decisions and the development of that service locally? So, I think there's more that can be done there.
Now, linked to that is the proportion of officer recommendations that are overturned by planning committees. Some people would argue that that was the political process—that they're representing the citizens who have elected them, and officers may have misinterpreted what the local community wants. What do you think ought to be done to address this, because this is not a—? You mentioned Ceredigion as having far more than every other local authority. Well, that sounds like there might be a particular issue there. But in general, surely, elected representatives ought to be able to overturn an officer decision, if they think that's not what the community wants or needs.
Well I think—. We live in a democracy, and, as I say, the curate's egg—there are benefits to this system. If you don't want elected members overturning officers' decisions, well quango-ise the whole thing. If it's going to have a democratic aspect, then, inevitably, locally elected members will respond. I think the issue is why are they responding in that way. Looking at that data, looking at those issues, I think I've alluded to earlier that fortunately, from what we're seeing on the code of conduct side, corruption would not appear to be an issue there, but anecdotally, do we have other issues that would create or justify some concern? So, an aspect perhaps of prejudgment, on occasion, committees deciding one way or another, and more or less instructing officers to go and find the evidence to justify their decision. I think that type of behaviour would be of concern. I think it's about a third of appeals that are overturned. I don't know what the magic number is, but one would assume that—it's got to be under 50 per cent to maintain confidence in the system, and more than 5 or 10 per cent to assure everybody that it's not a North Korean system in that sense. It should be a democratic system, there should be a certain overturn rate for it to be meaningful, I think. But where exactly that lies, I'm not sure, and certainly that should not mean that local members are ignoring proper evidence. And we need to make sure that it's an evidence-rich environment that justifies proper decision making. And I think, as part of that evidence Wales wide, looking at that data where there might be certain outliers and perhaps some local issues of dysfunction, should be of use.
But equally, populist pressure could lead to members of planning committees simply not delivering on their duties. For example, one that comes to mind is the number of local authorities that still haven't provided a Gypsy and Traveller site—12 I think it is—which is an obligation under the planning Act. So, is that something that possibly needs addressing, if local authorities are simply not taking difficult but necessary decisions?
I think, first of all, there is an argument for having certain strategic functions at a more geographically detached area, because I think it makes that kind of populist pressure harder. I've alluded earlier to the issue of data, and I think it's important, not just when it relates to specific statutory duties, but issues of local need. If there is evidence of need, then that should be put to the committee and a decision should be made. What I hear—again, this is anecdotal, and I'm sure it's in a minority of authorities. But where we have behaviours, for whatever reason—it might be populist, or other reasons as well—where the decision is made first and the evidence is assembled later, I think that would be of concern.
Okay. Thank you.
Thanks, Jenny. Vikki.
Thank you, Chair. So, Mr Bennett, as you alluded to in your last answer to Jenny Rathbone, it is just over a third of planning appeals that are dismissed and the local authority's decision overturned. Do you have any concerns there that, given the reduction in resources that we've seen in the last decade, those lost appeals can reduce capacity in the system still further?
Yes. As I alluded to earlier, 50 per cent cuts have had a real impact. I think there's still scope for some innovation and meaningful collaboration to improve the service, but I think there is a clear case for more investment. The type of enforcement issues that we receive complaints about, you know, unauthorised development would make up 11 per cent of planning cases received during the last financial year; 4 per cent were about planning control. So, we do find that the failure to take timely and appropriate actions is a real issue for citizens in Wales and, again, I think there does come a point where perhaps actual capacity of planning authorities is the issue there.
Would that be the main concern that you have from your casework on how local planning authorities manage and deal with appeals? Or are there any others that we should know about?
Well, as I said earlier, the issue for us is that 9 per cent of all the complaints that we receive about public services in Wales are about planning. The number that we can actually investigate is much lower, for a number of reasons, but, often they are outside of our jurisdiction, because people are seeking an appeal, whereas all we can do is review. We're not there to overturn the decision. And even if there's been substantial maladministration we can't overturn the decision. We can seek remedy for the complainant, but even then there has to be a personal injustice to the complainant.
So, the numbers that we're receiving are still relatively small, maybe 200 a year, but to us that is the tip of the iceberg for those complainants who are unhappy about their planning process and insist upon coming to us. What I'm really interested in is scoping out this year, with the new powers that we have on complaints standards, is perhaps the hundreds or thousands of complaints below that, which stop at the local authority level. So, I think once we get that data, hopefully in a year's time we'll be able to give you a more intelligent answer than I can give you this year.
Okay. And what are your views on the big developers and how they fit in with the system? Do you think they're able to game the planning system perhaps and use the resources that they have to challenge and overturn decisions at appeal?
Well, I'm sure large organisations with resources do have, within their right, the right to invest in resources to lobby. But influencing and gaming are two different things. I wouldn't like to make assertions without any evidence in terms of gaming. But where we come across that, and if we have enough data that it's meaningful, then we would certainly be very happy to share it with you and the rest of the committee.
Thank you. And my final set of questions are around enforcement, because the auditor general's report highlighted that the time taken to carry out enforcement investigations has remained static, the range of performance across Wales is described there as widely variable, and positive action following investigation is poor. So, I've got a number of questions around that. Firstly, I'm wondering how often you receive complaints about planning enforcement work.
Well, we do receive complaints about enforcement. I described planning earlier as a cinderella service. I think enforcement is the cinderella service within the cinderella service, if that makes any sense. And of the complaints that we receive: unauthorised developments would be accounting for 11 per cent of all of our planning cases; building control, a further 4 per cent during the last year. It's anecdotal because of the relatively small number of numbers that we receive. But, enforcement does seem to depend upon the amount of resource available. I do think though that it's worth pointing out—. You asked me earlier about other things that Welsh Government could do. Currently, their development management manual does present enforcement as the last resort. So, I think there might be issues there, because they are currently encouraging local planning authorities to work with developers rather than to enforce.
And have you identified any areas of policy or guidance or regulations that local planning authorities are not following?
Well, again, if that was to do with process, then that's maladministration and that is very much within our purview. So, we do, and we've published some public interest reports recently on enforcement and other related issues. I think I've done one this year, affecting Flintshire council, on specific issues of enforcement there, and I think that is part of the broader issue of maladministration of where it's about my office rather than the Planning Inspectorate. But I am very pleased that it looks like we're going to have an autonomous planning inspectorate for Wales. I think, again, that would improve stakeholder joint working and understanding.
Okay. And enforcement work has got potentially very high citizen and community impact and benefits, so, to your mind, why are local planning authorities not prioritising enforcement work?
As I said, it goes back to resource, and it's the cinderella of cinderellas in terms of planning cinderellas. How long can use that cinderella phrase for? But it's certainly an area that has been starved of resource, and I was trying to make the case earlier that perhaps one of the things that could be done while resource is static is to have a more uniform set of collaborations for more strategic planning related functions across Wales, but then to release some more resource for local planning services, including enforcement.
And should those powers be compulsory, do you think, then, rather than discretionary as they currently are?
I think a bigger issue is resource, and I think additional duties or powers are, I'm sure, desirable, but without the resource and with a 50 per cent cut over 10 years, I think they could be quite meaningless.
Thank you, Vikki. Okay, the next question is from Delyth Jewell.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Prynhawn da. Mae gen i rai cwestiynau ynglŷn â sut mae'r cyhoedd yn gallu ymdrin ag awdurdodau cynllunio. Mae'r system gynllunio yn hynod gymhleth, ac mae hynna'n cael effaith amlwg ar sut mae'r cyhoedd yn gallu ymdrin ag ef. Pa mor effeithiol ydych chi'n meddwl mae'r awdurdodau cynllunio o ran sut maen nhw'n cyfathrebu gyda'r cyhoedd, a sut maen nhw'n galluogi'r cyhoedd i gael mewnbwn i'w gwaith nhw?
Thank you, Chair. Good afternoon. I have some questions regarding how the public can engage with public authorities. The planning system is extremely intricate, and that does have an obvious impact on how the public can engage with it. So, how effective do you believe planning authorities are in terms of how they communicate with the public and how they enable the public to have an input into their work?
Fel dwi'n dweud, mae'n anodd i fi ddweud yn sicr oherwydd y diffyg data sydd gyda ni, ond dim ond tua 5 y cant o'r cwynion rydyn ni'n cael sy'n ymwneud â chyfathrebu. Rydyn ni'n gobeithio cael mwy o ddata eleni pan rydyn ni'n cael yr awdurdod safonau cwynion, ond yn sicr, mae yna fwy i'w wneud yn y maes yma, ac wrth gwrs mae'r ffaith bod yna discretion yna ar gael ar gyfer llywodraeth leol yn golygu eich bod chi'n mynd i gael perfformiad gwahanol iawn ledled Cymru, buaswn i'n dweud.
As I said, it's difficult for me to say definitively because of the lack of data that we have, but only about 5 per cent of the complaints that we have relate to communication. We hope to have more data this year when we have the complaints standards authority, but certainly, we believe that there is more to do in this area, and of course the fact that there is discretion available for local government depending on—well, that means you can have a very different performance across Wales, I would say.
Diolch am hynna. Mae fel mae'r awdurdodau cynllunio i fod i gyfathrebu neu—dwi byth yn siŵr beth yd 'engage' yn Gymraeg, ond engage-io gyda'r cyhoedd—mae hynna'n cael ei osod mas mewn canllawiau gan Lywodraeth Cymru, ac ar y cyfan, mae hynna yn ymwneud â ffyrdd traddodiadol iawn o gyfathrebu, fel letter drops, fel rhoi nodyn yn y wasg leol, a phethau fel yna. Oes gennych chi farn ynglŷn â beth gall Llywodraeth Cymru ei wneud i wella fel mae'r awdurdodau cynllunio yn cyfathrebu â'r cyhoedd? O ran y dystiolaeth rydych chi'n ei chael o'r cwynion rydych chi'n eu gweld.
Thank you for that. The way that planning authorities are supposed to communicate or engage with the public is set out in guidance from the Welsh Government, and on the whole, that is mostly based on very traditional means of communication, such as letter drops, or putting a note in the press and so forth. So, do you have a view as to what the Welsh Government can do to improve how planning authorities engage or communicate with the public? That's in terms of the evidence that you receive from the complaints that you see.
Buaswn i'n licio gweld y dystiolaeth rydyn ni'n ei chael trwy'r awdurdod cwynion cyn mynd yn rhy fanwl, ond dwi'n siŵr bod yna gyfle fan hyn i gael gwell ymrwymiad rhwng y dinesydd a'r gyfundrefn. Dwi ddim yn meddwl bod neb yn ddigon dewr i ddweud eu bod nhw'n deall y system gynllunio go iawn. Buaswn i'n meddwl ei bod yn bosibl hefyd i arloesi. Beth am gael pilots? Dylem ni efallai ystyried—wel, gyda'r data, gyda'r adroddiad, beth y gallem ni ei wneud lle mae'r data yn edrych, lle mae yna bryder oherwydd beth sy'n digwydd mewn un awdurdod. Beth am gael peilot a dechrau pethau newydd? Trio nhw allan am flwyddyn neu ddwy, ac arloesi, a gweld os ydy hynny'n gallu bwydo nôl i mewn i'r system. So, buasai rhyw fath o ymchwil trwy weithredu dros y cyfnod byr yn gallu cael gwersi ehangach, a dwi'n meddwl bod hwnna'n well sail na jest tybio oherwydd y ffigurau rydyn ni'n eu gweld ar hyn o bryd. So, dwi'n meddwl bod yna sgôp i wneud pethau newydd, pan mae'n dod i sicrhau gwelliant yn y dyfodol.
I'd like to see the evidence that we have through the complaints authority before going into too much detail, but there is an opportunity here to have better commitment, or better engagement between the citizen and the regime. No-one's brave enough to say that they understand the planning system fully. I would think it would be possible to innovate as well. Why don't we have a pilot scheme? Maybe we should consider, with the data and the report, what we could do where there is concern because of what's happening within an authority. How about having a pilot and starting things anew, and trying them out for a year or two? Innovate, and see whether that can feed back into the system. So, some kind of research through action over the short term could lead to broader lessons, and I think that's a better basis than just making assumptions because of the figures that we're seeing at present. So, I think there is scope to do new things when it comes to ensuring better engagement in the future.
Grêt, diolch. A'r cwestiwn olaf sydd gen, a dwi'n cymryd yn llawn beth rydych chi'n ei ddweud, o ran bydd angen i chi weld y data cyn mynd i mewn i fanylder ar hyn, ond mae rhai pobl wedi awgrymu efallai dylai awdurdodau cynllunio fod yn defnyddio mwy o gyfryngau cymdeithasol i ymdrin gyda'r cyhoedd. O ran eich gwaith ehangach chi, oes yna unrhyw wersi rydych chi'n meddwl dylen nhw fod yn eu dysgu oddi wrthyn nhw, o ran sut mae cyfathrebu drwy'r cyfryngau cymdeithasol yn gallu ehangu—? Ond oes yna unrhyw wersi hefyd y dylai pobl—? Nid dim ond yn y maes cynllunio, ond yn gyffredinol, oes yna unrhyw wersi y dylem ni fod yn edrych arnynt?
Great, thank you. And the final question from me, taking on board fully what you've said, in that you'll need to see the data before going into detail on this, but some people have suggested that perhaps planning authorities should be using more social media to engage with the public. Now, in terms of your broader work, are there any lessons that you think that they could be learning from, with regard to how communication through social media can widen—? But also, what general lessons are there? Not just talking about planning now, but are there any lessons we should be taking?
Wel, buasai'n rhaid imi fod yn ofalus iawn yn y fan yna oherwydd dwi'n meddwl ei bod hi'n deg dweud fy mod i'n cael mwy o gwynion y dyddiau yma oherwydd y gwaith ehangach rydyn ni'n ei wneud ar y cod, am y ffordd y mae rhai cynghorwyr yn defnyddio cyfryngau cymdeithasol. Ond, ar ôl dweud hynny, mae o o'n cwmpas ni i gyd—mae pawb erbyn hyn yn ei ddefnyddio fo mewn rhyw ffordd neu'i gilydd. Ac eto, buaswn i'n meddwl y buasai peilot efallai yn rhywbeth y buasai rhai cynghorau eisiau ei wneud. Pam lai?
Well, I'd have had to be very careful there because I think it's fair to say that I do have more complaints these days because of the broader work that we do on the code, in terms of the way in which some councillors use social media. But, having said that, it's all around us, isn't it? Everyone is using this in some way or another. Again, I would think that a pilot would be something that some councils would want to undertake. Why not?
Great. Any further questions from anyone? No. Well, can I thank you, Nick Bennett, the public services ombudsman? You've been very succinct, and as a result, we've finished some time before schedule. So, we'll have a longer break now.
I'm afraid I was succinct because my knowledge in this area is not expansive. But, as I say, I can only really give you evidence based upon our casework. But we are in a transitionary period, given the new powers that we're receiving, and I think, in years to come, certainly the complaints standards work will give a greater flavour of what's really going on in local government services.
Succinct is good. You're being modest. We like succinct, as long as we've got the information there. So, we'll send you a copy of that today, so you can check for accuracy before it's published.
Okay. Thank you. And if there's any other issues that we didn't cover, any other data—[Inaudible.]—the office will happily provide it.
Okay. Thank you. We'll take a break now until 2.20 p.m.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 13:47 ac 14:19.
The meeting adjourned between 13:47 and 14:19.
Welcome back, everyone. I welcome our second set of witnesses today. Thanks for being with us to help us out with our inquiry into local planning authorities. Would you like to give your name and position for the Record?
I'm Sophie Howe, and I'm the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.
I'm Marie Brousseau-Navarro. I'm director of policy, legislation and innovation.
Okay. Thanks for being with us, as I said. We've got a number of questions for you, and I'll kick off with the first few. Can you please describe what the role of the future generations commissioner is in respect of local planning authorities?
Well, my role as set out in statute is to be the guardian of the interests of future generations. You're all aware of what the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 covers, which is pretty much all policy areas in Wales through the seven national well-being goals. In terms of my role specifically on planning, we have identified that planning, or placemaking, I think, as we prefer to call it, is a policy area that if we get it right is likely to drive the biggest—or one of the biggest—contributions across each of the seven national well-being goals, and, therefore, in terms of areas of work that I've focused on, planning or placemaking has been one of those areas.
So, to date, that work has really been focused at a strategic policy level. So, working with the Government around the reform of 'Planning Policy Wales', working with them regarding the national development framework, and we're currently in the middle of a piece of work in which we are engaging with a range of different stakeholders to try to develop a suite of resources—the same model as we developed in terms of guidance for other aspects of the legislation around journeys too. So, the steps that you would take to get us towards a more sustainable planning and placemaking system in Wales.
And what support and information are you providing to help local planning authorities?
So, initially, as I said, the work that we've done has been at a strategic level. So, we've been heavily engaged with aligning the well-being of future generations Act with the new version of 'Planning Policy Wales', so PPW10. We're pleased that that now sets a good strategic context around planning and placemaking. We're pleased that it embeds both what we should be doing in terms of reaching the national well-being goals and the five ways of working within the legislation.
But, hopefully, Members will have seen the briefing note that I sent in, which does outline the fact that one of the challenges is that 'Planning Policy Wales' is just one element of quite a complex system. Beneath that, we then have the national development framework, we have local development plan manuals, we have a whole range of technical guidance and so on. And so, recasting the whole planning system, which is complex, much of which is, perhaps, not fully implementing the future generations Act as well as it could be, and, perhaps, in some circumstances, at odds with the future generations Act—that is going to take quite a lot of time because we currently have planning authorities in a position where the high-level policy is right, but perhaps the rest of the system is not necessarily fitting with that.
Good. And the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 gives Welsh Ministers a power to mandate collaboration, merge local planning authorities, and/or require the production of joint local plans. Should local planning authorities be merged to improve their performance and impact? A question we return to time after time.
I think that merging local planning authorities would make a lot of sense. I think the challenge that you have is that we already have a very complex landscape in terms of regional arrangements. So, we've got public services boards, which operate on a local authority area; we've got regional partnership boards, which operate on a regional area; we've got the new proposed committees in the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill, which will operate on a regional area as well, with different functions coming in there.
So, whilst in theory I think that the merging of local planning authorities would make sense in terms of the ability for them to share resources, to have a wider area of expertise—if you had, for example, local planning authorities merged in one area that was an urban area and one area that was an urban area, you could see how the expertise developed in those two planning authorities would complement each other and could be shared across. But if you were to do that, it would have to not just be another merger done in isolation. It would have to take account of the broader context of really complicated governance arrangements across Wales for our public services.
Do you think that—? In terms of that information that you're providing to local planning authorities and that support, are they happy with the level of that support? Do they feel that they're getting from you the sort of information they need?
Well, as I said, the main focus to date has been working with Welsh Government around the reform of 'Planning Policy Wales', and now the national development framework. So, we've not engaged directly with local planning authorities on that, but the next phase of work, which we're in the middle of at the moment, is some more technical support and guidance, if you like, to local planning authorities on the development of their local development plans and how they, in practical terms, go about embedding the Act in their planning decisions.
Are there only areas where Ministers should not mandate collaboration? It's a bit of a turning the question on its head, really.
You don't have to answer that, if—. You might think collaboration is right across the board, but it might be that there are some areas where maybe authorities are better at working—.
I like an approach of adopt or justify, so you either adopt collaboration, or you justify why not. So the starting point should be that you start by working together, but if there are good reasons not to do that, then outline to us, to Welsh Government, what those reasons are.
Okay, great. The next question is from Jenny Rathbone.
Hi. Thanks very much for your adapted version of the diagram from the Wales Audit Office report, which I think is very—a picture tells a thousand words. So, from, obviously, your analysis, we've got the planning Act, the well-being of future generations Act in place, and 'Planning Policy Wales', but then, as you say in your statement, the national development framework and the local development plan manual are still not fully aligned with the legislation, so I wondered where it leaves us in terms of local authorities being asked to really adopt so many different changes, and in the context of being obviously much reduced in terms of the numbers, where does that leave us? Is the Welsh Government creating too much churn in the system by lots of circulars and statements that obviously have to be analysed, and then implemented?
I think there's a real challenge for both Ministers and the Government in terms of meeting their aspirations, for example, particularly around issues like decarbonisation and the climate emergency, which can't wait for another five years before we get everything aligned and so on. But you quite rightly point out that this state of churn and flux, where you've not got a whole system which is singing off the same hymn sheet, if you like, is particular—. It would be challenging, even if planning authorities were well resourced, to try and navigate that complex system, but where we've seen, through austerity, a 50 per cent reduction to planning services, that becomes incredibly challenging.
So, I don't really know what the answer to that is, other than—as I've specified in my briefing—to really recognise the value of planning and placemaking, not just in terms of the kind of value that it brings in, or the cash that it brings in to a local authority through planning application fees and so on, but actually, in terms of if we get it right, what it stops, the problems that it prevents later on in life.
So, I think, therefore, what we're talking about is an investment in meeting our national well-being goals, and planning and placemaking should be seen as a key lever in terms of meeting those well-being goals, rather than a kind of, 'Well, we're just chucking more money at it, because it's under-resourced'. And I think where we are at the moment is that it's perhaps seen as a back-office service. It's not necessarily—although I know all of you elected Members will see it very much at varying points throughout your term as very much in the public eye—but often, it's not seen in that way, and it's seen as something that is an area that is easier to cut over and above social services, education and so on, and I understand that, but I actually think it's a false economy. So, other than investing more resources, I think we're in quite a difficult position.
Obviously, there's nothing so costly as a poor development. So, how effective do you think the Welsh Government circulars are at making a link between the Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015 and the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 to help local authorities make decisions in line with both those Acts?
Certainly, what we've seen recently is that the Welsh Government are becoming increasingly proactive in reiterating statements and clarifying positions in terms of a number of the 'Planning Policy Wales' elements and in terms of technical advice notes. So, for example, Neil Hemington has just written to all local planning authorities regarding the nature emergency and specifying that if developments cannot demonstrate that they're enhancing and maintaining biodiversity, then they should be refused. Now, that's promising.
The Minister has recently made a statement where she's talking about residential developments over 10 units having to be, or local planning authorities will have to send details of those to Welsh Government. Presumably, Welsh Government will then determine if it's something that they want to intervene in, or not. So, that seems to me to be proactive. I suppose, on the latter, I would kind of question whether it is for Ministers and Government to be increasing its reach into smaller residential developments. So, we're talking 10 units or more. Is that the role of Government, or is it the role of Government to ensure that local planning authorities are appropriately resourced? And I think, possibly, it's the latter, although I do have some sympathy for the position that the Government is taking at the moment because, as I said, things like ensuring sustainability, ensuring that the developments that are taking place now, which are going to be with us for the next 50 to 100-plus years, are as good as they possibly can be. But I think that it's not a sustainable position for the Government to be continuing to take on that role.
So, in light of that decision, what more could Welsh Government be doing to support the planning system to be more efficient, but also ensuring that it's delivering high-quality and sustainable outcomes?
I think this is a question, really, about resourcing and identifying, as the future generations Act requires, where we need to spend our money in a way that will best deliver long-term outcomes and will prevent problems from occurring. And I included in the briefing a diagram from the World Health Organization, which I think is particularly telling. So, it talks about the things that make the biggest difference to life expectancy, and 29 per cent of that is around living conditions. So, that's your housing conditions, whether you have access to public open space, whether you're living in areas with high air pollution. And another 19 per cent relates to human capital, so, a sense of community cohesion, a sense of agency in the community.
Now, placemaking, I think, is absolutely crucial to all of those areas. So, one of the things that I've been calling for is a redistribution in terms of health funding. So, if you look at this graph, we'll see that the NHS actually only accounts—the healthcare system only accounts for about 10 per cent of what actually makes a difference in terms of life expectancy, and yet, we're spending 50 per cent of our budget on the NHS. Now, we all understand the pressures, not least at the moment—winter pressures and so on—but I think that where the Government is putting new money into health, it should only be able to be spent on prevention and only in partnership with other services. And it could well be, based on this evidence, that there is a good case to be made around some of that preventative spend going into things like better placemaking.
I wouldn't disagree with you, but sticking with the planning system, I just wondered if—. The planning Act contains provisions to designate a strategic planning area covering several local authorities so that it delivers a strategic development plan. What role could they play in actually supporting better decisions that are in line with the future generations Act and a placemaking role?
Well, I think the strategic development plan, obviously done on higher level, if you like, I think would provide opportunities for looking at things at a bigger scale. It would provide opportunities for sharing of expertise and perhaps bringing more capacity into the system through the sharing of that expertise. So, I think that strategic development plans are an important development. I'm not sure that they will solve all of the problems that we've got in terms of resourcing a system that has had 50 per cent cuts to it, but I think that they could be part of the solution. But I think, ultimately, it does come back to the value that we place on placemaking, and it would need leadership, really, to be shifting us towards resourcing, reflecting what the evidence tells us in terms of the value.
Okay, so it's only one tool in the army, not the panacea.
Thank you for that.
I think that's—
I think that's me for now, yes.
—you done. And it's over to Delyth Jewell now—community impact and involvement.
Diolch. Good afternoon. So, planning—it's this interesting, almost paradox, isn't it, because, as you were saying, it offers such a huge potential for future generations if we get it right, but there's this barrier to unlocking that potential with current generations, then, in terms of a lack of engagement, a lack of understanding and the fact that, as has even been made clear in what you've been pointing out in this evidence session already, it's so multilayered and complicated that it's really difficult, sometimes, for the public to engage. The auditor general's report has made that clear. How effective do you think that local planning authorities are at engaging with the public and giving them opportunities to have an input into planning decisions the whole way through the process, whether at the beginning or if and when things go wrong?
Well, if the correspondence and the contacts from members of the public that I receive—and I'm sure that many of you receive—are anything to go by, then probably not very good; people don't feel that they're adequately engaged in the planning system. However, I don't think we can place the whole blame for that on the system, because we probably would all accept that unless—. When you're at a local development plan consultation phase, the people who get engaged tend to be people, organisations or community groups where there's a particular green belt that might be at risk or a particular threat to a particular piece of land or community and so on. Most people are not engaged at that stage.
Now, that's not to say that local planning authorities couldn't be more innovative in terms of how they go about doing that. So, one of the good examples that I've seen: the Brecon Beacons National Park worked with some local schools using Minecraft as a way of asking, 'How would you build and create your community?' So, I think there are definitely more innovative ways that we can engage.
But that's really difficult when they've got a lack of resources to do that anyway. So, I think it's all coming back to resources. Definitely, they could be better at it. If they were better at it, then there would probably be long-term cost savings there, because people would be more satisfied, you would be getting ideas from local communities and populations, where they could probably find some much better solutions because they know the area so well and so on. So, I think there are issues there.
Certainly, the Royal Town Planning Institute, in some of their reports, have identified that some of the cuts have perhaps led to a bias in favour of developers, because the planning system is just trying to churn applications through as quickly as possible, and they're suggesting that that might lead to this favouring of developers. Of course, there's the other thing to recognise, which is that the developers are very well resourced, and community groups are often not well resourced at all. I think there is a real problem there, because, often, you get those who shout loudest or those who are perhaps from the more affluent areas who perhaps have lawyers, town planners and engineers and so on in the community groups who are opposing or expressing views on particular things perhaps being much more well placed than other areas that don't have the benefit of having that type of professional expertise in their community.
So, any reform—first of all, again, I'm sorry, it comes back to resources. Secondly, I think it comes back to finding some innovative ways of doing things. I think the pre-application process is a process that could be used much more effectively, and I also think that the challenge for people in engaging with the system is that they don't really understand, often, where planning stops and starts. So, it would make sense, I think, to an ordinary member of the public to think if there's going to be a new hospital built, that, actually, there would have been some wider engagement between planning and health and so on to strategically plan where the best place for that might be, rather than just the health board approaching the planning department with a planning application, and the planning department's responsibility is to assess that planning application.
There are a whole myriad of things, environmental permitting is another example, where people don't understand where the planning system starts and what might have happened before. So, I think one of the things, potentially, is trying to find, within the system, a way of bringing those things together in a much clearer way. But again, back to Jenny's point, that's not going to happen quickly. So, we have got this real dilemma between the need for urgency in some areas versus the need for whole-system reform, which is going to take time.
Yes, that's really interesting. A number of people who have given evidence to us on this point have said that there could be more—again, subject to resource—of a role to play for local planning authorities to celebrate success and positive stories, so that local communities don't just hear about it when things are controversial. Again, I know that that would be quite a big culture shift and, again, at a time of pressed budgets it may be more difficult to resource. But in principle, is that something that you would agree with?
Absolutely, and it's something that, in the journeys, which is the guidance that we're developing for local planning authorities, we very much—in line with the other journeys that we've developed—try to pull out inspirational things that are happening. So, these are simple things that you can do—
Inspirational things that are positive.
Inspirational things, yes; that's what we want them to be—to try and connect that good practice. But I think there's also something about the fact that, for the planning system, nobody is really monitoring the outcomes from it. So, planning applications are passed but it's very difficult to get a sense of direction. So, we've passed a planning application; does that actually mean that those houses have been built? Can anyone tell us, across Wales, whether we actually know how many houses have been built or how many whatever has been built versus how many have actually been given planning permission? And who is doing the assessment of the lessons learned? So, when we gave that development planning permission and we said that it would do these things, did it actually do those things or not?
I think we can all look back now, communities that you all represent, I am sure you will have them, where you think, 'Who on earth thought it was a good idea to put that there, to build that in that particular way?' But we're only finding that out when the problems emerge, rather than being proactive and going back in at a three year, five year or whatever point to actually look for some evidence-based evaluation and lessons learned to feed into the rest of the system.
That's really useful, thank you. With the not quite day-to-day but the general engagement that local planning authorities should have with the public—it's not mandated, it's set out in Welsh Government guidance—a lot of that relies on quite traditional modes of communication like putting notices in the local press and doing letter drops and things like that. Are there ways in which you think the Welsh Government could improve or help local planning authorities to improve how they engage with the public, in other ways that are possibly more likely to get more engagement?
Well, it does seem particularly outdated, publishing things in the press. Although, identifying perhaps a positive knock-on consequence to that, that might actually be supporting local newspapers, or indeed some national newspapers, to continue and to promote good journalism and so on. So, there are some unintended consequences you just want to be careful of there.
But certainly, on the use of social media and the use of different methods of design and illustration of potential planning applications, I think there should be more of an onus on the developers to demonstrate that, and indeed there should be more of an onus on developers to demonstrate how they are applying the future generations Act and complying with policies and so on.
So, I think there are definitely different ways to do it. They could look, for example, to the Assembly in some of the outreach, engagement, use of social media, use of webcasting—there are good examples out there. But I just think, when the system is so under pressure, it's probably something that is falling to the bottom of the to-do list; whereas again, actually, if we got it right it might actually save some problems further down the line.
And, like you said earlier, it might be innovative as opposed to being—I don't quite mean tick-box, but rather than just something that has to be done, it could be something that could actually make the whole system a lot more positive.
Finally from me, and coming back to what you alluded to a little earlier about the well-being of future generations Act, some of the evidence that we've had from local planning authorities has suggested, in their own words, that the expectations of involvement that are set out in the Act can be onerous and, some of them have said, impossible to deliver. So, what do you think they could be doing to improve their approach to involvement?
I understand what they're saying. I think the future generations Act is really setting out—. It's aspirational, and I think it's right that we should have a vision that is aspirational. I think they find it particularly challenging because of the resource implications. I think there's also a cultural issue there. When the things that you're measured on are: have you complied with this particular process to advertise this in the local newspaper, to send out this number of letters to residents who might be affected, and so on—those are the things that you're going to do.
So, I actually think that perhaps some guidance around some innovative techniques—and again you've got to be careful of this with unintended consequences—with a lessening of the very specific 'publish this in this way, deliver that in that way' type approach might actually free up some innovation.
But you've then also got to give the space and time, training, support and capacity building for those who are in the profession who have been used to doing it in a particular way and are now being asked to do it in a way that isn't just 'tick in box' in terms of outputs, but is actually saying, 'So, is the outcome to this that people feel engaged in this process and genuinely involved?' That should be what we're striving for, rather than that you've published things in a particular way.
Okay. I'm not sure what that noise is; it's obviously the weather outside. Gareth Bennett.
Thanks, Chair. Sophie's mentioned placemaking a couple of times, and that seems to be a very important idea. 'Planning Policy Wales' introduces the concept of place plans, which is trying to go towards this idea of placemaking, but it's being done at a very local level. The auditor general has found that, to date, there has been little progress in developing these place plans. Do you think that they are a useful tool to improve engagement and involvement at a community level? And why do you think there has been limited progress in developing them?
Yes, I do think that they are a useful tool and, back to Delyth's point in a way, place plans are a way of engaging people with issues on their doorstep. I think we can probably all accept that that is the way that you're most likely to get people engaged: it's when they can see or feel it or when it's going to immediately affect them.
I don't think that they've been used sufficiently. I'm sorry to keep coming back to resources, but I think that that genuinely is the main reason why they're not being encouraged. People probably have no idea that they have the ability to ask and request these place plans be made, and I imagine that local planning authorities are not particularly promoting that, because that would be a burden that they would see that they then had to meet. So, I imagine that that's the reason why.
Whilst I think they're a really good idea, I think even if you had the resources to do them at a local level and engage people in that way, there's still got to then be some funnelling up. So, how would a multitude of local place plans fit within the aspirations for that town, city, local authority area or whatever it might be? That is likely to create a whole other layer of challenges that the planning system would have to overcome. I don't think it's impossible, but I do think it's very, very difficult within the current climate.
I take on board the resources issue, which you've mentioned a few times, but because of the complexity of the planning system, it would seem to be difficult to align local place plans in with the wider local development plan in any event, regardless of resources. It seems a difficult thing. It sounds a good idea, but I don't know how, practically, it could be achieved, even if we had the resources.
I've got a lot of sympathy for what you're saying. I think it is difficult, but I don't think that it's impossible. If we had the right system in place and the right timing, I guess, of local plans feeding up into local well-being plans and local development plans, and those views being taken into account in how those are formed and then them coming back down in that way—. At the moment, what we've got is a hotchpotch, if you like, of local plans being developed in an ad hoc way in various places, and not in a coherent way that is going to be feeding into the LDPs.
And different timescales.
And different timescales, exactly. So, therein, I think it is very difficult to align it, but I think if there was a timeline in place, where local authority x or indeed a culmination of planning authorities are going to be developing an LDP or a strategic development plan at this point, working back from that, what would they need to do in terms of looking at local plans, and what would the timescales be for them to feed in in a coherent way?
Yes, timescales are important. Although, I guess starting off a system like that is going to be difficult, because some councils are going to have to stop what they're doing. It would be a bit of a nightmare. But they are doing things differently in England, because in England the place plans are part of the wider local plan framework, and they've got neighbourhood plans. So, I don't know what you think about how well they've operated and if that could be a way forward in Wales.
We haven't specifically looked at the English model, but I think that's something certainly that we could take away and have a look at. From what you describe there, it would sound like a sensible approach to me, but I'd want to reserve judgment a bit until we've looked at it in more detail.
Okay, fair enough. As part of the Planning (Wales) Act 2015, the Welsh Government made it compulsory for developers to consult with local communities before applying for major developments. But we have heard local planning authorities say that this is a laudable policy, but it's largely undeliverable. Is this new requirement improving the quality and relevance of new developments?
Again, not if the evidence that comes through to me is to be believed. Although, again, I would caveat that—I suppose, much like you—people don't write to me when they're delighted with things; they write to me when there are problems. It doesn't appear that that is happening in a comprehensive way and, again, I imagine that what they're referring to in terms of that being a laudable aim but largely undeliverable is back to: how do we actually resource that level of consultation at an early stage in the process, and then right through to the statutory requirements later on in the process? Nevertheless, it is something that I think is an aim that should remain and that we should try to be working towards, but at the current state of play I have a lot of sympathy for planning authorities who say that's very difficult.
Yes. Do you think that it's possible that local planning authorities can influence and change the behaviour of developers if the council finds that they're not effectively consulting with their local communities?
Back to the point that I was making earlier regarding developers being required to outline how they've applied the future generations Act, particularly the five ways of working; so, how their development is considering the long term, preventing problems from occurring, integrating with other issues, collaborating with others and critically involving people. So, if the onus was on developers to demonstrate how they're doing that, arguably, that might ease the resourcing issues of the local planning authority. You do, however, I imagine, get into some challenges around developers are obviously not going to be presenting— or I wouldn't have thought they're necessarily going to be presenting—neutral approaches to that. They're going to be making a case for their development to be going ahead. So, even if you did that, you couldn't absolve any involvement or resourcing issues for local planning authorities. But I do think that there's more that developers could be required to do in terms of showing alignment with the future generations Act and those ways of working.
Okay. Moving on to planning and well-being, Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you. You've given lots of interesting examples in your written evidence and the 'Living with Beauty' report has a lot to offer, but also the ways in which local authorities can, if you like, overcome some of the challenges they face as a result of austerity cuts. So, you obviously have a lot of interaction with local authorities, so how well do you think they have effectively integrated the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 into their day-to-day work?
Are you talking more broadly or—
On planning policies.
So, we're seeing some positive developments in some areas. I don't know, Marie, if there are any that you want to highlight in particular, because you've been closer to it. There was an interesting one in Merthyr, and if I can find the example, I will tell you about it. But the engagement that we've been doing so far has mainly been at strategic and Government level around 'Planning Policy Wales'. We've had engagement with the Planning Inspectorate, because some of the feedback that we'd had through various sets of discussions that we'd had with Welsh Government, and indeed with local planning authorities, was that the inspectorate also needs to be engaged and well-versed in what the requirements of the future generations Act are, because otherwise we're trying to implement it and then we're getting our decisions overturned at a later date.
We've seen some positive decisions from the Planning Inspectorate, where they've used the future generations Act to support rejection of particular applications and so on, but I think that the way in which this is going is that we've got the future generations Act and 'Planning Policy Wales' is the iteration of the future generations Act for the world of planning. Planning authorities are currently trying to get their heads around that and what that actually requires, and that is still significantly challenging in terms of resourcing. So, the extent to which they're fully embedding it, I think they are not in a position where they are fully embedding it.
Okay, so why do you think it's been so difficult for local authorities to ensure that developers are imbibing the planning Act and the future generations Act and 'Planning Policy Wales', and instead are turning around and saying, 'Oh, we're not going to engage with local communities' and have failed to engage with local communities? Why aren't they just being told to go away and do it?
I think that it's to do with, again, the resourcing issue. I think what the Royal Town Planning Institute suggest in terms of—. Because resources are so limited, the number of planning applications are huge in a number of different areas and they are trying to get the planning applications through the system in the quickest possible time—in the quickest possible time and with the minimal level of resources, because they don't have the resources to give to it. So, I think it comes back to that, really, that it's not—. To embed the future generations Act, there are considerations across a huge number of issues that you'd have to take into account: community consultation, engagement and involvement, collaboration with other public services, bringing in evidence around health impact and various other things, and I just don't think that planning authorities and planning officers have the resources to be able to do that. Even if developers were doing that, it still requires planning officers to be coming back in and sense-checking and so on. So, yes, they could be doing more to demonstrate that, but I still think the resourcing issue that we've got in local authorities would still be problematic.
Okay, but the danger is we're obviously approving a large number of very poor-quality developments, and nowhere do we see that more than in the way in which section 106 agreements don't seem to stick in a lot of cases. Developers agree to pay for infrastructure to support a particular development and yet, often these agreements are simply not implemented. Afterwards, they start pleading poverty, when they've signed a legal document.
Well, in my view, that's completely unacceptable. I think there are two elements to this though. The community benefits, if you like, should be driven through the way that the application is developed and delivered and only where there's an additional need, such as healthcare needs or so on—a specific doctor's surgery, or what have you—should community benefits and 106 be coming in at that stage.
What we should be looking to do is making sure that those applications, for example, are encouraging active travel, they are built around biodiversity and green infrastructure, they are connected to public transport networks, and so on. So it feels to me that, sometimes, section 106 moneys are used as a kind of, 'Oh well, we haven't done any of that, so we'll just give you some money to build a doctor's surgery', or what have you, and that's the wrong approach. There should be this sense checking throughout the planning application, as to whether it's meeting those principles of the Act, whether it is driving those wider, more holistic benefits, in the way it's designed and built, and then you get to the community benefits. But, again, that element of—almost like the art of the possible, what is possible in terms of how we could build and design this particular housing development, or whatever it might be, in a way that is going to drive benefits for health, for the local economy, for biodiversity, and so on. That takes a lot of time to consider, more than just the bare minimum that developers are putting in to meet the basics of a system that exists at the moment.
Okay. The auditor general's report suggests that the community infrastructure levy might be an alternative way of doing this. But when you think about what you said earlier, that just sounds like the necessary infrastructure to make a place function properly is just being used as a top-sliced thing that we'll provide afterwards, rather than insisting on developers doing a proper placemaking plan.
Well, I think that's the challenge. It might be appropriate in some circumstances, but it's a bit like community benefits that we use in procurement. How that has actually panned out in lots of cases is that community benefits, through procurement, has been seen as painting the local community centre, or investing in a garden for the local school, when, actually, the thing that we've built is not sustainable at all, doesn't connect to better modes of transport, and so on, and so on. So I would counsel caution in saying that that sort of levy, or a focus on the current methods of 106, that we should put all of our eggs in that basket. What we should be looking to do is to ensure that developments are sustainable right throughout the process of thought, design, and build.
Okay. So how do we tackle the major skills gaps that exist in local planning authorities, to insist that the appropriate placemaking planning is going on?
I think investing in the development of the current set of planning officers—and I know the Royal Town Planning Institute do quite a lot of work in terms of trying to engage with prospective future planners. And I really do think that there is something around a planning system that fully embeds the future generations Act approach as being something that is attractive to future planners. Because younger generations want more than just a career; they want a career with purpose, and a career where they think that they're making a difference. So I think that there is something in terms of a real benefit, in terms of selling the approach that we've got in Wales. Just to give you an example, I've lost count now of the number of people in health, in particular, who've moved from other parts of the UK to Wales who told me that they've done that particularly because we've got the future generations Act in Wales, and they think that that's a different way of looking at things. So I think that there's something to be selling and celebrating there. I also think that there's something around—. If there's one single thing that we could do—well, I was going to say 'easily', but nothing's ever easy—to make the future generations Act a reality, it would be some sort of mass job swap across the public sector. So, you bring in different perspectives.
A mass job swap.
A mass job swap, yes. So you bring in different lenses and different people into different departments. So, Jenny, you might be aware of the example where Dr Tom Porter, who's a public health consultant, is working on the council's transportation strategy. And where you get that different perspective—so, how are we now planning transport from a health perspective, not a highways engineer perspective—you start to get some really interesting things happen. So, I think that there's potentially something about the planning profession reaching out to others and bringing others into its profession. There's also some interesting things, for example, in Monmouthshire. They've got a director—. Is he called a director of placemaking?
Head of placemaking, housing, highways and flood.
Rather than planning.
Which again is quite interesting because you are broadening the remit and the reach of—
In fact, he was here last week, wasn't he?
Was he? Right. Did he talk a lot of sense? I hope so. You are broadening the reach of what your—. We are thinking of planning in traditional terms. We get applications. We say 'yay' or 'nay' to applications and so on. Now, we need to be thinking about it in a much broader way. How is this going to benefit our health? How is this going to reduce our carbon emissions? How is this going to deal with the nature emergency, and so on?
I think there's something about bringing in different professions. I also think that, in terms of, again, the sorts of jobs that younger people are looking for, they are looking for those jobs with purpose and they are looking for those jobs that give them multiple opportunities to do different things, rather than just one linear career.
The RTPI, in their evidence, made a very strong case for local authorities to pay more attention to planning, both to—. If they have more community charge payers and more businesses coming into an area, and more business rates being paid, it seems to me that—. How can we get local authorities at the strategic level to use their land-use planning powers to effectively promote new development and improvement?
So, I know that the RTPI have developed a value of planning tool, and I think that it's being used by Merthyr and Bridgend, to date. I think that what's come from their use of it is that, if it was used across Wales, actually, it would probably generate about £2.3 billion to Wales. There are some substantial opportunities there, but it's kind of a bit of an invest-to-save model. You've got to invest in the infrastructure in planning authorities to enable that to happen.
I think that that's really about leadership. It's about local authority chief executives and leaders taking some difficult decisions to decide, 'I'm going to shift money from here, and I'm going to invest it in there because I can see the long-term benefit of getting that right to all of these other issues that I'm dealing with now.' I think that that takes brave leadership, which we are not seeing in all areas.
You mentioned the Cardiff capital region planning infrastructure that could be used. Is that being used at the moment sufficiently robustly to deliver some of the benefits that you've been describing?
We've not been fully engaged in that for a while. I issued some advice to the city growth deal going back about a year or so ago, advising them how they could embed the future generations Act. Due to resources, we haven't gone back in to look at whether that's happening, so I wouldn't like to say whether it is or it isn't.
Okay. Thank you.
Okay. Thanks, Jenny. Last but not least, Mohammad Asghar.
Thank you, Chair, and good afternoon. Thank you, Sophie, for letting us know everything—hotchpotch and everything. There are concerns that planning is not recognised as a key service that contributes to well-being and is often marginalised in senior corporate decision-making structures. Is this your experience? What can be done to raise the status and importance of planning?
So, yes, that is our view, that it's not seen as a key area that should be invested in. I think that that's a false economy, and I think that we should be looking to be taking some brave decisions around reinvesting in the planning area, recognising the significant benefit that it could have to delivering a number of other outcomes in health, in poverty terms, in decarbonisation and a whole range of things. That's what the future generations Act requires, so I think that it's—. I'm sorry to keep on coming back to it, but it is as simple as having to take some of those difficult decisions in terms of resourcing.
I think that there has been a tendency to really cut back on what is seen as those back-office functions. So, I see a lot of parallels with the planning system and the under-resourcing in the planning system as I'm seeing in respect of procurement. So, I'm just about to commence a review on procurement. We've done an initial research piece, which has basically identified that there are quite a number of missed opportunities to drive wider benefits and longer term cost gains and societal gains by the leadership in organisations not seeing procurement as a significant lever to be able to meet their broader objectives, and I think there are a huge number of parallels with the planning system here in that regard.
Thank you very much , Sophie. Under-resourcing—what you've just mentioned—should not be the concern. It should not be mentioned, especially for the well-being of our future generations. That's what it is. The auditor general notes in his report that good design can enhance well-being. Do you think that local planning authorities have the skills, experience and capabilities to design and deliver good-quality developments in their areas?
It's very difficult—it's very difficult to answer that, because I'm sure that there are very many who do, but are perhaps hamstrung by the fact that they are really up against it, in terms of the number of applications that are coming through and the reduced numbers of officers to get through them. As with any system, there will also be people who perhaps have been in the system for a very long time, who have done things in a particular way and are perhaps not embracing new ways of working and more holistic concepts around well-being, and that's one of the reasons why I suggest actually bringing in different people to give different perspectives.
I think that would add a huge amount of value into the system and if you wanted to look at something in terms of—well, it's not cost neutral but not a cash cost—. Is there something that public bodies could do by seconding people from existing, different departments into planning services to bring a kind of different perspective? Okay, they're not going to be completely au fait with planning law, but they are going to give you a different perspective, in terms of well-being issues and so on. So, that's something that could be done. And then also, coming back to the earlier points that you were making around community involvement and engagement, because there's no one better to tell you what's going to make a difference to a local community than the local community themselves—. So, if we get that right, that's probably going to be better equipping planning officers to be recognising how their decisions affect positively or negatively on the well-being of future generations.
Can I add, Chair? I just wanted to add as well that we are very lucky in Wales to have the Design Commission for Wales, which can really bring benefits and help local authorities and communities and the locals to come up with better design and to really embrace the concept of well-being in the design of the planning applications. And they've lost it in England, so it's again something unique to Wales, which I think we should be celebrating and making the most of.
Thank you, Marie. I have a different question for you, actually, which I made a note of, because I know there is the planning Act and another one is 'Planning Policy for Wales'. So, basically, especially in housing and highways, how do you deal with it yourself—innovative idea—? Sophie just mentioned you bring other people into it. So, have you some sort of innovative ideas like that, which Sophie just mentioned, to make sure that you align with the Act and our planning policy in Wales together—much closer?
Our future generations report, which we will be publishing later on in the year, will be drawing on loads of international examples of good practice, including in transport and planning. So, ideally, there will be a lot of examples to show you how we can import really good ideas from across the globe, which would work in the Welsh context as well.
Have you thought of any good ideas about flooding?
I don't think that I have seen some on flooding, but on design and how artificial intelligence can help design urban areas, which would include the flooding elements and the—. But there's a big issue on flooding, I agree.
That's for something else. We have heard from the local planning authorities, who openly state that too often they work to the principle of—. There are two principles, actually, 'Is the proposal bad enough to refuse?', and the other one is: 'Is the proposal good enough to approve?' So, what can Welsh Government do to drive the standard in scheme design to ensure developers are playing their full role in delivering well-being?
Well, I think it comes back to the points that I was making earlier around asking them to more clearly set out how their proposals are not just taking the bare-minimum approach or meeting requirements so that we can't refuse it, but actually positively saying, 'How is this development going to improve social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being in our area?' And I think that shift in the burden of responsibility, if you like, is actually quite crucial, and I think could make a significant impact. I still say, however, that whilst that would place some of the burden on developers, it would still require additional resources within local planning authorities, because they would have to check whether what the developers are saying is accurate or not. But I certainly think that there's something that could be done there.
Just on your point in terms of flooding, I think that the issues that the Welsh Government are now raising around the nature emergency and some of the responses to that could actually be crucial around that. So, Wales has regulations around—. It's called SUDs—sustainable urban drainage—which is basically around new developments not just being concrete jungles, if you like, but actually having green infrastructure built into them which is much better, obviously, at absorbing rainwater and so on. And if we had built all of our communities in that way 20 or 30 years ago, I think that we probably would not be experiencing the same level of flooding that we are at the moment. Obviously, that's one issue, and tackling the climate emergency and focusing on decarbonisation is a much bigger part of that picture. But certainly, SUDs is a really progressive move by the Welsh Government, and what we're also seeing from a number of public services boards and local authorities is a bigger focus on green infrastructure across the board, and the planning function really needs to support that. It looks like the recent letter that the Welsh Government have written on biodiversity is reinforcing that, which is good.
Thank you. Our evidence also flags concerns that the local planning authorities are not familiar with modern design and construction techniques and still seek to encourage schemes that fit with the existing area, which are often out of sync with the principles of sustainable development. Do you think local planning authorities are improving the standards of design and supporting carbon-neutral development across Wales? And what else could Welsh Government do to address this issue?
I think that there is some way to go on that. I think that in order to keep abreast of the latest developments and best practice and ideas and innovation from other parts of Wales or indeed across the world, you have to have the time and the capacity to do that. And I think what we're seeing at the moment is a system that is completely under the cosh. It's barely managing with the day-to-day getting through the applications, let alone having the time and head space in order to be able to upskill and develop its profession around that. Now, the work that the Royal Town Planning Institute and others do is really important to that, but, again, it comes back to, if your workload is such that you're barely making it to the end of the week without meeting your statutory deadlines in terms of getting through planning applications, you're less likely to be taking time out to be researching innovative practices, to be going to conferences and so on, which are going to give you those ideas and inspiration. So, that comes back to this cultural change and the resourcing issue, which I think is the—[Inaudible.]
You mention many times the resourcing issue, so we have to work out our future generations—. So, we have to make sure that resources are there to make sure they're safe. So, not like 30 years ago, gone wrong—we're not necessarily going to do the same thing. Given the limitations of the national performance reporting framework, which judges inputs, outputs and timeliness, how should local planning authorities demonstrate the impact of their work on improving wellbeing outcomes?
Well, I think that we should be aligning our outcomes around the seven national well-being goals for a start. We should not be monitoring on the basis of, 'Have you met an eight-week—or whatever it is—time frame for getting an application through?' We shouldn't be monitoring on those sorts of outputs, we should be monitoring on, 'How has this application delivered against these well-being objectives or well-being goals?' We don't see that happening at the moment, and, as I said, we don't actually see any monitoring really taking place at all, and that's a massive gap in the system, because how do we know whether something we approved last year or two years ago was completely at odds with what it is that we're trying to achieve, and, therefore, how do we learn the lessons from that? So, whether it's something like an iteration of the design commission—it would have to be something that had, I suppose, some expertise in planning. I think the Wales Audit Office have done a really good job in terms of highlighting some of the challenges in the system, but there is something about going back into—even if it's not every application that's been approved—a handful of applications or big developments in particular areas and saying, 'Right, so what has this actually achieved and what are the outcomes of this?', rather than saying, 'It's all okay because we did this within eight weeks.'
Okay, thank you. And can I ask another one little one, Sophie?
Yes, we're not short of time.
No. The thing is—. The fact is—. My concern is we've got to do much better for our future generations. So, co-ordination among the departments—. I did come across with other cases in my constituency—it took five years to solve the problem of flooding in that little housing place, and there was a problem between the council and Welsh Water. So, they were blaming each other, Chair, and the fact is—. Are you fully aware of departmental understandings between each other? It's all well and good that you make some planning, but make sure that there is understanding between the other departments. You mentioned that people are coming from England to help you out in the NHS, but you don't know how many brain drains are there in Wales, and we still have a shortage of doctors, clinicians and nurses in Wales. So, there are lots of departmental areas we have to explore, and you have to work, Marie, because you're the one—.
I'm going to ask Marie to come in on that, if that's okay.
So, what we are seeing is that there is sometimes not so much integration between departments and planning, housing and transport, but then also how fragmented the agencies or bodies who are responsible for the built environment are. So, I was trying to make a list—so, there's energy on one side, then there's water, then there's a health element, there's a waste element, there's an air quality and the green infrastructure, and then you have all these statutory consultees, which might also be struggling with their own capacities, and then you end up with bits of a jigsaw that is completely disconnected, where everybody's building on the same land but completely differently, without necessarily synchronising anything.
And then something we are looking into is whether we would need to have a global infrastructure plan for areas that would bring together all these actors and to try to at least synchronise what is being done, and future generations definitely need something like that. We cannot continue to build little things on silos, not working well together for one place. And, again, placemaking is a big part of that, but placemaking is not ruling the other agencies like Welsh Water et cetera, the national grid or others.
Have you got any in-department indicators of how much you are achieving and how far you've gone yearly—year by year?
In the planning system?
No. This is part of the problem that I'm flagging, which is we're not monitoring the outcomes and nobody is monitoring that.
Would it take much of a leap for it to be monitored?
I would think you'd need to—. I mean, I'm sort of—. We haven't looked into this in any depth as yet, but I would think you're probably talking about an agency who would have responsibility for doing that. I don't know what sort of agency. As I said, it would have to be an agency with some sort of expertise in the area.
The design commission are quite interesting because they actually provide a service—I don't know if you've had them in as yet—where they have a range of pro bono experts, real award-winning planning consultants and so on, and local authorities or others can take their planning application to a panel of these experts for a challenge session. So, how does this align with the future generations Act? Could you do more? If you changed this, it could improve the health element, or if you changed that, it could improve sustainable drainage or whatever it might be. And I think that there's a really good model in that.
You'd have to ask the design commission more directly on this, but my understanding is it's a voluntary, 'We'll come forward and show you this application', rather than anything mandatory. It's not resourced to be mandatory, but I think it's a really interesting model, which, if it was scaled up, you would get more of a challenging system. Whether that model could then be replicated to be looking back at outcomes of particular applications, again, there could be some possibility there. But I haven't discussed that with the design commission, so I don't want to be here suggesting that they should take on another huge raft of work, and I don't know how much that would cost, or indeed if it's possible.
Any other questions? Jenny.
I think one area we perhaps haven't covered as much as it needs to be covered is what you would say about better monitoring of planned outcomes. You did talk about how we're monitoring the wrong things at the moment, but it seems to me that, if local authorities aren't scrutinising the promises made by developers that got them the planning permission, there's certainly an anxiety that they might not be delivering what they said they were going to. Also, it means that there's no historic learning going on—that project x simply didn't deliver on what it was offering to do.
I definitely agree with you. Whether that's—. Again, Adrian might throw something at me, but whether that's something that the Wales Audit Office could look at—what have the outcomes of section 106 agreements been? Have they been delivered in a fairly basic way? Have they been delivered and then actually delivered the anticipated outcomes? Or have they just not been done at all, and if not, why not? Why has x, y or z project, which was promised, not been funded, and so on? It seems to me that there's perhaps a need for some sort of look into that area.
But I also think that, coming back to the community involvement issue, my experience is that section 106 agreements are published as part of the planning report, but you would have to be, as a citizen, delving into a planning report. There should be a way of publishing what it is that this developer agreed to do. And I can give you an example from my time as a councillor, where a developer built a load of five-a-side football pitches on school premises and the deal was that the community would have free use of those pitches between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Now, I have since gone back in with my son's football team, which is paying for use of those pitches, and said, 'Well, hang on a minute—there was a section 106 agreement around this'. But it just so happens that I was the councillor at the time and was involved in that, so I knew. If it wasn't for that, nobody would know that that even exists. So I think there's something about us publicising that, and letting the public know, 'This development is going ahead, the developer has agreed to pay this amount towards this thing by this date', and let that be an expectation that the public have, and I think there's possibly more likely to be more focus and scrutiny if the public are aware of it.
Well, we've all been involved in campaigns to get developer x to deliver on the playground that they said they were going to do for a particular housing development. Is it the role of local councillors to ensure that the public in that area are getting that information?
Yes, although I think my understanding of the system at the moment is that it's not quite as clear cut. So, often, the section 106 moneys are logged or reserved for a particular area, but it's not always absolutely nailed down what that might be. It might be for community facilities in Cathays, or what have you. So it might not be, 'And they have to build a community centre in Cathays by such and such a time'. So you've got to find a way of—. But I don't think it's widely publicised to the public that there's this pot of money sat in this bank account, or whatever it might be, which is for use for community facilities in Cathays, and therefore, 'What's your view?' or 'How do you think it should be spent?' and so on. My experience is that those are the sorts of discussions that local councillors get involved in, and do have discussions with their communities, but I think that's very dependent on the individual councillor and so on.
So, getting developers to actually deliver on the section 106 agreements that they've entered into—do you think there would be a more robust system if developers had to deposit a sum of money with the local authority until such time as those obligations had been delivered on?
Yes, that would sound sensible to me, and there's a model, isn't there, in terms of—oh gosh, what is it?
Well, certainly if you have an arrangement with a private housebuilder you retain a portion of the money until it's all been signed off as having been delivered.
Okay. Quite a bit of areas covered there. Thank you, Sophie Howe, future generations commissioner. It's always good to have you before the committee.
Thanks for having us.
And Marie Brousseau-Navarro. We will put all that together. I don't think you agreed to send us any information during the course of that, did you? No. So, we've got everything we need. We'll put that together and we'll run it by you for accuracy before it's published. Thanks for helping us.
Okay. Thank you, all.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I move Standing Order 17.42 to meet in private for the remainder of the session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:30.
The public part of the meeting ended at 15:30.