Carmarthenshire's Local Development Plan continues to grind its slow, bureaucratic and remorseless way towards the finishing post with yet another round of consultations, this time on "Matters Arising during Hearing Sessions of the Examination".
It would be hard to imagine a more mind-bogglingly complex system of putting together a plan than the one laid down by civil servants for Welsh local authorities' development plans, and yet the plans will affect all of us and determine the future shape and character of the towns and villages we live in.
In the case of Carmarthenshire there are now scores of reports and heavyweight documents scattered across the council's website, all referring to each other and often without links which would help readers move from one to another. The effect is a sort of bureaucratic maze from hell:
"In this respect, reference should be had to the Housing Clarification Paper (Examination Paper H2P) April 2014 which sought to consider the projected reduction outlined within the 2011 projections against the strategic context of the Plan and its objectives."
This comes up in a very important section dealing with population and projections of housing need. There is no link to the Housing Clarification Paper, but you can track it down by entering H2P as a search term on the council website. Click on that, and you will receive a stark message:
Little wonder that almost the only people turning up to the public examinations are not members of the public, but representatives of the big house building companies, their agents and consultants. It is they and the County Hall visionaries who want to see massive new housing estates springing up across the county who are calling the shots.
One of the main building blocks for the Local Development Plans now winding their way through the bureaucratic machinery of Welsh councils was a set of population projections handed down in 2006 by the Welsh Government on behalf of the Department for Communities and Local Government in London (see Jac o' the North for how this works).
The main assumption of these projections was that inward migration from England would continue and even accelerate in years to come, resulting in massive additional housing requirements.
In 2008 the expectations were revised slightly downward, but only ever so slightly.
In 2009 actual inward migration slumped to its lowest level in years, but the LDP mandarins carried on regardless.
The Census in 2011 provided the statisticians with some hard facts rather than the speculative projections churned out by the consultancy industry, and in February 2014 the Welsh Government released a new set of projections covering the period of Carmarthenshire's Local Development Plan which is due to run until 2021.
In 2006 Carmarthenshire was told that it would need to provide 1,193 new homes each year in order to meet population growth and growth in the number of households.
In 2014 the Welsh Government handed down a revised set of numbers which concluded that the county would need only 5,500 new homes in the period 2011-2021, or 550 per year.
You don't need to be a mathematician to see that expectations of housing need have halved, so what has been the response of Carmarthenshire County Council's "Forward Planning" department to this news?
Well, they have given the new statistics careful consideration and decided that what we need is a higher target for new housing.
Whereas the previous incarnation of the plan reckoned that the county would need 15,197 new homes by 2021, the revised plan now up for consultation opts for a target of 15,727, or almost three times more than the Welsh Government's revised projections.
The Council's planners say that this target will give them flexibility and allows for uncertainty over the future direction of the economy and population growth.
While the planners hope that towns like Carmarthen will still get the thousands of new houses they would like to see built, they have decided to revise the target for affordable homes down from 2,915 to 2,121.
Housebuilders and developers don't like affordable homes, you see.
And when councillors approved a package of new measures to promote and safeguard the Welsh language back in April, planning was an important part of their considerations. They will therefore be surprised to see the latest incarnation of the Local Development Plan which has dramatically moved the goal posts.
Whereas the plan previously defined almost all of the county as linguistically sensitive, with at least 25% of Welsh speakers, and provided for some very flimsy "mitigation" measures to protect Welsh-speaking communities from over-development, such as bilingual signs and phasing of development, the revised plan sweeps all this away.
Under the new plan only communities with at least 60% of Welsh speakers will be afforded any kind of protection in the form of phasing development, and there are only 5 communities where this applies: Llannon, Pencarreg, Quarter Bach, Gorslas and Pontyberem.
That's consultation Carmarthenshire style for you.
Funny you should mention Pontyberem, the council itself has just submitted an application for 84 houses; there's no sign of any phasing...but of course the new plan hasn't been adopted just yet.
Not only has the expected population increase been downscaled due to hard eveidence from the ONS and the 2011 census, but another important factor, household size, has been increased. Which means that Carmarthenshire, along with other Welsh local authority areas, can expect a smaller increase in population with more persons per dwelling.
Yet the LDP is being proceeded with as if nothing has changed. Making it clear that the LDPs for rural areas of Wales were simply fig leaves for a colonisation strategy.
Here's a link to a post on my blog specific to Carmarthenshire: http://jacothenorth.net/blog/housing-in-carmarthenshire/
Thanks Jac. Fortunately the council has issued an addendum to its Housing Clarification Paper which makes the reasons for sticking to the higher target crystal clear. Here you go:
"The revised housing land supply has been informed by the 2011-based projections along with the other factors highlighted in this paper. In this regard evidence in the form of the 2011-based projections would suggest that a reduction to the housing levels within the Plan is required. However, in reflecting on these projections and in formulating a realignment of the housing provision within the Plan, the Council has not taken a view solely predicated on the reduced growth estimates indicated in the 2011 projections. Rather, the Council has sought to take a balanced view against the need to support the Plan strategy and objectives. In this respect it is considered that any amendment resulting from the 2011-based projections must be considered in light of the other factors highlighted within the Paper."
That clears things up, doesn't it?
What are these "other factors"?
A good question.
I got the impression that much of the documents had been auto-generated by a bullshit bingo program. But perhaps I am just bitter at spending a sunny Sunday wading through hundreds of pages of this bilge.
As we all know, the Carmarthenshire rule that if you build places with more space for people to live or sit down in, they will surely come. This includes Parc Y Scarlets' 15,000 half empty seats, the evangelical bowling alley with planned church pews for 600 and the endless estates for retirees, second home owners and commuters.
It is said that the county never has a "plan B". In this case plan A is plainly ridiculous. What happens now when the big developers finally realise that CCC hopefully expecting 000's of new settlers to appear is no good reason to build houses?
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