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Time for a bit of strategic thinking…

December 4th, 2012

As the planning system in England tends to the wounds caused by the brawling between CALA homes and the egregious Mr Pickles over the role and form of regional planning, there is growing unrest on the Welsh side of the border over the lack of strategic direction on areas such as housing growth. Nowhere is this more apparent than in south east Wales, where the Welsh Government’s population forecasts indicate that in the period to 2023 Cardiff will grow at a rate of between twice and six times that of immediately adjoining authorities. At the Welsh Government rates, the population of the city will grow by one third from 2012 to 2026. The implications of this have been crystallised in the recently published Preferred Strategy for Cardiff, which forms the basis of the new LDP for the city. This shows that, even adopting a lower rate of growth than the Welsh Government suggests, there is a need for 37,100 new dwellings over the plan period of which 18,250 dwellings must be located onto greenfield sites.

Cardiff is bounded to the south by the sea, to the west by the River Ely, to the east by flood plain and green belt and to the north by the M4. To accommodate such significant growth means filling in the few large green spaces left in the city with allocations of up to 6,000 new dwellings at a time. Naturally, residents of these areas are in revolt over the plans. The city’s arcane road and public transport infrastructure is creaking already. Even if the Council’s rose tinted expectation that 50% of residents will travel by non-car modes is realised, such huge change will make Cardiff a very different place. It also begs the question as to what will happen post 2026. By that point, Cardiff will, quite simply, be full up. If ever there was a need for a strategic, regional approach in south east Wales, now would be the time for it. We have the Wales Spatial Plan but quite frankly, that is about as useful as the proverbial cat flap in the elephant house.

The Welsh Government has commissioned research to look at the interrelationship between the various towns and authorities of Wales. A key recommendation of the ‘City Regions’ report – the first recommendation, in fact – is that housing planning be organised at a city region rather than at a local authority level and linked to transport planning to facilitate commuting. Against this advice, it is rather surprising that the Welsh Government is standing by and letting Cardiff struggle with accommodating its forecast new housing growth, especially when adjacent authorities have both the space and in some cases the inclination to accommodate more of Cardiff’s overspill. It is also rather bizarre that, having invested millions in the regeneration of the valley communities over the past decades, the Welsh Government seems to be doing little to channel positively the attraction of the Cardiff city region to create new jobs and housing in adjoining valley areas.

Granted, such a strategy may not draw all of the development pressure from Cardiff, nor should it, but as these areas benefit from the success of being in the capital region, there is surely some sense in sharing the burden of that role also. With Cardiff’s plan at its early stages and the plans of a number of adjoining authorities yet to be adopted, now would seem an opportune time for the Welsh Government to act on the findings of its own research and give some clear strategic guidance on how the Cardiff city region ought to grow.

It is time to show what Cardiff Bay can do. Or should it now be renamed Toothless Tiger Bay?