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Guest Blogs, News, Politics

Guest blog: “Social values need to be part of our planning system”

We’ve been running guest blogs from the four main political parties in Wales on the subject of environment and development in the country. Our final blog is from Julie Morgan, Labour AM for Cardiff North.

By Julie Morgan

Julie Morgan at Llanishen Reservoir: Owners Western Power Distribution want to build houses on the site, locals want it to be protected

British Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, has talked a great deal recently about re-establishing the connection between wealth creation and reward in this country.

We have increasingly seen the growth of a ‘fast buck’ economy where large, multinational companies can come and do as they please. I agree with Ed that something needs to be done.

Not just because it’s important for a sustainable economy, but also for our environment as well. Indeed, failure to do so places the long term health of our nation at risk, as the reckless behaviour of our banks has already shown.

It is true that many of the levers needed to achieve a fairer balance between risk and reward in our economy remain under the control of the UK Government, including executive pay and company taxation.

However, there is much that Wales can do to change the self-serving values which dominate our economy.

In Wales, one of the most contentious devolved areas for the Welsh Government relates to local development, where the interests of business and local communities often collide.

It is also one area that I believe is ripe for reform, the sort of reform that helps to rebalance our nation’s relationship with business by building a new approach, built on strong social values, into our planning system.

Take my own constituency of Cardiff North, where I have supported a community united against plans by an American multinational to build hundreds of homes on a local reservoir.

The Victorian structure is listed by Welsh heritage body, CADW, and the rare wildlife enjoys special protection from the Countryside Council for Wales.

Yet the planning battle for this site has already spanned ten years and both the US parent firm and its British subsidiary (Western Power Distribution or WPD) show no sign of listening to the wishes of local people. Companies such as WPD have large resources at their disposal to wear down opponents, imposing significant financial and social costs onto Wales and its people in the process.

If, like me, you have ever attempted to reason with shareholders at these large businesses, you will know it’s often a difficult and seemingly fruitless exercise. The frustration felt by my own constituents on this issue (with support from many small, local businesses I should add) is one shared by many other communities across Wales.

It does not have to be like this. We urgently need a modern planning system that works in the national interest and protects our environment, rather than serving the interests of stock markets and far flung investors. In the process, the Welsh Government (supported by wider Welsh society) has the potential to send a strong message to business that values built solely on short term profit are no longer acceptable here in Wales.

Such a challenge will not be easy, but I believe there are reasons to be hopeful. The newly elected Welsh Government is already firmly committed to improving the management of our environment, and has plans for a new framework to support the integrated management of our natural environment. In the next few years there will also be widespread consultation on a new Sustainable Development Bill and an Environment Bill. Both Bills are aimed at delivering greater economic, environmental and social benefits across Wales. Together these proposed changes send out a strong message to business on the importance we in Wales attach to our environment. So do recently announced plans for new Welsh laws on planning and heritage protection matters.

I fully support moves towards a modernised planning system, one that does not inhibit growth or jobs in the Welsh economy. However, we must also take the opportunity to also place a requirement to balance these gains against wider environmental and social factors. Just as important, the new Planning Bill also presents us with the opportunity to embed a more positive, locally engaged and transparent approach to future development in Wales. I hope that will be the outcome.

It is only with a strong commitment from the Welsh Assembly and pressure from a concerned Welsh public that I believe we can ever start changing the values which underpin our economy.

In doing so, we have every chance of building a better Wales today, without reducing the quality of life of our children and grandchildren tomorrow.

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