Plans to Revitalise Llandovery Inch Forward — but More Hurdles Ahead
by Pat Dodd Racher (member of Calon Cymru Network, and one of the authors of ‘A Larger Llandovery’)
Revised 10pm May 23rd
Planning application E/26681, for a housing estate outside Llandovery, came before Carmarthenshire’s planning committee today, and although the application was passed by virtue of the Labour and Independent groups’ decision to accept planning officers’ advice, there was enough discussion to make me think that we may be starting to move away from the technical straitjacket that has relegated urban planning to exercises in compliance with minimum standards.
E/26681 is an application for 61 new homes in Llandovery, on a field east of the Co-op supermarket and north of the A40 road. The committee passed the application, but not quite unanimously, the dissenting voices coming from within the Plaid Cymru group.
Two objectors, from Llandovery Area Tenants and Residents Association (LATRA) and from Calon Cymru Network, addressed the meeting. The two groups have already compiled the alternative plan, A Larger Llandovery, which is feeding into the debate over the not-yet-adopted Local Development Plan (LDP), and in the light of this debate they asked for a decision on E/26681 to be delayed.
The planning department did indeed offer a concession: a new condition has been imposed, to limit the number of houses constructed before adoption of the LDP to 32 — the number of houses stipulated in the plan currently in force, the Unitary Development Plan (UDP). Therefore, for the remaining life of the UDP, the number of houses permitted will accord with that plan.
The arguments which had been deployed by the planning department to justify 61 homes included the Welsh Government’s wish for more homes to be constructed nationally, and the more lucrative economics (for the landowner and the developer) of a 61-home site over one for 32 homes.
A Larger Llandovery also argues for more housing in this beleaguered town, which is losing services at an increasing rate, but for developments where people can work as well as live, to cut the need for long-distance commuting, and where allotments, orchards and other green spaces are provided. Llandovery’s town council has asked for the vision in A Larger Llandovery to influence the coming Local Development Plan.
The planning committee’s decision means that the Calon Cymru / LATRA aim for Llandovery to become a centre for home-based workers, with less need than at present to travel out of the area, might — only might — have been diluted a little, but has definitely not been killed off.
Llandovery’s Independent county councillor, Ivor Jackson, made no reference to alternative views when he told the committee that the application site was the only one available for new homes in Llandovery, which is quite an over-simplification, and that despite the many empty and unsold properties in the town, people should have the choice whether to buy an old or new home.
One of the reasons for holding back the application would have been the current lack of a plan to promote Welsh language and culture. Plaid Cymru councillors Alun Lenny and Emlyn Dole both highlighted the rapid decline in the numbers of Llandovery folk able to speak Welsh, a 20% fall between 2001 and 2011. The accepted method employed by planning departments to protect Welsh language and culture is to allocate “affordable” homes on new developments to local people. This presupposes that local people are by definition all Welsh-speaking, which is not the case. We need to move on from reserving a few, usually small and relatively cheap, new homes for local people to planning actively to revive the language, to make it relevant to the lives of young people, to encourage job creation in Welsh heartlands so that Welsh-speakers do not have to move away to earn a living.
I have a letter from Meri Huws, the Welsh Language Commissioner and successor to the Welsh Language Board, in which she says: “The planning process as it stands does not meet the need as far as protecting the Welsh language is concerned, and there is strong consensus that Technical Advice Note 20, published in 2000, does not provide adequate advice for local authorities about how and when to assess the impact of planning policies and applications on the Welsh language. As a result, the methods used by local authorities to consider the Welsh language are inconsistent and insufficient.”
Meri Huws has alerted Carl Sargeant, the Welsh Government minister for housing and regeneration, to the deficient protection for the Welsh language, and is waiting for a reply.
The Welsh language is such a fundamental part of Welsh identity that every development which ignores this heritage contributes to its further erosion.
“But you are writing in English,” I hear you say. True, but that does not mean I favour living in a monoglot nation.
The absence of protection for Welsh in the planning system is one symptom of silo thinking, of the lack of linkages between operational regulations and strategic ambitions, which can make it impossible for those ambitions to be achieved. Planning may not be soap opera, or a talent show, but it shapes our physical environment and affects our lives in very important ways.