Request for Investigation by Well-being Commissioner

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Introduction

The ongoing assault on the Well-being of the Community is giving rise to Rossett Focus Group having major concerns about the mis-use of the Well-being of Future Generations Wales Act 2015. This has been brought into sharp focus with the recent perverse Planning Decision here on Bellis Site in Rossett and also examples across in Flintshire. We are concerned that the Planning Inspectorate always claim that their decisions meet the requirements of this act by including a paragraph such as (IR97) in the granting of the Rossett Appeal. (Full Report)

In coming to this conclusion, I have considered the duty to improve the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales, in accordance with the sustainable development principle, under section 3 of the Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 (WBFG Act).  I have taken into account the ways of working set out at section 5 of the WBFG Act and consider that this decision is in accordance with the sustainable development principle through its contribution towards one or more of the Welsh Ministers well-being objectives, as required by section 8 of the WBFG Act”.

RFG regard such statements as hollow and insulting to the readers and what is seen to be a misleading interpretation of the Legislation when the actions clearly create further damage to the Community. RFG are so dis-satisfied with the way the legislation is being used to justify perverse decisions that accompany Planning Appeal Decisions that we have written to the Well-being Commissioner for Wales to investigate our complaints and concerns.

Nature of Our Concerns

There are a number of issues that relate to the holy grail claimed above as the “sustainable development principle” that seem to be conveniently overlooked as the Appeal Planning Inspectors push forward housing in unsuitable and unsustainable locations.

We have several major concerns as follows:

    1. The loss of Best & Most Versatile Agricultural Land on Rossett Site is a serious matter, once this is built out it will be lost to future generations for ever. This BMV Land is supposedly protected under Welsh Planning Law but the Welsh Government have published documents to the contrary to undermine any protection of this valuable land in Wrexham. 
    2. Welsh Planning Law requires that where adequate primary Health Care is not available planning applications should be refused. We all know the problems being faced by Alyn Family Doctors and the damage to the Doctors Practice by increasing patient numbers is creating but again this aspect of Community Well-being is ignored by Planning Inspectors and WCBC Planning Officers alike.
    3. The risks to flooding are completely dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate, prompted by WCBC Planning Officers and acquiesced to by NRW. This together with the Planning Guidance on Flood Insurance which is at a premium or not available in the vicinity of the Bellis Site is being totally ignored when this has a very real impact on the Well-being of the Community.
    4.  Unilateral declarations that footways and pathways are to be altered to suit a developers Active Travel Plans, even though they fail to meet Government Guidelines (Tan18) and the Manual for Streets and totally act against the Community interests especially the disabled or those persons with Protected Characteristics.  
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Wellbeing of Future Generations

Request for Investigation by the Commissioner

We have requested that the Commissioner investigate all the above issues and the way the Well-being Act is being mis used and misquoted by The Planning Inspectorate to justify their decisions when there is obvious harm to communities.

In addition, we have requested that our evidence on the wrongful claims put out by WG on the taking without question of BMV Land in Wrexham be fully examined. We have drawn attention to similar Well-being problems occurring in Flintshire and have provided evidence to show that Rossett Planning Decision is being held up as beacon for any site with less constraints than Rossett and should be granted planning consent.

As a result, we have provided a substantial level of background evidence and reference material to support our request for a major review of mis-use of the Well-being Act in the Planning Appeal System and whether now it is fit for purpose.

We await a response to our letter of 25th June 2020.

Postscript: Equality and Human Rights Commission

In addition to placing a Well-being review request with the Wales Commissioner we have referred the matter of the defective Footway proposal on Rossett Road to the Wales Equality and Human Rights Commission to examine whether they are satisfied that it complies with the Equality Act 2010. A reply to the inquiry is expected by the end of June 2020 which was sent in March but the response was delayed due to the Covid 19 curtailment of investigations.

Brush-Off by Wales Planning Inspectorate

Planning lies from the Welsh Government

Well we have the final brush-off by the Welsh Planning Inspectorate (PINS). It appears that they don’t want to hear from us again! Our experience of using the “NON-INDEPENDENT” complaints procedure aimed at the Planning Inspector and PINS has been somewhat as expected. It goes to show that a government body that regulates itself cannot have an independent viewpoint. It is basically a cover-up.

Summary

We regard the whole complaint process as an example of the wishes of the local community being discounted and totally ignored and that the stated policies of the Welsh Government can be casually treated by developers and their advisors to their advantage against the interests of the local community.

We do not intend to write further to PINs as all we will achieve is either no reply or a further attempt to justify the perverseness of the decision. We will now concentrate our efforts to frustrate the development as and when it comes forward with a developer at Planning Reserved Matters. We also intend to make representations to WCBC regarding the inappropriate use of SoCGs that undermine the Committee decisions.

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RFG Commentary on PINs Replies to Our Follow-up & Complaint Letters

Choice of Procedure

It appears that the Welsh Government had not asked for the procedure to be varied from an Oral Hearing to Written Representations but this was the decision of the Inspector. In the original PINs Response, it was stated “they are considered in light of whether what they raise are material considerations in planning decision making or not, and then how relevant the decision maker finds that consideration to be in the particular case before them”.  We can only conclude that our representations on behalf of the whole community of Rossett were not considered relevant.

Contrary to the claim made by the Appellant that he had spoken to a friendly inspector to have the procedure changed PINs advise they “can find no evidence that the appellant or their agent contacted the Inspector directly regarding the choice of procedure. I am satisfied that there was nothing improper in the choice of procedure in this case”.

 The Planning Inspectorate place information on their Portal (ACP) as a gesture to the public. We are advised the Inspector works off a separate system of files from those viewed by the public.

It would appear from the latest comments that little or no weight is given to Interested Party representations, although it is stated “and all representations submitted would have been available to the appointed inspector”. Whether the Inspector actually looked at all or any representations is not clear from the reply.

Accepting Statement of Common Ground

PINs response states “that the Inspector was entitled to rely on the evidence presented to him”. Quite clearly the Statement of Common Ground (SoCG) contributed to the undermining of the decision of the Council Members and the Officers actions in promoting a roadway were in contravention of the provisions of the Manual for Streets, Tan 18 and WCBC Planning Policy GDP1(d). In such an appeal determined by Written Representations, we consider SoCGs should form no part but this happened and cannot be changed.

Emerging Local Development Plan

The lack of an up to date Local Development Plan counted heavily in favour of approval in the recommendation by the Inspector. PINs acknowledge our view that the emerging Local Development Plan (LDP) and the extant Wrexham County Borough Council Unitary Development Plan (WCBC UDP) have been ‘cherry picked’ by the Inspector to justify his decision. PINs advises “that if you consider the Inspectors handling of the weight to attribute to the LDP and UDP is legally flawed you should address the matter in the High Court”.

We think such an action is ill advised because in the unlikely success in the, high cost, High Court the matter would be referred straight back to the decision maker (Welsh Minister) to make the same decision.

It appears to us that the Welsh Government sets out to grant speculative development as a penalty for a Community where a Council has not performed diligently to create a Local Development Plan. In Wrexham case we have been waiting for a new LDP since 2011 and this might happen in 2021 if we are lucky and the Inspectors find in the plan sufficient grounds for it to be approved. Until then more speculative development in Wrexham & Flintshire can be expected as neither Council has an up to date LDP.

5-year Housing Land Supply

PINs advise “where an LPA does not have an adopted LDP, or where an adopted UDP is outside of the plan period as in this case, it will not be able to produce a JHLAS and therefore will not be able to demonstrate a five-year supply of land for housing.”  This JHLAS provision of TAN1 has now been revoked but little help to us.

Although we submitted details before the deadline to the Planning Inspector that WCBC had announced they had a 5-year land bank and referenced LDP Document BP08B detailing this, PINs advise “that it was not incumbent on the Inspector to seek any clarification in regard to Council Document BP08B.  Paragraph 17 of the Inspector’s report is clear: “where an LPA does not have an adopted LDP, or where an adopted UDP is outside of the plan period as in this case, it will not be able to produce a JHLAS and therefore will not be able to demonstrate a five year supply of land for housing.”

As a result, this speculative development was granted because the Council have not got an up to date LDP.

Previous Application

The PINs response on the lack of information on previous Planning History Ref ROS 17649 is totally wrong. The Paragraphs referenced in the Inspector Report (IR62), (IR66) and (IR96) in no way relate to the complete previous planning history of Planning Application ROS17649 which was shown in full in RFG representation documents. This points again to the fact that representations from interested Persons such as RFG receive little or no consideration. In this context no consideration was given and the Inspector confirms this in his report (IR18) “Residential development and the construction of new vehicular and pedestrian access was refused planning permission under LPA Ref: ROS 17649. No further information has been disclosed.”

The Inspectorate’s Handling of Various Planning Issues

It is quite clear from PINs response that “You may not agree with the Inspector, but this does not mean the Inspector arrived at his findings in anything other than a fair and impartial way.  They were conclusions he was entitled to reach using his professional judgment”.

RFG still consider the final decision to recommend granting approval was perverse, bearing in mind the Inspector totally endorsed the Planning grounds on which the Council Members refused the application and does not award costs against the Council but still goes on to allow the appeal.

It is quite clear that RFG will never accept that the handling of the various planning issues was ever done properly to conclude with the decision it did, which we claim was against the weight of evidence submitted.

Validation of the Appeal

PINs reply on this matter is very interesting. When an appeal is lodged Appellants are advised that there is up to 7 weeks required to validate an appeal. The question arises from the PINs response “The requirements needed to make a valid appeal are listed at Article 26 (3) of the DMPO. The substance of an appellant’s grounds of appeal are not a validation requirement “.

The question therefore arises why PINs tell applicants that the grounds of the application must be validated when there is no provision for such in the Town & Country Planning legislation. If the matter is that simple why does the validation process (grounds not required to be demonstrated) take about 7 weeks and what are all the staff doing taking this long. This is just a question for another arena!

Evidence Placed Before the Minister & Inspectors
2 Different Decisions on LDP Soundness

On the PINs response to these issues the silence is deafening.

Failure of Planning Policy Wales

1.30 Managing New Development 

Development management is the positive and proactive approach to shaping, considering, determining and delivering development proposals through the process of deciding planning applications. It is led by the planning authority, working collaboratively with those proposing developments and other stakeholders including the local community. It must be undertaken in the spirit of partnership and inclusiveness (using the five ways of working) and supports the delivery of key priorities and outcomes (contributing to improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being). 

Planning lies from the Welsh Government

Lesley Griffiths – Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs
Also MS for Wrexham – You couldn’t make it up!

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