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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Local democracy versus central control

As a Councillor for nearly 30 years now I share the concerns expressed in this article regarding some of the proposals by the Welsh Government to overhaul the planning system.

The Western Mail reports that under the changes, the vast majority of planning applications will be dealt with by council officers with no involvement by elected members. All infrastructure projects will be handled by the National Assembly, with no input by local councillors to the decision.

There is of course a case for major infrastructure projects to be dealt with on a Wales-wide basis but handing more power to unelected officers to determine the shape of our local communities is a step too far.

That is especially so when the proposed Planning Bill will create a new tier of Strategic Development Plans sitting above Local Development Plans. These will be drawn up by newly created panels with a large number of appointed members who will not be democratically accountable. Local planning authorities will then be required to conform to these strategic plans, weakening the local voice and eroding local democracy.

In addition, the Welsh Government’s proposed Future Generations Bill seeks to put Single Integrated Plans, drawn up by Local Service Boards, on a statutory footing, so much so that Peter Davies, the Sustainable Futures Commissioner has already expressed his worry about their weak link to the democratic process.

These proposals are still out to consultation of course but nevertheless vigilence is required to ensure that yet again powers are not taken off local councils, and elected representatives undermined, in favour of a more centralised approach.
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