Mike Rees argues that it is not too late to discard the capital’s ill-conceived Local Development Plan
The concept of comprehensive development dominated by large tracts of volume housing has been common planning practice for a number of years. Examples can be found in the vast estates surrounding places such as Swindon, Bradley Stoke and Emmerson’s Green around Bristol. The previous Local Plan for Cardiff saw this type of development delivered at Pontprennau and it would seem that we are in for ‘more of the same’ if the current plan proposals for the period up to 2026 are implemented.
The council are proposing 45,400 new homes in four green field locations around the outskirts of Cardiff, including a further 8,000 units in the Pontprennau area. This poses serious challenges, not least because of the knock-on effect of such expansion in a city that does not have a corresponding and deliverable transport strategy.
There is also the question of the deliverability of this scale of development within the plan period. Not only does the plan process have some way to go before final adoption, but then comes the actual implementation of the development beyond that date.
From the house builder’s perspective, each of the proposed allocations is likely to be too large for a single developer. As such, consortium agreements will need to be entered into. Without doubt, there will be a major upfront infrastructure commitment that will need to be funded and implemented. Land assembly agreements will have to be concluded, together with the related planning and other obligations before a single house can be constructed.
It is unfortunate therefore that Cardiff Council is looking at the LDP from an isolationist point of view. There is a significant opportunity to work in conjunction with Vale of Glamorgan Council, for example, to adopt a dispersal approach involving smaller housing numbers but in a greater number of locations. In particular, these could include villages in the Vale where limited and controlled expansion may be considered beneficial in terms of the economic advantages of making local shops, primary schools and other community benefits more sustainable.
Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire, has recently shown that it’s never too late to discard an ill-conceived planning strategy. The town was on course for a large-scale housing operation similar to the Cardiff LDP, before deciding to opt for a ‘pepper pot’ allocation, which is an expansion of small villages in the surrounding area.
Such an approach also brings with it a greater choice of design, offering the prospect of housing following a more vernacular style –which reflects the surrounding area– rather than the familiar ‘pattern book’ approach of more traditional large scale estates.
There are plenty of good examples in England of volume house builders expanding settlements in this way, offering bespoke designs to complement the local architecture, while at the same time adding value to the existing community
Stuart Burgess, former chairman of the now-defunct Commission on Rural Communities, recently told the BBC that “every rural community could easily have 12 or 14 affordable homes without spoiling the environment or the ethos.” He was referring to England, but the same principle absolutely applies to Wales, where rural communities could certainly take more new homes.
While many would protest the development of green spaces, Burgess highlighted the benefits rural areas would receive from subtle and complementary expansion. Housing stock could also be made available sooner. Smaller schemes are much easier to develop on a more piecemeal basis, linking into and supplementing existing infrastructure.
It is also unfortunate that Wales has tended to ignore some of the central government initiatives designed to facilitate a change of use from commercial to residential property. As such, what greater opportunities may be available on brownfield sites that would avoid development on green field land? Viability is the key here, whereas excessive prescriptive obligations such as affordable housing, specification and tenure type can very often deter this sort of development. As such, a more balanced view should be taken and a less onerous approach to planning policy adopted.
Cardiff is a Capital City which is part of a conurbation extending along the M4 corridor. There is an important relationship within this conurbation in terms of where people live and work.
The emerging city plan is long overdue, largely arising from previous criticisms and question marks over its deliverability. However, the current proposals still raise serious question marks about the scale of development proposed: whether this can be delivered in the timescale, and if this is what we really want?
Given all this, it does seem somewhat bizarre that local authorities cannot work together to produce a more comprehensive plan on a wider scale to distribute growth commensurate with a complementary transport strategy. If it did so the city could avoid a sprawling, voluminous development of indistinguishable houses, no different from our near neighbours in Bristol.