Cardiff should co-operate with neighbouring councils

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.

Mike Rees is a Partner in Bruton Knowles, one of the UK’s leading property consultancies since 1862. He is a specialist in land development and has acted on behalf of landowners in south Wales for over 20 years.

2 thoughts on “Cardiff should co-operate with neighbouring councils

  1. Interesting and topical article… I’d like to offer a few quick thoughts.

    • There is nothing inherently bad or damaging about a large scale housing development; what is bad is poor design, lack of public transport, no use of green space, and no consideration for community facilities. We don’t want more St Mellons or Pontprennau – we need to design and build communities. Perhaps Ely Mill is a better examples of what we might achieve?

    • We also need to recognise that house builders want margin, and will build where that is best regardless of local authority or national boundaries; and landowners want fair value. In recent years the gap between land values and house prices has closed, putting pressure on developer margins.

    • As regards the LDP – well the obligation Cardiff has is to get the LDP done. Most of the adjacent LAs have already done theirs and the inspector called in Cardiff’s last attempt as it did not include enough greenfield housing development. Cardiff it seems to me is between a rock and hard place.

    What do Developers want?

    They are looking to build where margins are highest. The highest prices in this region coincident with the greatest scale/demand are to be found in and around Cardiff where the average house price £183,000. The addition of further cost to developers will not encourage them to disperse their development capacity but to move elsewhere. The example of Tewkesbury in Gloucester (with average house prices of over £200,000) may well be appropriate for some parts of the Vale of Glamorgan but not so good for the Valleys, where average house prices are about £124,000 in Caerphilly, £106,000 in Rhondda Cynon Taf, and £98,000 in Merthyr.

    So in today’s market, where margins are tight, then smaller high quality developments are possible in a few places – so, yes, in and around Tewksbury and maybe some parts of the Vale of Glamorgan. However, where margins are low, if developers can be persuaded to build at all, which in many parts of south-east Wales is a challenge, then all you will get is an estate of off-the-shelf boxes and not a community.

    Public transport?

    We also need to try and develop housing in and around existing public transport – and perhaps new public transport. Over the last 20 years there has been a large amount of development in Rhondda Cynon Taf between Llantrisant, Beddau, and Church Village, but with no public transport. Whether we like it or not Cardiff will have to free up some greenfield land for development (as well as exploit brown field as I suggested on ClickonWales last November – It seems to me that it makes sense to focus this in north-west Cardiff and use it to develop a new rail link west from Cardiff all the way through Fairwater, Creigiau to RCT (See to help improve public transport to places like Beddau. The scale of development will also be more likely to secure a large 106/CIL contribution that would otherwise be lost for a series of smaller developments. This is an opportunity to build communities – with good design, public transport, sufficient density, greenspace and community facilities.

    The Regional Future

    Finally, whilst the Vale of Glamorgan can probably support a number of smaller incremental developments and Cardiff some larger scale opportunities, the Valleys with more dispersed LDP housing allocations, does not offer the house prices to attract developers. So in the medium to longer term, perhaps it would be better to aggregate housing allocations in fewer higher density locations on current or future public transport corridors across the Cardiff City Region to enable some of the pressure to be taken off Cardiff – which will have to be linked to investment in public transport. In fact, we need to better integrate all new development and not just housing, with public transport as set out in our recent report published by the IWA and the Metro Consortium A Cardiff City Region Metro: transform | regenerate | connect See:

  2. Whoever wrote this really hasn’t got a clue about the attitude of councillors or the public which they represent for that matter. You are really not going to get any rational approach to development in the south east of Wales I’m afraid until we have a planning authority based on a city region. As for transport issues perhaps we should adopt the approach used in Vienna where the city authorities place a premium on transport links to the tram system before even a brick is laid.

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