Planning and the Welsh Language

Elin Wyn argues that the consideration of the Welsh language in planning matters should be made law

For centuries, Welsh has survived as a majority community language in many parts of Wales, based on the ability of communities to welcome and integrate newcomers and their families.  Things are changing.  The last census results indicate that such communities have become dramatically fewer in number.

Planning is about balancing on the one hand the freedom of landowners and the market to use and develop land, and on the other matters which may be adversely affected by unchecked land use, such as the environment or historical buildings.

The Welsh Government has made a clear commitment in its main planning policy that the Welsh language should be a considered as part of the planning process. In the latest edition of Planning Policy Wales, published in February of this year, the Welsh Government states: “The land use planning system should also take account of the needs and interests of the Welsh language and in so doing can contribute to its well-being”  The policy adds “All local planning authorities should consider whether they have communities where the use of the Welsh language is part of the social fabric, and where this is so it is appropriate that this be taken into account in the formulation of land use policies”

This is not a new policy – indeed it has been part of the Planning Policy Wales (PPW) document for a decade or more. But the Welsh Government’s desire to see the planning system contribute to the well-being of the Welsh language is not being addressed in practice.

The fundamental reason for this failure is that planning legislation as it stands does not take account of the well-being of the Welsh language.

The existing planning system is based on legislation made in Westminster with subordinate legislation made by ministers in Whitehall and Cardiff. PPW outlines the central tenets of planning policy and alongside PPW there are several Technical Advice Notes for planning authorities with guidelines on how to implement planning policy in practice.

In respect of the Welsh language there are three paragraphs in PPW, partially quoted above, and Technical Advice Note 20 first published in 2002. Much of the debate about the Welsh language and planning has focussed on improving TAN 20 and indeed a new version was published last year.

But the bottom line is that TAN 20 is just that – it is only an Advice Note, or a guideline. It does not have the same status as a law, therefore planning authorities and developers may choose not to follow advice contained in a TAN. Indeed, because of the ambiguous legal status of a TAN developers and planning authorities could challenge the very existence of TAN 20 in the courts.

In order to remove this ambiguity, and so that the Welsh Government can fulfil its aspiration to see the planning system contribute to the well-being of the Welsh language, there needs to be a sound legal basis for considering the Welsh language in planning matters. Dyfodol i’r Iaith wishes to see a clause in the proposed Planning Bill ensuring that the Welsh language is a valid consideration in planning matters.

That is the necessary first step. Secondly, planning authorities and developers need to know in which circumstances they should take the Welsh language into consideration. Designations are made in several areas – listed building designation for structures of historic or architectural merit; conservation designation in areas where the habitat of flora or fauna in under threat; and areas of environmental significance are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Dyfodol i’r Iaith proposes that parts of Wales are designated Areas of Linguistic Sensitivity, with a legal status similar to that of SSSIs. Each electoral ward in Wales would be designated according to several criteria e.g. number of Welsh speakers in the ward; changes in the number of Welsh speakers; population estimates and other data. We suggest there would be different levels of sensitivity e.g. wards where Welsh is spoken by more than 60%; the next level would be between 40% and 60%; then between 20% and 40%; and lastly below 20%.  We foresee, for instance, that consideration of the impact of a housing development on the Welsh language could be required in areas where Welsh is spoken by more than 20%.

Dyfodol i’r Iaith also suggests creating a statutory body to undertake the work of designating Areas of Linguistic Sensitivity. This body could be a new organisation or additional responsibilities and an appropriate budget could be allocated to the office of the Welsh Language Commissioner to designate these areas. As the makeup of communities can change rapidly the designating body would review the status of Areas of Linguistic Sensitivity every five years.

The designating body would also have a duty to review the impact of new developments in Areas of Linguistic Sensitivity.

It would be unreasonable to call for a language impact assessment for every single planning application in every Area of Linguistic Sensitivity. We suggest certain specific circumstances relating to housing where a language assessment would be required in an Area of Linguistic Sensitivity:

  • If the number of dwellings in one development increases the size of the village / community by more than 5% or 30 dwellings, whichever is the smaller.
  • In smaller developments or applications for individual dwellings, where the number of empty dwellings in the village / community is more than 20%
  • In each case, consideration should be given to the estimated market value of the dwelling/s and whether the price is within the reach of the average household in the village / community.

Mitigation measures could also be used to promote the use of the Welsh language in specific areas. This can be a planning condition or through the use of the Community Infrastructure Levy. Dyfodol i’r Iaith suggests including a clause in the Planning Bill allowing the use of monies allocated under the Community Infrastructure Levy to promote the Welsh language e.g., through supporting community initiatives, funding Welsh lessons, and funding local skills training initiatives.

We believe that the Welsh Government is sincere in its desire to see the Welsh language flourish in Wales. But in order to do so policies supporting the Welsh language must be implemented across all government departments. The Planning Bill is a golden opportunity for the Welsh Government to fulfil its aspirations with regard to the Welsh language.

Elin Wyn is the Policy Officer for Dyfodol i'r Iaith.

15 thoughts on “Planning and the Welsh Language

  1. Thanks Elin Wyn for a thoughtful article. These ideas have been doing the rounds for 40 years in Wales and areas like the Lake District and further afield in sensitive areas. Many countries restrict foreign ownership to protect identity. In Welsh speaking markets, clearly the unfettered market has won and there is a risk that these measures may come too late.

    No doubt this article will attract the usual sledging from those who see such measures as racist, divisive, superfluous, narrow-minded, counter-productive UNLESS of course it is THEIR language or identity under threat……When, at some point in the future, English is under threat as it was in the middle ages, will the same rationalists and utilitarians say “it’s the way of the world, you can’t fight progress etc”? I won’t be there to see it but I can guess the reaction.

    As property prices in London spin out of control, you hear ordinary Londoners, many being “middle class” of extraordinary means with salaries well above, shall we say, the head of a Welsh council…, bemoan the way “foreigners” are driving prices out of the reach of the “locals”. Most of these people espouse the free market but clearly even for them it’s not just about money. One might ask as those who are anti Welsh planning measures would do: “But who sells the houses to the superrich Russians etc???” If someone refused to sell to a Russian or an Arab would they be pursued by the Commission for Racial Equality?

    Personally, in what is a controversial area with polarized views, I would also like to see some evidence of how restricting holiday homes and outsider purchasers might help or hinder Welsh. I am sure there is a plethora of examples from Derwen Gam in the 70’s to developments like Pwll Glas (Dyffryn Clwyd) in the 80’s etc. And there is of course the recent Bodelwyddan and Pen-y-Banc proposals. I mention Derwen Gam because an article in Golwg a few years back suggested that this old village which where Welsh was decimated by change of use to holiday homes had now become more Welsh again (admittedly much less than before the change). I suspect that on the whole these developments have damaged Welsh but are there any positive examples or aspects we could apply to future developments? Some Welsh speakers in national parks argue that restricting housing just drives up the price of existing units which are easily affordable to say Londoners whose economy decoupled from the rest of the UK in the 1990’s .

    Equally, the right to buy has diminished the stock of social housing but sceptics say: “there is no work, so no demand…” and that local authorities are casting around for tenants. In this case there is probably a vicious circle at play

    The net for evidence should be cast wider to Europe: Provence, the Alps etc to see what works on the ground

    We could then produce a flexible strategy rather than imposing a rigid framework which stifles all and any development. Construction work can provide local jobs. Has anyone studied how much construction money is / stays local? Not easy as if private companies think this is a key measure they will just doctor the books to bamboozle the civil servants.

    I am sure much research has been and can be done in all these areas to inform measures

  2. More proposals for language discrimination and social engineering from another unelected vested interest group…

    There’s no wonder the Welsh flag has a dinosaur on it!

  3. This kind of talk from the Welsh Language Society worrys me. It seems like they are trying very hard to impose am inclusive and xenophobic planning policy by dressing it up in politically correct language.

    People should not be prevented from living somewhere because of the language they speak, where they come from, or what their family history may be.

  4. How can any assessment be made of the effect on the Welsh language if the planning authority do not know the language of the incomers? Will the developers be required to vet prospective buyers and decline offers if there are insufficient Welsh speakers? Or perhaps it will be a condition of sale that the purchaser learn Welsh?

  5. The language can’t ultimately be protected by planning laws or any other form of negative regulation, it can only be fostered and grow through people wanting to use it, seeing benefit in using it, and making it relevant to their lives and future aspirations.

  6. I was a founder-member of Airdeall, a group which campaigned for years on this issue in Ireland. We were, in my opinion, successful in blunting this particular threat to Irish-speaking communities. The Planning Authority would insert an Irish-speaker percentage occupation clause on the development, commensurate with the Irish-speaking local population.
    It is not a popular clause with property developers, but it stopped estates of English-speakers being plonked into Gaeltacht areas.

  7. Fortuitously we have European law to ensure language equality. If rights exist to develop a Welsh speaking community in one area similar rights must allow a Greek community (or any other EU language based community) to develop a similarly homogeneous community right next door. It matters not that such occurs in Wales for in this instance Wales is an irrelevance.

    Freedom of movement of capital remains the imperative but can, sometimes, be overridden, but not for the benefit of any group or groupings within the EU.

    Elin Wyn talks rubbish.

  8. It would not be much of a democracy if interest groups such as Dyfodol i’r Iaith were muzzled.

    I wonder why Elin Wyn is raising this matter with the proposed planning system, rather than the broader suite of laws that are on the table such as natural resources (environment) and the historic environment – not forgetting National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty which seem to have fallen between the boards in the whole exercise. All three laws will influence community development in Wales.

    As an erstwhile planner, the possibility of discussing a designation such as an Area of Linguistic Sensitivity with politicians and colleagues in the context of these laws would present an interesting professional challenge.

  9. Interesting example Páid. Is there any research on the impact? No doubt, during an unprecedented housing boom in Ireland as in Spain etc, there were many (even) local opponents hoping to cash in irrespective of damage to the natural or social environment. I’ve read that Ireland’s natural environment has been blighted in many places by unsightly single and multi house developments and had just assumed that the Gaeltacht suffered too. Of course many so-called free-marketeers who seek “progress” will scoff. But, if you are for free movement of people and capital, encouraging business, construction etc then that should include your area, work or culture not just others’. Too often people want to deregulate others; simultaneously supporting a free market while protecting their own interests.

    It would be good to hear more from those like yourself (I assume you’re a Gaeltacht resident) who are locals (rather than outsiders talking about someone else’s community). Of course living in a community doesn’t mean you’re not an outsider. I’ve lived and worked for 20 years in Spain and speak the language most of the time but I am still an outsider and would not expect to decide on issues that affect the local community language and identity.

    Personally, irrespective of environmental, social or cultural issues, real estate booms seem to end in tears and I’ve never quite understood why people celebrate house price inflation while decrying inflation in other areas. Isn’t it in everyone’s interest (apart from the minority of builders, developers, speculators, estate agents and landlords) for property to be affordable?

    My main concern in Welsh speaking Wales is if planning restrictions will push up prices even further, hence my request for more information on the research available. Looking forward to some constructive replies

  10. I remember some very articulate and intelligent middle-class English people burying themselves in the ground and camping in the woods around Newbury in order to ‘save’ some trees from the clutches of road developers not so long ago.

    Likewise, only a year or two ago several senior politicians forfeited their cabinet careers in defence of home counties hills and downs in the face HS2…

    No doubt the preservation of marine biodiversity in the upper Severn estuary will continue to prevent (or reconfigure) plans for the tidal barrage scheme for some time to come…

    And as we speak, millions of Britons are proposing that Britain leave the biggest and most successful trading block in the world in order to ‘save’ the linguistic and cultural heritage of half a dozen market towns in Middle England currently under ‘attack’ from Eastern European migrants…

    So, as long as utilitarian materialists are thoroughly consistent in the application of their argument I am bound to respect their opinion, whilst respectfully disagreeing with their somewhat masochistic nihilsm. I do wonder, however, how many housing and development ‘laissez faire-ists’ in Wales are being a little selective in their defence of the naturalistically ‘inevitable’ and their vilification of the idealised ‘human construct’?

    Since I am not a positivist or a materialist, I am happy to support all sorts of conservation and preservation interventions, including those related to languages.

    When is a principle of universal application not a principle of universal application? When it is not universally applied.

  11. The value of traditional Welsh communities, above all Welsh-speaking communities, has always been promoted as close social ties, shared culture and values, in a word solidarity. Why then are there so few initiatives along the lines of co-operatives and other self-help measures to protect, own and control your own neighbourhoods? These ideas are not new, they have been promoted by (a minority??) of Welsh speakers for at least 40 years. You have I don’t doubt a wide constituency of sympathetic potential supporters, both within the Bro and beyond, who if approached correctly might be challenged to “put their money where their mouth is” (oes ‘na ffordd i ddeud hynny yn Gymraeg?) when investment was required. After all the alternative is to put your money at the disposal of the banks, who of course finance the developers you claim to oppose.

    Someone pointed out, years ago now, that wherever you go in rural Wales you’ll find chapels, sometimes more than one in a single village, and all these were built by private local subscription, not a penny of government money, at a time when life was much harder and cash much scarcer than it is today. What then has changed? Is there still an distinctive Welsh society worth saving, and if so why isn’t it working in its own way to save itself. Once you depend on outside forces your autonomy and hence your identity is gone. How did Welsh language and culture manage to sustain itself for centuries when it had no official status and was always opposed to a greater or lesser extent by the powers that be? Why can’t these means work now? If Welsh culture is half what it’s cracked up to be why does it no longer assimilate incomers rather than allowing itself to be assimilated? When and how did it lose its self-confidence?

  12. Welsh survived much more strongly than either Irish or Scots Gaelic and is incomparably the most lively of the world’s remaining Celtic languages in both number of speakers and in the richness of its literature. However Alasdair M’s challenge is fair enough. The language will survive through self- help or not at all.

  13. Alasdair MaolChrìosd,

    Penetrating and relevant questions indeed, the answers to which are at the heart of the problem and provide some of the solutions should people choose to see them…

    “When and how did it lose its self-confidence?”

    The orthodox answer to that is 1282 at Cilmeri near Llanfair ym Muallt. A more prosaic answer would take up more space here than I think reasonable, though I’m not sure anyone has quite got to the heart of the Welsh problem of ‘gwaseidd-dra’ (servility) as well as Emrys ap Iwan did in the 1880s and 1890s. None of his writing has been published in English (which I think he’d approve of) and so it’s a little difficult to access the ideas outside of Welsh. D. Myrddin Lloyd published a reasonable survey of his work in English in the Writers of Wales series (UofWP, 1979).

    As T. H. Parry-Williams famously said in ‘Hon’: “Beth yw’r ots gennyf i am Gymru?” (“What care do I have for Wales?”)…

  14. “Isn’t it in everyone’s interest (apart from the minority of builders, developers, speculators, estate agents and landlords) for property to be affordable?”

    You forgott to mention that the Government makes a lot of money through stamp duty. And then of course, you have many politicians with vested interests. Possibly the most well known bein Tonay Blair with his propety empire.

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