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.