The Big Questions: Welsh Places

We asked the parties specific questions on strengthening local democracy and increasing prosperity of communities across Wales.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and accelerated problems that have long been embedded in our communities.

 

Our places are struggling in the wake of declining retail sales and lockdown restrictions, and this has a knock-on effect on the environmental, economic, social and cultural well-being of Wales.

 

The IWA has therefore developed a Welsh Places Charter for the next Welsh Government, focusing on strengthening local democracy and increasing prosperity as a means to contribute to wellbeing.

 

We believe these measures would contribute to increasing the resilience of Welsh places, helping to stem the long-term problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

 

 

We asked the parties standing in the 2021 Senedd elections specific questions around our recommendations for Welsh Places in the charter, and you can read their answers below. Not all parties who we contacted provided a response.

 

An analysis by the IWA team of the responses received will be published this afternoon.

 

 

In order for Wales’ places to build back better from the effects of the pandemic and economic shutdown we need to see power redistributed back to our communities.

We also need communities of place which are welcoming for those from diverse backgrounds and with protected characteristics.

We believe all communities should have the tools to better understand their area; the voice to represent their needs to decision makers; the means to make a change in the places where they live and work.

What will your party do to strengthen local democracy for everyone in Welsh communities?

Under a Plaid Cymru Government, power and accountability will rest as close as possible to the people and our country’s national institutions will be accountable to the people they serve.

Nobody’s votes will be wasted and our democracy will be representative of Wales’ diverse population at each tier of government.

Despite great strides towards gender equality in the early days of the Senedd, we must now act to ensure that our Senedd and wider democracy reflects our modern nation in all of its diversity and reflects all the voices and aspirations of Wales’ citizens.

We will therefore implement the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform, in particular on Single Transferable Voting, gender quotas and expanding the Senedd. 

We will strengthen local democracy by creating a new system of empowered Community and Town Councils, as the foundation for Welsh local government.

The new Community and Town Councils will also have planning powers and an economic development role in promoting local business startups, social enterprises and co-operatives, tourism, small-scale renewable energy schemes, and recycling.

They will become a delivery vehicle for regeneration strategies set by Cymoedd, our Valleys Development Authority, the Arfor Development Agency, and elsewhere by Prosperity Wales, our new national economic development agency.

Wales Green Party supports the aspiration for an independent, democratic Wales, bringing decision making closer to the people. This means a new voting system making everyone’s vote count and parties that learn to work together. 

Government needs to listen to local knowledge, bringing in local economic recovery forums where local people can discuss the economy they want – democratising economy in line with Wellbeing commitments.

Services need to further develop co-production involving citizens groups and not-for-profit local business. 

Democracy for everyone means: devolved police and justice, with a review of policing of communities of colour and other marginalised groups in Wales; and ensuring that citizens of Wales can live their life in the language. 

Democracy should evolve, including multiple forms that all have their place in a complex modern society: Electing representatives to carry out a public manifesto; local assemblies to help identify and debate local issues; citizens’ juries and people’s assemblies to debate and explore contentious issues.

Local democracy means having governance in place that supports local agency, including a reformed planning system as detailed in our WGP Manifesto. 

Economic recovery must now take centre stage, and the Welsh Conservatives would achieve this by building a better Wales which would include delivering more jobs, better hospitals and first class schools.

But in building a better Wales, we must also undertake measures to ensure local democracy is strengthened by ensuring voices in all Welsh communities are heard.

And our bold policies will do just this, we will empower local communities to establish neighbourhood plans, allowing them to influence where development should happen, what their communities should look like, and what they should include.

We will also implement council tax referendums for local people who would have a direct say on excessive council tax rises above 5%, as well as the creation of a comeback package for seaside and market towns to level up with a Tourism Towns Fund which would enable communities to improve their local economy by attracting new visitors.

In addition, whilst undertaking an enormous housing construction scheme, we would ensure that the 100,000 new homes are built in the right places by working with local people.

The Welsh Conservatives have a plan for change, to get Wales back on track, and strengthen local democracy within communities.

Welsh Labour has worked hard over the last few years to put a stronger emphasis on ‘place’ in policy right across Welsh Government.

Good examples are our new Economic Contract and ‘Future Wales’ National Development Framework where inclusive growth and the development of strong, vibrant communities are now at the heart of what the Welsh Government does in areas like the economy and planning – something that will be hugely important in our work to build back fairer after the pandemic. 

Engaging grassroots communities and individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds will be critical to that rebuilding work – the road to net zero; the fight for social justice and the regeneration of our town centres can’t be done successfully without the participation, the ideas and the energy of individuals and local communities. 

There’s no silver bullet to this – it requires work across government and deeper culture change within and outside government. One example of where we will support change can be seen in our commitment to create a Race Disparity Unit alongside an Equality Data Unit to ensure we develop an inclusive evidence base that can help inform decision making in government.

The next Welsh Labour Government will also expand its Access to Elected Office programme to encourage more Women, Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic and disabled people to stand for elected office and we will also implement the recommendations of the Reflecting Wales in Running Wales report.

During the pandemic we have all seen what local councils can do for our communities. However, we believe our councils must change to meet future challenges and to ensure that they are accountable for the decisions they take.

The key principle for local government should be that public services are delivered at the lowest geographical scale at which they can be subject to efficient and competent implementation and effective democratic oversight. 

To strengthen local democracy we will move all local elections to Single Transferable Vote, look to amalgamate town and community areas into meaningful and accountable bodies, replace Council Tax and investigate changes to the funding of local government, and introduce a Community Empowerment Act to give power back to communities.

Often communities who are in the most need don’t have the capacity to focus on writing and developing funding bids. 

How would your party support communities to develop grass roots project proposals which will help them build back better after the pandemic?

The idea of Wales as a community of communities has always been at the heart of Plaid Cymru’s mission.

We will operate as a Government on the principle that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas and we will seek to ensure the effectiveness of channels to feed good ideas into government, and empower communities to create and sustain projects that answer local needs and priorities.

In government, we will enact a new Community Rights Act and explore a Community Wealth Fund to empower communities to buy community assets, including land.

We understand that local organisations often require support to compete for grants and funding from national and regional schemes – that is why we would create a new national service to support them in the process of applying for funding and developing proposals to ensure that community assets and projects remain in local ownership and are locally-led.

Third sector funding and project development support would also be available through the newly empowered network of Community and Town Councils.

Practical support for communities is needed, as outlined in the IWA paper, but it is also necessary to stop the hollowing out of communities through policy measures for good housing and transport.

Wales has for too long relied on projects, which often give the appearance of addressing issues but fail to make the joined-up changes to governance frameworks and the economy that really mean change across the country.

All projects need to be considered in their aspect as pilots for wider change that demonstrate proof of concept and have means to capture learning and capacity development.

A strategy should be put in place to support and re-energise the Wales-wide networks of expertise developed in running former EU structural fund projects.

The learning and ideas from this pool of talent should become a resource for a more strategic approach, taking full advantage of increased broadband connectivity and new work patterns.

All this should be put in the context of a massive programme of job creation for climate solutions supported by independent not-for-profit finance (see our Green Transformation Fund for details).

We recently marked the fiftieth anniversary of Dr Julian Tudor-Hart’s ground-breaking 1971 paper on the Inverse Care Law where he highlighted many of the links between deprived communities and health outcomes.

Tackling inequalities will be at the heart of Welsh Labour’s work in the new term and part of that will be about supporting communities to bring forward more grass roots projects.

In Wales we understand what can be achieved when people work together. In many ways it’s built into our DNA, in part a legacy of the thick social networks that gave 20th Century industrial life in Wales its vitality.

Whether it was the local Miners Library, the Medical Aid Society or the labour club, they were institutions that built trust and solidarity as well as giving communities more agency over their own lives.

Part of the legacy of deindustrialisation has been a loosening of that social capital and we have to find new ways to strengthen civil society in Wales for the 21st Century, in a way that enhances local democracy and gives people more and greater control over their own lives and services in the places they live.

One example of where we will take this forward is in building on the new Framework for Regional Investment we have developed which supports the genuine decentralisation of power to communities and to people in their local areas, so that they can make decisions and form the kinds of new and dynamic partnerships which can link places and investments in fresh and imaginative ways, including through influencing budgets and ideas. 

The economy is currently suffering the deepest recession since records began, with evidence warning that Welsh communities could be amongst the worst hit in the UK.

And worse still, communities across Wales are feeling left behind by the abundance of bad decisions by Labour.

But our clear plan will empower communities to develop grass roots project proposals to ensure they can build back better.

Firstly, we would protect community assets by enabling local people to run and expand facilities that benefit the local community.

We would also establish neighbourhood plans, allowing communities to influence where development should happen, what their communities should look like, and what they should include.

Moreover, we would swiftly introduce a Community Ownership Fund and Right to Bid to support the takeover of assets such as libraries, pubs, leisure centres and green spaces, particularly those threatened with closure or development.

Our bold plans would enable communities to bounce back post-COVID.

Local government has a key role to play in engaging communities and supporting grass roots projects.  

We will introduce a Community Empowerment Act and reform planning to strengthen the hands of communities. By introducing a community right to buy, we’ll strengthen the hands of communities in purchasing buildings and assets.

We will establish funds to Keep Wales Creative and to support grassroots sport initiatives.

Data is increasingly seen as an essential service. But too often data and evidence about Welsh places is hard to find, hard to understand, or not available at all.

Improving the collection and presentation of data at a community level would both strengthen the evidence-base for informed local decision making, and empower people to improve their communities. 

What plans does your party have to improve the accessibility, quality and presentation of data and evidence so that it can be easily used by local communities?

We will continue our support for the creation and development of the National Digital Library. This gives any citizen of Wales the right to download an electronic copy of any book in national or local public collection, including those in copyright, in exchange for a fee paid to the publisher and author, based on the number of times the digital version is read. A similar system will apply to music and film.

Our Media Commission will investigate  potential for support for local and hyper-local journalism that speaks to the sense of community and place.

Learning from home has been a challenge for many children in households which don’t have access to digital devices and internet access.

This ultimately disjoints learning experiences. We will introduce a ‘digital entitlement’ for all learners, committing to ensure provision of digital devices and high-speed internet access for every pupil.

Knowledge is a key part of power and we support digital access, sport and culture for all in a truly bilingual nation. We agree that data and evidence could and should be more readily available and that digital advances have made this more feasible. 

A programme of Knowledge for Wales should centrally include research and development led by research in our colleges, universities and schools.

Such developments should include working with local communities to gain local knowledge and finding ways to gather and present evidence beyond sometimes meaningless number-crunching.

The Wellbeing approach should be used as a real living basis for changing the kind of information we collect and from whom. Specifically, Wales Green Party proposes: local planning authorities will have a statutory requirement to provide evidence for community-led ‘place plans’; a comprehensive, co-produced and accessible housing register be developed across Wales, regularly updated and monitored by a steering group comprising all sectors of stakeholders and providing detailed training for LA officers.

Welsh Conservatives are fully committed to improving the accessibility, quality and presentation of data and evidence for local communities across Wales.

The design of the Senedd is meant to convey transparency and openness, but sadly the same cannot be said of the home of Welsh Government in Cathays Park. 

Like a blackhole, the Welsh Government sucks in information and that is where it stays. In the same way we’re opening-up the Welsh economy and creating jobs by building the M4 Relief Road, upgrading the A40, A470 and A55, we will give greater access to data collected by the Welsh Government. 

Welsh Conservatives would engage constructively with all relevant bodies to put together a blueprint for improving the accessibility of data, including expanding the role of StatsWales to make more data available and in more accessible formats.

The Welsh Labour Government has worked hard to empower communities and public service leaders to use data to improve services and decision making across Wales.

We’ve appointed new Chief Digital Officers for Local Government and Welsh Government, with one to follow for Health and set up the Centre for Digital Public Services.

Just look at the way, over the last ten years, we have supported schools in Wales to use data in a more systematic and intelligent way in the classroom to track the performance of pupils in Wales and to then tailor support for the most disadvantaged.  

In the next term Welsh Labour will take forward its new Digital Strategy which sets common standards for data and digital services and which has inclusion and engagement running through it.

We want it to support the culture change that can help communities at all levels openly use data to solve problems and instead of designing services from the viewpoint of what organisations think a citizen and communities need, involve people in designing services that meet the needs of the end user. 

 

Good data is essential to strong accountability and evidence based decision making. As we have seen with the gender pay gap, the reporting of data is a good tool for accountability and encouraging change.

We would expand on this work ensuring that data on the ethnicity pay gap is presented. We welcome moves to improve what data is presented and made available to the public in an accessible format.

It is also essential that Welsh universities and research bodies are able to continue to access grant funding.

We will campaign to ensure the Senedd has influence over the Shared Prosperity Fund and that research projects are eligible to address the loss of EU funding.

The pandemic has highlighted the challenges for places across Wales, specifically town centres. Many of our places are struggling in the wake of declining retail sales, lockdown restrictions, and changes in consumer behaviour. 

What is your party’s vision of what vibrant town centres should look like, and what policies do you have to make this vision a reality?

Town and village centres are the heart of their communities. As shopping centres, they have been under threat from the growth of out-of-town superstores and retail parks, and the phenomenal growth of internet shopping during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A Plaid Cymru Government will:

  • Make management of town centres with 30 or more commercial premises a statutory responsibility of local councils. This will include the appointment of managers to co-ordinate town centre investment, maintenance, and promotion, including the production of Town Centre Action Plans.
  • Allocate capital and revenue funding for a Wales Urban Renaissance Programme to be renewed on a five-yearly basis.
  • Make town centres with very high vacancy rates (20 per cent plus), rate-free Enterprise Zones with a package of other aid and advice provided by Prosperity Wales, our new enterprise agency.

We will create a Welsh model of local public procurement built on the foundational economy. We will set a target of increasing the level of public sector procurement from 52 per cent to 75 per cent of the total spend. We will pass a Public Procurement Act placing a statutory duty on public bodies to adhere to national procurement guidelines.

We want town centres to be vibrant centres of community life providing an increasingly diverse offer of retail, social, leisure and housing options supporting local communities and visitors.

The immediate need is to bring high streets back to life with low-cost rent and rates for small local business, creative local start-ups and social/environmental businesses offering community benefit e.g. repair cafes and tool libraries.

Longer term, our manifesto highlights some of what we think will work: A framework of general commitments to planning for climate solutions and promoting wellbeing agendas for communities and nature; New positive planning approaches involving the local community in creating places with a distinctive identity with a statutory requirement for citizen engagement processes; Ensuring more local say in Town and Country Planning decisions including third party rights of appeal, increasing public participation exercises through events like ‘Planning for Real’; Developing integrated approaches to place-making that bring together local Place Plans, Local economy forums and Environmental plans into one vision developed with communities; Measures to correct the tax injustice highlighted by campaigners in Crickhowell, for example, where huge companies allegedly cut special deals with the Inland Revenue and can undercut local companies on the high street.

Town centres are the lifeline for communities across the country but, like all other sectors in society, they were not immune to the huge upheavals caused by COVID-19.

But the pandemic also exposed the deep fault lines in our economy which have been caused by 22 years of Labour rule.

 As a result, we have an ambitious plan to ensure town centres bounce back post-pandemic which includes abolishing business rates for small businesses, as well as ensuring there are no new taxes for the duration of the next Senedd term.

We also pledge to introduce a COVID bounce back package, which would maintain the cut in VAT to 5% for tourism businesses—many of which operate in town centres—until April 2022.

The last twelve months have hit our town centres and high streets hard. Covid has accelerated profound changes in the way people work, move about and shop – and the next Welsh Labour Government will work with partners to help design a new model for our town centres and high streets after Covid. 

While the challenge is significant, there are important opportunities ahead. The changing nature of work – with more people working remotely – does offer the opportunity for greater footfall and spending to come back to areas hit hard by deindustrialisation.

Welsh Labour will move these areas forward by helping develop a model where a greater range of businesses, services and functions of all types happen in town centre and high street locations. Alongside this we will coordinate and plan new public transport and active travel infrastructure. 

We’ll use our £110m Transforming Towns fund to support regeneration; we’ll aim for 30% remote working in the economy and support new Remote Working Hubs in town centres.

We’ll develop a new register of empty buildings to help these spaces to be filled by new businesses and local services and we’ll locate 80 new Re-use and Repair Hubs in Town Centres as well as support new social enterprise schemes such as bike maintenance repair cafes and bike recycling schemes.

We will also legislate for a Clean Air Act that will set the highest standards of air quality into law and which can support changes that improve air quality in vibrant town centres.

Our town centres should provide communities, commuters, businesses, and residents access to a range of services, employment opportunities, and leisure facilities. Through a new Planning Act we will adopt the principle of 20 minute communities, supporting town centres and high streets throughout our communities.

Over the next Senedd term we would invest £500m in a Welsh Towns Fund, supporting businesses, in collaboration with local councils, to reshape and reimagine town centres and high streets.

The fund will be targeted at supporting improved transport infrastructure, digital connectivity, and creating employment hubs to support new businesses and remote working.

We are also proposing a freeze in business rates for five years and the introduction of a Business Rates Investment Relief Fund to enable small businesses to invest in measures to support productivity and decarbonisation. 

 

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