Sustainable places: National Development Framework preferred option consultation launched

Published 24/05/2018   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

The Welsh Government has launched its consultation on its Preferred Option for the National Development Framework (NDF). The final version of the NDF is due to be published in September 2020 and will sit alongside Planning Policy Wales (PPW) to set out the Welsh Government’s land use policies.

The NDF, together with PPW, will frame how the Welsh planning system will work for the foreseeable future and represents a significant change of approach. Within the consultation, which is open until 23 July, the Welsh Government sets out its preferred option for the NDF of ‘sustainable places’ and also discusses the alternative options considered.

Here we take a look in more detail at what the NDF is, the issues and options considered by the Welsh Government, and what spatial issues and policy direction may be included in the preferred option of ‘sustainable places’.

What is the NDF?

The NDF is required by the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 and will set out a 20 year land use framework to support the delivery of the Welsh Government’s national strategy, Prosperity for All (PDF 640KB).

It replaces the Wales Spatial Plan and, unlike its predecessor, will have development plan status and therefore much more significance. This means that the plans that sit below the NDF – Strategic Development Plans (SDPs) and Local Development Plans (LDPs) – must be consistent with it. It will also support decisions on large scale infrastructure projects through the Developments of National Significance (DNS) process.

The NDF will complement PPW, and the Welsh Government has recently consulted on a revised edition of PPW which is due to be published later this year. You can read more about how the planning system is being reworked through PPW and the NDF in our previous blog post.

These changes see the Welsh Government take a new approach to land use planning in light of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The Well-being of Future Generations Commissioner, in her 2018 report ‘Well-being in Wales: the journey so far’ (PDF 1.2MB) has welcomed the ‘Welsh Government’s decision to recast their planning policies in light of the Act’.

What is the Welsh Government consulting on?

Whilst the final NDF is not due for publication until September 2020, various stages of consultation are underway. This latest consultation launched in May 2018 seeks views on a preferred option framework for the NDF, before work begins on a draft version later this year.

Whilst exact details of what policies the NDF will set for each part of Wales under this preferred option are not outlined at this stage, the consultation document (PDF 4MB) sets out a framework for the NDF that will be significant in shaping how the final version will look. It sets out a series of nationally important spatial issues and includes the potential policy direction that may be taken for a number themes. The Welsh Government is keen to point out that they are not final policies at this stage and the consultation is an opportunity for stakeholders and other interested parties to express views on them.

What does the preferred option include?

The consultation presents a framework for the Welsh Government’s preferred option, ‘sustainable places’, which is presented under five themes:

  • Placemaking
  • Distinctive and Natural Places
  • Productive and Enterprising Places
  • Active and Social Places
  • Wales’s Regions.

Placemaking is at the heart of the Welsh Government’s new approach and a plenary debate on the role of the planning system in placemaking took place on 15 May 2018. Speaking in the debate, the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, said:

Placemaking is the way to bring these issues together to create sustainable, thriving communities. Placemaking embraces the principles of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and puts it at the forefront of discussions that affect the built environment.

The concept of placemaking is outlined in PPW as an inclusive process, involving all those with an interest in the built and natural environment. It considers issues at all levels, from the global scale, such as climate change, to the local scale, such as amenity impact on neighbours.

You can read more about placemaking in our blog post which considers what placemaking is and what it means in a Welsh context.

The consultation document outlines the importance of the placemaking theme in that it:

… represents the first principle through which all spatial choices are first considered. Decisions taken to support other themes, must first demonstrate that they are compatible with placemaking.

The NDF preferred option focuses on three spatial aspects of placemaking – decarbonisation and climate change; health and well-being; and cohesive communities and the Welsh language. The consultation document suggests that targets to achieve the Welsh Government’s strategic decarbonisation goals will form a key driver which all development plans must support.

Whilst the consultation points out that the policy direction set out in the framework for the NDF is not final, the potential policies identified include areas such as housing, energy and infrastructure.

The ‘Distinctive and Natural Places’ theme suggests the NDF will identify national natural resources, areas of current and future environmental risk, and nationally important landscapes. It also suggests the NDF will identify opportunities for growing and expanding these nationally important areas, for new green infrastructure and new national cultural development.

The ‘Productive and Enterprising Places’ theme could include identifying locations for new national scale renewable and low-carbon energy generation, storage and distribution, whilst the consultation also hints that a framework for local energy generation will be included. Nationally important transport infrastructure and proposals for new infrastructure investment are also highlighted. There are also suggestions that under the ‘Active and Social Places’ theme national policy based population and housing projections, including an all Wales range of housing numbers for the plan period, could be included.

Under the theme of ‘Wales’s Regions’ the document suggests the NDF will provide direction for three regions across Wales – North Wales, Mid and South West Wales and South East Wales, and policy may include a requirement to prepare SDPs. The document also suggests the NDF could:

… identify regional policy based population and housing projections for each region, which will include a regional range of housing numbers for the plan period.

What alternative options were considered?

In October 2017, the Welsh Government undertook consultation on four different options for the NDF. The ‘sustainable places’ preferred option is described by the Welsh Government as a ‘hybrid’ model based on capturing the relative strengths of each of these alternatives. The alternative options (PDF 6MB) considered for the NDF are:

  • A focus on growth in the strongest market areas in Wales, providing the infrastructure required to support this.
  • Distributing growth and infrastructure across Wales and focusing on supporting areas in greatest need where markets are weaker.
  • Delivering decarbonisation and climate change objectives by making these issues the primary consideration of policies within the NDF.
  • Focusing on the sustainable management of natural resources by emphasising agriculture, forestry, renewable energy, water and tourism as ways to develop high quality jobs across the whole of Wales.

What happens next?

As work begins on the full draft NDF following this consultation period, the detail of precisely what the preferred option means for Wales spatially, and any trade-offs this may result in will begin to emerge.

The final NDF is due to be published in September 2020 and before this is adopted by the Welsh Government, the National Assembly for Wales will have 60 sitting days to consider the content. This is likely to take place in Spring 2020.

In the meantime, the Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee will be undertaking work to examine the Welsh Government’s preferred option framework.

Article by Francesca Howorth, National Assembly for Wales Research Service