CONCERNS have been raised that Wrexham Council’s planning policies might be hindering economic development.
The issue was discussed by members of the employment, business and investment scrutiny committee meeting.
Councillors considered a report from the lead member for housing and planning, Cllr Mark Pritchard.
Among the issues under consideration. Cllr Pritchard has been looking at the impact of the delay in adopting the Unitary Development Plan (UDP) and Local Development Plan (LDP) on the county’s economy.
Cllr Pritchard said: “The UDP took many years to be adopted and the stalled LDP will take even longer.
“The absence of up-to-date policies can impact on economic development, but in the particular circumstances of the last decade, this is considered not to have been a major factor in Wrexham.
“On the one hand, the council has allocated more than enough land for development in term of employment and the housing supply.
“This has been demonstrated by a low uptake in employment land and lack of speculative applications, even during the boom, and the council’s success in defending appeals for development in inappropriate locations.
“Had the council had insufficient land, one might have expected more speculative applications and lost appeals. On the other hand, it can also be argued the refusals of development on policy grounds on the Owens Corning site next to the Wrexham Industrial Estate and at Ruabon Business Park prevented inward economic development – albeit for what were considered to be good planning reasons – and had the planning policies been more flexible this investment would have occurred.
“Also the scarcity of sites for gipsies and travellers has led to a demand for sites and appeals where the inspectors have accepted the need argument, but dismissed the cases for site-specific reasons.”
Cllr Pritchard says a policy which has caused particular concern to house-builders is the requirement for affordable housing and other developer contributions via Section 106 agreements.
His report says: “Developers argue that such requirements are making development financially unviable and therefore impacting on the construction sector.
“However, this is considered to be more a reflection of the wider economic downturn, as some developers have obtained approval to revise their contributions on the production of robust evidence as to the viability of their development.
“There is no evidence that planning policies or the delay in adopting the plans has had a direct impact on any sector of the economy.”
In the report’s executive summary, Cllr Pritchard says: “Overall it is considered the planning policies and processes make a valuable contribution to the achievement of the economy priority in the council plan in as far as this relates to the development and use of land and given the constraints imposed by the statutory plan adoption process.
“However, it is also true the policy adoption process and the long-term nature of the policies themselves cannot keep pace with the changes that are happening in the economy, such as the recession.
“It is often not possible to relax policies to such an extent as to encourage growth given that they are statutory in nature and have widespread public and member support – for example affordable housing and development in the countryside.
“It is considered the planning policy panel and planning committee are effective mechanisms for considering proposed planning policy before it comes to the executive board for decision.”