Priority must to be given to the development of planning guidelines that strengthen rural communities in Mid Wales, reducing isolation and depopulation and attracting more investment and social opportunities, according to one of the region’s architects and planning consultants.
Responding to the Welsh Government’s Draft National Development Framework 2020-2040 consultation, Doug Hughes, managing director and principal architect at Newtown-based Hughes Architects, said affordable housing in towns and villages throughout the Mid and South West Wales region should be a priority, balanced with improved communications, infrastructure and commercial development.
The consultation, which ends on 1 November, sets out where the Welsh Government believes strategic development of housing, industry, transport, energy supply and the natural environment should take place. It will form guidance for planning and investment over the next 20 years.
“The framework, understandably, prioritises the urban areas of the South-East of Wales and the South West, including Swansea, where there is a critical mass in the population,” said Mr Hughes.
“In terms of the rural areas of Mid Wales the focus that has so far drawn most attention and publicity from the consultation has been the siting of windfarms.
“While this is a significant element, there should be much more discussion about how the framework addresses and tackles the issues of depopulation and commercial investment in areas such as Powys and Ceredigion.
“While it cites key regional centres of Newtown, Aberystwyth and Llandrindod Wells as a focus for growth, providing jobs, leisure and retail, education and health services, more needs to be driven down to the smaller communities and villages where infrastructure and development will be critical to their long-term sustainability.
“Sixty per cent of people living in the area are within settlements of less than 2,000 people. That’s the majority of the region’s population. Therefore, we need to address the future housing and infrastructure for these communities and how planning and employment in the key regional centres supports the smaller communities surrounding them.”
He added: “Counties such as Powys have an ageing population that will place pressure on not only health services, but housing and accommodation. This needs to be balanced with the need to provide opportunities for young people to live and work here, from affordable housing to social facilities, transport and employment.”
The framework document says 23,400 additional homes will be needed until 2038 in the Mid and South West Wales region and between now and 2023 it says 44 per cent of these should be affordable homes.
Mr Hughes said investment and planning focussed on supporting and developing smaller communities would in turn secure employment, commercial investment, schools, shops and other amenities that are critical to rural communities.
“The framework needs to balance the need for protecting our local natural environment and increasing reliance on renewable energy with well-thought out plans for residential accommodation, commercial and industrial development and social opportunities.
“All of this needs good infrastructure, such as roads and railways, along with digital technology, from superfast broadband and 5G mobile data in all our rural communities. These all need to be part of our long-term planning consideration.”
Mr Hughes’ comments come as Powys County Council ends its consultation on additional areas of its Local Development Plan, including residential design.
The Draft National Development Framework consultation documentation can be found at: https://gov.wales/draft-national-development-framework. The consultation ends on 1 November 2019.