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The ambition of the Draft National Development Framework

November 11th 2019

The Welsh Government’s National Development Framework is out for consultation. Helen Cunningham reflects on key highlights and takeaways from the draft plan.

The Welsh Government is consulting on its draft National Development Framework (NDF). This sets out the vision, challenges, opportunities and priorities for how development should take place over the next 20 years. It’s a high-level plan that divides Wales into three regions; North Wales, Mid and South West Wales and East Wales and underneath it will sit the regional Strategic Development plans and local authority Local Development Plans.

Not short of ambition

Firstly, the plan is hugely ambitious. The big challenges of our age, including the climate emergency and inequality feature prominently and the plan has “combating inequality at its core”. Amongst its ambitions are a National Forest, Swansea Bay Metro, the establishment of green belts in North Wales and development of district heat networks. While the plan is not short on aspirations, the real test will be in achieving them. We’ve seen targets before that have been set, not reached and on reflection were unrealistic – the abolition of child poverty by 2020 being a case in point, so ensuring this plan is credible and realistic is important.

Seeing spatial planning firmly back on the agenda is a welcome development. The Wales Spatial Plan held real promise but never reached its full potential and appeared to be quietly dropped and subsumed by other policy priorities and initiatives. When the NDF is adopted, it will guide development over the next 20 years. Given the fate of the Wales Spatial Plan, one of the key challenges will be seeing if the NDF can last the course over two decades and help to foster a new and better kind of spatial planning in Wales.

Untapped potential

The plan includes an explicit acknowledgement of untapped potential. This is something that we have previously highlighted, especially in relation to the South Wales Valleys (the plan also has a specific policy on the Heads of the Valleys).  It outlines how “choosing to develop new towns and enabling sprawling greenfield development would be to ignore the untapped potential of places which already have town centres, universities and colleges, public transport infrastructure and a good range of public services.” However, there are also places that have declining town centres, poor to non existent public transport infrastructure and public services under real pressure. These places still have massive potential but grappling with the consequences of nearly ten years of economic downturn (and the possibility of future downturns) are a part of that picture, and will play a significant role in whether the NDF will achieve all it sets out to.

Although only in draft, the plan has already made headlines for its observations that Cardiff cannot continue to expand indefinitely without major consequences for the environment. The South East accounts for 51% of the economic output of the Welsh economy yet this development is unevenly distributed. There are real implications for the capacity of places like Cardiff to service the needs of people living and working in the city in a safe, sustainable way. Cardiff is also not big enough to do things like meet the jobs gap in the wider region, so new solutions are needed and distributed development has to be part of this. The plan sets out a determination to see development and growth in Newport, so there is recognition that more distributed growth is required, although growing Newport is one but not the only way to achieve that and it would be nice to see more on that in the plan.

The NDF offers a long-term ambitious vision for development in Wales, yet faces many challenges if it is to achieve what it wants to. Its short on detail on some of the policy areas in the plan, so it will be interesting to see how that detail manifests in the regional and local development plans that are also important components for the future of development. Whether it can last the course, and deliver on the equality it places at its core, will remain to be seen.

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