Agenda item

Local Development Plan - Scrutiny of the Preferred Strategy.


Craig O’Connor and Mark Hand presented the report and answered the members’ questions.


Jez: What are we doing to bring the sort of house builders we want to the county? Do we have preferential treatment for those building the sort of houses that we want, or plans to make our county more attractive to them?

This is a very good point. There are several aspects to it. One is the detailed policies that will be in the deposit plan that will set out what’s required. With private land, we can’t control whom they might be engaging with but we could try to make some of those contacts and connections. We have met with Zero Homes to understand what they are doing in Tonypandy and Cardiff. Councillor Becker has highlighted to us several companies that do housing in a different way, which we would like to pursue further. If the planning authority allocates any council land in the plan, then the council – as landowner – can consider whom it partners with or sells land to, to bring forward something that meets our wider aspirations. How we go about making connections could do with further discussion.

Our climate change note seeks to go higher than Welsh Government’s current target, so order to raise the bar for the climate change agenda and low carbon, it isn’t just a case of looking to sustainable housebuilders but also of pushing the ‘big five’ on sustainable homes. This is what we seek as part of the LDP.

Average house prices are surely high because we have a large number of larger houses, compared with other counties. The cost of new houses across various neighbouring counties seem to be equivalent with Monmouthshire. Is the notion of particularly high prices in Monmouthshire therefore flawed?

We don’t suggest that if more houses are built then the prices will fall. However, if we have a very low level of growth it will force prices up, because there is demand and the supply will then be stripped. Most importantly, we would then deliver very little affordable housing, when we know that we have 2000 homes on our waiting list. This then links into demography. With affordability, the housing mix policy is key to control the footprint of the property. Ensuring we have the right proportion of smaller properties will have an effect on affordability, as it will offer choice to the citizens.

The presentation mentions that we hope to create 7,215 jobs. Who are they for? We have very little control over employment levers.

We certainly don’t hold all the levers regarding where people can live and work. The RLDP is a land use document, so we need to ensure that we have the employment land/commercial space in the right location. This entails having conversations with indigenous businesses and those that want to come into Monmouthshire, and providing opportunities for our citizens by having the right land allocated in the right place. In terms of home working, Covid has shown us that it perhaps doesn’t matter where someone’s base of work is. Many are now working from home, despite their base being far away, thus reducing their carbon footprint and using local areas a lot more – we can capitalise on this, by ensuring that we have self-sufficient settlements. We have the potential to have the perfect ‘20-minute neighbourhoods.’ We need to have flexible policies to support tourism, and ensure we have enough land for renewable energy schemes.

SE Wales is a relatively small, dense and well connected area, overall. Does it really matter, given the work and leisure connections, that we have disparities between older and younger people?

Covid has taught us a lot about sustainable communities. Younger people have been caring for older people and the most vulnerable; projecting that forward, if we imagine going through this in 10 or 15 years, looking at what the demographic charts show we would be in a dire situation without our communities being mixed and having social and economic stability. It is one of our objectives but is ultimately the council’s plan. Should the younger generation wish to live where they grew up, it is incumbent on us to help them to do so, where we can.

Is there not a dichotomy between MCC declaring a climate emergency, building all these homes, and creating these jobs?

This is an important question but the answer is no. 3% of the county is currently defined as ‘built urban’, and the growth that we are discussing would only take it to 3.4%. It comes back to the matter of building the right things in the right places: 20-minute neighbourhoods, amenities, public transport, active travel, etc. It is a matter of the right places but also people being able to behave in different ways e.g. work from home or hubs, if applicable, and the standard of what is built. The two concepts aren’t in opposition. The homes that we want to build for people are the most sustainable that we have ever built. We are pushing the bar in terms of the decarbonisation agenda by ensuring that they are fit for purpose. The people who live in them will have reduced fuel bills, thereby addressing energy poverty. Inclusion of other elements such as electric car charging, pedestrian and cycle links, along with consideration of home working, are critical for addressing climate change. We are also working with the Carbon Trust to look at renewable energy sites.

We’re looking to find 43 hectares of commercial land. Do we have the appropriate compulsory purchase powers to enable us to find that land in the areas where we want the jobs to be created?

The issue of whether we have the right employment land in the right places is very much the purpose of the new RLDP: having a mix of sites, identifying needs, and where we can supply. We’re currently out for consultation and a call for candidate sites – so we would urge anyone with land suitable for employment purposes to come forward. We’ve had several very promising meetings in the past fortnight. To stress: we’re talking in the preferred consultation about strategic options for the growth of the three main towns, which is about employment as well as housing growth. We do have compulsory purchase (CPO) powers. Regarding this plan and delivery of affordable housing, we might need to use them.

Is there nothing in the strategy catering to restrictions on housing? Section 1.7 of The Housing Act 1985 helps local people to purchase local properties, used extensively in Devon, Cornwall, etc. Have we considered adopting this policy in this scheme?

We can look into this when we get to the detailed policy stage. We’re looking at what Gwynedd is doing, to see if there are policy approaches that we can take, although their primary issue is second home ownership. Welsh Government is doing detailed work now that is primarily about welsh language matters but does include policy approaches and pilots for ways of ensuring homes for local people – so we will work with them on that as well. We have a register that allocates affordable houses to local people, and we’re looking to see if there are wider policies that we can tie to it.

I’m very concerned about phosphates and nitrates going into the Usk and Wye. What is being done in relation to this, and what confidence do we have that it won’t affect our plans?

This is a significant issue and is having an effect on development proposals and planning applications – basically, on any development that would increase wastewater. There is a risk assessment in the appendix of the papers for the preferred strategy, concerning how we move forward. We want to ensure that this development doesn’t have an adverse impact on the water quality in our rivers. We need to find infrastructure solutions to how we deliver this level of growth and ensure we don’t harm the water quality. We are in significant conversations with Welsh Water, Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales to resolve the matter. There aren’t definitive solutions at this stage. However, in Monmouthshire, the key aspect of this is that we don’t have the phosphate stripping capability in some of our most sustainable settlements, namely Abergavenny and Llanfoist and Monmouth and Wyesham (Raglan has Phosphate stripping capability; the South of the county is not affected.) We are discussing with Welsh Water the possibility of enhancing the infrastructure within their Asset Management Programme 2025-30. We’re also reviewing whether we can address any ecological solutions; we are speaking to consultants about what is needed. Given this issue, we consider in the appendix whether to pause or stop, but it’s clear that doing so would risk us not addressing problems concerning affordability and the economic challenges.

Does affordable housing funding affect market prices in the same settlements?

Affordable housing is delivered in several ways but the primary one for us currently is via the Planning system. There isn’t any evidence that it affects the price of market housing per se, but it’s undeniably an issue in terms of the viability of developments. Developers look at land purchase costs, build costs and their sales values, so they lose a market sale on each plot where there is an affordable home, and they say that it changes their costs i.e. from a loss of ‘hope value.’ However, if we were to introduce a policy of not building any affordable homes, the builders wouldn’t reduce their prices. Welsh Government funding plays a role via the social housing grant. There are no firm proposals at the moment but the Future Wales document talks about 48% affordable homes in SE Wales in the first five years. Given that that growth is intended to be focussed on Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys, one imagines that there will be significant public subsidy sitting alongside, to ensure that it is delivered.

How much does phosphate-stripping cost?

To add it to one of the existing wastewater treatment plants is several million. We have 34 plants throughout the county, only one of which, Raglan, currently has the technology. We don’t have the problem in the south of the county as it goes out into the tidal area of the Usk. Our key discussion is trying to get Wastewater to bring forward their Asset Management Plan proposals for some key sites that will support this growth. Conversations have been very positive so far.

Our 8000 houses, if delivered, would represent 22% of the regional housing requirement in Future Wales – Welsh Government wants 48% affordable housing in the first 5 years of the plan. How can we possibly get to 48% in the first five years?

If there are additional costs of affordable housing or energy efficiency measures, they come either out of the developers’ profits or out of the land value, or they will try to negotiate it from other contribution packages that we ask for via Section 106. It therefore needs a lot of extra work. We need to gather that information upfront from developers so that by the time we are at deposit plan we have a clear idea of viability and deliverability. It is easy to argue that we should shave it off the land value, and the land becomes cheaper; the counterargument from developers is that people will then not bring forward their land. The message we need to put out is that if we aren’t delivering affordable housing, and not delivering on climate emergency requirements, then this level of growth doesn’t work. There are certainly robust discussions to be had but we need to set down a new level of ambition; this happens to align with Welsh Government’s new policies around ‘placemaking’, so as not to be so developer-led.

In the preferred strategy, there are around 2500 affordable homes out of 8000, which is well below the 48%, but part of the new homes required for the preferred strategy are already built because the plan starts in 2018. So there are existing completions and consents in the pipeline. And there are smaller windfall sites: with these, we get on-site affordable housing if it’s more than 3 homes or a commuted sum if it’s fewer than 3. How that policy approach happens in the future remains to be seen. Not factored into the numbers are the commuted sums that we put together to buy affordable properties in other locations. The proportion of new allocations that will be affordable is about 41%. This is based on some assumptions: we don’t currently know what the proportion of affordable homes will be on most of the sites but we are looking to put in 50% affordable housing sites as an affordable-led arm of the strategy.

As the cost of phosphate stripping is enormous, has Welsh Government given any indication about funding those upgrades?

Those conversations haven’t taken place, at this stage. We have spoken to Welsh Water, in terms of when they are expecting to address phosphate-stripping capability in Monmouthshire. This is affecting development proposals and economic prosperity in Monmouthshire now, so we need a solution. It is a wider problem than development proposals – it is also about agricultural practices and land maintenance. Improving our existing infrastructure to treat phosphate is paramount. There are very early discussions with Welsh Government about whether there can be exceptions for certain types of development e.g. affordable housing.

It is proposed that 240 houses be built in the Usk-Raglan area. In Usk, we are down to 1 doctors’ surgery, the school is at full capacity, there is the road problem, and we now have no banks. Will this all be taken into account?

Yes, we will. There is a sustainable settlements appraisal that looks at things like amenities and connectivity. We did a re-survey of the amenities and sent it to the town and community councils, who agreed that we had included everything that was needed – that will be informed about those changes. We also had a good session recently with health board and GP practice representatives, in which they explained their challenges and how we can build on the infrastructure through the planning process. They were keen on the preferred strategy, in terms of sustaining services and balancing demography.

A number of engagement events are taking place, which started 5th July. There is information in the planning policy section of the website, under preferred strategy consultation. A good place to start if the Easy Read guides. We have held one virtual session, with another to come – details for how to get involved and/or ask questions are on the website. We are also now able to do face-to-face drop-in sessions: we’ve had two or three already, with another this afternoon and more planned. For comments to be formally considered they must be in writing, preferably via the system online.

Chair’s Summary:

Thank you to officers. We have had an in-depth discussion. A further point to consider is that if we introduce a firm policy saying that a certain percentage of affordable housing must be provided on each site, then when the developer is in negotiation with the landowner, the developer will know the base cost of each unit, so they might then factor in that they are going to make that provision.

In addition, we hope to build 8,366 houses and create 7,215 jobs, while Welsh Government expects 30% to work from home – therefore, the size of homes such that they can include home offices might need consideration.


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