Welsh Labour Leadership Contest: The votes are in - but will the outcome make any difference to the future of Wales?

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The polls have closed for the Welsh Labour leadership election and the winner will be announced on Thursday (6 December).  But will the outcome have any significant impacts on the future of Welsh development and infrastructure?

While Mark Drakeford has remained the favourite to become the next First Minister since becoming the early front-runner, the divided nature of politics and preferential election process means it would be dangerous to discount the other two candidates, Eluned Morgan and Vaughan Gething, before the final result is announced.

We have taken a look at each candidate’s policy commitments and the impacts these may have on the built environment, construction, transport and energy sectors.

Mark Drakeford:

The current Finance Minister has long been seen as the inevitable successor to Carwyn Jones, with his experience and commitment to Jeremy Corbyn and the UK Labour Party being seen as the cornerstones to his leadership drive. Mark has clearly set out his policy commitments and released a detailed manifesto entitled “21st Century Socialism”.

So, what is Mark proposing under his leadership:

·       Energy: Mark has proposed a large surge in Wales’ relationship with renewable and sustainable energy. In his manifesto he outlines that investment in renewable energy must be seen as a bid to boost the Welsh economy, adding that Wales must make use of the abundance of wind, water and waves available.   His pledges include re-examining the case for a new Welsh Energy Mutual (based on the Welsh Water model), as well as setting up an independent commission to advise on nuclear power.

·       Housing and Regeneration: Mark has stated that he would appoint a Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for housing and allied matters, allowing housing to be represented at the top table. He adds to this that he would press ahead with plans for a vacant land tax, tackling land banking and allowing for the release of land for housing and regeneration developments.  He has also committed to aligning housing and planning responsibilities, allowing councils to work together more flexibly across boundaries in a bid to provide the housing Welsh people need.

·       Transport and the M4 relief road: He has expressed a strong desire to tackling M4 congestion in South Wales, although he is yet to commit to the M4 relief road, unlike Eluned and Vaughan. Additionally, Mark claims that he would revise Planning Policy Wales to make provision of sustainable transport infrastructure a fundamental requirement for new development

Eluned Morgan:

The last to get on the ballot following the intervention of Carwyn Jones to ensure a woman was on the ballot paper, Morgan has been clear in expressing her principal policy area: The Welsh Economy.  Eluned has stated that “economic development and the provision of jobs will be my first priority as First Minister of Wales.” Below is a summary of the key manifesto commitments set out:

·       Energy: having formerly been Director of National Development for SSE in Wales, this is an area Eluned is very familiar with.  She has detailed a range of ambitions for energy in Wales including producing affordable clean energy, increased regulation around sustainable construction, a carbon-neutral public sectors and stronger renewable energy policy.  Eluned has also recently expressed her support for nuclear power.

·       Housing and Regeneration: In terms of regeneration, Morgan was quick to bring economics into play. She stated that “I will investigate the introduction of a Cymru Currency to see if we can encourage people to spend more of our Welsh money locally.” Morgan also added that she will assemble a panel of experts to give advice on revising taxation in Wales who can then investigate how best to support Wales’ town centres.

·       Transport and the M4 Relief Road: Eluned has stated that encouraging active travel and supporting public transport could transform the economy in South Wales, whilst also standing by the election manifesto on which Labour promised to deliver the M4 relief road.

Vaughan Gething:

Vaughan has positioned himself as the candidate for change in the Labour leadership bid.  Using the campaign slogan - ‘ChangeTakesCourage’ - Vaughan asks “What kind of Wales do you think we deserve?” Despite not providing a detailed manifesto, based on interviews and statements, his key policy commitments can be surmised as follows:

·       Energy: Vaughan makes little mention of energy and environmental issues, but has recently expressed support for nuclear power.

·       Housing and Regeneration: Vaughan has been clear that in order to support Wales’ town centres, we need to empower local authorities to ensure they have the financial tools to ensure their communities thrive. He states that he wants to reset the relationship between Councils and the Welsh Government, allowing local authorities to have greater control over the way they spend their budgets.

·       Transport and the M4 Relief Road: For Vaughan, doing nothing with regards to the issue of congestion in Wales is not an option. He adds that this means delivering the M4 relief road.

It is clear there is a range of new policies being put forward by the three candidates in relation to the future of economic development, investment and development in Wales.  It is likely that a collections of these (from all candidates) will be promoted as the Assembly term progresses, with the emphasis depending on who the new Leader is, and how their cabinet is formed moving forward.

Please watch this page or follow us on Twitter @Grasshopper_UK to keep up to date with the Welsh Labour leadership race.

Lewis Clark, Account Executive

Reforming Planning in England – putting people at the heart of decision making

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The Raynsford Review of Planning in England, the final version of which will be officially launched this evening, says there’s a need for planning to “strike a balanced settlement in which the development needs of our communities are met in the most sustainable ways, and in which all parts of the community have a real voice in the decision-making process.”

Similarly, there have been calls to ensure that the voices of communities are adequately heard within the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime.

Community consultation isn’t the only subject of the Review of course, but the report findings suggest that communities feel frustrated at their exclusion from affecting decisions that shape their area and wider infrastructure, as well as mistrust of the process and decision-makers.

That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of good examples of developers who have put communities at the heart of consultation, but with so many stakeholders making demands on a project, community wishes can easily be overshadowed by the needs of stakeholders and we’re back to a disenfranchised community reluctant to engage in further well-intentioned consultations.

The Review makes 24 recommendations for the English planning system, including a more people-centred planning system, and next year, further work will be undertaken to see how these recommendations can be taken forward. But would a change in planning law really make a difference?

Without wanting to be cynical, legislation doesn’t create change, it’s people that make change happen and trust plays a big part. That said, well thought out legislation can create a framework that encourages all parties to do things better and that can only be a good thing for our developing towns and cities. But we’ve yet to see how the review develops and if any changes to the planning regime really do help people feel they have a real voice.

Full details of the Raynsford Review can be found here: https://www.tcpa.org.uk/raynsford-review

Deb Campbell, Account Director

Who’s who: the launch of the National Infrastructure Commission Wales

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On Thursday 1 November, the members of the newly formed National Infrastructure Commission Wales (NICW) met for the first time.

Made up of 12 members and headed by John Lloyd Jones OBE, the National Infrastructure Commission Wales was established by the Welsh Government under Cabinet Secretary Ken Skates to support independent and better-informed advice on a longer-term strategy for infrastructure investment across Wales.

The Commission has been established as a non-statutory, advisory body to provide advice to Welsh Ministers on the economic and environmental infrastructure needs of Wales over the next 30 years (including energy, transport, water, drainage digital communications and flood management), enshrining the goals and principles of the Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

Speaking of the creation of the Commission, Economy and Transport Secretary Ken Skates AM said: “I am delighted to appoint a group of commissioners with such expertise and experience. I look forward to receiving their advice and am convinced they will make a major contribution to Wales’ well-being through improved infrastructure.”

John Lloyd Jones OBE the newly appointed Chair of the NICW said: “We look forward to making a substantial contribution to Wales’ long-term infrastructure development.”

The membership of the Commission is as follows:

·       John Lloyd Jones OBE (Chair) – Member of the External Advisory Board of the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Science at Aberystwyth University and former planning inspector

·       Professor Tom Crick – Professor of Digital, Data, Education and Policy at Swansea University

·       Ceri Doyle – Chief Executive of Newport City Homes

·       Stephen Gifford – Head of Economic Regulation at Civil Aviation Authority

·       Helen Howells – Senior Community Partnerships Officer for Natural Resources Wales

·       Rob Irvine – Former editor of the North Wales Daily Post

·       Professor Roderick Smith – Research Professor of Railway Engineering at Imperial College London

·       Chris Sutton – Director at property firm JLL

·       Emma Thomas – Director, Constructing Excellence in Wales and Adviser to the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

·       Tom Wharf – Senior Engineer at JBA Consulting

·       Richard Feasey – Lecturer and consultant in the telecoms sector. Previously a director of Group Public Policy at Vodafone

·       Emma Parrott – Welsh Assembly Member 2011- 2016, Interim director at Community Transport Association for Wales.

It is likely that the Commission will play an important role in the upcoming developments associated with Transport for Wales and South Wales Metro projects, as the Welsh Government seeks to utilise the infrastructure possibilities available to create a better and more prosperous Wales for both the generations of today and those of the future.

To keep up with all things infrastructure related in Wales please keep an eye on this page and follow us on Twitter @Grasshopper_UK.

UK Budget 2018: Wales, Housing and the End of Austerity?

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While austerity, cuts and taxation caught the headlines in yesterday’s budget, other key points from the announcement included a boost to housing and infrastructure projects across the UK and £500m over the next three years for Welsh Government.

Additionally, the Treasury committed to a review of the Welsh Government’s borrowing powers including a potential £300m extension to support the delivery of projects including the M4 relief road, a removal of the cap of local authority borrowing to enable councils to build more houses and the appointment of a dedicated manager from the British Business Bank in Wales for the first time.

In response,  Alun Cairns, Secretary of State for Wales, stated that: “today’s budget shows the scale of ambition the UK Government has for Wales.” However, not all felt as positively as Cairns. Speaking candidly, Welsh Government Finance Minister and early front-runner in the Welsh Labour Leadership contest, Mark Drakeford, claimed that “any suggestion this Conservative Government’s failed policy of austerity is over, on the evidence, is wrong,” and real-term cuts paired with Brexit unease left many suggesting that austerity is far from over.

The Chancellor stood by his commitment to a house-building programme in England, announcing both  an extra £500m for the Housing Infrastructure Fund to support the building of 650,000 homes across the country and the next wave of strategic partnerships with nine Housing Associations, in a move that is expected to bring a further 13,000 homes.

High streets were also on the agenda and a £675m High Streets Fund was launched to regenerate high streets and town centres which could see empty or under-used retail and office space turned into flats. Although this would potentially make the conversion process of empty buildings a lot smoother, commentators, such as the RTPI urged caution “about making it easier for empty shops to be turned to residential use.” 

What is clear from this year’s budget however, is a commitment to creating much needed housing, and, with a further axe on stamp duty - it is hoped more people will get onto the housing ladder and give the economy a much needed boost.

Plaid Cymru Conference 2018 - "Yes Wales can"

Adam Price took to the stage this weekend as the new leader of Plaid Cymru.

Showing clear disdain for the “red Tories running Wales” and Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, the Welsh nationalist party called for a ‘people’s vote’ on leaving the EU.

In his keynote speech, Price adopted the “yes we can” campaign slogan of Barack Obama to state his ambition to lead Wales to independence. Adding to this, he outlined his key policies for the Party moving forward which included re-localising the Welsh economy by ensuring that 20% of all publicly procured food is produced locally and creating a public energy company, with profits used to build a universal basic income for Welsh citizens.

Price also claimed that Plaid will endorse a fast, reliable and renewable national western railway line connecting Swansea to Bangor, boldly stating “we don’t need your Western powerhouse Mr Cairns, we’ll build our own in Wales.”

Taking his opportunity to further endorse Welsh independence, after a week that has seen him attempt a partnership with the Scottish Nationalist Party, Price expressed that “Yes Wales can” to the party faithful.

It will remain to be seen how much support for Independence Plaid can conjure up, but it is clear that Independence is still very much at the heart of the Party’s agenda.