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Welsh planning services are poorly resourced and underperforming

Planning services in Wales are struggling to manage a complex system in the face of insufficient capacity and reducing resources, according to a new report by the Auditor General for Wales.

The report shows that all planning services have seen budget cuts of 50% in the last ten years, considering inflation. With less money to fund services, planning officer capacity is stretched and skills are decreasing in key areas. Furthermore, the number of trainees entering planning has fallen in recent years, raising concerns over the long-term sustainability of services.

The report also brings together public views from a Wales-wide survey, where a growing disconnect was found between what people want from their planning authority and what their planning authority is able to deliver. 67% of citizens surveyed stated that local planning authorities are not effectively engaging with them about their planning proposals, and many feel that planners are focused more on individual applications rather than supporting the creation of a better and more sustainable society.

The decisions taken by local planning authorities impact on everyone – they can support the development of new homes, promote conservation, create job opportunities and improve local infrastructure. But while planners focus on individual applications, the concern of Welsh citizens is that not enough is being done to create vibrant and sustainable communities.

Background information

  • There are 25 local planning authorities in Wales, the 22 unitary authorities and the three National Park Authorities.
  • Local planning authorities have three key roles: Planning Policy, Development Control and Building Control.
  • The report considers the progress of local planning authorities in delivering their new responsibilities and the extent to which they are acting in accordance with the sustainable development principle contained within the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The report also considers how efficient and effective the ‘local planning system’ is, focusing on their performance, income and expenditure to determine how resilient services are. The report also looks at decision making and stakeholder engagement.
  • The planning system has experienced substantial reform in recent years, culminating in the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 and a revised Planning Policy Wales.
  • The Auditor General is the independent statutory external auditor of the devolved Welsh public sector. He is responsible for the annual audit of the majority of the public money spent in Wales, including the £15 billion of funds that are voted on annually by the National Assembly. Elements of this funding are passed by the Welsh Government to the NHS in Wales (over £7 billion) and to local government (over £4 billion).

(Published by Wales Audit Office: 6 June 2019)