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Welsh Liberal Democrats

The Welsh Liberal Democrats published their manifesto on the 14 April 2016. Please see the main points that relate to planning and the built environment below. Read the full document here.

Infrastructure

We will set out a 10-year rolling capital investment plan, leveraging in investment using the Welsh Development Bank to deliver:

  • Major infrastructure developments to enable our economy to grow.
  • Public transport that connects our communities. 
  • Mobile and digital communications fit for the modern world.

Infrastructure is central to our economy - whether that is through large projects employing Welsh workers, or innovations to transport goods around the country.

We will:

  • Press the UK Government to publish a long-term timetable for the full electrification of Welsh railway lines including the North Wales Coast line.
  • Press ahead with the full electrification of the South Wales Valleys Lines.
  • Encourage further private sector investment in rail freight terminals and rail-connected distribution parks to shift more freight from road to rail, with access to major ports to attract inward investment and help Welsh businesses to export.

Transport

(see above also)

Public transport connects us to jobs, services and family. With more and more people commuting, efficient public transport is vital. Being connected to the rest of Wales, especially in rural areas, can mean everything to a local community, its people and its economy.

In the next Wales and Borders Rail Franchise we will:

  • Specify speed and capacity improvements for commuter services, and develop a rolling-stock strategy to deliver a more comfortable, accessible fleet of trains.
  • Seek to protect rail routes from Wales to Chester, Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham, and keep the Marches lines in the Welsh franchise.
  • Improve services on the Heart of Wales line especially on weekends, and support the Community Rail Hub project.
  • Investigate the creation of additional routes such as from South Wales to Bristol and the South West.
  • Explore a fairer 'per mile' ticket cost for most rail journeys in Wales through the specification of the next Wales and Borders Rail Franchise.
  • Commission a feasibility study into reinstating the rail links between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen to link up with the already existing network.
  • Introduce carnet-style multi-buy ticketing, and part-time and off-peak season tickets to reduce the cost of part-time commuting.
  • Work to re-open smaller stations, such as Carno, and introduce new stations in communities with poor connectivity through the South Wales Metro.
  • Remove the Y Gerallt Gymro Business Class loco-hauled service and replace it with standard express.
  • Make it easier to combine rail and cycle travel, including taking your bike on the train.

We will also:

  • Create Passenger Transport Authorities, based in the communities they serve, to deliver more affordable, accessible and integrated transport services:
  • In North Wales, to deliver improved services, focused around the A55 corridor, and develop a North Wales Metro with links to Chester, Manchester and Liverpool.
  • In Mid Wales to improve public transport connectivity into regional hubs and market towns.
  • In South Wales to deliver the South Wales Metro and expand it to include the Swansea Valleys 
  • Re-regulate bus services to improve coverage of routes in rural and poorer areas of Wales.
  • Introduce an all-Wales 'Oystercard' on bus services.
  •  Develop a comprehensive aviation strategy for Wales and scrap the wasteful Anglesey-Cardiff Air Link.
  • Ensure all major new developments include provision for sustainable, integrated public transport, including access to walking and cycle routes.
  • Help make community transport more sustainable with three year budgeting and support.
  • Ensure public transport is accessible to those with disabilities through the franchising system, introduce visible and audible real time information at bus stops, and introduce a concessionary bus pass for those.

We will work to bring a better balance between all the users of our streets, encouraging active travel alongside smart interventions in our road network to improve connectivity across Wales.

We will:

  • Campaign to abolish tolls on the Severn Bridge once the debts are paid off.
  • Improve the infrastructure to bring the A55 up to standard, ensuring junctions and hard shoulders are fit for purpose. 
  • Oppose the "Black Route" development of the M4 relief road and implement alternative approaches to tackle congestion in South-East Wales such as improving the distributor network around Newport and invest in public transport.
  • Work with local government to roll out 20mph zones in residential areas. Digital Infrastructure Digital infrastructure is vital for businesses and central to the social and cultural infrastructure of Wales.

Digital Infrastructure

To ensure digital innovation in Wales, we will:

  • Use Welsh Government resources and land to deliver comprehensive mobile phone coverage.
  • Hold crisis negotiations with BT Openreach and demand a delivery timetable that ensures every Welsh business hub and park, hospital, and school has superfast broadband delivered by 2017. 
  • Ensure that the Access Broadband Cymru scheme is widely advertised and improved.
  • Ensure planning rules support the development of digital infrastructure. 
  • Support targeted, local, face-to-face training schemes for businesses and individuals to tackle digital exclusion.
  • Encourage the spread of free Wi-Fi in town centres through collaboration between local government and industry, such as has happened in Monmouth.

Regeneration

We will ensure that whatever the size of your community, you will be empowered to set your own priorities, lead your own regeneration, and protect the social infrastructure that keeps your community alive.

We will:

  • Give local authorities a statutory duty for economic development, along with tools such as the local retention of a proportion of business rate income to incentivise it.
  • Establish High Street Wales to support local communities by sharing best practice and supporting the creation of Business Improvement Districts and other forms of collaboration such as Traders' Associations.
  • Scrap the Enterprise Zone policy of Welsh Government which has failed to deliver. Introduce new Growth Zones, managed by Local Enterprise Partnerships, to provide tailored support for businesses and innovation.
  • Support City Deal and City Region initiatives, putting them on a statutory footing where practical. Make our Market Towns the hubs of regional economies by ensuring they are served by transport and digital infrastructure.
  • Create a Reoccupation Relief Scheme for business rates, to encourage businesses to take on empty shops.

We will:

  • Require health impact assessments on policy decisions taken at all levels.
  • Integrate planning of health and social services with transportation planning, so lack of transport does not prevent people from accessing care.

Housing

For people to live fulfilled lives, they need a decent home, at a price they can afford. But that simple ambition is out of reach for many, and getting further away.  Government has an essential role to play be it in enabling people to buy their first home, ensuring an adequate supply of-affordable housing or making sure private rented homes are up to the mark.

We will:

  • Set a target to build 20,000 affordable homes in Wales by 2021.
  • Within six months of the Assembly election set a target for the number of affordable homes to be built in Wales during the Assembly term, and report on progress each year.
  • Ensure local authorities develop compulsory accessible housing registers and provide advice on building disability friendly homes.
  • Establish a new Rent to Own model where monthly payments steadily accrue the tenant a percentage stake in the property, owning it outright after 30 years, and aim to deliver at least 2,500 Rent to Own homes over the Assembly term. 
  • Introduce a new Help to Rent scheme to provide government-backed tenancy deposit loans for first-time renters under 30.
  •  Develop a national Empty Homes Strategy.
  • Allow social housing grant to be used to renovate disused properties for social housing, so that additional homes can be brought into use and local construction markets stimulated.
  • Use new planning guidance that requires HMOs containing between 3 and 6 residents to apply for planning permission to develop policies that improve the sustainability of communities containing large numbers of such properties.

Helping individuals to make their homes more energy efficient is crucial both to tackling climate change and poverty in Wales. Going green must be an option for everyone, not just those who can afford it. Energy prices in Britain are lower than the EU average but our bills are higher because our homes are so poorly insulated. Around 30 per cent of Welsh households are estimated to be in fuel poverty. By lifting people out of fuel poverty, their health, educational achievement and wellbeing can be improved.

We will:

  • Legislate for a minimum standard for the private rented sector, including over energy efficiency.
  • Tackle fuel poverty by incentivising private sector landlords to insulate homes.
  • Reinstate the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group with appropriate powers to recommend policies.
  • Encourage a portion of any community benefit scheme to be set aside to tackle fuel poverty and high energy bills in the community.
  • Extend Resource Efficient Wales to offer a more comprehensive scheme to improve resource efficiency, address fuel poverty and tackle climate change.
  • Incentivise private sector landlords to insulate homes.
  • Increase the profile and prominence of Energy Performance Certificates in home sales and rentals.
  • Support the development of community-based energy efficiency advice and mentoring schemes, especially in areas of significant fuel poverty.
  • Give local authorities responsibility for overseeing the delivery of home energy retrofits to low income and fuel-poor households, as is the case in Scotland.

Planning

Good planning is essential to delivering sustainable communities. With effective planning rules, we can ensure the new homes we build are well connected to public transport, resilient to the threats of climate change, safe, warm, secure, and situated in real communities. We will work with councils to ensure they think long-term.

We will:

  • Improve housing needs assessments to ensure they respond to demand and take account of local factors such as the future of the Welsh language, price signals, and demand from different kinds of household, including high-quality shared accommodation for young people. 
  • Make provision so that all areas are planning for the needs of older people with age-appropriate housing and to ensure appropriate sized housing units are available in each area for those who wish to downsize their accommodation to one that is a better fit for their needs. 
  • Facilitate the replacement of industrial-style agricultural buildings with sensitive and appropriately designed housing.
  • Facilitate the use of space above shops for much needed housing and development of town centre communities
  • Take a more flexible approach to change of use where retail or business premises may be changed into much needed housing in town centres. 
  • Ensure new social housing is built to meet the Welsh Housing Quality Standard and that at least 10% are built to full wheelchair accessibility standards.
  • Ensure all councils have an accessible housing register, so they know where their wheelchair accessible, adaptable and adapted homes are, and how many they have.

Energy

Tackling climate change shouldn't just be seen as an obligation, but as an opportunity. Our vision is for a zero-carbon Wales that delivers green growth, a green economy and green jobs.

We will:

  • Publish a Carbon Budget alongside the Budget every year so that people can tell what impact our plans will have on the environment.
  • Add carbon impact assessments to all new Welsh legislation, so we can assess its environmental impact and ensure we remain on track to meet emission reduction targets.
  • Interlace climate change and education policies to recognise the role of education in delivering behaviour change, and bring more understanding of ecological issues into our schools.

We must set ambitious goals for Wales to play its role in the global fight against climate change. We would set as targets:

  • Net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with a 50% reduction below a 1990 baseline by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2030.
  • 100% of Welsh electricity demand met from renewable sources by 2025. 
  • A 50% reduction in energy used for heating and electricity by 2030.
  • Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020 with a 15% increase in biodiversity by 2050 and ensuring all our finest wildlife havens reach a favourable condition by 2026.

To meet our targets and reach a sustainable, low-carbon future for Wales, we must make an ambitious change in how we generate energy. We will do this by incentivising and nurturing a diverse mix of renewable and low-carbon technologies, supporting microgeneration and community-owned generation, and improving our energy efficiency.

We will:

  • Support solar developments, in particular community and micro-scale generation.
  • Utilise Wales's rich and diverse marine environment to develop renewable energy, such as offshore tidal and wave, by only offering incentives to companies to install the highest energy generating equipment, while giving due consideration to ecosystems, conservation areas, and the sustainability of Welsh fishing and tourism industries.
  • Promote the development of Marine Energy Hubs to help Wales gain a competitive advantage in emergent marine technologies and support tidal range power, including the development of the world-first Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, and expand the concept to new projects should they be judged to be environmentally safe such as Colwyn Bay, Cardiff and Newport.
  • Aim for a greater focus on offshore wind and more widespread use of floating wind turbines to make large offshore windfarms more cost effective.
  • Commission an immediate review into Technical Advice Note (TAN) 8 on renewable energy, so it can be updated to meet our current technological requirements. This should include consideration of the National Grid network; minimising the impact of wind energy on the landscape; road/transport access to Strategic Search Areas; and the impact of noise pollution.
  • Minimise the impact of wind energy on the landscape where possible by encouraging the use of the latest technology and maximum innovation in relation to wind turbines and pylons, such as t-pylons and undergrounding.
  • Use biomass primarily for heating and small-scale power generation.
  • Explore developing new pumped storage facilities to ensure a stable supply of low carbon electricity and focus public support for research into large-scale electrical storage technology such as batteries.
  • Maximise the economic benefits of renewables by working with developers and educational institutions to expand supply chains and centres of excellence for the next generation of engineers and apprentices.
  • Reject development of new fossil fuel power plants without appropriate CCS technology or a clear plan to recover heat for supply.
  • Establish a frack-free Wales by refusing licences for fracking applications once powers are devolved, and implementing a moratorium through the planning system in the meantime.

Small- and micro-scale renewable energy ownership and generation is vital to empower communities and individuals to meet their energy needs. We will enable people to develop as much energy as possible from such sources, especially solar and run-of-river hydropower. Communities must also be empowered when larger-scale generation projects set up in their area - community benefit funds are an excellent way to ensure that communities prosper when we go green.

We will:

  • Ensure that microgeneration projects are considered with a presumption in favour of development, given priority access to the grid and enabled to sell energy within their own locality.
  • Provide a model legal and business framework for Community-Owned Renewable Energy Cooperatives to reduce the legal costs and complexity for communities
  • Ensure the advice and support offered by the Welsh Government Local Energy Programme serves to increase community energy generation beyond the modest outputs of Ynni'r Fro.
  • Create a library of resources to support community groups in applying for support for community generation projects.
  • Give community co-operatives the right to develop renewable energy projects in or on suitable publicly owned buildings and land, where practicable.
  • Work with industry to develop regional community benefit schemes, along transportation and grid corridors.
  • Ensure that communities benefit from economic investments supported by renewable energy schemes, particularly in the fight against fuel poverty.

Flooding

The devastating floods experienced over the past few years are a sign of accelerating climate change. From Aberystwyth to St. Asaph, people have been left homeless - and the risk of flooding is only set to increase. We must prepare our communities to protect themselves from the effects of climate change, at the same time as fighting climate change itself.

We will:

  • Establish a Welsh Standard for flood defence.
  • Prepare a national resilience plan to help the Welsh economy, national infrastructure and natural resources adapt to the likely impacts of climate change.
  • Promote schemes to alleviate flood risk through innovative land management - including planting trees and vegetation to slow run-off, restoring wetland areas, and creating safe flood reservoirs.
  • Make improvements to increase the resilience to flooding and storms of the transport infrastructure in South, West and North Wales using EU Convergence Funding and the European Investment Bank.
  • Enable dual use of new coastal and river renewable energy generation schemes to provide flood defence.
  • Protect funding for new flood and coastal defence schemes, and for the flood risk responsibilities of Natural Resources Wales.
  • Offer grants to householders to defend against future flood event. 
  • Provide assistance to households and landowners in areas that cannot be cost effectively protected with large-scale flood or coastal defences to support the retrofitting of individual properties with flood protection measures, or to help facilitate relocation.
  • Base all future risk modelling on a "known record level extent model" for flood management and create whole-catchment plans for Welsh Rivers designed to reduce flow rates.

Waste

Wales throws away far too much. We need to move to a 'circular' economy, where waste is minimised, resources are re-used through repair, remanufacturing and recycling, energy is captured from waste that cannot be re-used and landfill is kept to the absolute minimum.

We will:

  • Change rules on the Landfill Communities Fund to ensure up to 10% is used to fund wildlife and biodiversity projects.
  • Introduce an incineration tax to further encourage recycling.

Local Government

Wales has too many councils, many of which are too small and are underperforming. However, if councils are going to be larger, then it is essential that they are representative of the people that voted for them. Without introducing a fair voting system and devolving powers to local communities, any reorganisation process is pointless.

New councils should recognise the importance of Wales' major cities such as Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, potentially redrawing boundaries to encompass nearby communities and travel to work areas, but still enabling our cities to stand alone and plan for their own futures, in some cases as part of wider city regions.

We do not agree that major cities should be merged with large rural hinterlands, as neither community will find their needs met. We do not agree that the return of Dyfed or Gwent meets any recognisable definition of local. However, it is not the job of politicians to design new councils.

We will:

  • Commission the Local Government and Boundary Commission to draw up alternative proposals for the restructuring of local councils in Wales based on natural communities, and which are locally accountable and have demonstrable public consent.
  • Repeal powers that allow Ministers to merge councils by decree.
  • Introduce a new Local Government Bill which devolves more powers to councils including over public health, regeneration, strategic transport and economic development, gives them a power of general competence to enable them to work better for their area, reduces the number of key performance indicators, and repeals many of the restrictions on local action.

Community

Planning sets the framework for building our communities. If it doesn't work, our communities can be left to stagnate. We will put local communities in charge of what their local needs.

We will strengthen the capacity of communities to protect local interests by passing a Community Bill of Rights to: 

  • Empower communities to take initiative over their local services and assets and introduce:
    • A 'Right to Bid' to ensure that assets of community value can be kept in public use and remain an integral part of community life.
    • A 'Right to Challenge' to allow community groups to bid to run a local authority service where they can do so differently and better.
    • A 'Right to Build' to allow local communities to propose small-scale, site-specific, community-led developments, putting communities in charge of building the housing they need.
    • A 'Right to Reclaim Land' to help communities improve their local area by giving them the right to ask that under-used or unused public land is brought back into use.
    • A 'Right to Contest' that public land could be better used, and for communities to take it over.
    • A 'Right to Buy' to give community councils the automatic right to bid to take over services that local authorities are closing, such as leisure centres or libraries.
  • Establish a new listing system for village greens and other spaces that have community value and designating gardens as greenfield sites - making it harder to develop on them.
  • Remove permitted development rights for assets of community value.
  • Strengthen planning guidance to ensure a more thorough assessment of community need in any planning decision.
  • Ensure no pub can be demolished or undergo a change of use without planning permission or community consultation by creating a separate use class for community pubs and closing loopholes in planning law.
  • Develop a dedicated Welsh planning inspectorate and a single National Planning Advisory and Training Service.
  • Trial a system of accreditation for planning agents.
  • Replace existing planning guidance with respect to development in the flood plain with a new robust strategy, along with new Planning Design Notes and Building Regulations.

Rural

A thriving rural community needs local services and community facilities like schools, public transport, local shops, cultural venues and pubs. It needs enough homes, affordable for local families, to ensure those services are viable. And it needs public transport: travel costs are a major component of rural poverty. Welsh Liberal Democrats understand the changes needed to support a living, working countryside. We have stood up for rural Wales for over 100 years, and will maintain our commitment to rural Wales in the next Assembly.

We will

  • Review TAN 6 guidance on 'Planning for Sustainable Rural Communities' to achieve real progress in the delivery of affordable rural housing across Wales.
  • Issue refreshed guidance on One Planet Developments in Wales in order to promote low-carbon community living and achieve real progress in delivering rural housing.
  • Reform national park authorities by introducing directly elected members, to ensure that the conservation of nationally important natural and cultural environments is balanced with local accountability and sustainable economic activity.
  • Ensure National Parks have regard for the housing, employment and regeneration needs of local communities as part of their wider duties.
  • Oppose wholesale open access, and instead establish an approach to improving access to land and water which respects current business activities, the environment, and habitats, and develop Rights of Way Improvement Plans and a monitoring role for Local Access Forums.
  • Extend the protection afforded to coastal National Parks and Areas of Natural Beauty to their adjacent marine environment.

Encourage councils to use provisions that enable them to levy up to 200% Council Tax on second and empty homes, especially when this activity impacts local communities.

Devolution

The Welsh Liberal Democrats will continue to seek further powers for Wales over (list only reference those areas relevant directly to the built environment, please see the Manifesto for the complete list): 

  • Transport; 
  • Funding of Network Rail in relation to the Wales network;
  •  Air Passenger Duty;
  • Section 36 planning consents;
  • The Community Infrastructure Levy.

The nations of the United Kingdom have long had different needs with regard to funding. The Barnett Formula is the mechanism used to adjust spending allocations across the UK. We believe that the Barnett Formula underfunds Wales, and will continue to argue the case for Wales to be funded fairly.

Welsh Language

Housing and planning policy can be used to support the Welsh language.

We will:

  • Support affordable housing in rural Welsh-speaking areas, ensuring young people can stay and support their communities.
  • Review TAN 20.
  • Make language impact assessments of proposed developments a statutory requirement before planning permission is granted.
  • Ensure that language can be a material consideration determining planning applications where appropriate.

Legislation

We will introduce:

  • An Economic Growth Bill to establish a Welsh Development bank.
  • A Transport for Wales Bill to establish passenger transport authorities and re-regulate buses.
  • A Housing Bill to set targets for the number of affordable homes to be built during the term and to protect tenants.
  • An Environment Bill to set binding targets for renewable energy, greenhouse gasses, and biodiversity, and to increase penalties for environmental crimes such as fly-tipping.
  • A Bill of Rights for Communities to give local areas more powers over their own future.
  • A Freedom for Local Government Bill to give councils the power of general competence, reduce the number of key performance indicators and repeals many of the restrictions on local action.