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Planning and the Welsh language: Putting words into action?

01 April 2016 Author: Ian Stevens


Picture: St David's Day Celebration, Cardiff Bay, March 1st 2009 (credit: National Assembly for Wales).

How can the Welsh language be taken into consideration in the planning process in Wales? It is a question that local planning authorities in Wales have grappled with for many years.

The Welsh language is part of the social and cultural fabric of Wales. Its future well-being depends upon a range of factors to maintain thriving sustainable communities. The land use planning system can also contribute to its well-being. As we all know, decisions and actions through the planning system impact on communities. Development can make changes to communities – this can be positive.

However in parts of Wales, the use of Welsh as an everyday language has been threatened. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, sets out “a thriving Welsh Language” as one of the Well-being Goals, thereby measures must be put in place to promote and protect the Welsh language.

Since the publication of Circular 53/88 in 1988, the Welsh language has been a consideration both in the creation of local plan policies and when making decisions on planning applications.

Yet the process of assessing how a particular proposal or policy impacts on the language, has been challenging. Government policy and guidance has stated that local planning authorities can take the Welsh language into account, but there has been no unified approach or standard.

The introduction of the Planning (Wales) Act last year could signify a major step forward, however.

Two key provisions in the Act confirm that:

  • The Welsh language must be taken into account in the sustainability appraisal for all development plans, (Section 11 of the Act); and
  • The impact on the use of the Welsh Language can be a material consideration when determining a planning application (Section 31 of the Act)

This means that development plans and planning decisions must take into account any impact on the Welsh language. The inclusion in legislation of Welsh language impact is a significant milestone, but how and when should we assess Welsh language impacts?

To coincide with the new requirements, the Welsh Government has consulted on revised guidance for planning and the Welsh language. Technical Advice Note (TAN) 20 has been updated to reflect the two key provisions in the Act 2015.

The RTPI Cymru Policy and Research Forum have provided a response to the recent TAN 20 consultation. The decision to revise guidance is both necessary and welcome by members; however, it considers that further changes are required if it is to achieve the full aims of the new legislation.

RTPI Cymru recognises that the scale, location and timing of physical development, can both help and hinder the development of a bilingual Wales. Planning can contribute to patterns of development that support communities where the Welsh language can be maintained and grown.

The inclusion in legislation of Welsh language impact is a significant milestone, but how and when should we assess Welsh language impacts?

One of the key amendments to guidance is the recognition for the first time that LPAs can undertake a language impact assessment for certain windfall developments not allocated in a local development plan. Guidance adds that the windfall schemes would normally be limited to residential developments of 10 or more dwellings in areas identified in an LDP as being of linguistic sensitivity or significance. This is because Welsh language impacts would be assessed on proposed sites allocated in an LDP.

RTPI Cymru does not support the draft TAN’s view in only considering residential development of 10 or more units. This definition would exclude many windfall developments in small villages that could have an impact in an area where Welsh is spoken in the community. The current draft of the TAN also excludes other types of development that could have an impact on the language, for example a large employment scheme that requires a significant flow of labour.

As part of the assessment process, potential adverse impacts may be identified. A list of mitigation measures is outlined in the TAN. These include development phasing policies, providing adequate affordable housing, allocating sites for 100% affordable housing for local needs and the provision of employment opportunities and social infrastructure to sustain local communities. The list is welcomed, together with clarification that planning obligations and Community Infrastructure Levy contributions can be used to deliver mitigation measures.

The Planning (Wales) Act states that the Welsh language is a material consideration in planning decisions and must also be taken into account in plan preparation. Putting these words into actions at the local level requires clear, usable and achievable planning advice not just for planners but for other stakeholders with important roles in planning for the Welsh language.

The decision to revise TAN 20 is supported by RTPI Cymru. The consultation document contains many provisions that are supported by members; however, further detailed changes are required if it is to achieve the full aims of the new legislation.  RTPI Cymru’s response to the consultation can be viewed here.

Ian Stevens

Ian Stevens

Associate Planner at Fisher German LLP
Ian Stevens is an Associate Planner at Fisher German LLP and a member of the RTPI Cymru Policy and Research Forum.