South East Wales

Monmouthshire planning: County well below Wales average

Construction site
Image caption Councils are expected to deal with planning applications within eight weeks

Small business owners say they are frustrated with delays in the planning process in Monmouthshire.

The county considered 44% of its applications within the Welsh government target time of eight weeks, compared to a Wales average of 70%.

The council said it negotiated improvements to applications instead of an "often speedier option" of refusal.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called for new planning laws to promote economic development.

In total, 22,839 planning applications were submitted to Wales' 22 local authorities and three national parks last year.

Bridgend and Pembrokeshire councils considered 84% and 83% of their applications respectively within the target time, with a similar number of requests to Monmouthshire.

Amanda and Peter Copp, who run the Hidden Valley Yurts campsite in the Wye Valley, an area of outstanding natural beauty, hoped to expand their business by erecting more yurts with wooden decking outside to hire to campers.

"Apart from the local issues or the rights and wrongs of whether something should be approved or disapproved, one of our biggest issues has been time problems," they said.

"We've had planning applications which have taken anything from 12 weeks to 64 weeks.

"Apart from all the stress and strain it takes our eye off the ball in running a business."

Harming business

Mrs Copp said their experience with the planning system was "soul-destroying".

"So long as decisions are made within planning law then that's as it should be, but what depresses me is the delay and there seems to be a 'minded to refuse' attitude," she added.

Dai Davies of the FSB Wales said the figures for Monmouthshire would cause "extreme frustration" to its members.

"For small and medium-sized enterprises, an efficient planning system is essential and can make the difference between business success and business failure," he argued.

"Research for FSB Wales has shown that planning consent usually leads to financial investment in a business.

"We urge Monmouthshire council to speed up the planning process to enable businesses in the area to expand and contribute to the local economy. On a wider level, we call for a planning system that is sensitive to the needs of small businesses."

George Ashworth, head of planning, place and enterprise at Monmouthshire council, said the authority always sought to give top priority to important economic developments.

New legislation

Mr Ashworth cited a large-scale proposal for a wind turbine manufacturer in Chepstow and a recent film studio proposal as two applications which had received the go-ahead within eight weeks.

"On the whole, we find from meetings with developers and their agents that they favour our planning approach," he insisted.

He said the authority had many conservation areas and listed buildings which often made applications more complicated and time-consuming.

"Exceptions will exist of course, but because such surveys can only be undertaken in certain seasons, this can add significantly to delays in Monmouthshire," he added.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "Work to improve and simplify Wales' planning application process has been under way for 18 months.

"These initiatives will be included in the planning White Paper and draft Planning Bill consultation package that is due to be published towards the end of the year."

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