Legal challenge begins over 'unlawful' Government planning policy

Campaigners have mounted a legal challenge to Welsh Government planning guidelines, which block councillors from considering the impact of the vast majority developments on the Welsh language, it was announced today (Monday, 6th August).  

In 2015, the Assembly passed a Planning Act which established for the first time that the Welsh language is a statutory consideration in the planning system. The law allows councillors in every part of Wales to block or give the go-ahead to developments, like new housing estates, on the basis of their impact on the language 

However, last year, the Welsh Government published planning guidelines, known as Technical Advice Note 20, which tells planners how to treat the language when considering building plans. That guidance says councillors cannot request a language impact assessment unless it's 'big' development, on a 'windfall site', not identified in the local development plan, and in an area that is linguistically 'significant' 

Despite language groups and the Welsh Language Commissioner's concerns, the Government refused to change the guidelines during the consultation process and they came into force last Autumn 

Following advice from barrister Gwion Lewis, JCP solicitors have sent a pre-action letter to the Welsh Government on behalf of language campaign group Cymdeithas yr Iaith demanding they change the guidelines as they breach the 2015 Act.   

The legal proceedings will be discussed at the Eisteddfod today (2pm dydd Llun 6ed Awst) on Cymdeithas' stand in Cardiff Bay. Speaking ahead of the event, Jeff Smith, communities spokesperson for Cymdeithas yr Iaith commented 

"We in Cymdeithas firmly believe that the Welsh language belongs to every part of our country, not just some places. Since the start of devolution, every Government, with cross-party support, has preached and legislated to make that clear. But, when it comes to planning guidance the Labour Welsh Government refuses to give the right for councillors to consider the impact on the language of every type of development in every corner of Wales. For example, if there isn't a Welsh-medium school built as part of a new housing estate in Cardiff, or somewhere else in the south-east, the Government's guidelines as they stand prevent councillors from considering the negative impact on the language. That's an approach that's partly responsible for councils like Cardiff Council, historically, stating that the language is not a part of the capital's social fabric and so not relevant to the planning system in the city."            

"The Senedd's intention when it passed the 2015 Act was to ensure that local councillors had a wide discretion to consider anything connected to the Welsh language when deciding on planning applications. It was not Assembly Members intention to restrict that discrection by prescribing specific circumstances for using it. However, completely contrary to the Act, that's exactly what the guidelines do, by stating that only when it's a big development outside a local plan in a sensitive area that the evidence of language impact can even be looked at. These restrictions are totally without a basis in the law. 

He added: 

"This could be a difficult fight, but it will be a worthwhile one to ensure a bright future for the language in all our communities."