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3 June 2024

A Hollywood View of the Welsh Planning System


Ben Cottam
Head ofWales
Federation of Small Businesses

When a Hollywood star makes a comment about the Welsh planning system, well, that’s definitely what you might call ‘cut through’.

In a recent BBC article quoting an interview about potential expansion plans at Wrexham Football Club’s Racecourse ground, co-owner Ryan Reynolds is quoted as saying that in Wales ‘it really is a lot of red tape, and it's just sort of figuring out ways to tick all those boxes and make sure that every single bureaucrat is happy'. Challengingly, he also refers to what he terms as the ‘thick buttress of bureaucracy’ being a problem in taking forward development.

Issues around planning are among the most regularly cited by the businesses I talk to. Frustrations include slow decision-making, planning cost, duplication or inconsistent messaging and a lack of capacity within local planning departments. Slow decision-making adds cost, reduces investment confidence and in some cases, has caused the abandonment of developments. Planning controls and regulation are undoubtedly important to protecting people, environment and communities in a number of ways. However, planning also needs to be an enabler of development and economic growth. It is a function which, while regulating development and providing reasonable challenge, should also be aligned to our economic ambitions, whether on local issues such as developing expansion space for small manufacturing businesses or at a larger scale, capitalising on the opportunities of floating offshore wind.

In his recent statement on economic priorities in the Senedd, Minister for Economy, Energy and Welsh Language Jeremy Miles set out a positive, high level of intention on the economy. This included ambitions to tackle productivity challenges, place a greater emphasis on attracting investment and making floating offshore a priority with a determination to ‘move swiftly and nimbly to make this a whole of government goal’. All of these headline areas for our economy will depend on a more effective and better aligned planning system than we currently have.

As the new Minister seeks develop his own vision for growing our economy and engages stakeholders across Wales, we hope that a focus on the planning system will be one of the over-arching priorities which come out of those conversations and is taken forward for action in a new strategic approach. As we seek to re-grow our economy, we have to be honest about what needs to change to help that happen and we know that creating a streamlined and efficient planning system is at the heart of growing businesses’ confidence in Wales and the opportunities to return to growth.

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