Council taken to task on planning

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COUNCILLORS and officials who administer some of the most beautiful countryside in mid-Wales have been summoned to the Welsh Office to explain a number of extraordinary quirks in their planning policy. Between 1988 and 1992, Ceredigion district council approved 38 per cent of all the changes to local planning rules passed in the whole of the principality.

Ceredigion, covering an area including Aberystwyth, Cardigan and Lampeter, has processed the third highest number of planning applications in the principality after Cardiff and Swansea. Of 1,207 'departures from structure plans' - the blueprints for planning development - between 1988 and 1992, 454 were approved in Ceredigion.

Retirement homes and wind farms feature high on the list of approved developments. But a survey carried out for the Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee suggests that contrary to the claims of local councillors, homes for first- time buyers do not.

In a memorandum to the committee, John Bowen, director of planning for Ceredigion council, complained that 'many planning applications for new dwellings are approved in conflict with formal advice. Very frequently such applications are made by identified small landowners, or by their relatives, rather than by unknown builders or development companies.

'Many applicants are aware that it is possible to manipulate the development control machinery by making the right sort of representations to the planning committee. There seems to be an endless queue of farmers wishing to retire to new bungalows on their land.'

He added: 'Factors have combined to result in an approach to development control where an appropriate degree of flexibility has been displaced by attitudes and practice which may be described as irresponsible.'

John Davies, a former chairman of Ceredigion planning committee, said councillors took into account arguments about the applicants' circumstances as well as planning criteria. These had included impending bankruptcy if permission was refused, the need to raise money to pay for an urgent operation and other claims of personal hardship or distress.

Following their meeting with the Welsh Office, Ceredigion concillors issued a statement promising 'to fully conform with best planning practice in determining planning applications'.