A blueprint for the future development of Cardiff – setting out where more than 45,000 new homes will rise up over the next 14 years – was agreed tonight.
But Cardiff council’s Local Development Plan (LDP) Preferred Strategy sparked a lively two-hour debate at County Hall, with Labour accused of “misleading the electorate”.
Opposition councillors repeated claims that the plan would lead to the “concreting over” of the greenfield sites and worsening traffic gridlock.
They also claimed the entire LDP process was flawed and said any plan which predicts Cardiff will build 45,000 new homes over the next 14 years was “fantasy”, saying future housing needs should be shared with neighbouring authorities as part of a “city region”.
But the Labour group said without an LDP, and a shortage of land available for construction, Cardiff would be left exposed to the risk of “development by appeal”, as recently happened at St Fagans.
They also said Cardiff “could build its way out of the economic downturn”, argued that “successful cities grow” and accused opponents of “nimbyism”.
The Preferred Strategy – a major step in the LDP process prescribed by the Welsh Government – identifies “strategic sites” for major development.
The document says 45,400 new homes are needed as the city’s population is forecast to increase by 26% to 408,000 by 2026 – the lifetime of the LDP. Most controversial of all, 18,250 of these new homes will need to be built on greenfield sites on the city’s northern and western fringes.
Councillor Ralph Cook, cabinet member for planning and transport, opened by saying no-one in the chamber “had an excuse for saying Cardiff does not need an LDP as soon as possible”.
“We cannot afford to lose the control that the LDP gives us over strategic development in the city. I urge you to put aside your political differences and support the report,” Coun Cook said.
“As an environmentalist and lover of the countryside, I have had to grapple with my own concerns. But we have to look at the conflicting arguments in front of us and weigh them up.
“It may be hard, but the magnitude of the growth we are discussing today is also something, as Cardiffians, we want to celebrate. Successful cities grow.
“We want to be a European capital, a player on the global stage. This ambition can only be fulfilled if we accept growth. To do that you have to have a plan.”
But opposition councillors rose to condemn the plan, including Radyr’s Tory councillor Rod McKerlich, who compared it to Emmental cheese, because “it’s full of holes”.
“The first big hole is we are never going to build 45,400 homes between now and 2026. I don’t think there is a single person in this chamber naive enough to believe that,” he said.
According to the document, 2,614 new dwellings will need to be built every year until 2026 to meet the 45,400 home target.
But over the past decade, annual dwelling completions averaged just 1,587 in Cardiff – and at the height of the property boom in 2006/07 only 2,368 properties were built.
Liberal Democrat councillor Margaret Jones said the process was flawed because it allowed local authorities to plan independently of each other. She said: “Where is the leadership to take forward a plan that the people of Cardiff want?
“Where is the leadership to argue for a regional approach and broker agreements with neighbouring authorities?”
Conservative group leader David Walker said Labour had “deliberately misled” the electorate over their promises to protect Cardiff’s green spaces, saying: “If you vote for it you will not be remembered for protecting Cardiff’s great, green spaces but for destroying them.”
Plaid Cymru’s Neil McEvoy claimed Labour “stole the election”, adding: “You’ll win the vote today, you won the battle on May 3, but you’re not going to win the war.”
Old St Mellons and Pontprennau councillor Georgina Phillips was the only Labour member to speak out against the proposals and abstain from the vote.
She said that while she understood there had to be more growth, the council must not take away what makes Cardiff different – it’s green spaces. She was also disappointed the strategy did not include a formal greenbelt designation.
But Fairwater’s Labour councillor Paul Mitchell, whose ward will also be impacted by the plan, said if the LDP was deferred yet again until a “mythical regional plan” appears, the city would be exposed to unrestrained development on appeal.
Council leader Heather Joyce said she had held meetings with leaders of neighbouring authorities, but there was little appetite to take Cardiff’s housing allocation.
“Originally we were told it was Cardiff’s problem – they didn’t want to know. I think we are making small steps, but I don’t think they will take 20,000 houses from us,” she said.
“The city region will progress, the talks will progress, but in the meantime we all need to be adult and vote for this preferred strategy.”
The preferred strategy will go out to public consultation for six weeks, starting on November 1, and the findings will inform the “deposit plan”.
See how the debate unfolded by reading back through our live blog of the meeting.