Campaigners are demanding that Cardiff council listens more to local communities when making planning decisions on new developments.
Developers must apply for planning permission from the local council before beginning building projects. While local communities are consulted on controversial decisions, campaigners Reclaim Cardiff argue the balance is tipped in favour of developers.
However, councils must follow planning laws set by the Welsh Government. When planning committees refuse permission for developments, often developers appeal to the government, whose inspectors then overturn those refusals. This can cost councils thousands of pounds.
Reclaim Cardiff launched their campaign on November 14 calling for major changes to the planning system, and highlighting recent unpopular decisions: building on the Northern Meadows, demolishing the Roath Park pub and Guildford Crescent, and building a military museum on a park at Cardiff Bay.
The changes they are calling for include making community objections “a legally binding reason for rejecting developments”; creating a land fund, similar to in Scotland, for communities to buy local heritage sites; and rejecting applications on sites important to biodiversity and “public wellbeing”.
They are also calling for councillors to vote freely on electing an “independent chair” of the planning committee.
Huw Williams, of Reclaim Cardiff, said: “Our city and its character is being obliterated with developers given free rein to destroy green space, demolish landmark local buildings and undermine communities — despite strenuous objections from the people.
“The vibrant soul of Cardiff is being eroded, and it has to be stopped before the place is nothing more than a faceless agglomeration of buildings that serve only the few.
“A democratic city would reflect the needs and desires of all the people of Cardiff, regardless of class, race or gender, and all our communities — not the greed of developers and the neglect of the council.”
Nerys Lloyd, chair of Cardiff Civic Society, said: “Green space, and green infrastructure is being destroyed at an alarming rate throughout Cardiff.
“The local authority’s stubborn refusal to accommodate the wishes of the public as they defend these places is unforgivable.”
The council’s head of legal, Davina Fiore, defended the decision-making process in a recent letter which was passed on to all councillors. She said the planning committee must work within “a strict legal framework”, ensuring the decisions are “impartial, fair, open and transparent”.
Ms Fiore said: “The chair conducts the meeting to secure a proper, full and effective debate … involving local councillors and the public.”
She added councillors representing wards with controversial applications can address the committee for five minutes, and petitioners who gather more than 50 signatures can address the committee for three minutes.
The committee currently meets remotely, and can be watched live on the council’s website.
Ms Fiore said: “The operation of the council’s planning committee represents best practice in both a Wales and UK context, with informed debate on items taking place in an open and transparent manner.
“Unfounded insinuations that this is not the case are quite simply incorrect.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Public involvement in the planning system is a fundamental requirement. Significant changes were made in 2015 to introduce statutory pre-application consultation before major planning applications can be submitted.
“This is in addition to the opportunities which individuals and communities have to comment on planning applications. Local planning authorities should consider the results of public consultation when determining planning applications.
“National planning policy is very clear that biodiversity must be safeguarded and improved through the planning system and our policy has been revised to reflect the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.”