A 182-PAGE report entitled ‘Future Wales – The National Plan 2040’ was quietly published in February last year by the Welsh government.
I have previously written about the Welsh government’s ten-year health strategy which referred to the World Economic Forum’s ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and also to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This 2017-2027 health strategy included plans for remote NHS appointments.
‘Future Wales’ illustrates plans for ‘social justice’, ‘increasing population density’ and tackling all sources of greenhouse gas emissions, including international travel and freight’ amongst other policies.
The overall theme of the report promises a Welsh-speaking Utopia, where everyone will lead healthy, active, sustainable lives against the backdrop of a strong and resilient economy, all planned by an altruistic government for the greater good. It’s a far cry from the gloomy outlook threatened by the ‘Triple Challenge’ of Covid 19, Brexit and climate change that the International Health Coordination Centre – Public Health Wales’s collaboration with the World Health Organisation – reported on a few months ago.
If you do nothing else, take a look at the ‘Easy Read’ version of the ‘Future Wales’ report – or the easy read version of any Welsh Government report, simply for the entertainment value. You will find them chock-full of hilarious politically correct photos of diverse people to accompany the simple and patronising language. Even more infantilising are the glossaries entitled ‘Hard Words’. Quite who these ‘easy reads’ are intended for is questionable, especially since the ‘Young Person’s Summary’ of the report is arguably more ‘grown up’ in its presentation.
The introduction to ‘Future Wales’ reminds us of our duty to be globally responsible, mentions the aim of citizens enjoying ‘quality leisure time near our homes’ and promises that we will ‘benefit from more local job opportunities, avoiding spending hours on stressful commutes’.
In her foreword, Julie James – Minister for Climate Change – writes that by co-locating different land uses we can minimise the amount of travelling needed to reach work, open spaces, shops and public services from our homes. It all sounds very ‘fifteen-minute neighbourhood’.
We are reminded of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act 2015 through which Wales will make its contribution to the achievement of the 17 UN sustainable development goals. A ‘modal shift’ is promised, supported by the ‘sustainable transport hierarchy for planning’ which prioritises walking, cycling and public transport.
There is be a particular focus upon urban development: ‘To support the economic and social success of our towns and cities, including sustaining public transport and facilities, urban growth and regeneration should increase the population density of our towns and cities. New developments in urban areas should aim to have a density of at least 50 dwellings per hectare (net), with higher densities in more central and accessible locations.’
To visualise, most sports fields are around one hectare in area. Ironically, it also states that it may be necessary for town planners to take ‘social distancing requirements’ into consideration when designing public communal spaces.
Page 67 of Future Wales ends with the paragraph: ‘Compulsory purchase powers are available to the public sector to assemble land and, where necessary, will be used to support the delivery of urban growth and regeneration.’
Under the section headed ‘National Connectivity’ we learn that the Welsh government’s priorities are to encourage longer trips using public transport, while also making longer journeys possible by electric vehicles. Planning authorities must act to reduce levels of car parking in urban areas, including supporting car-free developments in accessible locations and developments with car parking spaces that allow them to be converted to other uses over time.
Where car parking is provided for new non‐residential development, planning authorities should seek a minimum of 10 per cent of car parking spaces to have electric vehicle charging points. Where there is a minimum (and no maximum) of EV charging spaces stipulated, might we in time see enforcement charges for parking other vehicles in such spaces? Pages 84 & 85 again features the government’s aim to ‘reduce the need to travel, particularly by private vehicles’ and includes a list of adverse effects of travelling by car. These include limiting opportunities for physical activity and social contact, contributing to life-limiting illnesses associated with physical inactivity, loneliness and isolation. Presumably these disadvantages do not apply to electric cars.
Included in this report is an infographic entitled ‘Climate Projections for Wales’ which projects average temperatures, precipitation and sea levels in 2050 and 2080. In a footnote we learn that ‘all projections are taken from a 1981-2000 baseline, at the 50th percentile meaning they represent an outcome which is as likely as it is unlikely to occur’.
Finally, Future Wales states that the 20 mph limit previously hinted at by First Minister Mark Drakeford in 2019 will be the default speed limit for most streets going forward. Presumably whether we agree to it or not.
To read through this document puts one in mind of at best being back in the Brownies, making promises with an accompanying salute, and at worst some sort of cult mentality, where pledgers are determined to convert fellow planet-killing sinners to net zero zealots.