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North Wales health board slammed for failing to seek funding from housing development

Picture shows the new, revised plans submitted to Wrexham Council for 600 houses on land off Holt Road (Pic: Planning document)

THE NORTH Wales health board has been slammed for failing to seek money from a large housing development to improve local services.

It came as Wrexham councillors met on Monday (April 8, 2024) to consider whether to withdraw their objections to controversial plans for 600 new homes off Holt Road.

Permission for the application was rejected by Wrexham Council’s planning committee in July 2020 amid concerns over the impact on roads, schools and GP surgeries.

Housing companies Barratt and Bloor Homes launched an appeal against the decision in May the following year as they said the proposals would help meet a local need for housing.

The appeal is due to be examined by an inspector from Planning and Environment Decisions Wales in the near future.

Ahead of the crunch decision, planning committee members were requested by officers from the local authority to revoke their opposition.

One of the reasons was because officials said Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board did not intend to object to the scheme and had not provided any evidence to demonstrate that financial contributions were needed.

Cllr Andy Gallanders (Plaid), who represents the Rhosnesni area described the health board’s decision not to seek money to boost primary care capacity via a Section 106 legal agreement as “shocking”.

Rhosnesni councillor Andy Gallanders (Pic: Andy Gallanders)

Speaking at the meeting at Wrexham’s Guildhall, he said: “I must call out the health board. How on earth are these brand-new dwellings not going to cost the health board any money?

“Where are all the GP surgeries? Where’s all the new facilities going to come from if we’re not going to put a condition that they ask for some money.

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“We need to keep an eye on all the developments under the LDP, because there’s another 900 houses in this area.

“There will be 1,600 new houses in our wards, but the health board aren’t asking for more money off the developers.

“That’s shocking on behalf of the health board, and I just cannot understand that.”

Under planning law, developers can be asked to make financial contributions to pay for infrastructure to mitigate the impact of new houses, including health facilities.

Payments are secured by local authorities entering into Section 106 legal agreements with developers, subject to certain tests being met.

Betsi Cadwladr was previously criticised by another Wrexham Plaid Cymru councillor in January after the health board did not object to plans for 455 houses on land off the A541 Mold Road near Gwersyllt.

Speaking about the Holt Road development at Monday’s meeting, the party’s group leader Marc Jones said: “I have to say, I do agree with Cllr Andy Gallanders. It’s inconceivable that the health board would not raise an objection.

“But then we have to accept that the health board is failing in so many ways.

“Already, it’s failing to deliver services to serve the existing population and I think it’s failing to prepare for the future.

“If the health board is failing, perhaps we have to speak up for our communities and we have to actually try and do our best.”

The report to councillors showed that the health board did submit some comments regarding the plans.

They included that the national average GP to patient ratio is one for every 1,800 patients, whereas the ratio in Wrexham is currently one for every 2,600.

Health board officials said the predicted population growth in Wrexham’s Local Development Plan would present “specific challenges” for health services.

However, they stopped short of making a formal objection to the Holt Road proposals.

Addressing the situation, planning officer Matthew Phillips said: “In terms of the health board, I do appreciate and understand the concern.

“But we’re not the health board’s conscience. The health board is there so that if they have significant concerns, they have an opportunity to object.

“If they feel that there needs to be contributions towards certain infrastructure, they have the opportunity to evidence that.

“They would have to submit substantial evidence to justify there’s a clear cause and effect.

“They’ve confirmed in writing that they do not intend to do that as they don’t have that evidence, and they don’t object.”

Councillors were told during the meeting that the council was no longer in a position to defend its reasons for refusing the proposals.

It follows a number of recent events, including the approval of Wrexham’s Local Development Plan, in which the scheme is part of a key strategic housing site.

However, chief planning officer David Fitzsimon said he would be willing to write to the chief executive of Betsi Cadwaladr to highlight their concerns.

The committee agreed to formally withdraw all three reasons for refusing the plans, with five members voting in favour and eight choosing to abstain.