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Building the Future: Vaughan Gething or Jeremy Miles?

By George Thomas
20 February 2024
Public Affairs

With Welsh Labour set to announce its new Leader next month, Wales will have only its fifth First Minister since powers were devolved to Cardiff Bay over twenty years ago. 

The two men – yes, we will have another man – looking to become the next Leader are: Vaughan Gething and Jeremy Miles. 

As a north Walian it is somewhat irritating that yet again, we’ll have a leader from the south of the country. However, the intricacies of tackling the north-south divide is a topic for another article. The purpose of this article is to discuss what a Gething or a Miles leadership would mean for the built environment in Wales. 

It may not come as a surprise to hear that both candidates have a golden thread of green growth throughout their respective manifestos. Gething has promised to put green job creation at the heart of protecting Wales’ future. Similarly, Miles has committed to setting up a ‘Good Green Growth economic stimulus package’. 

The years ahead should, therefore, be a productive period for energy infrastructure projects in Wales. The leadership hopefuls have promised to utilise Wales’ inherent coastal advantages, committing to invest heavily in tidal and offshore wind projects. Miles goes a step further, stating that he wants to see Wales host the new global industry for floating wind. Miles also suggests he would look to extend community shareholding in renewable energy projects. 

Both candidates highlighted the need for grid improvements, something which I know will come as welcome news to businesses across Wales, particularly in my northeast region where limited grid access is impeding economic progress. Notably absent from each manifesto was any mention of nuclear energy. The potential collaboration between a Miles or Gething premiership and the UK Government becomes particularly intriguing in light of recent reports suggesting that the state-owned Great British Nuclear is in talks with Hitachi to acquire the nuclear site at Wylfa.  

Encouragingly, both candidates have recognised the need for planning reform to ensure major infrastructure projects can be delivered efficiently. Gething has promised ‘bold and systemic’ reforms to the planning system in Wales, whereas Miles stressed the need to build up capacity in planning departments and to introduce pattern books for faster approvals. 

Planning reform to tackle the housing crisis is also on their agendas. Miles again highlighted the need to increase local planning capacity and advocates for pre-approved building designs on land allocated for housing. Gething has promised an Affordable Homes Taskforce to help tackle the planning backlog by fast-tracking major developments. 

Neither candidate has committed themselves to a target for general housing delivery. Both instead simply stress the need to focus on social housing delivery above all other tenures. While there are some distinctions between their housing policies – Miles prioritises cooperative housing and advocates exploring a Rent-to-Own scheme, whereas Gething emphasises building near town centres and ensuring all homes have gigabit internet connections – generally, there is a clear alignment in policy. 

There is no mention in either manifesto of reversing the decision to scrap all major road building projects; only the M4 corridor seems to be in line for improvements. Instead, both candidates stress the need to improve public transport, both promising to re-regulate bus services so that towns can be properly connected by an integrated public transport system.  

Vaughan Gething has pledged to grant the Minister for North Wales additional powers, including the establishment of an office in north Wales. It will be intriguing to see how this office engages with a business community that has felt somewhat neglected in recent years. While Miles stops short of making a similar commitment, businesses in northeast Wales will find encouragement in his promise to support deeper cross-border economic cooperation, with a specific mention of the Mersey-Dee Alliance. 

Overall, I am pleased to see a shared commitment to planning reform, reflecting a genuine impetus from each candidate to expedite a process hindering large-scale development and, consequently, the country's economic advancement. Although I would have liked to have seen a bold housing delivery target, the substantial policy alignment does provide the sector with a commendable level of certainty. Alongside what appears to be a sincere intention to collaborate with the business community, these factors suggest abundant opportunities for those involved in the built environment in Wales.