University of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK.

Project Description

This thesis assesses the extent of a precautionary approach to the planning determination process in Wales, in order to achieve the over-arching objective of sustainable development. The research will assess:

1)the strengths and weaknesses of the Welsh Assembly Government's planning policy and technical advice notes;

2) the impact of the statutory duty of sustainable development on the planning determination process in Wales;

3) the degree of awareness toward the prerequisite of a precautionary approach in order to obtain a sustainability in Wales and;

4) the planning officers perceptions of risk and appreciation of proaction in determining planning applications.

Project Abstract

PhD Research Title:

An Assessment of the Application of the Precautionary Principle within the Planning Determination Process: The Position in Wales.


The thesis will examine the status of the precautionary principle in the overarching statutory duty of sustainable development in Wales and assess, in particular, the effectiveness of secondary legislative mechanisms in achieving this objective within the planning sector.

As a controversial cornerstone of the established principle of sustainable development, the precautionary principle recognises the importance of prevention and the inherent uncertainty of science to the greater objective of developing in a sustainable manner. This standpoint is echoed by the Welsh Assembly Government in Planning Policy Wales – the document which sets out the land use policies for Wales. Indeed, paragraph 2.2.1 considers, amongst other aspects, that application of the precautionary principle underpins the Welsh Assembly Government’s approach to planning policy for sustainable development.

The thesis will evaluate the extent of a precautionary approach to the planning determination process in Wales through a series of key research and analytical questions. These include:

• How do the Unitary Authorities deal with Environmental Impact Assessment and how efficient is it in fulfilling its role as a precaution-providing mechanism?
• How do the Unitary Authorities deal with the statutory duty towards sustainable development in planning?
• How do the Unitary Authorities perceive risk?
• How do the Unitary Authorities view the role of science in the decision making process?
• How do the Unitary Authorities consider precaution in planning decisions?
• What qualifications and complimentary training do planning officers in Wales have to qualify them to make planning decisions?
• Are the limitations of resources such as staff and time detrimental to effective decision making?
• Is planning policy in Wales being utilised successfully, coherently and effectively?
• What role do the Unitary Development Plans have in decision making?
• How are the Local Development Plans going to affect a precautionary approach to planning?
• What role does Planning Policy Wales and Technical Advice Notes really have in the planning determination process?
• What impact has the Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment had on sustainable planning in Wales?


Data will initially be collected via online questionnaires, which will be sent out to all participating Local Planning Authorities and National Parks. The use of the online software application provider,, facilitates the creation, promulgation and analysis of the questionnaire and related data. These online services provides a convenient, easy to use and accessible technique for both the planning officers who are under immense time constraints and the researcher in terms of collation of data, openness and clarity; whilst adhering to the highest ethical standards.

These online questionnaires will be followed by the conduction of semi-structured interviews with a sample of Local Planning Authorities in Wales; bearing in mind both time, financial constraints and researcher limitations.


The research will provide an assessment of primary and secondary legislation in achieving sustainable development proactively within the planning division’s decision-making process, with specific reference to the Wales. The project will recommend alternative legal, policy driven and radical approaches to deliver the statutory duty of sustainable development in Wales and the associated precautionary principle at an implementational level for Local Planning Authorities and National Parks.

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