84 speeches by……and 9 more speakers
We move on to item 2, which is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs. Question 1—Russell George.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the application of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in Wales? OAQ(5)0055(ERA)
Thank you. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 provides controls and supports enforcement on a number of issues, including the disposal of controlled waste, litter and remedial action for contaminated land. Under the devolution settlement, we have successfully amended the Act to enable its application to more specifically address Wales’s needs.
In a letter to me on 7 November, Cabinet Secretary, you said that you saw no need to amend the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which states that local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide residents with at least one facility where they may deposit their household waste. Now, in light of the closure of the recycling centre in Machynlleth, coupled with the fact that the local authority is now considering the closure of further recycling centres in either Newtown or Welshpool, can I urge you to consider amending section 51 of the Act in order to allow every resident in Wales to have access to a recycling centre within a reasonable distance from their home, as opposed to an 80-mile potential trip, as might now be the case in some areas of rural Wales?
I know we have exchanged correspondence on this issue, and I think I probably said in the letter to you that local authorities do have a high degree of autonomy and flexibility on this issue, and that allows them, really, to respond to local needs and reflect local priorities. I would still encourage people to participate in the consultation that is taking place in Powys, and I still don’t see any need to amend section 51 of the Act at the current time. However, I’m happy to review the position if circumstances in Powys, or anywhere else for that matter, necessitate that.
2. Will the Minister make a statement on efforts to tackle Japanese knotweed? OAQ(5)0056(ERA)
Thank you. I’m taking forward a number of initiatives designed to tackle this invasive species. These include the continuation of biocontrol trials to establish a non-native psyllid and the development of a fungus-based herbicide designed specifically to control this plant.
Can I thank the Minister for that response? Knotweed is a major problem in Swansea East, making houses difficult to sell and spreading onto neighbouring properties. I’m very pleased with the update the Minister gave me on experiments with a natural predator and on chemical attempts to attack it. The natural predator has been used now for several years, when will the decision be made on whether it can be used more generally?
Well, you are aware, obviously, of the results of the chemical trials that were held by Swansea University. They were published last year, and I think what they showed was there wasn’t a one-hit wonder, really, in relation to tackling this very difficult condition. There has been a planned series of treatments, which is absolutely the key to having effective control. I don’t know if Members are aware, but since the trial ended, the most effective herbicide tested, piclorum, has now been withdrawn from the market. We are continuing to fund biocontrol projects, and that really builds on the successes of the earlier trials. The phase that we’re looking at now will focus upon psyllid establishment with release to a wider range of sites, using enhanced release methods with new psyllid stock from Japan. I think the aim is for, then, the insects to suppress Japanese knotweed’s vigour so it won’t be the aggressive invader that it is now.
I thank the Member for asking the question, actually. Japanese knotweed is estimated to cost £165 million to the UK economy each year, and the Residential Landlord Association has warned that it can have such a detrimental effect on the value of property it can render it worthless. The previous Minister did say that a natural predator had been found that will help in the control of Japanese knotweed and was being trialled in Swansea. I ask the Minister—the Cabinet Secretary—can you provide an update on the roll-out: how successful it’s been and whether you do have any intention to use a special control order in the future to tackle this issue?
This is something that I am monitoring and, as I said, we are continuing to fund the trials. We’ve just funded phase 2 this year of the biocontrol trials, so I think we need to evaluate that before making any decisions on the way forward.
Thank you. We now turn to party spokespeople’s questions, and the first party spokesperson is Simon Thomas.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Cabinet Secretary, 2016 is on track to be the warmest year since records began, and the effects of climate change are already being felt, as we’ve seen, indeed, over the last few days here in Wales. Now, your draft budget proposes cuts of 38 per cent in the capital expenditure for climate change mitigation and flood defence projects. Following the announcements of the autumn statement today of some, at least, additional capital funds for the Welsh Government, albeit only about the sum that’s used to repair a big house in London, shouldn’t you now be looking to reinstate some of these funds into your capital projects budget for flood defence?
I’m sure the Assembly Member will be pleased to learn that I think a letter is already winging its way to my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government. You will have heard Mark Drakeford say—obviously, he was on his feet for the tail end of the Chancellor’s announcement—certainly, once we’ve had a look at the small print, and the Minister’s had the chance to look at all our bids, we can have a look at what extra funding we can each have.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary, and I’m pleased that she’s taking the advantage to ask for those to be reinstated. We understand £400 million will be available for the next five years. That would suggest around £80 million in this financial year, though I accept that we have to look at the detail. But we have to show leadership on this, and you’ve just returned from the Conference of the Parties 22 in Marrakech, and I was very pleased that you’d been there. Now we understand that even Donald Trump accepts some connectivity, as he puts it, between climate change and our activities, which means that UKIP have been outflanked by Donald Trump on climate change. Can I welcome the announcement that you made at Marrakech that Wales will be one of the six European regions to sign up for the UN 2050 pathways platform to increase co-operation between all levels of Government on the delivery of climate change measures on the ground? Can you provide any more details regarding how you intend to accelerate our delivery of climate change measures, including that all-important aim of cutting emissions by 40 per cent by 2020?
Thank you. Yes, I was very pleased to attend COP22, and I don’t think it was too short to say that it was a life-changing experience. I met some inspirational people, and I hope Members have had the opportunity to read the written statement I issued last night. You’re quite right that our target is to reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2020. That’s a cross-Government commitment. I had bilaterals before I went to Marrakech with my Cabinet Secretary colleagues so I could find out what they were doing within their portfolios. I now plan to have another series of bilaterals, because, clearly, we’ve had a lot to learn from a lot of states and regions. I took the opportunity to have many bilaterals with environment Ministers and other leading politicians from the states and regions. We, of course, have got a lot to learn, but I think it was absolutely vital that we were there. We were part of the UK delegation, but it was very important that I took the message that in Wales, although we’re a small country, we are absolutely happy to play our part in reducing our carbon emissions.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary. It was obvious from your tweets that you were enjoying yourself there, and I mean that in a professional way, and also, of course, from the written statement, which, again, was full of positive messages from COP22. I only regret that the Assembly didn’t get its act together in time to send Assembly Members to accompany you, because I think that will be appropriate for the future. One of the things that was agreed there—and, again, it was a positive message—was that 47 of the world’s countries most affected by climate change have pledged to use only renewable fuels by 2050. You also told the conference, I think in a blog post, that all electricity bought by the Welsh procurement service for the public sector will be 100 per cent renewable by next year, which I think is laudable, although there is a question always about what is 100 per cent renewable under EU directives, but that’s another matter. What I really want to know is how you will achieve and build and maintain this, and don’t you think, as we move now to a more sustainable future, now is really the time for a Wales-owned non-profit-sharing public energy company to lead the way to be part of the step change in renewables that we need?
Yes, I was very pleased to announce that all electricity bought for public services in Wales by the National Procurement Service from next year will be 100 per cent renewable, and there was a great deal of interest from other states and nations as to how we’re going to achieve that. I will be making a statement next month on energy policies for this term of Government, and it’s certainly something I can consider.
Conservatives’ spokesperson, David Melding.
Cabinet Secretary, are you disappointed that Stop Climate Chaos Cymru has said that Ministers are yet to deliver on climate change policy, and that WWF Cymru warns of an ambition gap?
Well, I don’t think there’s an ambition gap, and I mentioned in my previous answer to Simon Thomas that I had bilaterals with my Cabinet Secretary colleagues before I went to COP22. That was very specifically done. I don’t think there’s a lack of ambition in any portfolio across Government. I do accept that, for us to achieve our target of reducing carbon emissions by 2020, we need to look at doing some things differently, and I mentioned again that I will be having another round of meetings with my colleagues in the coming weeks.
Cabinet Secretary, carbon budgets are at the heart of the environment Act, and they’re now not expected until the end of 2018. And I think it’s reasonable for us to ask, ‘Why the delay?’ Does it really take three years to produce the first carbon budgets? We’ll be halfway through this Assembly, and those budgets are supposed to help you prioritise and us to scrutinise.
Yes, we have started the process of getting our carbon budgets in place. Again, I think we need to do more to align those carbon budgets with our financial budgets, and something I learned at COP22 was how this was being done in other countries. If I can expedite it in any way, I will do so.
Minister, to emphasise the drift in policy implementation, I must ask why the strategic impact assessments for your department are so vague. They’re at the heart of the future generations Act, and they do not seem to have played much of a part in your budget priorities or choices. Is it not the truth that this Government is keen on legislation, but very poor on implementation, as Stop Climate Chaos Cymru and WWF have so correctly observed?
You are right that we have the future generations Act, we have the environment Act, we’ve got this world-breaking legislation, and it is now all about implementation. I don’t think my SI assessments are vague. I think they’re a very important part, obviously, of our budget. I think that they can be improved on going forward, and I think, when I mentioned in my previous answer about carbon budgets and finance budgets being more aligned, the reason why I said that is so that it does improve year on year.
I thank Simon Thomas for acting as the warm-up act to the series of questions I’m about to put on related topics. The Cabinet Secretary will be aware that the Welsh Government has required Powys County Council to increase its generating targets for electricity from renewables—from wind power, in fact—from 50 MW, to 600 MW. That could see another 200 to 300 windmills desecrating the landscape of mid Wales, over 40 per cent of all the landmass of Powys outside the Beacons national park, and up to 14 turbines could automatically, therefore, be approved, because of the presumption of planning approval under the development plan at Abergwesyn, the Begwns, Pant-y-Llyn Hill, Merthyr Cynog, Llandegley, Abbey-cwm-hir, and Hirnant. Local residents are very concerned about the impact that such developments would have upon their daily lives. Given that these projects can make no tangible difference to climate change, and even if you believe in the connection between increased carbon dioxide and global warming, is it really worth wrecking people’s lives and landscape?
Well, I was very pleased to answer Simon Thomas’s questions about the very important conference that I attended last week. I’m not going to debate whether I believe in something with a Member of UKIP, frankly. That science has been there for many years.
This is a democratic forum, isn’t it? What are we here for?
In relation to windfarms, I do understand that some people have concerns about it, but I would think that those people would also be concerned if, when they put the light on, it didn’t come on. It’s about making sure that we absolutely invest in renewable energy going forward.
Well, the Cabinet Secretary clearly doesn’t understand that part of the problem with reliance on renewables is that the lights may well not come on when you press the switch. At the moment, the National Grid is generating 3.33 per cent of power from renewables, compared with 17.32 per cent from coal and 49.68 per cent by combined-cycle gas turbines. Combined-cycle gas turbine generation has to be maintained in order to cope with the intermittent nature of wind. The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales has denounced as futile the reliance upon intermittent energy sources because of this duplication of cost, because the average capacity factor of wind turbines is only 20 per cent. So, for 80 per cent of the time they’re not generating enough wind and, therefore, they have to be supplemented by other sources of generation, doubling the capital cost and also in the process, of course, emitting carbon dioxide emissions because of the energy intensive nature of what needs to be created through their capital costs.
I absolutely recognise that existing energy sources such as coal play an important role in the Welsh economy and in providing our energy, but what we need to look at is not just the current energy mix but the energy mix going forward. In light of the Paris agreement, which you may not want to sign up to, but I’m absolutely happy to sign up to and I think most Members in this Chamber would be happy to sign up to, we are committed to a transition away from those sources of energy unless appropriate decarbonisation technologies come on stream. So, it’s absolutely vital that we invest in renewable energy and alternative energy sources going forward.
Well, under the Paris agreements, of course, India is going to treble its carbon dioxide emissions in the next 15 years and China is going to double them whilst we are making the sacrifices, which have been the subject of my questions this afternoon. But the Cabinet Secretary has responsibility also for rural affairs and the countryside, and tourism is vitally important in mid Wales. Littering the countryside with windmills is going to do nothing to attract tourists to mid Wales. I’m asking the Cabinet Secretary—just to have a sense of proportion on this—there are plenty of places in which you can build windfarms or generate electricity in other renewable ways by solar panels, et cetera, in areas of outstanding natural beauty that might not be national parks; would it not be better not to have these windfarms and to concentrate on building them elsewhere?
Well, maybe when the Member learns a bit more about Wales you’ll find that we’re very rich in renewable resources. It’s about balance, so the short answer to your question is ‘no’.
3. Will the Minister make a statement on flood risk management in north Wales? OAQ(5)0054(ERA)
Thank you. The Welsh Government’s flood and coastal risk management programmes are actively addressing risk across north Wales in line with our national strategy. This includes major work at St Asaph, appraisals for 20 potential coastal schemes and over 70 small-scale projects to build resilience and undertake essential maintenance.
Thank you for that response, Cabinet Secretary. Can I thank you also for the work that the Welsh Government has done in helping to protect homes in my own constituency from flooding? But there is a great concern, which I’ve raised in this Chamber on many occasions, about the Old Colwyn east promenade and the vulnerability of that part of the coast to flooding, particularly given its protection of vital infrastructure in north Wales for the transport networks, in particular the A55 and the north Wales railway line. I know that a number of parties need to come together to resolve that particular problem, but given the Welsh Government’s interest in protecting the A55 in particular, I’d be very grateful if the Welsh Government could take the lead on this issue and bring these parties together so we can crack on and protect that part of the coast, particularly given the improvements that have been made elsewhere in the Colwyn Bay area.
Well, it is an issue and we are bringing parties together and my officials do continue to work with Conwy County Borough Council to try and find an appropriate solution. But I know that no decision has yet been made because we do need that work to be done. So, I’d be grateful if you too could encourage your local authority.
The reality is, of course, Cabinet Secretary, that the Government has cut the capital budget for flood defences. Of course, that is going to place even more pressure on the need to develop alternative strategies and work with landowners, for example, to retain water in the uplands and so on and so forth. But, of course, the Government has been talking about that for many years and NRW has been talking about it for many years. But the move to that modus operandi hasn’t actually happened to the extent that would make a real difference. So, can I ask you what additional incentives you as a Government are considering in terms of landowners, to see that decisive shift in that way of working? And, more specifically, what consideration are you giving to providing enhanced incentives to landowners and farmers to use their land as overflow areas, because that would make a difference in areas such as the Conwy valley?
That isn’t a discussion I’ve had with the farming representatives, but I think it is something that certainly I can look to do. I do want to remind Members that we are still investing £55 million across Wales this financial year, and whilst we have seen some flooding, particularly down in south Wales, this week, I think that, because of the defences we have put in place and the financial investment that we have made, we have seen it on less of a scale. But, of course, that’s no comfort if your home has been flooded. We’ve also got the £150 million coastal risk management programme, on which, again, we’re working very closely with local authorities to implement. But, I’d certainly be very happy—. I’m meeting the farming unions in the next couple of weeks, and I’d certainly be very happy to have that discussion with them.
4. Will the Minister make a statement on the effect of Brexit on environmental policy in Wales? OAQ(5)0064(ERA)[W]
Diolch. Our world-leading Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and Environment (Wales) Act 2016 put in place a strong foundation ahead of Brexit and deliver on the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Paris agreement and the UN global goals. They provide a clear direction based on key international obligations, which will not change as a result of Brexit.
Could I ask what assessment of the implications of Brexit for Wales as a GM-free nation has been made? Can I ask you to commit to protect that status in any negotiations that you have?
That hasn’t been looked at initially as part of the implications, but, certainly, we will continue to take the precautionary approach we have taken over the past years.
Clearly, the environment knows no borders or boundaries. What is the Welsh Government’s view on the form of enforcement mechanism that will be required at a UK level for environment policy after we leave the EU? Evidence to the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee from Aberystwyth University refers to discussions about the creation of a UK environment court. A representative from the University of York said, ‘Whether or not it needs to be an environmental court, I’m not quite sure… but if I were a lawyer, I’d be sitting here saying, “No, we need a new court”.’
Again, I haven’t looked into the issue of a court in great detail. I’m actually meeting Andrea Leadsom tomorrow, so it’s certainly something I can discuss. We’ve been very clear that the powers that have been devolved to this place since 1999 will be here. They may go into the repeal Act initially, but any powers will then come to us for us to have our own environmental policies going forward.
The air quality directive is one of the most important EU directives. Governments are required to achieve compliance by the soonest possible date that reduces exposure as quickly as possible. The Air Quality Standards (Wales) Regulations 2010 require Welsh Ministers to draw up and implement air quality plans to address pollution in the relevant zones, one of which is Cardiff. You will, I’m sure, be aware that the Government has been found wanting in the High Court, acting on behalf of the devolved administrations, and that Mr Justice Garnham has now ordered the UK Government and, presumably, the Welsh Government to produce new plans by the end of April 2017. I just wondered whether you could, in your discussions with Andrea Leadsom, tell us how we are going to accelerate our plans to reduce air pollution in Cardiff, which, as you know, is killing over 40,000 people across the UK before their time.
I am, of course, aware of the UK Government High Court ruling. Members will be aware that I’m out to consultation at the moment regarding air quality and noise management. That consultation is open until 6 December. I plan to use the evidence and the responses we get as part of that consultation—use the evidence going forward to when we have to then come forward with our response by the spring of next year.
5. Will the Minister make a statement on promoting Welsh seafood? OAQ(5)066(ERA)[W]
Thank you. We are working to develop and promote our seafood sector in Wales for both domestic and export markets. I recently launched the new seafood strategy during Welsh Seafood Week, aimed at growing the economic value of the sector. We will again promote the sector at the Seafood Expo Global event in 2017.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. The seafood strategy you’ve just alluded to—who actually owns that strategy? As I understand it, it’s Seafish Wales’s strategy and not the Government’s strategy. Can you, therefore, confirm that the Government agrees with the strategy and wants to see the aims of that strategy being realised and, specifically, given that the strategy gives a target of a 30 per cent growth in seafood produce from Wales, how would you attain that target, bearing in mind the aims that you have under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and, of course, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015?
The strategy was brought together by working—certainly my officials working—with the industry. They developed that. I launched it, as you say. And that vision for the strategy, I think, is shared by Government and by the industry and that’s to have a thriving, vibrant, safe and sustainable seafood industry for Wales. I think it’s absolutely right that we promote the quality and the sustainability of Welsh seafood products—that enhances the reputation—and, to achieve that, my officials will, again, be working, not just with the industry, but other partners also.
Cabinet Secretary, I also recognise the Welsh Government’s seafood strategy, which aims to see a 30 per cent increase in fisheries and aquaculture production by 2025. In this strategy, you mention expanding sustainable aquaculture production and, in relation to that, can you tell us what the Welsh Government is specifically doing to encourage the sustainable development of new fisheries in Welsh waters?
It’s very important, as I said, that, if we’re going to achieve that vision, we have—. A key action is to promote the quality and sustainability of our seafood product. It’s very important that anything that we do, going forward, is based on evidence and on science and, for instance, that’s what I did when I agreed to an extension of the scallop bed in Cardiganshire.
6. What is the Welsh Government doing to combat landscape crime? OAQ(5)0062(ERA)
Landscape crime, including fly-tipping and illegal off-roading, is an issue the Welsh Government takes very seriously and is committed to tackling. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 provide a range of powers to allow local authorities to deal with those who undertake environmental crime.
Diolch, Minister. Recently, I chaired a multi-agency meeting at the iconic Valleys tourist hotspot, Cwmcarn Forest Drive, addressing the real concerns about the rise in landscape crime, and specifically at Twmbarlwm tump. Representatives from Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen councils attended, along with the police and fire service as well as the Gwent police and crime commissioner. In September 2015, a south-east Wales uplands landscape crime toolkit was commissioned to develop an innovative toolkit for tackling landscape crime within an area encompassed by a number of local authorities. This important project was funded through the groundbreaking Welsh Government nature fund, which was a £6 million fund announced in 2013 by the Minister for Natural Resources and Food, with the aim of promoting joined-up collaborative and area-based actions. Will the Minister outline what support the Welsh Government can give to support the local authorities and partner agencies to combat the scourge of landscape crime?
Thank you. Our rural development programme’s £10 million sustainable management scheme has been designed to achieve multiple benefits and that includes combating anti-social and illegal activities on our valuable upland landscape. I would again urge all parties interested in this to submit expressions of interest. You mentioned the landscape crime toolkit and that was delivered as part of our Forgotten Landscapes project, part of the nature fund. That outlines mechanisms to manage, mitigate and treat a range of anti-social behaviour in an upland landscape and maps out an approach that could be then transferred to other areas of Wales. I’m aware of a number of activities that have since been undertaken to directly address criminal activity and that includes off-road prevention operations, combating fly-tipping actions, and firebreaks to minimise the impact of arson and natural wild fires.
Clearing of fly-tipping cost councils in South Wales East nearly £385,000 in 2014-15. Fly-tipping damages the landscape and natural habitats and has an adverse effect on tourism, as my colleague’s just mentioned, and is also a health hazard for the people who walk with their children and their pets alike. In South Wales East, in different areas, under the bridges, behind the bus shelters, behind the bushes, when you go across small roads, and even some dual carriageways, there’s a serious, serious problem of fly-tipping, Cabinet Secretary. What further action can the Welsh Government take to tackle the problem of fly-tipping in South Wales East and get rid of this problem, like Singapore in the far east, which actually gives a severe punishment to the people who do this sort of crime? Thank you.
We have invested greatly in fighting this, and it is a crime and illegal. We’ve funded Fly-tipping Action Wales initiatives since 2007 and work very closely with them. One thing that we are thinking of doing, going forward, is—some local authorities have said to me, ‘Sometimes, it can just be one black bin bag that’s been left there.’ So, we’re looking at consulting on whether we should implement fixed-penalty notices for small-scale fly-tipping, because, certainly, local authorities have said to me they think that would help with the matter.
Illegal off-road biking is a type of landscape crime that harms our natural landscape and can also pose a danger to the public. Natural Resources Wales recently revealed that 22 people had been arrested for illegal off-road biking in south Wales in November alone, and many residents I’ve spoken to in my constituency have highlighted the problems caused by this activity. What actions are the Welsh Government taking to tackle this type of landscape crime?
Thank you. Illegal off-roading is a criminal offence, so, therefore, it is a matter for the police, but we’re encouraging stakeholders and members of the public to work with the police and other partners, including Natural Resources Wales and local authorities, to help tackle this issue. I think we have seen an increase in this sort of activity, so it’s very important that, as I say, all partners come together to tackle this.
7. Will the Welsh Government make a statement on the ecological status of Welsh inland and coastal waters? OAQ(5)0063(ERA)
Thank you. Natural Resources Wales is working with land managers and other stakeholders to improve working practices and deliver status improvements in Wales’s water bodies. This year, 97 of our 103 designated bathing waters have been classified as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’, making Welsh beaches amongst some of the best in Europe.
Yes, I’ve seen that figure and I thank you for that answer. It is, indeed, really good news. But I want to focus on what we’re doing in terms of the water framework directive, and the stats for inland and coastal waters aren’t quite so good. In fact, only 37 per cent are in ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ ecological condition. I understand that things like historical industry, physical modifications and other factors play their part, but it does suggest that, following on from what you’ve just said, where we put effort in, we get results out. So, my question is: what measures are you thinking of bringing forward, Cabinet Secretary, so that we can boost the recovery of all our water, including specifically freshwater?
Thank you. You are quite right that 37 per cent of all water bodies in Wales achieve ‘good’ or better status, and I aim to increase that, going forward. Natural Resources Wales are targeting their resources to work with land managers and other stakeholders to improve working practices, and that, I think, will bring forward status improvements. You’re right about historical industry and, certainly, since I’ve come into post and had a look—you can see that pollution from abandoned metal mines, for instance, is one of the reasons. But it’s not an excuse and we need to do more, so I’ve given extra funding to Natural Resources Wales to specifically tackle that significant issue, and that’s through the metal mine remediation project. Agricultural pollution is also a significant issue in Wales and, again, in Pembrokeshire, we have a particular problem, so, again, officials are working very closely with NRW and also with the farming community so that we can develop practical and deliverable solutions on this issue.
Cabinet Secretary, the most recent west Wales river basin management plan acknowledges a number of significant water-management issues, including physical modifications—such as changing water channels and building structures—which Joyce Watson mentioned earlier, which currently affect 25 per cent of the water environment in the area. Therefore, what guidance or support can the Welsh Government offer to local authorities, and, indeed, stakeholders in west Wales, to ensure that any new modifications that are made do not have a negative impact on the water environment, and are actually sustainable and as environmentally sensitive as possible?
Well, as I said in my answer to Joyce Watson, it’s very important that Natural Resources Wales work with land managers and other stakeholders, and that includes local authorities. I’ve given extra funding to tackle certain issues, but it’s really important that stakeholders and all partners work together around this issue.
We haven’t mentioned nitrate vulnerable zones yet, which is one of the tools that the Government is proposing to use to tackle water quality and run-off. Can I draw the Minister’s attention to the approach being taken in parts of France, and particularly in Brittany, which I saw over the summer, where they use an agroforestry approach called ‘bocage’, or ‘argoed’, as we would call it in Welsh? I think the Bretons have a similar word, but I won’t try the Breton pronunciation. This is the planting of hedgerows and trees, on which an EU report says the following. It demonstrates ‘that nutrient uptake by trees reduces soil nitrate concentration, and that denitrification can reduce the loss of nitrate. At a watershed scale, the nitrate flux brought by water surface decreased when the hedge tree density increased’. So, there are alternatives, perhaps, to some of the models that the Government is considering, and I would urge her to look at how we could use some natural features and natural tree and hedgerow planting to deal with nitrate run-off, perhaps as an alternative in the nitrate vulnerable zones.
Yes, I’d certainly be very happy to look at what’s been carried out in Brittany. You’ll be aware that we are currently consulting on the implementation of the nitrates directive in Wales. I think it closes in the next couple of weeks. So, again, I would encourage all interested parties to read the consultation and respond accordingly, but, of course, I’m very happy to look at best practice elsewhere.
8. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s priorities for energy policy in the south-east? OAQ(5)0053(ERA)
Thank you. My priority is to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon energy mix with policies that support our strategic objectives as a Government, as set out in ‘Taking Wales Forward’. I’ll be making a statement in December that will outline my energy priorities for the whole of Wales.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for her answer. The south-east, like many other parts of our country, provides great potential for local energy generation that’s renewable, reliable and could benefit local communities. There are exciting plans to harness the energy potential of the Ebbw river on the site of the former Navigation colliery, and low-entropy heat recovery from the old pit too. Will she work with the local community in Crumlin and other interested parties to realise the tremendous potential for energy generation on the site of the former Navigation colliery?
Yes, certainly. I’d be very happy to work with local residents. It’s been really good to see, over the summer, some very good community energy projects; I opened a hydro scheme recently not far from Merthyr Tydfil. So, it’s great to see these communities coming together, bringing forward these ideas for these schemes, and we’d be very happy to support with funding if appropriate.
Community renewable energy projects allow local communities greater control of energy generation. Could the Cabinet Secretary advise the Assembly how the Welsh Government local energy programme is encouraging and supporting such projects in south-east Wales and elsewhere?
Well, across Wales we are, as I say, encouraging communities to come together with ideas for local renewable energy schemes. We have a pot of funding. I think, at the moment, we’ve got eight. I think eight have been completed and we’ve got six going through, or it might be the other way around, but I’ve seen a couple myself over the summer. I mentioned the hydro scheme. I also visited a community windfarm. So, it is really good to see these projects coming together, and I’m very happy to meet with any Member who wants me to meet with residents, if necessary, to discuss these schemes in detail.
The Wales Bill is currently in the Committee Stage in the House of Lords, and, in its current form, it would devolve energy planning powers to Wales for all generation projects up to 350 MW, and that is very welcome because, unlike Neil Hamilton, I’m sure we’re both aware that there are many, many opportunities for the economy of south-east Wales and elsewhere. There have been some amendments tabled in the House of Lords that would enable Wales to take forward all the recommendations in the fourth Assembly’s ‘A Smarter Energy Future for Wales’, which was produced by the environment committee. This would permit the Assembly to legislate on all aspects of the generation, transmission, distribution and supply of electricity, other than nuclear energy. And, as you’ll be aware, Cabinet Secretary, this is often the barrier to small-scale projects, that the transmitters simply charge such an outrageous sum that it kills the project stone dead. So, will the Welsh Government support these new energy amendments in the Wales Bill?
You will be aware that officials have been having very detailed discussions with the relevant UK departments on the energy consenting provisions in the Bill. A number of amendments went through the Commons; we're very hopeful that further amendments are going to be made to the Bill as it progresses through the House of Lords to address our remaining concerns, and we’ll be watching it very closely.
9. Will the Minister make a statement on the use of polystyrene food packaging in Wales? OAQ(5)0067(ERA)
Thank you. We are currently evaluating our waste strategy to ensure resources are managed to produce sustainable benefits for Wales. We continue to work in partnership with the packaging industry and organisations such as WRAP to promote the optimisation of packaging and to reduce it where possible, regardless of the material.
Thank you. You might have seen the BBC One programme last night, ‘Keeping a Lid On It’. It was highlighting problems of four-weekly bin collections in Conwy. But one of the issues that came from that is that about 70 per cent of beach litter in Wales is polystyrene/plastic, and everyone is now with these polystyrene cups for coffee and everything. They’re finding their way now significantly into our landfill. Over 100 cities around the world have banned, or are in the process of banning, polystyrene food packaging, and your predecessor did say last year that he would look at whether there is something in Wales that we could do specifically to address some of these issues. Could you outline what you will do to address this? Will you consider a levy on such items, and are you in a position to report on the findings of the joint research project commissioned by your department between Swansea University and the Marine Conservation Society?
I didn’t see the programme, but I have read about it today, and you'll be aware that Wales is really leading the way in relation to recycling. If we were a single member state in Europe, we would be fourth in Europe, but, certainly, we’re way ahead of the game in the UK. In relation to your specific questions around polystyrene, I'm not quite sure why you think that, because we have done some data analysis on this, and polystyrene is not thought to be a major contributor to littering in Wales, except on a very local basis, where it's by the premises that are providing fast food, for instance. It tends to be the independent fast food outlets that use this polystyrene packaging—it’s not well used across Wales. However, any litter is not to be welcomed, and I'm very happy to look at other things. In relation to a levy on polystyrene, again, would people take—it's not like a carrier bag—would people take a container with them to get their food? So, I think we need to look at other interventions before we introduce a levy. But I'm very interested in packaging across—you know, single-use coffee cups. I'm very happy to look at what we can do in relation to this, to look if we need legislation, and, again, in my meeting tomorrow with Andrea Leadsom, it's on the agenda.
I'm sure the Cabinet Secretary is aware that, earlier this year, Oxford became the first city in the United Kingdom to ban non-recyclable packaging from takeaway vans in the city, and under new rules there, all packaging and utensils used by street vendors must be recyclable or biodegradable. So, I think we've already said here how Wales has taken the lead in so many environmental issues. Could she look at what we can do about this, because I think this does seem a good example where steps could be taken forward, and would she consider banning non-biodegradable fast food packing in Wales?
I've now found the statistics that I have about polystyrene in particular. It was in 2015-16 that Keep Wales Tidy undertook this survey, and they found 5.2 per cent litter was polystyrene, but most of it, 3.2 per cent, consisted of other polystyrene—so, not just the packaging. But 2 per cent of it was the fast food items. I'm very happy to look packaging as a whole, right across the scope of all packaging, because I think, you know, if we could reduce packaging, that would help so much, and whilst we're ahead in recycling, there is still, we know, 50 per cent of black bin waste that could be recycled. So, we need to look at the whole spectrum of packaging going forward.
Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary.