Water pollution regulations “threaten businesses”; Minister says her hand was forced

(Title Image: Wales Farmer)

Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s environment questions.

Community energy plans “need to be more ambitious and radical”

Llyr Gruffydd AM’s (Plaid, North Wales) first question related to previous comments on creating a separate Welsh planning inspectorate – though the Minister said planning was no longer her responsibility.

His second question referred to a recent Institute of Welsh Affairs energy report. Llyr welcomed the report’s emphasis on community ownership, which he believed should form part of a broader cross-party collaboration on energy.

“I would be eager to see this forming the foundation for an energy policy that is far more ambitious and radical than we’ve had from the Welsh Government to date. And, in that spirit, I would be eager for you as Minister to be leading from the front in trying to deliver much of what’s contained here. Because I am convinced there is a consensus, across parties, for us to go further than the Government has stated it’s willing to go at present.”
– Llyr Gruffydd AM

Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), said community ownership plays a big part in the government’s energy vision and she was also happy to collaborate with other parties. However, when government targets have been mentioned in the past, experts “raised their eyebrows” believing they were too ambitious; there was no point setting unachievable targets.

Water pollution regulations “could close rural businesses”

Shadow Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central), mentioned proposed regulations to deal with water pollution from farming. While he wasn’t opposed in principle, he suggested the regulations were a “cut and paste” of nitrate regulations which are supposed to apply in specific zones, not the whole country. What assessment had been done on the potential impact of these regulations?

The Minister rejected the idea they were a “cut and paste” job. She preferred a voluntary control on agricultural pollution, but incidents increased 200% in a year which meant regulations were necessary.

As the Minister made no mention of impact assessments, Andrew RT Davies claimed none had been done:

“….that’s deeply alarming that no impact assessment was undertaken because this potentially could shut down many currently viable rural businesses that create employment opportunities and produce high-quality food….How can you defend that position, Minister – that the regulatory impact assessment was not done before you made the announcement?”
– Shadow Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies

The Minister said plenty of impact assessments had been done alongside a full consultation, but she couldn’t “just sit back and see an increase in major pollution incidents”.

Lagoon resurfaces

Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said the company behind the Swansea Tidal Lagoon were looking at different delivery models – including adding solar panels to boost energy generation from 572 GWh to 770 GWh. What work has the Welsh Government been doing on this recently?

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) added that energy production costs (in relation to the lagoon and generally) were still paramount as nearby Tata Steel tries to remain competitive, while David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) asked if anything new had been learned regarding the lagoon’s potential impact on fish?

The Minister couldn’t comment on any live marine licensing issues, but said the Welsh Government continue to press the lagoon’s case to London:

“….the First Minister has written twice to the UK Government….highlighting the importance of the marine energy sector to the UK, and particularly to Wales, asking the UK to provide a very clear path to market for marine energy. I think the lack of a strategy in relation to tidal energy in the UK Government is an obstacle. There will be a report for the Welsh Government….by the end of April….and I think it’s really important that we do look at these emerging technologies, particularly around marine energy in Wales.”
– Environment, Energy & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths

  • 7