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Politics

WG consults on new planning process

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Connecting communities: WG proposes two stage approach

THE WELSH G​OVERNMENT ​has published proposals to change the way major infrastructure projects are consented.

A new approach is needed because more consenting powers are due to be devolved on April​ 1,​ 2019. The Welsh Government is also taking the opportunity to combine a number of existing processes into a single streamlined “one-stop shop” consenting process.

Two stages are being proposed:

  • An interim solution requiring changes to existing processes; and
  • A long-term solution requiring primary legislation to establish an entirely new form of consent.

The proposals only apply to areas where consenting is devolved.

So for example, in future, projects like the proposed M4 relief road around Newport and the 200 Megawatt (MW) Swansea Bay tidal lagoon would need to be consented through the new process, whereas the 2,700MW Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station would not, because consenting for generating stations with a capacity of over 350MW would remain with the UK Government.

CURRENT SITUATION

Wales currently has three tiers of consenting processes for most infrastructure projects (there are some exceptions):
Smaller projects are decided by local planning authorities;

Larger projects, where consenting is devolved, are decided by the Welsh Government through the Developments of National Significance (DNS) process; and

Larger projects, where consenting is not devolved, are decided by the UK Government through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) process.

Consents by local planning authorities and the Welsh Government are given under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA) – this is often known as planning permission.

NSIPs require a different kind of consent called a Development Consent Order (DCO), which is given under the Planning Act 2008. DCOs can include consents on a range of associated matters – these are often called secondary consents.

NEW POWERS

The Wales Act 2017 devolves further consenting powers which are due to come into force on 1 April 2019:

Energy generating stations with a capacity of up to and including 350MW onshore and in Welsh waters (which is an inshore area out to approximately 12 nautical miles from Welsh shores). This doesn’t include onshore wind which is already devolved with no upper limit; and
Overhead electric lines of up to and including 132 Kilovolts (KV) that are associated with a devolved energy generating project.

In addition, the Wales Act has already devolved consenting for Harbour Revision and Empowerment Orders, which are made under the Harbours Act 1964, for most Welsh ports. These new powers came into force on ​April 1​.

WHY A NEW PROCESS IS NEEDED

The way in which the Wales Act devolves the new powers creates some anomalies which need to be resolved to ensure an efficient and effective approach to consenting.

The consenting powers for energy generating stations and overhead electric lines mentioned above are currently consented by the UK Government through the DCO process.

In devolving these powers, the Wales Act takes consenting for these projects out of the DCO process and places consenting for devolved generating stations in Welsh waters back into the former Electricity Act 1989 process. On land, the consenting of devolved generating stations and associated overhead electric lines is placed into the TCPA process, instead of the Electricity Act. The TCPA has previously not been used to consent this scale of generation project.

For a number of reasons set out in the consultation document, this is seen as a backward step.

In addition, the Welsh Government favours taking a more integrated and streamlined approach to infrastructure consenting. It wants to establish a one- stop shop approach for major devolved projects, similar to the UK Government’s DCO process. This, it argues, would provide more consistent and transparent decision-making, and more certainty for communities and developers alike.

The alternative would be to continue with a number of different processes each with their own requirements, established under separate legislation (including the TCPA, Electricity Act and Harbours Act mentioned above).

The one-stop shop approach also allows a number of secondary consents to be included in the main consent, rather than having to be applied for separately.

Some associated changes to the compulsory purchase process are also proposed.

INTERIM SOLUTION

The Welsh Government says an interim solution is necessary because there isn’t enough time to set up an entirely new process before ​A​pril​ 1,​ 2019.

The interim solution involves amending secondary legislation to include the newly devolved onshore energy generating stations and electric lines within the existing DNS process.

Offshore energy generating stations will be consented under the Electricity Act, with a new fee structure based on full cost recovery. Harbour Revision and Empowerment Orders will continue to be made under the Harbours Act.

Offshore energy generating stations and Harbour Revision and Empowerment Orders can’t be brought into the DNS process because the TCPA, under which the DNS process was established, only extends to the low water mark.

The interim solution is due to come into force on ​April 1,​ 2019 and will remain in place until the new process is established. The consultation document suggests this will be after 2020.

LONG-TERM SOLUTION

The long-term solution is to establish a new one-stop shop consenting process that is bespoke to Wales.

The consent would be called Welsh Infrastructure Consent (WIC) and projects captured by it would be called Welsh Infrastructure Projects (WIPs). The Assembly would need to pass primary legislation to establish the new process.

The WIC would consolidate existing consents under the TCPA, Electricity Act, Harbours Act, and a number of other consents made under highways legislation, into one single type of consent. The WIC would also include a wide range of secondary consents, including Compulsory Purchase Orders, Marine Licences and Environmental Permits.

The consenting process would be accompanied by thresholds and policies against which the individual projects can be assessed. Key policies would include Planning Policy Wales, the National Development Framework and the Wales National Marine Plan. The fee structure would be based on full cost recovery.

The WIC process would be designed to be flexible to capture projects of varying types and sizes. It would take a “proportional approach”, enabling certain types of decisions to be made more quickly, and others, which are more complex, to receive greater scrutiny.

This includes introducing a category of optional WIPs that the developer could choose to submit either via the WIC process or to the local planning authority. In the case of offshore projects, where there is no local planning authority, the alternative route for optional WIPs would be via the marine licencing process.

The WIC process would also require developers to engage with local communities before submitting their applications and provide greater opportunity for the public to participate during the examination process. There would also be a specific role for local planning authorities in documenting impact in their areas.

However, the consultation does not address the transfer of regional infrastructure projects away from elected councils and into the hands of unelected so-called ‘City Deal’ boards or their rural counterpart in Mid Wales. The complication of creating a national structure without accounting for looming changes in the delivery of infrastructure services is – as it stands – both unresolved and a likely source of future confusion.

Politics

Dowson dissents on new CEO

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A PEMBROKESHIRE county councillor has come forward to oppose the appointment of the authority’s new Chief Executive despite not voting against it when an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council considered.

Controversial Pembroke Dock Central county councillor Paul Dowson issued a press release in which he said that the new CEO had ‘no track record’ in the role.
Last Wednesday (March 31) Pembrokeshire County Council overwhelmingly voted in favour of Major-General Will Bramble’s appointment.

Councillors voted 48 votes for with two abstentions and one against.

Milford Central councillor Stephen Joseph’s was the sole vote against the appointment.

Cllr Joseph is a noted booster of former CEO Ian Westley, whose departure with a £95,000 pay-off caused controversy.

An Audit Wales investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Westley’s pay-off is due to report within a few weeks.

Major-General Bramble is currently the Senior British Officer in Italy and Deputy Commander of the NATO Corps in Italy.

His track record was not enough to impress Cllr Dowson, however.

Cllr Dowson said:  “He has no experience in a local authority having spent his career entirely in the military.

“I felt that the massive responsibility that comes with this role and the salary level requires more than just one candidate at final stages.

“Cllrs Josh Beynon and Di Clements both stated, ‘give him a chance”.

“I’m afraid at this level you don’t give someone a chance,especially one with no track record in the job.

“He was a very good candidate but I’m not prepared to make a decision on an option already chosen by the senior staff committee and presented to the full council for approval.

“The candidate was strong but the post should have been readvertised and he should have been put forward for the final round when others were competing for the job too.”

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Politics

Criticism of Labour’s water pollution policy grow

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JANET FINCH-SAUNDERS MS – the Shadow Environment and Rural Affairs Minister – has backed a call from rural economy agency Country Land and Business Association (CLA) Cymru for a targeted response to water pollution in Wales.
Last week, a motion to annul the regulations narrowly failed to pass after Labour used its bloc vote.
Labour has twice voted against rescinding the Welsh Government’s NVZ policy and used a procedural ruse to ram the legislation through without scrutiny.
Among those aiding and abetting Labour was the outgoing MS for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Dafydd Elis Thomas. He was joined by Caroline Jones, formerly of UKIP, who is odds-on to lose her regional seat at May’s election. Education Minister Kirsty Williams, the Senedd’s sole Liberal Democrat MS, did not vote at all, not even to abstain.
Despite notionally representing a rural area of Wales, Eluned Morgan and Joyce Watson backed the controversial rules, which could drive Pembrokeshire’s small local dairy farmers out of business.

RIGHT OBJECTIVE WRONG METHOD

Fraser McAuley, CLA Policy Advisor, said: “The Government’s laudable objectives can be better met by an approach which focuses attention where it’s most needed. Where a problem doesn’t exist, we should not be imposing unnecessary costs on a hard-pressed sector in a future of uncertainty.

“The crude closed-periods for nutrient-spreading will do everything to encourage more intense spreading in the open-periods. This limits farmers’ capacity to choose the right ground-conditions to add nutrient. In some instances, this could make matters worse!”
Mr McAuley continued: “We really don’t believe the Welsh Government has allocated sufficient resource to do the job. We will be pressing-hard for more capital support through the Farm Business and Sustainable Production Grants. Penalising hard-stretched farmers will lead to more departures from the business by small operators. The livelihood of many small family farms is at-stake.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to get this right in the White Paper on Agriculture. Here, we can create a solution that fits into the big picture: creating a prosperous farming sector based on sustainable land management principles. This is the real goal.”

WG HASN’T LISTENED TO THE SCIENCE

Janet Finch-Saunder said: “CLA Cymru is bang on the money here over Labour’s unfair stance on nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZ).

“As Welsh Conservatives have repeatedly said, a blanket NVZ policy discriminates against farmers who are abiding by the regulations. A targeted approach focused on where it’s most needed means resources can be better and more efficiently applied.
“Unlike Labour, which is peddling a myth that the voluntary approach has failed, I would look to back the Blue Flag Farming approach. We should pursue the Water Standard and work to deliver on the 45 recommendations by the Wales Land Management Forum Sub-Group on agricultural pollution., They have been entirely ignored by the Welsh Government.
“The pandemic hasn’t helped, but farmers in Wales have had a tough time under Labour. Imposing unnecessary costs on this vital sector of the Welsh economy helps no-one and won’t solve the problem.”
Preseli Pembrokeshire MS Paul Davies said: “These excessive and disproportionate proposals will have a massive impact on the viability of many farms across Wales. Even then, Natural Resources Wales has warned that the proposed new rules will have the perverse outcome of making water quality worse.
“The regulations will threaten the sustainability of many farms in Pembrokeshire and have a serious impact on farmers’ mental health. And they will do this while there is still no clear evidence that this action will actually deliver the improvements in water quality that they have set out to achieve.”

‘CULTURE WAR’

Carmarthen East & Dinefwr’s MP, Jonathan Edwards, went further and accused the Welsh Government of stoking a ‘culture war’ between farmers and the environmental lobby for electoral advantage.

Mr Edwards said: “There is nothing new surrounding issues of slurry management. I am, therefore, baffled as to why the Labour Government are so intent on bringing forward this poorly thought out measure a month before an election.
“Creating an all-Wales NVZ seems completely ham-fisted.  A more subtle policy would have concentrated on problematic geographical areas instead of a blanket all-Wales policy.
“The Labour Government have also failed to consider the emergence of innovative slurry management technology.
“Coleg Sir Gar Gelli Aur campus has been working on a dewatering and purification system for slurry resulting in zero waste.   The Labour Government should be using its environmental budget to help the industry make the transition to the use of new technology.”
Jonathan Edwards concluded: “Unfortunately, the Labour Government have decided to engage in the politics of culture war. Its creating division between farmers and the environmental lobby instead of working collaboratively on areas of mutual interest.
“Instead of using farmers as a political football, the Labour Government should be working with our agricultural sector. Its members are already having to contend with the huge challenges created by the Tory British Government’s Brexit policy.”

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Plaid Cymru’s candidate for Preseli Pembrokeshire, Cris Tomos, said: “It is concerning that the Labour Welsh Government continues to ignore farmers and the farming unions.
“These regulations could be detrimental to the farming community, especially to the Welsh family farm.

“The Labour Welsh Government should be making every effort to work with farmers.”
Cris Tomos added: “It is also concerning that, on the one hand, Labour has pledged to fulfil its ‘One Million Welsh Speakers’ promise, and on the other, it continues to betray the industry with one of the highest rates of Welsh speakers.”

A TIGHT TIMETABLE

If Labour intends to plough on with its legislation, it really has to get its skates on.

The Senedd term ends soon. After that point, Labour will not be able to lay its new regulations.
It has not even published them yet. And that leaves farmers in limbo.
Farmers will not know the detail of the divisive and costly new rules until days before they are due to come into force.
How the Welsh Government can ask a regulator to enforce those rules without a lengthy lead-in is something the Welsh Government has not set out. It has also provided no extra funding to its environment watchdog, NRW, to deal with the rules’ impact and enforcement.

‘GREEN’ CREDENTIALS

Having promised a Clean Air Act for Wales in its 2016 manifesto, it is nowhere near bringing any such legislation forward. It appears it’s more in the presentation and consultation than in the statute book.

Labour Senedd members and ministers who have been remarkably silent on agriculture for the last five years now express a deep and abiding interest in the topic.
As Jonathan Edwards notes above: you’d think there was an election coming.
In contrast to its green branding, Labour withdrew business rates support from small hydropower businesses. It claimed the cost of rates relief to them could not be afforded due to the Covid pandemic. It saved under £1m.
Regardless of when the Welsh Government publishes its regulations, it faces a potential legal challenge from NFU-Cymru. NFU-Cymru says the Welsh Government failed to follow its own rules on the rules’ impact before forcing them through the Senedd.
Labour ministers pressed on without knowing what would happen in practice or, worse, simply turned a blind eye to the consequences. They also ignored the Impact Assessment of the Welsh Government’s own regulator.
Meanwhile, Labour’s Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths, broke repeated promises made to the Senedd and farming unions about the regulations’ introduction during the pandemic.
Unfunded, unenforceable rules of unknown impact are unlikely to achieve their aim: that’s not a compelling legislative legacy.
Suppose Labour cannot form a majority government propped up by votes from individuals like Dafydd Elis Thomas. In that case, it will need to haggle over its future plans or face legislative deadlock.
Anyone would think there was an election coming.
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Education

Senedd approves Wales’ National Curriculum

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MEMBERS of the Senedd voted to pass the National Curriculum Bill’s final text, meaning the Curriculum for Wales will now be introduced in 2022. Throughout the debate on its final stage, which took place on Tuesday (March 9), opposition members praised Wales’ Education Minister, Kirsty Williams. Members from all sides saluted her patience and diligence in guiding a significant piece of legislation onto the statute book. Even members who disagreed with the Bill’s content and opposed its passage highlighted the Minister’s personal contribution and commitment to creating Wales’ first national Curriculum. A NATIONAL MISSION The Bill was the subject of intensive scrutiny and broad consultation. Speaking in the Senedd, Mrs Williams said the Bill’s passage was ’a national mission’. “It would have been simpler to cook up plans in Cathays Park in a back office and issue a ‘take it or leave it’ offer,” the Education Minister said. She continued: “But our combined efforts with teachers, academics, parents, and many organisations here and abroad is worth so much more because of that ‘national mission’ spirit.” Kirsty Williams paid a personal tribute to Labour MS Lynn Neagle, Chair of the Children’s and Young Persons’ Committee. Under Lynn Neagle’s leadership, the Committee rigorously scrutinised the Bill and made a series of recommendations in its text. Of the Labour backbencher, Kirsty Williams said: “I conclude by thanking Lynne Neagle for her tough, astute, tenacious, sometimes bloody-mindedness in her approach to this legislation. I mean that as a compliment, Lynne. “As I said earlier, the results of the committee’s work have made this a better Bill.” She had similarly warm words for her Conservative opposite number, Suzy Davies. Mrs Williams acknowledged: “She has worked incredibly hard on this Bill, and I know that she’s been fully committed to the scrutiny process. As I said in opening my comments today, I think we have a better Bill due to the CYPE committee’s efforts. I have gone to great lengths to try and respond positively to the cross-party report that the Committee published to try and meet those aspirations.” Like Mrs Williams, Suzy Davies steps down as an MS in May. She was unable to attend the debate. CURRICULUM CONTROVERSY Despite the Minister’s warm words, the new Curriculum’s journey to the statute book has not been without controversy. Activists railed against the Curriculum’s Religion Values and Ethics element and its focus on Welsh language teaching’s importance to all of Wales’ pupils. The inclusion of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in the Curriculum provoked vituperative responses from a small group of parents. They opposed children receiving what they’ve claimed will be inappropriately explicit sexual education. Senior Policy Researcher for NSPCC Cymru/Wales, Dr Sarah Witcombe-Hayes says: “The strength of support for mandatory relationships and sexuality education to be included in the new Curriculum for Wales by leading child protection experts and charities highlights what a game-changer this is. “The changes are long overdue, but in passing this Bill Senedd members are helping to protect children and young people from abuse – making sure every child and young person in Wales can access high quality RSE that is relevant, sensitive and appropriate to their own capacities and needs. “It will help all learners understand their rights to safe, healthy and fulfilling relationships throughout their lives, and schools must now be supported and fully resourced to deliver inclusive and high quality RSE from September 2022.” Regarding Welsh Language teaching and RSE, those with genuine concerns had those worries preyed upon to grandstanding political effect by fringe political movements, such as Ukip and Abolish the Assembly (sic.) Speaking for the latter group, Gareth Bennett said: “The downgrading of English teaching in the interest of immersion in Welsh is a sinister development. It will surely disadvantage Welsh schoolchildren who are not from a background of speaking Welsh at home.” Dr Felix Aubel, a noted controversialist, said: “UKIP would divert millions of pounds by abolishing the legal requirement to forcibly impose the Welsh language on people.” Like Abolish, UKIP will campaign on a platform of abolishing Welsh parliamentary democracy. Those organisations’ concerns on Welsh language education ignore the fact Welsh is the national language of Wales. Every credible educational study underlines how children benefit from bilingual education. HISTORY TEACHING CONCERNS PLAID On Tuesday, further and concerted criticism of the new Curriculum came from Plaid Cymru. Perturbed by the absence of Welsh history’s teaching, Plaid’s Sian Gwenllian announced the party would vote against the Bill in its final stage. Plaid’s Shadow Education Minister said that, although her party supported the Bill’s direction of travel: “Plaid Cymru argued for the inclusion of two other mandatory elements that could also contribute towards creating that social, far-reaching transformation that we want to see, namely the history of Wales in all of its diversity, including black and people of colour history, and environmental education, including climate change.
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