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Climate

Carolyn Thomas calls for national flooding plan

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A SENEDD member recalled her family’s own experience of the devastating impact of flooding as she called for a national resilience plan.

Warning of more frequent monsoon-like rainfall, Carolyn Thomas told the chamber the first time her home was impacted she was woken in the early hours.

She said: “A neighbour wanted to alert me to the fact our pet rabbit had drowned, so we could remove him from the run before our children woke up.

“I was shocked to see a river of water pouring off the highway down our drive, swelling into the garage, and water falling down the steps in the garden, where the force knocked over a brick wall to rejoin the stream at the back of our garden.

“It was devastating for the children and for all of us. And this was because of a blocked culvert on private land further up the road, and it could have been prevented.”

Ms Thomas said it happened again during October’s storms as the culvert was not cleared.

She told MSs: “A neighbour has been out of her property for approximately five months now, staying in a hotel over Christmas, nowhere to cook, nowhere to wash up. Her daughter’s a nurse who’s also been struggling, and she’s desperate to have her home back.”

The Labour backbencher, who was elected to represent North Wales in 2021, warned that too often there is confusion and denial of responsibility.

Ms Thomas called for Natural Resources Wales to maintain a register of who owns drainage, ditches, culverts and small water courses, starting with those most impacted by flooding.

She said: “When flooding happens, it happens so quick, it’s often too late to act. The reaction is to call the council for sandbags, the fire service or police.

“Sandbags may help, but it’s often too late, and councils do not have to provide them. Many do not any more – they can’t afford to.”

Ms Thomas welcomed this week’s announcement of £34m for flood alleviation schemes.

The former deputy leader of Flintshire County Council stressed the importance of maintaining momentum as she warned that the rail network is extremely vulnerable.

She said: “If everybody knew their responsibility – whether it’s landowners or homeowners – under a national flood resilience plan, it could help prevent the devastation of flooding for communities right across Wales.”

Plaid Cymru’s Heledd Fychan called for a national flood forum for Wales, saying it is important to empower and support communities.

She said: “That national conversation is needed, but also that structure to support communities, because not everybody can actually advocate for themselves.”

Llyr Gruffydd, who represents North Wales, raised the concerns of farmers in the Conwy valley who have been working to repair the Tan Lan embankment.

“Farmers pay into the pot, but they don’t feel that they get a sufficient return,” he said.

His Plaid Cymru colleague Mabon ap Gwynfor similarly warned that farmers face an additional tax for a system that is failing them at the moment.

Mike Hedges, a Labour backbencher, who represents Swansea East, stressed that the water has to go somewhere as he raised the role of an artificial lake alongside the River Tawe.

He highlighted other actions to reduce flooding such as planting trees and shrubs, putting bends in rivers and making sure that culverts are clear.

Replying to the debate on March 20, Julie James pointed to the Welsh Government’s national strategy on flooding which draws on learning from devastating storms in 2020.

Ms James, who was climate change minister when the meeting was held, said she was interested in Heledd Fychan’s idea of a national forum for communities affected by flooding.

Précising a 400-page speech she was handed by officials, she said: “I think you need to make sure it dovetails together and isn’t just a forum to say how unhappy you are.”

Ms James, in what was her final contribution as climate minister before the reshuffle, said ministers will shortly respond to an independent review on flooding.

She added that the next climate change resilience strategy will be published in October.

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Climate

No current plans for clean air zones in Pembrokeshire

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PEMBROKESHIRE County Council has no current plans to introduce clean air zones or road user charging, councillors heard.

In a submitted question heard at the May meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council, member of the public Sharon Purcell asked: “In relation to the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill, what advice has the council received regarding planned clean air zones or road user charging with a view to introducing schemes to address these issues in the future?”

She also asked a second traffic-related question: “Are there any plans for Local Traffic Neighbourhoods to be introduced and if so, where?”

Answering both questions, Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services Cllr Rhys Sinnett said there were no plans across Wales currently, under any guidance received for the first question.

He also said there were no plans for any Local Traffic Neighbourhoods in Pembrokeshire.

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Climate

90 percent of Rhosygilwen turbine power would be sent to national grid

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A SCHEME for a £1m “20-storey-high” wind turbine to keep a listed Pembrokeshire mansion viable has been backed at a meeting of full council despite members hearing 90 percent of the power generated would be sent to the national grid.

Mr and Mrs Glen Peters of Western Solar Ltd sought permission for a single turbine on land near the Grade II-listed Rhosygilwen Mansion, which includes an arts and functions building known as Neuaddydderwen.

Mr Peters has previously said the application for a turbine would ensure the long-term viability of Rhosygilwen, acquired some 30 years previously as a fire-damaged house that was about to be pulled down.

He has said that, despite 200-year-old Rhosygilwen using power from its solar farm, the first of its kind in Wales, it has been hit with “huge increases in importing energy from the grid” during the winter months.

Planners have repeatedly been recommended to refuse the scheme by officers, but backed it at both their March and April committee meetings.

The March backing meant the application returned to the April meeting for ratification after a ‘cooling off’ period; the application having been deferred at the January meeting pending a site visit.

It was initially recommended for refusal in January for several reasons, including potential harm to the setting of the Grade-II-listed house and grounds, and fears of threats to the safe operation of West Wales Airport at Aberporth in neighbouring Ceredigion, some 9.5 kilometres away.

The last concern was later withdrawn.

Officers have said the scheme “would not protect or enhance the setting [of Rhosygilwen] but rather would result in significant harm to this interest of acknowledged importance”.

They have also warned any backing of the scheme against policy recommendations could set a precedent for similar developments.

As the scheme was from the development plan, the final decision had to be made by full council, meeting on May 9, where it was recommended the committee support for the scheme was not endorsed.

The scheme had been twice backed by the planning committee partly on the grounds of its contribution of green power to help tackle the ongoing climate emergency.

Speaking at the May 9 full council meeting, Councillor Tessa Hodgson questioned how much power from the proposal would be fed back into the grid and how much would go to power Rhosygilwen.

She was told that 90 percent from the “medium scale turbine” would be fed back into the grid, generating a tariff for the applicant, 10 percent powering the mansion and associated buildings.

Councillor Mike Stoddart described the amount of power produced by turbines as “miniscule,” saying it would require some 2,000 to equal the power output of Pembroke power station.

“It’s not going to make any material difference to the amount of carbon dioxide we output,” he told fellow councillors.

A move to approve the scheme, made by planning committee chairman Cllr Jacob Williams, was supported by 37 votes to 18, with two abstentions.

Objector Paul Robertson-Marriott has previously said the “20-storey” turbine would have “a detrimental impact” on surrounding properties and the proposal would “ride roughshod over the status of the listed building for economic benefit.”

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Climate

Fears raised in Senedd over coal tip reclamation projects

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PROPOSALS to reclaim disused tips risk opening the floodgates to coal extraction under the guise of remediation, the Senedd heard.

Delyth Jewell led a Plaid Cymru debate on coal tip and opencast mine remediation, warning a new industry is emerging with reclamation coming at the price of coal extraction.

Ms Jewell, who represents South Wales East, raised concerns about Energy Recovery Investments Limited’s (ERI) proposals for reclamation of Bedwas tip.

Plaid Cymru’s deputy leader said: “Before the land is restored to its former glory, it seems it must be ravaged and plundered again.”

She said some make good on promises but others do not, “claiming at the end of projects that not enough money remains for restoring – it’s all gone on draining every drop of profit.”

Hefin David urged fellow members to keep an open mind to ERI’s plans to remediate coal tips in Bedwas in his Caerphilly constituency.

Dr David said: “We need to keep an open mind about any opportunity or avenue we have to remediate, but at the same time we must ask sceptical questions.”

He stressed: “This isn’t Ffos y Fran, this isn’t ‘leave it as a disaster zone and exploit the land.

“This is a company that is saying, ‘Yes, we’ll take the coal as a by-product and we’ll make a profit, but we are there to remediate the land.’”

Dr David added his voice to a chorus of calls for the UK Government to urgently provide additional funding for proper long-term remediation of disused tips.

Plaid Cymru’s Peredur Owen Griffiths raised concerns about the “troubling” proposals for a coal-extraction project in his South Wales East region.

Mr Owen Griffiths said ERI is planning to extract coal from the Bedwas colliery site over seven years, with a possible extension.

He told the chamber: “The potential implications of the project are far-reaching and alarming, with many questions yet to be answered satisfactorily to alleviate the concerns of residents.”

Warning it could set a dangerous precedent, with more than 300 at-risk coal tips in south Wales, he said the project risks allowing coal extraction under the guise of remediation.

Mr Owen Griffiths said: “It’s imperative that we ask many searching questions to guard against attempts to revive the coal-mining industry through the back door.”

Rhianon Passmore said people in her Islwyn constituency have deep concerns about ERI’s plans for the former coal tips at Mynydd y Grug in Bedwas.

Ms Passmore raised constituents’ concerns about 18 to 20 lorries a day travelling down a haul road that passes through the Sirhowy valley country park.

Pointing out that a planning application has yet to be submitted, she said: “While we want to see coal tips removed and remediated, it cannot and should not be at any cost.”

The Labour MS said the Welsh Government has committed £47m but the UK Government has yet to contribute funding for long-term remediation of disused coal tips.

She called for the UK Government to step up to the plate and take responsibility.

Sioned Williams said there are more than 900 disused tips in her South Wales West region, warning that the landscape has been scarred with environmental hazards left behind.

The Plaid Cymru MS raised the example of Godre’r Graig in the Swansea valley.

She said: “Due to an assessment of the risk of the quarry spoil tip to the village school, children have had to be educated in Portakabins miles away from the village since 2019.

“The school has now been demolished, causing absolute heartbreak in the community.”

Heledd Fychan, who represents South Wales Central, called for new legislation to reflect the realities of today, pointing out that the Mines and Quarries Act dates back to 1969.

The Plaid Cymru MS said: “It is absolutely appalling, in my view, that the UK Government has not played its part in helping to fund the work.”

Joel James, for the Conservatives, rejected Plaid Cymru’s “alternative reality” that paints Wales as a victim of exploitation during the industrial revolution.

“The truth is that our national resources were used to help to enrich us,” he said.

Mr James argued the UK Government should not be expected to pick up the bill for remediation while the Welsh Government brings forward proposed legislation on disused tips.

The South Wales Central MS said the Welsh Government has resources at its disposal, criticising the estimated £18m-a-year cost for 36 more politicians in Cardiff Bay.

Mr James said Wales should engage with ERI on remediation works.

Julie James – who could not comment on the Bedwas proposals – said her father was a miner who died of cancer, almost certainly because of his mining history.

She said: “That will be the case in many families across Wales. To say that that isn’t exploitation beggars belief, quite frankly.”

Wales’ local government and planning secretary urged the UK Government to recognise its moral responsibility to help fund remediation because coal tips long predate devolution.

Ms James said a forthcoming coal tips, mines and quarries bill will reform outdated laws around tip safety and give greater security to people living in its shadow.

MSs voted down Plaid Cymru’s motion, 12-45, with Conservative amendments also falling. The motion as amended by the Welsh Government was agreed, 41-16.

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