Who’s who: the launch of the National Infrastructure Commission Wales

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On Thursday 1 November, the members of the newly formed National Infrastructure Commission Wales (NICW) met for the first time.

Made up of 12 members and headed by John Lloyd Jones OBE, the National Infrastructure Commission Wales was established by the Welsh Government under Cabinet Secretary Ken Skates to support independent and better-informed advice on a longer-term strategy for infrastructure investment across Wales.

The Commission has been established as a non-statutory, advisory body to provide advice to Welsh Ministers on the economic and environmental infrastructure needs of Wales over the next 30 years (including energy, transport, water, drainage digital communications and flood management), enshrining the goals and principles of the Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

Speaking of the creation of the Commission, Economy and Transport Secretary Ken Skates AM said: “I am delighted to appoint a group of commissioners with such expertise and experience. I look forward to receiving their advice and am convinced they will make a major contribution to Wales’ well-being through improved infrastructure.”

John Lloyd Jones OBE the newly appointed Chair of the NICW said: “We look forward to making a substantial contribution to Wales’ long-term infrastructure development.”

The membership of the Commission is as follows:

·       John Lloyd Jones OBE (Chair) – Member of the External Advisory Board of the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Science at Aberystwyth University and former planning inspector

·       Professor Tom Crick – Professor of Digital, Data, Education and Policy at Swansea University

·       Ceri Doyle – Chief Executive of Newport City Homes

·       Stephen Gifford – Head of Economic Regulation at Civil Aviation Authority

·       Helen Howells – Senior Community Partnerships Officer for Natural Resources Wales

·       Rob Irvine – Former editor of the North Wales Daily Post

·       Professor Roderick Smith – Research Professor of Railway Engineering at Imperial College London

·       Chris Sutton – Director at property firm JLL

·       Emma Thomas – Director, Constructing Excellence in Wales and Adviser to the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

·       Tom Wharf – Senior Engineer at JBA Consulting

·       Richard Feasey – Lecturer and consultant in the telecoms sector. Previously a director of Group Public Policy at Vodafone

·       Emma Parrott – Welsh Assembly Member 2011- 2016, Interim director at Community Transport Association for Wales.

It is likely that the Commission will play an important role in the upcoming developments associated with Transport for Wales and South Wales Metro projects, as the Welsh Government seeks to utilise the infrastructure possibilities available to create a better and more prosperous Wales for both the generations of today and those of the future.

To keep up with all things infrastructure related in Wales please keep an eye on this page and follow us on Twitter @Grasshopper_UK.

UK Budget 2018: Wales, Housing and the End of Austerity?

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While austerity, cuts and taxation caught the headlines in yesterday’s budget, other key points from the announcement included a boost to housing and infrastructure projects across the UK and £500m over the next three years for Welsh Government.

Additionally, the Treasury committed to a review of the Welsh Government’s borrowing powers including a potential £300m extension to support the delivery of projects including the M4 relief road, a removal of the cap of local authority borrowing to enable councils to build more houses and the appointment of a dedicated manager from the British Business Bank in Wales for the first time.

In response,  Alun Cairns, Secretary of State for Wales, stated that: “today’s budget shows the scale of ambition the UK Government has for Wales.” However, not all felt as positively as Cairns. Speaking candidly, Welsh Government Finance Minister and early front-runner in the Welsh Labour Leadership contest, Mark Drakeford, claimed that “any suggestion this Conservative Government’s failed policy of austerity is over, on the evidence, is wrong,” and real-term cuts paired with Brexit unease left many suggesting that austerity is far from over.

The Chancellor stood by his commitment to a house-building programme in England, announcing both  an extra £500m for the Housing Infrastructure Fund to support the building of 650,000 homes across the country and the next wave of strategic partnerships with nine Housing Associations, in a move that is expected to bring a further 13,000 homes.

High streets were also on the agenda and a £675m High Streets Fund was launched to regenerate high streets and town centres which could see empty or under-used retail and office space turned into flats. Although this would potentially make the conversion process of empty buildings a lot smoother, commentators, such as the RTPI urged caution “about making it easier for empty shops to be turned to residential use.” 

What is clear from this year’s budget however, is a commitment to creating much needed housing, and, with a further axe on stamp duty - it is hoped more people will get onto the housing ladder and give the economy a much needed boost.

Plaid Cymru Conference 2018 - "Yes Wales can"

Adam Price took to the stage this weekend as the new leader of Plaid Cymru.

Showing clear disdain for the “red Tories running Wales” and Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, the Welsh nationalist party called for a ‘people’s vote’ on leaving the EU.

In his keynote speech, Price adopted the “yes we can” campaign slogan of Barack Obama to state his ambition to lead Wales to independence. Adding to this, he outlined his key policies for the Party moving forward which included re-localising the Welsh economy by ensuring that 20% of all publicly procured food is produced locally and creating a public energy company, with profits used to build a universal basic income for Welsh citizens.

Price also claimed that Plaid will endorse a fast, reliable and renewable national western railway line connecting Swansea to Bangor, boldly stating “we don’t need your Western powerhouse Mr Cairns, we’ll build our own in Wales.”

Taking his opportunity to further endorse Welsh independence, after a week that has seen him attempt a partnership with the Scottish Nationalist Party, Price expressed that “Yes Wales can” to the party faithful.

It will remain to be seen how much support for Independence Plaid can conjure up, but it is clear that Independence is still very much at the heart of the Party’s agenda.

Conservative Party Conference 2018- Brexit Divisions, An End to Austerity and May's Mission to Tackle the Housing Crisis

Against a backdrop of Brexit, the Conservative Party Conference managed to focus its attention on UK domestic policies, particularly housing and austerity.

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire, like many others in the Party Leadership, spoke of the housing crisis that Britain continues to face. In light of this he announced the Party’s commitment to building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. While this is not a new policy from the Conservatives, it appears that they remain committed to achieving this objective.

Brokenshire added that the Government would be prioritising brownfield sites, but also look at land that has already been partly developed as well as publishing proposals to permit people to build up on existing buildings. These developments are part of a reform programme aimed at speeding up the planning system as well making better use of land and vacant buildings to deliver the homes that local communities need.

Building on Brokenshire’s speech on housing, after dancing onto the stage in true Conservative style, Theresa May in her keynote address spoke of what has been described as her own personal mission, announcing that she would be scrapping the cap on how much local authorities can borrow to build new social housing. The PM stated:

“Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation. It does not make sense to stop councils from playing their part in solving it. So today I can announce that we are scrapping that.”

This, if implemented properly, could see a further 15-20 thousand council homes built every year, tripling the current supply. However, with the waiting list for council housing in the millions, it appears the Government will still be short of the current demand.

Moving away from housing, the Prime Minister thanked the British people for their hard work following the financial crash that produced an eight-year period of austerity, before explicitly stating that such a period of cuts was over. May added that following Brexit, the Government will be boosting public spending while continuing to reduce the national debt. However, with further cuts to come on schools, policing and benefits, it appears the end of austerity is a prospect for the future, rather than a reality of today.

May paid further tribute to the British people, claiming that the Conservative Party is one “not for the few, not even the many, but for everyone who is willing to work hard and do their best.” While this was a spin-off of the Labour Party soundbite, May effectively engaged those on both sides of the Brexit divide, yet failed to provides specifics on how the public sector will become better off financially.   

This will no doubt be a focus for the Annual Budget on October 29 where it will become more apparent how much sincerity is in these promises from the Conservatives.  

Labour Party Conference 2018 – Brexit, renewables and feminism

Thousands of party members, journalists, lobbyists and others descended on Merseyside for the Labour Party’s annual conference this week, as Labour looks towards post-Brexit Britain and the possibility of a forthcoming General Election.

While Brexit, nationalisation and a commitment to equality dominated much of the narrative, what became clear was Labour’s determination, up and down Britain, to return to power.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, and many others, spoke at great lengths of the Britain they want to see, and the best means of achieving it.

One of the key themes to come out of Corbyn’s Leader speech was a commitment to green policies, putting renewable energy and efficiency at the heart of Labour’s offer.

Earlier in the week, Rebecca Long-Bailey the shadow business secretary, set out that the party is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the middle of the century (the UK’s current goal is an 80% cut by 2050). 

The aim is that almost all of Britain’s homes and businesses would be powered by wind, solar and nuclear power by 2030, including the development of 13,500 onshore and offshore wind turbines, solar panels on thousands of roofs and widescale home insulation.

Critically, Corbyn has chosen to place environmental issues at the centre of the party’s economic offer, with the aim of creating thousands of sustainable, high-skilled jobs, the impact of which would be to tackle joblessness in communities that have borne the brunt of deindustrialisation, whilst also recognising that the environment is a key issue. In addition, Corbyn has promised to back proposals for a tidal power lagoon in Swansea Bay if Labour wins power.

Focusing on Wales, First Minister Carwyn Jones struck a chord with the crowd, not for his beard jokes, but for his wish that the next UK Government in Westminster would be Labour, calling for his English counterparts in Westminster to match Labour’s dominance in Wales.

Jones spoke of Wales’ commitment to sustainability and the transport revolution, whereby trains are being built in Wales, for Wales, and not for profit.

He also spoke of gender-equality, or lack of it, expressing his disappointment that he may need to use his Welsh leadership election nomination to endorse Eluned Morgan AM to ensure there is a woman on the ballot paper this autumn.

Our attention now turns to the forthcoming Conservative Party Conference and also the Plaid Cymru Autumn Conference following today’s election of Adam Price as the new party leader.