One Month In: Energy and Housing in Wales Under Mark Drakeford's Leadership

The Senedd once again opened its doors to the public on Wednesday, 23 January and I made the trip to Cardiff Bay to listen to what the Ministers for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs and Housing and Local Government had to say.  

The Environment and Energy

Lesley Griffiths AM has held the portfolio of Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs since 2016, retaining her position under Mark Drakeford’s first cabinet re-shuffle as First Minister.

Air pollution was a key issue this week with John Griffiths, AM for Newport, asking what steps are being taken to reduce it, particularly in urban areas across South Wales. In response, Lesley Griffiths stated that a Clean Air consultation will be carried out this year, in a bid to drive down air pollution levels and work towards a greener Wales. Conservative AM David Melding then queried whether Wales should be looking to the strict WHO air quality recommendations as an alternative to those of the EU.

Questions were then asked about the Welsh Government’s Energy Service, which was launched in October last year in a bid to help realise Wales’ decarbonisation ambitions and support renewable and sustainable forms of energy. While the Service has garnered support from across the political spectrum, Members are concerned with the failed sustainable energy projects for Wales over the past decade. With Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon scrapped and the Wylfa Nuclear Project currently put on hold, Members now appear to be looking to more manageable, community-based energy projects as a means of solidifying Wales’ sustainable position and building on the Well-being of the Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

Housing

The newly appointed Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James AM, has recently had planning added to her portfolio and will have her hands full tackling this complex and challenging aspect of her role.

Mark Reckless, AM for South Wales East, asked the Minister about the new Self-Build Wales Programme, which has received £40 million in EU funding. James, who said she is coming to grips with her new role, explained the complexity of Self-Build Wales and stated that the aim is for the programme to provide opportunities for people to build their own homes on land allocated by Local Authorities. Individuals will have to apply for a ‘plot passport’, which will be secured by a 25% deposit on the plot cost.

The Minister then faced a flurry of questions on the planning system, with Gareth Bennett AM (UKIP), opening proceedings by asking whether a review of the effectiveness of the planning system in Wales is needed; adding that it is not responsive enough to the needs of communities and local people. Following this, questions were raised about the ability of Local Authorities to produce strategic and effective Local Development Plans (LDPs). Members stated that many residents felt that LDPs are turning Wales’ cities into large housing developments that do not take into consideration environmental concerns, as well infrastructure and community services; questioning whether more needs to be done to support Councils. Mick Antoniw AM (Labour), Member for Pontypridd, also asked how the planning process can be improved to better assess the impact of multiple housing developments in one locality and was referred to the recently published Edition 10 of Planning Policy Wales, which emphasises placemaking for housing developments and Local Development Plans.

There are clearly a range of issues and challenges ahead,  however, what was also apparent is cross-party commitment across to tackle these challenges head on, deliver on creating a greener and more sustainable Wales and working to ensure the transparent levels of governance that have been created since devolution in 1997 are upheld.

It will be interesting to see what changes are made to the planning system in Wales and how the public sector’s commitment to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 will translate to the private sector.  

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Lewis Clark, Account Executive

Mark Drakeford wins the Welsh Labour Leadership election with a promise of 21st Century Socialism

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The result from the last few months of hustings, campaigning and policy promises came to a head this week, and as expected, Mark Drakeford secured victory as the new Leader of the Welsh Labour Party.

The Cardiff West AM took 46.9% of first preference votes, while his opposition candidates, Vaughan Gething and Baroness Morgan took 30.8% and 22.3% respectively. With no candidate reaching 50%, Baroness Morgan was eliminated and second-preference votes of her supporters were redistributed. In the final totals, Prof Drakeford beat Mr Gething by 53.9% to 41.4%.

After nine years as First Minister, Carwyn Jones will stand down following his final First Minister Questions on Tuesday, with Prof Drakeford expected to be confirmed as First Minister on Wednesday.

Prof Drakeford has represented the Cardiff West Assembly constituency since 2011, holding a number of prominent positions within Welsh Government during that period, including his current role as Cabinet Secretary for Finance.

Drawing on his experience working under former First Minister Rhodri Morgan as well as his commitment to Jeremy Corbyn, Prof Drakeford launched a comprehensive leadership manifesto last month entitled ‘21st Century Socialism’ setting out his key policy objectives.

So what does this mean for the future of Wales? Will we see the beginning of a 21st century socialism - or will it be business as usual for Welsh Labour?

From a planning, regeneration and infrastructure perspective, there are a number of key policy commitments of interest that could have significant future impacts:

·       Energy: Prof Drakeford has proposed a large surge in Wales’ relationship with renewable and sustainable energy. In his manifesto he outlines that investment in renewable energy must be seen as a bid to boost the Welsh economy, adding that Wales must make use of the abundance of wind, water and waves available.   His pledges include re-examining the case for a new Welsh Energy Mutual (based on the Welsh Water model), support for the Tidal Lagoon project, as well as setting up an independent commission to advise on nuclear power.

·       Housing and Regeneration: Prof Drakeford has stated that he would appoint a Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for housing and allied matters, allowing housing to be represented at the top table. He adds to this that he would press ahead with plans for a vacant land tax, tackling land banking and allowing for the release of land for housing and regeneration developments.  He has also committed to aligning housing and planning responsibilities, allowing councils to work together more flexibly across boundaries in a bid to provide the housing Welsh people need.

·       Transport and the M4 relief road: Prof Drakeford has expressed a strong desire to tackling M4 congestion in South Wales, although he is yet to commit to the M4 relief road – although this decision will now fall to him (and not Carwyn Jones as previously anticipated).  Additionally, Prof Drakeford claims that he would revise Planning Policy Wales to make provision of sustainable transport infrastructure a fundamental requirement for new development (PPW Edition 11 could be arriving sooner than expected).

There is no doubt that Prof Drakeford is a man of conviction who will be committed to following through on the pledges set out in his manifesto that has resulted in a strong election win.  He has clearly convinced Labour Party members he is the man to lead Wales, but he now needs to convince the wider population of Wales also, as he looks to roll out his manifesto commitments and steer Wales down, what could be, a bolder new path. 

For updates on all things politics, regeneration and infrastructure - please watch this space or follow us on Twitter at @Grasshopper_UK.

Welsh Labour Leadership Contest: The votes are in - but will the outcome make any difference to the future of Wales?

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The polls have closed for the Welsh Labour leadership election and the winner will be announced on Thursday (6 December).  But will the outcome have any significant impacts on the future of Welsh development and infrastructure?

While Mark Drakeford has remained the favourite to become the next First Minister since becoming the early front-runner, the divided nature of politics and preferential election process means it would be dangerous to discount the other two candidates, Eluned Morgan and Vaughan Gething, before the final result is announced.

We have taken a look at each candidate’s policy commitments and the impacts these may have on the built environment, construction, transport and energy sectors.

Mark Drakeford:

The current Finance Minister has long been seen as the inevitable successor to Carwyn Jones, with his experience and commitment to Jeremy Corbyn and the UK Labour Party being seen as the cornerstones to his leadership drive. Mark has clearly set out his policy commitments and released a detailed manifesto entitled “21st Century Socialism”.

So, what is Mark proposing under his leadership:

·       Energy: Mark has proposed a large surge in Wales’ relationship with renewable and sustainable energy. In his manifesto he outlines that investment in renewable energy must be seen as a bid to boost the Welsh economy, adding that Wales must make use of the abundance of wind, water and waves available.   His pledges include re-examining the case for a new Welsh Energy Mutual (based on the Welsh Water model), as well as setting up an independent commission to advise on nuclear power.

·       Housing and Regeneration: Mark has stated that he would appoint a Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for housing and allied matters, allowing housing to be represented at the top table. He adds to this that he would press ahead with plans for a vacant land tax, tackling land banking and allowing for the release of land for housing and regeneration developments.  He has also committed to aligning housing and planning responsibilities, allowing councils to work together more flexibly across boundaries in a bid to provide the housing Welsh people need.

·       Transport and the M4 relief road: He has expressed a strong desire to tackling M4 congestion in South Wales, although he is yet to commit to the M4 relief road, unlike Eluned and Vaughan. Additionally, Mark claims that he would revise Planning Policy Wales to make provision of sustainable transport infrastructure a fundamental requirement for new development

Eluned Morgan:

The last to get on the ballot following the intervention of Carwyn Jones to ensure a woman was on the ballot paper, Morgan has been clear in expressing her principal policy area: The Welsh Economy.  Eluned has stated that “economic development and the provision of jobs will be my first priority as First Minister of Wales.” Below is a summary of the key manifesto commitments set out:

·       Energy: having formerly been Director of National Development for SSE in Wales, this is an area Eluned is very familiar with.  She has detailed a range of ambitions for energy in Wales including producing affordable clean energy, increased regulation around sustainable construction, a carbon-neutral public sectors and stronger renewable energy policy.  Eluned has also recently expressed her support for nuclear power.

·       Housing and Regeneration: In terms of regeneration, Morgan was quick to bring economics into play. She stated that “I will investigate the introduction of a Cymru Currency to see if we can encourage people to spend more of our Welsh money locally.” Morgan also added that she will assemble a panel of experts to give advice on revising taxation in Wales who can then investigate how best to support Wales’ town centres.

·       Transport and the M4 Relief Road: Eluned has stated that encouraging active travel and supporting public transport could transform the economy in South Wales, whilst also standing by the election manifesto on which Labour promised to deliver the M4 relief road.

Vaughan Gething:

Vaughan has positioned himself as the candidate for change in the Labour leadership bid.  Using the campaign slogan - ‘ChangeTakesCourage’ - Vaughan asks “What kind of Wales do you think we deserve?” Despite not providing a detailed manifesto, based on interviews and statements, his key policy commitments can be surmised as follows:

·       Energy: Vaughan makes little mention of energy and environmental issues, but has recently expressed support for nuclear power.

·       Housing and Regeneration: Vaughan has been clear that in order to support Wales’ town centres, we need to empower local authorities to ensure they have the financial tools to ensure their communities thrive. He states that he wants to reset the relationship between Councils and the Welsh Government, allowing local authorities to have greater control over the way they spend their budgets.

·       Transport and the M4 Relief Road: For Vaughan, doing nothing with regards to the issue of congestion in Wales is not an option. He adds that this means delivering the M4 relief road.

It is clear there is a range of new policies being put forward by the three candidates in relation to the future of economic development, investment and development in Wales.  It is likely that a collections of these (from all candidates) will be promoted as the Assembly term progresses, with the emphasis depending on who the new Leader is, and how their cabinet is formed moving forward.

Please watch this page or follow us on Twitter @Grasshopper_UK to keep up to date with the Welsh Labour leadership race.

Lewis Clark, Account Executive

Reforming Planning in England – putting people at the heart of decision making

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The Raynsford Review of Planning in England, the final version of which will be officially launched this evening, says there’s a need for planning to “strike a balanced settlement in which the development needs of our communities are met in the most sustainable ways, and in which all parts of the community have a real voice in the decision-making process.”

Similarly, there have been calls to ensure that the voices of communities are adequately heard within the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime.

Community consultation isn’t the only subject of the Review of course, but the report findings suggest that communities feel frustrated at their exclusion from affecting decisions that shape their area and wider infrastructure, as well as mistrust of the process and decision-makers.

That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of good examples of developers who have put communities at the heart of consultation, but with so many stakeholders making demands on a project, community wishes can easily be overshadowed by the needs of stakeholders and we’re back to a disenfranchised community reluctant to engage in further well-intentioned consultations.

The Review makes 24 recommendations for the English planning system, including a more people-centred planning system, and next year, further work will be undertaken to see how these recommendations can be taken forward. But would a change in planning law really make a difference?

Without wanting to be cynical, legislation doesn’t create change, it’s people that make change happen and trust plays a big part. That said, well thought out legislation can create a framework that encourages all parties to do things better and that can only be a good thing for our developing towns and cities. But we’ve yet to see how the review develops and if any changes to the planning regime really do help people feel they have a real voice.

Full details of the Raynsford Review can be found here: https://www.tcpa.org.uk/raynsford-review

Deb Campbell, Account Director

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.