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.
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