Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith

Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee

07/12/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Delyth Jewell
Huw Irranca-Davies
Janet Finch-Saunders
Jenny Rathbone
Joyce Watson
Llyr Gruffydd Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Andy Falleyn Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Clare Fernandez Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Dr David Clubb Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru
National Infrastructure Commission for Wales
Eifiona Williams Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Emma Williams Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Jenifer Baxter Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru
National Infrastructure Commission for Wales
John Howells Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Jonathan Oates Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Julie James Y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
Minister for Climate Change
Lee Waters Y Dirprwy Weinidog Newid Hinsawdd
Deputy Minister for Climate Change
Tanya Wigfall Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:20.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:20.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions, and declarations of interest

Bore da a chroeso i gyfarfod Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Croeso i Aelodau i'r cyfarfod. Mae hwn yn gyfarfod wrth gwrs sy'n digwydd ar fformat hybrid ac, ar wahân i addasiadau sy'n ymwneud â chynnal y trafodion mewn fformat hybrid, mae'r holl ofynion eraill o ran y Rheolau Sefydlog yn aros yn eu lle. Mae eitemau cyhoeddus y cyfarfod yma, wrth gwrs, yn cael eu darlledu ar Senedd.tv, ac mi fydd Cofnod o'r Trafodion yn cael ei gyhoeddi, fel wrth gwrs ag sydd yn arfer digwydd. Mae'n gyfarfod dwyieithog, felly mae yna gyfieithu ar y pryd ar gael o'r Gymraeg i'r Saesneg. Os bydd larwm tân yn canu, yna dylai'r Aelodau a'r tystion adael yr ystafell drwy'r allanfeydd tân a dilyn cyfarwyddiadau gan y tywyswyr a'r staff. A gaf i ofyn i Aelodau sicrhau bod dyfeisiadau wedi eu rhoi yn y mode tawel? A hefyd, a gaf i ofyn a oes gan unrhyw un fuddiannau i'w datgan? Na, dim byd. Dyna ni, ocê, diolch yn fawr iawn. 

Good morning and welcome to the meeting of the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. Welcome, Members, to this meeting. This is a meeting that's being held in a hybrid format and, aside from the adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in a hybrid format, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual, so there is simultaneous translation available from Welsh to English. In the event of a fire alarm, then Members and witnesses should leave the room by the marked exits and follow instructions from the ushers and staff. May I ask Members to ensure that all mobile devices are switched to silent mode? And also, may I ask if there are any declarations of interest? No, nothing. Okay, thank you very much.

2. Gwaith craffu blynyddol ar Gomisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru
2. Annual scrutiny of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales

Ymlaen â ni at yr ail eitem, sef sesiwn graffu flynyddol gyntaf Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru yn y pwyllgor yma. Mae’r sesiwn yn cwmpasu, wrth gwrs, y cyfnod 2021-22. Mi gawsom ni gwmni Dr David Clubb adeg y gwrandawiad cyn penodi ychydig dros flwyddyn yn ôl erbyn hyn, Medi y llynedd, ond fel dwi'n ei ddweud, hwn yw'r sesiwn graffu gyntaf ers penodi Dr Clubb yn gadeirydd. Felly, croeso i Dr David Clubb, cadeirydd Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru. A hefyd yn ymuno â ni mae Dr Jenifer Baxter, sydd yn ddirprwy gadeirydd Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru. Croeso i'r ddau ohonoch. Mi awn ni'n syth i mewn i gwestiynau, a gwnaf wahodd Janet i ofyn y cwestiwn cyntaf.

On we go to the second item, namely the first annual scrutiny session of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales in this committee. This session covers, of course, the 2021-22 period. We had Dr David Clubb's company during the pre-appointment hearing over a year ago now, last September, but this is the first scrutiny session since appointing Dr Clubb as chair. So, welcome to Dr David Clubb, the chair of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales. And also joining us is Dr Jenifer Baxter, deputy chair of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales. Welcome to both of you. We'll go straight into questions, and I'll invite Janet to ask the first question. 

Thank you, Chair. Good morning. Could you give us some reflections on your first year in the post, including what's gone well, what challenges you've met, and if you have had those challenges, how you've dealt with them?

Yes, it's been a very interesting first year. So, I would split it into a year of two halves. The first half was trying to understand the brief to deal with a strategic approach to how the commission was going to operate and then to set up a process for recruiting the new commissioners. So, that recruitment process and the strategic approach took place over November, December, January, and then we launched the recruitment round. So, when the new commissioners took up post at the end of June, then we've had a really interesting period of time of the commissioners getting to know each other; to understand how we're going to work internally; to set up different communication platforms; and to understand how we can work in the most transparent way possible; and to set up project management systems to ensure that the projects that we're running are effective and that they deliver the sort of outputs that we're interested in delivering.

So, one of the early activities that I completed was to suggest some changes to the terms of reference of the commission. So, originally, our remit had been from five to 30 years. I judged that 30 years doesn't really start touching, firstly, the lifetime of infrastructure, and secondly, the impact of climate change. So, I was grateful to the Deputy Minister for accepting the change to the remit out to 80 years in the future. The previous commission had a remit that didn't incorporate the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, the climate emergency, the nature emergency. I was also very keen for the socioeconomic duty to form part of our remit, because, quite often, infrastructure decisions, historically, have been taken without considering the poorest in society. So, for example, a default priority in road building seems to be that everybody has a car, when, of course, it's not the case, and the poorest in society generally don't or they certainly drive far less. So, I wanted to set up the sorts of frameworks that would enable us to challenge orthodoxy, to set up radical ways of thinking.

When it came to recruiting new commissioners, I deliberately set up the process whereby we would judge people on their ability to step out of their own comfort zone, because we need people to challenge themselves and to be comfortable being challenged, and to challenge others, in order to properly push Welsh Government and others to seriously consider different systemic issues around infrastructure. So, I think we've done that. We've created a really interesting commission of people of varied backgrounds, and we are already, I think, making a difference in how we think internally and how we advise accordingly.

09:25

Thank you. A couple of points there: have there been any conflicts of interest, and if so, how have these been managed, and how often do you meet as a commission?

On the conflicts of interest, we have our declarations. I have the most, and those have been managed, as far as I'm concerned, very effectively. So, actually, my colleagues in my own private practice don't know anything that I do for the commission that isn't published or isn't in the public domain, so there's zero information flow, basically, on my side. So, I'm very confident there's no conflict there, and other conflicts are managed appropriately by the other commissioners. So, I'm very confident that we're doing our duty to the public good on that front.

Sorry, what was the second part of your question?

So, typically, we meet monthly in person, but we have an open-source messaging app that enables us to communicate very frequently outside of meeting, and from my perspective, that's been incredibly helpful, because I confess, I'm not a great fan of e-mail. Functional though it is, practical though it is, I don't like receiving huge streams of information through e-mail, so we're using an open-source platform called Zulip, which enables us to send instant messages on computer or phone. I looked at the stats the other day just to see how it was operating, and we send probably on average 100 messages a week between the commission and the secretariat, up to 200 messages a week, and up to a peak of 100 messages a day. So, that suggests to me that we're sharing information that couldn't possibly be done on e-mail, because there's no way we'd be sending 200 e-mails to each other a week; it's just wouldn't be manageable. So, there's much more information flow, I think, going on within the commission than would be done in a traditional sort of organisation. So, we're meeting in person monthly, but our information flow internally, I feel, is very effective.

Yes, indeed; something that Janet's already picked up. Just two short supplementaries. One is: on the move from 30 to 80 years, I understand the logic with that. In your discussions with the ministerial team and with others, did you see any risks with that because of the urgency, actually, of some of the actions that we need to take? But I do understand the logic; you're talking about the longer term.

Secondly, in the selection and the appointments of the commissioner team around you, you drew attention to one particular example, which is road building. I would suggest that the general hegemony around this is that road building is where we come from, it's where we're going, and so on. How on earth do you select people who will challenge that mindset, because even—well, not least—in the political establishment, it's, 'Road building is king'?

Yes, okay. So, two interesting questions. So, firstly, on the 80 years, what are the risks? Personally, I don't feel that there are significant risks, and the reason is: firstly, the front end hasn't changed, so we can't consider anything that is about to happen within the next five years; very helpful for somebody with a three-year term, but nonetheless—.

I think on the 30-year side, actually, I would have preferred it to be beyond 80, because I'm a big believer that if we don't think from the perspective of people from the very long distance in the future, the decisions we take right now won't be the correct ones. So, 30 years, I can imagine myself in 30 years' time, I can imagine my children in 30 years' time; it doesn't require a great leap of imagination. It does require some, but not a great leap. Far more difficult is 80 years. So, people born in 2103 might live to be 100. So, actually, we need to catapult ourselves to see what the infrastructure needs will be of people who will die in 2200 or so. That requires phenomenal leaps in imagination and far more systemic understandings of what will be the needs of people. So, we will still need to walk, we will still need to eat—the very basics, the fundamentals of our lives will still be the same. Will we have jet packs? I suspect not, but I don't know. So, planning an infrastructure strategy that includes jet packs is probably not advisable. Planning something that enables people to walk, to have access to good food and clean air is. So, that definitely points you in a certain direction, which is about sustainability, environmentalism and so on. So, I think that those things are actually enhanced the further out you go into the future.

09:30

But does it take away—? Sorry, Chair. Does it take away the focus from what could be done in the 30 to 40 to 50 year—?

I still think that the decisions that you take—. If you take the very long, distant perspective, it will allow for better decisions now, which should have good impacts for the 20, 30, 40 years. So, the whole point, for me, of having the commission, with the costs to the public sector that it incurs, is to ensure that we pay back those costs multiple fold in the future. Sp, I think good decisions made from the basis of, 'Will you be making life better in 80 years' time?' will still be valid for making life better in 30, 20 and 10 years' time.

So, the second part of the question, sorry, was—?

Oh, about roads and—

—that radicalism, and you used the specific example of road building. How do you—? How on earth do you find individuals who are willing to shake that up, and how did you go about that?

So, I think—

Not just with the road building, sorry, but the general approach.

Well, if you look at the make-up of the commission—and this isn't a criticism—we are generalists. So, there is a values approach, there is an understanding of complexity. Some of the requirements that I specified in the brief for new commissioners were around a way of thinking that did challenge orthodoxy. So, I think that we have people who are not—we don't have road builders on the commission; we do have engineers, but those are not engineers in the sense that they don't want to rock the boat. Working with these people, I know that there are very radical views in there, and, sometimes, it's a job to try and make sure that those views are presented in a way that is forceful but that can be palatable, if you like, from a political or a policy point of view.

I would encourage you to read the blog posts that we've put out. I'm looking forward to putting out more opinions, commissioner opinions, and, in due course, to having our projects make recommendations. I feel as though they are both radical and achievable, but we'll have to see what the Welsh Government response is.

I can see your argument to some degree about having a vision for the longer term, but I suppose I'm more interested in delivery and the things that need delivering, as my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies has mentioned, much sooner. What evidence base—? What made you suddenly decide 30 to 80, rather than, say, 50 years? What evidence base did you use?

Well, I don't have any evidence to pick a particular decade out in time. The reason, actually, that I had for selecting that timeline was, basically, it took us up to 2100, which, at the time, was about as far as any other public sector body was considering, so I thought it was consistent, at least, with a round number that could be easily understood and aligned with the lifetime of typical infrastructures as I understood them. So, to take road and rail, those are the sorts of things that you'd anticipate lasting for several generations. So, it's a multigenerational approach, but I don't have any specific rationale for selecting one length of time over another, other than it has to be longer than a single generation, otherwise we become somewhat myopic, and I don't think that the needs—. Well, we're talking about future generations, in particular, from my perspective, and I don't think that those needs are served very well by looking at a maximum of 30 years. So, I felt 30 years as being a restriction; I feel 80 years is more of an opportunity. It gives freedom to understand impacts, modelling of climate change impacts, for example. So, we know that the impacts by 2050 of climate change are going to be nothing like as severe as those coming up in 2100. So, if we were stuck to a 2050 mentality, even if we knew that the modelling suggested far worse levels of sea level rise or far worse impacts from flooding, wildfire or whatever, we still wouldn't really have been able to make recommendations to take account of that.

09:35

Okay, thank you. And then if you could just give us an overview of the new commission, including its membership, more detail on those, and what you think are the particular strengths of the membership and any key policy areas that haven't been covered within the membership. How many are there, for instance?

So, we're eight in total. So, this was another change that was made from the previous iteration of the commission. I felt that 12 was too many, particularly if you're meeting virtually, so I requested that the commission change to eight members, but with a new post of a deputy chair and a slightly increased time allocation. So, overall, the time allocation to the commission is more or less the same, but with fewer members having slightly more time. I was really pleased that the final make-up of the commission is five women and three men. I remember, in the scrutiny session, when I was pre appointment, I'd said that it was my ambition to have at least 50:50, so I'm really delighted that it's represented mostly by women.

We have people from a variety of backgrounds, including engineering, myself physics—we have building engineers, transport engineers—but we also have people who are really interested in the softer skills, so in understanding inner development goals, for example, so how organisations work internally, and we have people who are experts in public affairs and public health. So, we have people who would be considered perhaps as not traditional infrastructure participants, as well as people who come from a slightly more traditional perspective.

But I would say we don't have sectorial experts in the way that our previous commission did. We are more generalist, and that was deliberate because we only have three specific areas of focus over the next three years. We want to be able to consider things far more widely than that on an ad hoc basis. So, we're looking for people with general sets of skills, including the ability to think about complexity and try and understand complexity in order that we can be far more reactive to whatever comes out from Welsh Government consultations, Senedd consultations, or other opportunities to comment.

So, when the Welsh Government published its response to the deep-dive on biodiversity, we took that as an opportunity to write an opinion piece on biodiversity in urban areas, and we've made recommendations that I know have been heard within Welsh Government. So, I'm very optimistic that we will see policy changes as a result of that opinion piece, even though that wasn't a formal recommendation. So, we're seeing that we can use our influence in ways that are not strictly defined perhaps by the parameters of the remit and the terms of reference, and I'm hoping that that influence will grow as people take confidence in our ability to deliver projects and to make sensible and radical recommendations.

Diolch yn fawr. Ocê, Delyth.

Thank you very much. Okay, Delyth.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Dr Clubb, roeddech chi'n dweud yn gynharach eich bod chi'n meddwl bod yna rai pethau rydym ni'n gallu bod yn sicr y byddem ni'n dal yn eu gwneud yn y dyfodol, fel cerdded. Rwy'n gobeithio eich bod chi'n iawn. Rwyf jest yn meddwl am WALL-E, y Pixar cartŵn yna lle mae pawb jest yn blobs yn kind of 'float-io' o gwmpas. Wnaf i ddim gofyn i chi am hwnna, achos rwy'n gwybod bod hwnna bach tu fas i'ch remit chi. Ond rwy'n gobeithio eich bod chi'n iawn yn eich gweledigaeth ar gyfer y dyfodol gyda cherdded. 

Roeddwn i eisiau gofyn i chi am y mesurau sydd mewn lle i warantu eich annibyniaeth chi o Lywodraeth Cymru. Rwy'n gwybod roedd gan bwyllgor EIS y pumed Senedd rai concerns am linellau atebolrwydd ar y pwynt hwn. Rŷch chi'n gallu deall pam efallai: mae'r cadeirydd yn cael ei apwyntio'n uniongyrchol gan y Dirprwy Weinidog; mae'r sectretariat yn dod o Lywodraeth Cymru. Felly, allwch chi siarad ni drwy, plîs, pa fesurau sydd mewn lle jest i warantu'r distance yna?

Thank you, Chair. Dr Clubb, you said earlier on that you thought there were some things that we would still certainly be doing in future, such as walking. I hope you're right. I'm just thinking about WALL-E, that Pixar cartoon where everyone is a blob just floating around. I won't ask you about that, because that's a little bit outside of your remit. But I do hope that you're right in your vision for the future in terms of walking. 

I wanted to ask you about the measures that are in place to guarantee your independence from the Welsh Government. I know that the EIS committee of the fifth Senedd had some concerns about lines of accountability on this point. You can understand why perhaps: the chair is appointed directly by the Deputy Minister; the secretariat is from the Welsh Government. So, can you just outline the measures that are in place to guarantee that distance?

Felly, fel gwnes i ddweud yn barod, mae'r grŵp o gomisiynwyr yn hollol annibynnol ac mae'n teimlo fel grŵp gyda barnau cryf ein hunain. Rydyn ni wrth gwrs yn gweithio'n agos efo'r Llywodraeth. Mae lot o wybodaeth a phrofiad yn y Llywodraeth sydd yn ein helpu ni i siapio ein barn ni, ond mae'n bwysig i feddwl hefyd ein bod ni'n cymryd lot o dystiolaeth gan sefydliadau eraill. Felly, mae'r Llywodraeth yn un rhan pwysig o'r mosaig o wybodaeth rydyn ni'n tynnu o fyd o wybodaeth. Ond mae gennym ni lot o rwydweithiau ein hunain, mae gennym ni lot o brofiad ein hunain yn y comisiwn, ac mae'n hollol glir i fi ein bod ni'n dod i fyny gyda barnau sydd weithiau yn erbyn neu yn rhoi her i'r Llywodraeth. Ar hyn o bryd, rydyn ni wedi cyhoeddi dim ond dwy farn—un am fioamrywiaeth ac un am bethau digidol, ond mae mwy sy'n mynd i ddod. Er enghraifft, ar hyn o bryd, rŷn ni'n ystyried seilwaith am geir trydanol, a gobeithio gwneud rhywbeth am heolydd yn y dyfodol. Dwi'n teimlo bod yna'n mynd i fod her yn y ddau bwnc fanna i'r Llywodraeth, nid jest i ddangos ein bod ni'n annibynnol, ond achos dyna'r peth cywir i'w wneud gan gorff sydd yn ystyried cenedlaethau'r dyfodol. Pan fo'r Llywodraeth yn gwneud polisi sydd yn gwneud synnwyr i ni, wrth gwrs rŷn ni'n mynd i'w chefnogi; pan dyw hi ddim, rŷn ni'n mynd i roi her.

So, as I said already, the group of commissioners is totally independent and it feels like a group that has our own strong opinions. Of course, we work closely with the Government. There's a lot of information and experience in the Government that assists us to shape our opinion, but it's important that we're also taking a lot of evidence from other organisations. So, the Government is one important part of the information mosaic that we take from a world of information. But we have many networks ourselves and experience ourselves in the commission, and it's completely clear to me that we come up with opinions that sometimes are contrary to or challenge the Government. Currently, we have published only two opinions—one on biodiversity and another one on digital, but there are more in the pipeline. For example, we're considering at the moment infrastructure for electric cars, and hopefully we'll be doing something on roads in the future. I feel that there is going to be a challenge in those two subjects for the Government, not just to show that we are independent, but because it's the right thing to do for an organisation that considers future generations. When the Government makes policy that makes sense to us, of course we're going to support it; when it doesn't, we're going to challenge.

09:40

Diolch am hynna. I guess mae'r tensiwn yna rhwng y ffaith eich bod chi angen—. Wel, dŷch chi'n cael eich cefnogi gan y Llywodraeth ac rydych chi wedi cael eich apwyntio gan y Llywodraeth, ond eto dŷch chi angen bod the carrot and the stick ar adegau gwahanol. Ydy hwnna jest yn densiwn sydd yn angenrheidiol, dŷch chi'n meddwl, ac mae e jest yn rhywbeth annatod? Ac a ydych chi'n dysgu gwersi arbennig o unrhyw sefydliadau eraill efallai, neu unrhyw bobl eraill efallai, sydd mewn sefyllfa eithaf cyfatebol o ran eu bod nhw mewn perthynas agos, ond bod y tensiwn yn dal yna?

Thank you very much for that. I guess that the tension between the fact that you do—. Well, you are supported by the Government and you have been appointed by the Government, but, yet again, you do still have to be the carrot and the stick at different times. Is that just a necessary tension, do you believe, and is something that is inextricably linked with the role? And have you learnt particular lessons from other organisations, institutions, or any other individuals, who are in a relatively similar position, in that they are in that close relationship, but yet that tension still exists? 

Dwi'n teimlo bod pob corff cymorth, advisory group—. Mae yna gannoedd o gwmpas Cymru sydd yn helpu'r Llywodraeth i feddwl am bethau gwahanol, ac mae pob un yn cael yr un fath o densiwn. So, dyw e ddim yn rhywbeth sydd yn uniongyrchol i'r comisiwn seilwaith. Dwi ddim wedi teimlo unrhyw bwysau o'r Llywodraeth eto i ddweud, 'Well, you'd better agree with us on this,' fath o beth. Dwi ddim wedi teimlo hwnna. Mewn ffaith, mae swyddogion y Llywodraeth hyd yn hyn wedi pwyso ein bod ni yn annibynnol ac mae yna benderfyniadau i ni i wneud neu ddweud pethau, ac mae'r Dirprwy Weinidog wedi dweud hollol yr un peth: 'Chi sy'n annibynnol; mae'n benderfyniad i chi.' Felly, dwi'n teimlo ei bod—. Mor belled ag y mae'n bosibl, o gael yr arian a chefnogaeth gan y Llywodraeth, rŷn ni'n hollol annibynnol a dydyn ni ddim wedi cael unrhyw bwysau i newid barn neu newid y neges rŷn ni'n ei hanfon at y Llywodraeth.

I feel that every advisory group—. There are hundreds of them around Wales that support the Government to think about different things, and each one has the same sort of tension and experience. It's not something that's just directly associated with us. I haven't felt any pressure at all from the Government yet to say, 'Well, you'd better agree with us on this,' type of thing. I haven't felt that. In reality, the Government officials so far have emphasised that we are independent and that there are decisions for us to make and to say things, and the Deputy Minister has said exactly the same thing: 'You're independent; they're your decisions.' So, I feel that—. As far as possible, in receiving funding and support from the Government, we are completely independent and we haven't had any pressure to change our view or the message that we give Government. 

Diolch, Delyth. Eich cyfeiriad chi at geir trydan—mae hwnna'n ddarn o waith mae'r pwyllgor yma'n gobeithio ei wneud yn gynnar yn y flwyddyn newydd, so efallai fyddai hwnna o ddiddordeb. 

Thank you, Delyth. Your reference to electric cars—this is a piece of work that this committee hopes to do early in the new year, so perhaps that would be of interest.

Janet, did you want to come in on anything on that again, or shall we move on to Jenny?

Yes. Okay. Diolch. Jenny, we'll come on to you, then.

Thank you. Just probing this a bit further, I'm just trying to understand how you complement what the Government does, as opposed to duplicating what they do. So, you highlight the grid issues in your annual report, and that tension in both consenting and developing new schemes, which is, obviously, urgently needed. What's your role, given that I'm sure the Minister is constantly trying to get the grid issues resolved?

The grid is a really interesting one, because it's so complex and so long term that, actually, I feel it is outwith with our commission's ability to make a significant contribution, because our total time allocation for the commissioners is just over one full-time equivalent—so, 28 days a month, not including the secretariat. In my previous role working for a renewable energy trade body, I tried full time, more or less, plus colleagues from different renewable energy companies, plus Natural Resources Wales, to try and resolve this—the grid issue—and it's a wicked problem in the sense that it's very complex. So, that particular issue is one that I don't think that we can help resolve from a practical point of view, although, of course, we do have opinions about different ways in which grid provides value and perhaps could be operated in Wales. So, we will be touching on it through our renewable energy project this year, but, as a specific issue, it's really complex; it's basically a UK issue to a significant degree as well. There are some infrastructure issues, which are too complex or difficult for us to be able to tackle. So, we can certainly contribute.

09:45

Fine. Okay. So, if I can move on to things that you say you are doing, which is engaging with local communities to canvas opinion and feedback, isn't that something you expect the developers to do?

Well, yes, they certainly should, and I think they're required to do so by planning. But the piece in particular that I think you might be referring to is part of the renewable energy project for this year, which I think is really interesting. So, we've tasked a consortium to talk to a number of different communities in Powys and Ceredigion, based on some earlier project activity that was carried out in England, where the communities were asked actually what they wanted from their landscapes in terms of energy. And the feedback that I received from the people who'd carried out that prior research was that they were surprised by how enthusiastic people were about having renewable energy deployments in their area, if they took some sort of ownership—meaningful ownership—over them, and had influence over them. So, I think that's the critical thing. We all, probably most of us, remember the bad old days—2010—with people turning up to the Senedd—

—and that whole thing becoming horribly toxic. Not handled well by industry at all, I would say; perhaps not handled particularly adroitly at the political level as well. And things have moved on a lot since then, but, nonetheless, you need to be really mindful about how to properly engage communities with energy. I'm a huge supporter of community energy. I think it was in 2015 when I suggested that community energy projects should be granted planning by default and you had to prove that it wasn't a good project in order to refuse planning. So, I'm a huge proponent, because I think where people have ownership or influence, they're far more likely to accept.

Indeed. So, what do you think is the role of the commission on delivering, on keeping the money in Wales that we're going to be generating from all this new renewable energy?

We will be making recommendations on that point specifically. So, from the renewable energy project that we're running this year, I think it's Arup who have been contracted to figure out ways in which we can maximise the benefit to Wales from renewable energy deployments, including associated infrastructure. So, that work is under way. We anticipate it will finish in March or April next year, and then we will produce a report based on that, plus some of the other aspects of the work. So, definitely something we'll be reporting on, and, hopefully, by this time next year, we will have something in the public domain with recommendations on that.

Okay. We'll look forward to that. On the roads review, obviously, a lot of our colleagues are very anxious to see the results of the deep-dive. What's going to be your role when it's actually published?

We will provide an opinion piece, which is not recommendations—it will be our view on the process, I think probably not looking at any of the individual schemes because there are lots of them and we don't have the time. But, certainly on the process, I think we can take an opinion, and that would probably align with our long-term vision, our framework of the nature and climate emergency, and so on. So, I'm really interested to understand what our commission's perspective is on it. We will have a voice. And I think that's going to be a really interesting discussion point for Welsh society at large.

Okay. It seems to me that it links very much back to those longer term objectives—to have 45 per cent of all journeys done walking or cycling, which obviously is a huge shift in how the public thinks about how they get around. So, what's the commission's role specifically on this?

One thing that we're doing is trying to get support on understanding the behavioural science on how people think or interact with infrastructure. That's something that's happening over the next few months, so that will hopefully help us to interact better ourselves with people, and help us communicate with them about infrastructure in better ways. My personal view is that people make choices for a number of reasons—predominantly, it's about convenience. I've lived in Denmark for three years, and I know that the choice there, by default, was bicycle because the infrastructure promoted it, and because there were additional costs associated with using private motor vehicles. So, my personal view is you should make driving more difficult and make public transport cheaper, and make active travel much easier, understanding, of course, that there are some people and some sectors of society for whom driving is an essential that they can't do anything about. But, nonetheless, it's not for genetic reasons that Amsterdam and Denmark, Copenhagen, have such incredible cycling infrastructure; they've made policy decisions to enable that. So, I'm pleased to see that there are infrastructure improvements in Cardiff, which is the city I know best in that direction, and I hope to see many more of that.

I would like to see the transport department renamed to 'sustainable transport' within Welsh Government, I would like to see the focus shifted from roads, and I would like to see a greater proportion of transport infrastructure devoted towards maintenance of existing roads and development of new active travel infrastructure and, ideally, making public transport very cheap, particularly buses. So, I have strong personal opinions about that, and they will come through, hopefully, through some of our commission deliberations.

09:50

Yes, thank you. I just wanted to add a little bit to what Dave has already said on our role, and it is that we don't necessarily approach the problem in quite the same way, so I think what tends to be slightly different is we look at a systems approach to infrastructure, and what the relationship is across all of our different infrastructure activities. So, for example, with the roads, Dave's given some good examples around active travel, but we would also look at what's the relationship between the development of new roads and biodiversity, or how do we put our infrastructure in with our new roads? What is the relationship? What is the future of travel going to look like? And I think there are some slightly different ways that we tend to approach the problem. So, although we can have very specific views on active travel, for example, I think, as a commission, we tend to look at it more as a systems approach, which is slightly different to the way that a lot of our policy is developed at the moment.

Okay. And lastly from me, you say you're beginning to think about your work on flooding and climate change resilience. It feels to me like a rather urgent problem. The climate is definitely changing, so could you just tell us briefly what you think you're going to achieve in the next two years, 2023-25?

So, our second year project, which will kick off hopefully in April next year, is on flooding, so trying to minimise the impact of flooding by 2050. That's part of the co-operation agreement between Plaid and the Welsh Government. So, that's an important piece of work that we're scoping at the moment, and we will hope to see the tenders for that work go out, I think, spring next year. So, that will be a year's worth of project that will then report and we'll make recommendations to Welsh Government on the back of that.

And then the third year of work is on the existential risk that arises from climate change. We know that we cannot protect every community from the worst impacts of climate change, particularly coastal communities, so I'm very keen that we step where others are unable or unwilling to go, and that is some of these discussions about what happens to communities that are at risk and cannot be defended. How do we talk to people about the fact that their grandchildren may not be able to inhabit a piece of land because it might not exist? So, there are really very difficult questions, which I can completely understand why Welsh Government, local authorities and NRW cannot engage, either politically or for budget reasons, or because, frankly, they've got so much to deal with in the very immediate term that they can't really have the luxury of thinking about 80 years in the future. So, I'm very keen that we enter that space, even though it's not an easy one.

Okay, but it's certainly important to feed into whether we should build new rail tracks to a particular destination if you think it's going to be under water.

Well, indeed, and so, part of the framework—I call it an 'informal framework' at the moment—that we're using internally is that, when people are considering new infrastructure, one of the first things is, 'Will that place exist in 2100? If not, why are you building infrastructure there?'

Okay. Thank you, Jenny. Huw, did you want to pick up on a few things?

Yes, please. Thank you, Chair. I want to follow up on some of the same areas as Jenny, but, first of all, can I just go back a little bit? I'm going to play devil's advocate. You've gathered together a consortium of generalists—radical thinkers, but generalists—so not what we would classically understand as typical infrastructure people. Secondly, you're working to much longer timescales. The Government must love you. It's visionary, it's radical, it's long term, it's people who put stuff in front of Government that's not too difficult to handle. Go on, challenge that. [Laughter.]

So, on the 'generalists' statement, I think there's an implication there that we don't perhaps have sufficient experience in depth of particular infrastructure issues within the commission, and I think that's probably true of almost anybody, even if you pack it full of specialists, because there will always be areas that you want to talk about that you don't have that specialist on the team. So, we always talk to experts on any particular topic, and the beauty of having large networks of people who are very active is that we can always find appropriate people to talk to who do have that specialism.

In terms of being able to do the blue skies that Government might love because it doesn't require immediate action, I think that if you were to look at it very cynically, arguably there's a case to be made for that, but the suggestions that we make, I believe, will have value to the people of Wales in the short but particularly in the medium and long terms. So, if we have a Welsh Government that is serious about its obligations under the future generations Act, and the climate and nature emergencies, and its socioeconomic duty, I hope that they will see our recommendations adding a lot of value to their policy deliberations. I'm not cynical about Welsh Government. I think that it has a duty and it has demonstrated, particularly more recently, I think, that it's serious about some of these things. I haven't always been so complimentary, actually, about what's happened over the course of devolution, but I do think that things are happening now that are considered radical within a UK sense. So, still a lot further to go on some of these issues, but I think that we're moving in the right direction and we can help propel a little bit faster.

09:55

Yes, thank you. I'm not sure if I should be offended about being called a generalist, but I am a specialist in the development of renewables and hydrogen infrastructure. I may be a generalist in policy development. But I think some of the things that I've particularly learnt in actually trying to develop in Wales are the things that drive me to look further into the future, because we have very few developments of significance that will come to being in the next five years in Wales—and I think we have to be quite honest about that—that will make a substantial difference to decarbonisation particularly, and actually some of our ability to have more active travel. It's quite a slow process of development. And those learnings that I've taken from my day job are what I actually bring to the commission in how can we do things differently, how can we think about the problem differently, and how can we develop differently. That means that in the same process of working with NRW and other regulators to help them to support them to permit better or more rapidly, or to have better understanding of first-of-a-kind developments, for example, we can actually put in place the things that will be better for adaptation to climate change, for our infrastructure, for all of the ability to adapt to the natural hazards that we're going to see in the future in place for 2030 and beyond, and we can do that now through our learnings today. So, it's not that we're necessarily only being visionary about the future; it's about what we understand from our experience in development, and we have people who have developed housing estates and all sort of other activities and active travel on the commission, so there is quite a depth of experience in that side of things, and how you turn that into much better solutions for Wales in the future.

Okay, thank you, both, for that. Let me turn to some specifics within your work programme there. Jenny touched on the issue of climate change adaptation and where we are with flooding, but, of course, it's flooding and coastal inundation as well, and we're not only talking about some of our classic infrastructure like power stations or rail links and so on; we're talking about major cities, as well as smaller communities on the coast—major cities, major potential relocations over those 80 years plus. Seriously, we are. We can't build London-scale Thames barriers everywhere to protect every area, so this is real hard stuff. Now, we've known this for a while; maps have been produced a decade and more ago. So, what's going to be different about what you present when you look at this? Are you going to be able to present ways forward and solutions? I was particularly taken with—you touched on it a couple of times—the idea of bringing people with you, and the engagement, the explanation, that 'Here's the problem; now here are the solutions. We can't avoid the problem but we have ways forward.' Is that the sort of stuff you'll be talking about with flood and coastal inundation?

So, I can't speak for the flooding project yet because that is currently being scoped, but, from my own perspective, on the existential risk from climate change, what I had originally in mind was conversations with people who live in these at-risk communities to understand what it is that they would want, because we still have sufficient time to have open, genuine conversations to try to help educate people and to get their feedback in order to try to properly advise. If we leave it another 10 or 20 years, we won't have that luxury of time, because insurance companies will be making the decision for us as mortgages are no longer provided to housing in at-risk areas, which aren't going to be protected.

So, the worst-case scenario is that we leave it to the market and then, as usual, the people who are poorest are ghettoised and left somewhere that they can't get out of, and you have more affluent people moving upwards, basically. That is a real risk, and I think that we owe it to people who can't afford, for various reasons, to think about these very long-term issues and afford to do anything about them—we owe it to them to have the conversations and to have them in the communities where they live.

My original idea had been to think about a couple of different communities—maybe three or four—around the coast of Wales that looked as though they were both at risk and unlikely to be of a size that could be afforded significant protection, and have conversations with them, learning from the issues at Fairbourne, to say, 'We can't provide all of the answers, but we at least want to understand your feedback on what you would like to see for your grandchildren'. At this stage, because we're a year off from scoping that, I think that's as far as I could go. It's a very open—we want to invite people to tell us how they would perceive their own solutions.

10:00

Okay, can I talk about one that Jenny touched on that's much more immediate, then, which is the culmination of the roads review? It seems imperative that whatever you comment on that also needs to bring forward solutions. The worst thing is if the roads review simply says, 'Well, here's a list of roads that are cancelled'.

I would suggest that what we need is a series of, almost, mini Burns proposals for those communities to say, 'Here's the alternative'. It's not good enough simply to say, 'End of'; you've got to say, well, 'Where's the public transport? Where's the active travel? Where's et cetera, et cetera? You will have your own mini Burns review'. Would you agree with that approach, because you've picked up very much on what we need to give people as convenient alternative ways? Well, if the roads review says in a certain part of mid Wales or wherever, 'End of that one', and doesn't also say, 'But, now we're going to start on a process of developing something else'—. I'm just interested in your thoughts on that, because that's right in front of you.

I think the suggestion is definitely an interesting one that, personally, if I were living in one of those affected communities, I would welcome. We are not going to be able to provide that sort of level of feedback on the schemes in particular, although I do like the idea of the mini Burns reviews. However, because we're not restricted by the terms of reference of that roads review, our opinion piece will be far more wide-ranging. So, as Jen said earlier, we're going to be taking a systems view about things—about transport of goods and services, about whether people should have to leave their communities in order to find work or to get access to services—and we'll be making a whole range of suggestions, let's put it that way, that are not strictly about whether roads should be built or not.

So, for example, when we talked about the outcome of the deep-dive, we weren't restricted by looking at 30 per cent of Wales's land area by 2030 having some designation protection. We were particularly interested in the urban environment because that doesn't seem to have been covered significantly within planning or policy at the moment. So, I can assure you that, with our response to the roads review, we'll be looking far more widely at transport and giving it that very long-term, broad, 'Does it meet with our criteria of sustainability?', and, again, thinking about the poorest in society. So, it should be interesting.

Okay. One final question I have is on a comment that you made earlier, when you said that you would like to see, internally, the Welsh Government rename its department and the relevant ministerial responsibilities as the sustainable transport department. Would you extend that, then, to local government, because currently we have highways departments with an active travel officer and with whatever? Do you think that that's something that we should just get on with and do, and call them sustainable transport departments? 

Yes, across the piece, undoubtedly. For me, it's surprising—I've thought this for years and I've probably suggested it to a few people over the years. For me, if I think about a transport department, because of my cultural upbringing or whatever, I just think of roads. If I think about a sustainable transport department, I think of bikes. A huge difference. That's just me—maybe I'm not representative of everybody—but I think that these small changes in how people perceive departments can have a significant impact on how the people who belong to those departments think and operate as well. So yes, I’d love to see that widespread.

10:05

Sorry, Chair—I said that was the final question, but one final, final question, then. There’s often criticism in Wales that we’re too cosy, too close, everybody knows each other—all this co-production means that it’s pretty much a cosy cartel of people who are getting along very well. So, with the independence of your commission, how do you keep the closeness to stakeholders and to Welsh Government? Because Welsh Government isn’t the only stakeholder in town here. But how do you keep the closeness, how do you deal with that element of co-producing some of the solutions whilst maintaining that long-term vision, but also being stridently, robustly independent and far-thinking and challenging? How do you do that when you rely on Government support, and you need to be in there with Government to shape their agenda?

Well, as I said previously, we have had very explicit comment from Welsh Government officials that it’s our decision—anything that we produce is our decision. They have been, in fairness, very hands off, so they provide support when they are asked for it, and that’s been really appreciated, and in terms of our opinion, they’ve never had any influence on it, and as far as I’m concerned, they won’t.

In terms of that cosy consensus, I think within smaller societies and communities there is a risk of that. One of the innovations, if you like, that I’m very pleased to have provided for the infrastructure commission is on the separate website that I produce and host on behalf of the commission, and we list every meeting that we have with organisations on behalf of the commission. That’s in the public domain, so I’m very keen that people look at the meetings we’ve had, look at the organisations that we meet with, and if they feel that there is undue influence from certain organisations, or if they feel that their sector hasn’t been represented, then they’re very welcome to come to us and engage with us. Yes, there are a lot of meetings with Welsh Government on there, but there are a lot of other stakeholders, and we’re very pleased—. Part of my remit, for example, is to ensure that we improve our communications and our public profile so that people out there both know us and have confidence that we’re able to represent their interests as well.

Just one final question on that: how do you ensure that the diversity within communities is being fully represented?

Yes, that’s a really challenging one. Part of the goal that I’ve set for myself is in improving the way that we engage with young people, and that’s difficult because I’m not a young person, and I don’t really operate within those circles, but part of the tender that we produced, and now the contract that we have with an organisation that’s helping us on our stakeholder engagement, is specifically about how we engage better with young people. We’re likely not going to get that right, certainly not immediately, but at least it can help provide us with a bit of steer about how we’re doing.

One of the things that I hope that we can do is to try and involve, for example, Members of the Youth Parliament with chairing sessions at events that we put on. So, early days yet. I don’t know when those events are going to happen, but we’re really trying, we’re striving to do as much as we possibly can to engage with people who perhaps wouldn’t normally be associated with infrastructure, and we’re not going to get it right, but I think that we can—. By the end of the third year, I’d like to see us demonstrating really good practice in that area, and hopefully helping other organisations in understanding it as well.

I’m just going to make a comment, I don’t expect an answer, but if you talk about ‘infrastructure’, you’re more likely to get males than females, whereas—you know, you talked about renaming ‘infrastructure’, so perhaps that might change that. But I don’t want any—. Because we’ve got to move on.

I’m going to talk about the commission’s budget, and whether you think it’s enough to cover the things you have to cover under the remit letter that you have.

‘Yes’ is the quick answer. It’s the first time that we’ve had a budget to do work that accounts for things outside of commission time, so this is a really big advancement on the previous commission, and I’m grateful for that. What we have to demonstrate is good value for money, so that’s at the forefront of my mind whenever we’re working. Time will tell, but we have three contracts out at the moment for renewable energy, and we will be able to demonstrate by this time next year what the  outcomes of that are with the recommendations that we’ve made to Welsh Government. So, the budget is sufficient for us to deliver on our remit, and I’m optimistic that we will be able to demonstrate good value. As I say, what we need to demonstrate is that we’re saving Welsh society as a whole more than the budget for the commission every year for the future. So, do the changes in policy or the decisions made improve the lives of people in the future to the tune of more than £400,000 a year? So, that's the challenge that we have to set ourselves. 

10:10

Indeed. So, with that challenge, how do you choose priorities? 

We set out, or I set out the three broad areas where we were going to be working on the major projects when I started my role. So, renewable energy, partly because of my background and partly because that's a very important component of climate change mitigation; flooding, because, clearly, that's also a very live issue in parts of Wales, and now that's also been entered into the co-operation agreement and the climate change existential risks, because nobody else is talking about it, really, or doing anything with communities. So, I've picked three really important, pressing issues, but I recognise that we have, in principle, an infinite to-do list. For some people, that might be quite worrying. For me, it's actually quite liberating, because if your to-do list is infinite, you know that you can't do everything, so you may as well pick on the things that you can do.

So, I think the choices we've made would stack up to external criticism. The more interesting task, perhaps, as we get towards the end of years 2 and 3 will be look forwards and say, 'Okay, well, how successful have we been with these? Are we operating in a manner that is consistent with really good project management, and how further can we develop this thinking so that the next projects we take on will also provide that great benefit to Wales in the future?'. 

You talked about the renewable energy project, and your first estimation is between £100,000 and £150,000, but it's now £225,000. So, do you want to explain that difference? 

So, the original budget I think had been determined when we weren't certain what the total allocated budget for the year would be. So, we've now adjusted. We had a final version of that budget, so the budget for the renewable energy project then was allocated out of that total fund. 

Yes. What I don't want to do is ask for a greater budget until we've demonstrated that we can effectively work with what we have, and I'm also very mindful that the public budget is under extreme pressure. So, I want to demonstrate that we are a very effective organisation at running projects for the budget that we have. 

So, in terms of going forward and future financial years, and the programme that you have outlined, do you think that you can work within the funding requirements that you've got, or, as some people are facing, maybe a reduced budget? 

I would hope that we maintain our budget in the future, but if we are provided with a reduced budget, then we'll work with that, fully understanding the strains on public expenditure. I think it's still too early to tell yet whether the funding that we have attracted for this first year is going to be spent in a way that's consistent with the outputs that we propose, because the work hasn't been completed yet. I'm confident that it will, but we have to wait and see. So, in a year's time, we will have the outcomes of that project for you to look at and comment on and the recommendations of the Welsh Government, and that will probably be the opportunity to have a more forensic examination of whether that money was well spent. 

Diolch. Fe wnaethoch chi sôn am yr outcomes yn fanna. Sut ŷch chi'n mesur cynnydd yn erbyn yr outcomes yna? 

Thank you. You talked about the outcomes there. How do you measure progress against those outcomes? 

Mesur cynnydd—sori—

Measure progress—sorry—

Ie, y progress. Sut ŷch chi'n mesur progress yn erbyn yr outcomes rŷch chi'n gweithio tuag atyn nhw? 

How do you measure progress against the outcomes that you're working towards? 

Felly, am y prosiect ynni adnewyddadwy, rŷn ni'n mynd i gyhoeddi adroddiad i'r Llywodraeth tuag at, efallai, haf y flwyddyn nesaf sydd yn cynnwys pob ymchwil sydd wedi dod allan o'r broses, ac yn gwneud sylwadau i'r Llywodraeth. Yn ôl y terms of reference, mae'n rhaid i Lywodraeth Cymru ddod nôl atom ni i ateb pob un o'r awgrymiadau rŷm ni'n eu gwneud. Felly, ie, dyma'r cyfnod nawr tuag at y flwyddyn nesaf pan rŷm ni'n gobeithio cael adborth gan y Llywodraeth i'n hadroddiad ni, sydd yn cynnwys pob gwaith a wnaethom dros y flwyddyn hon.

So, for the renewable energy project, we're going to publish a report to the Government around next summer, which includes every piece of research that's come out of the process, and making comments to the Government. According to the terms of reference, Welsh Government has to come back to us to answer each one of the suggestions that we make. Therefore, this is the period now from now until next year when we hope to receive feedback from the Government on our report, which includes all the work that we've done over the last year.

10:15

A sut ŷch chi'n asesu gwaith y comisiwn blaenorol? Oherwydd, wrth gwrs, mi wnaethon nhw ddarnau o waith; ydych chi'n monitro beth sydd wedi dod o'r rheini? Rwy'n meddwl yn benodol, efallai, am yr adroddiad ar seilwaith digidol.

And how do you assess the work of the previous commission? Because, of course, they did pieces of work; do you monitor what has emanated from those? I'm thinking specifically, perhaps, about the report on digital infrastructure.

Wel, rŷn ni'n trio rhoi adborth neu sylwadau am bob polisi sy'n berthnasol i seilwaith yng Nghymru. Os ŷn ni'n gallu gwneud hynny ar ben pob prosiect rŷn ni'n ei reoli hefyd, dwi'n teimlo'n ein bod ni'n mynd i lenwi ein brîff.

Well, we try to provide feedback or comments on every policy that relates to infrastructure in Wales. If we can do that on top of each project that we manage as well, I feel that we will be delivering our brief.

Iawn. Dim ond hyn a hyn o oriau sydd mewn diwrnod, I suppose, onid ife? Beth felly am eich perthynas chi â Chomisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol y Deyrnas Unedig? Allwch chi sôn ychydig am hynna? Oes yna gydweithio, neu ydych chi'n rhannu profiadau, neu sut berthynas yw honna?

Okay. There are only so many hours in a day, I suppose, aren't there? So, what about your relationship with the UK National Infrastructure Commission? Can you talk a little about that? Do you collaborate, or do you share experiences, or what is that relationship like?

Oes, mae gennym ni berthynas eithaf da efo nhw. Rŷn ni wedi dechrau gweithio efo nhw gyda phob un o'n prosiectau ni. Mae aelod o bwyllgor seilwaith y DU yn eistedd ar bob un grŵp o'n prosiectau ni. Felly, am bob prosiect rŷn ni'n ei redeg, rŷn ni'n cael project advisory group sydd yn helpu'r contractors gyda'u profiad nhw. Mae'n helpu siapio popeth sy'n digwydd yn y prosiect. Ac mae un aelod o'r National Infrastructure Commission UK yn eistedd ar bob un o'n grwpiau prosiect ni. Felly, mae yna wybodaeth yn mynd y ddwy ffordd rhwng y sefydliadau, a dwi'n gobeithio ein bod ni'n gallu cael perthynas sy'n tyfu a gwella dros y blynyddoedd.

Yes, we have quite a good relationship with them. We've started working with them on each one of our projects. A member of the UK infrastructure committee sits on each one of the groups in our projects. So, in each of the projects that we run, we have a project advisory group that assists the contractors with their experience. It helps to shape everything that happens within that project. And one member of the National Infrastructure Commission UK sits on each one of project groups that we have. So, there is information going back and forth between the organisations, and I hope that we can have a relationship that grows and improves over the years.

So, mae honna'n berthynas eithaf deinamig—dyw hi ddim jest yn rhyw fath o reference points ffurfiol bob hyn a hyn, mae'n eithaf integrated.

So, that's quite a dynamic relationship, then—it's not just some sort of formal reference points now and again, it's quite integrated.

Rŷn ni'n gweithio efo nhw. Ac mae'n bwysig i ni fod yn siŵr ein bod ni ddim yn dyblygu'r gwaith sy'n digwydd dros y border. Felly, ie, roedd hi'n bwysig i gael eu cymorth nhw. Maen nhw'n arbenigwyr efo lot o bethau gwahanol, maen rili dda i gael eu cymorth nhw ar ein grwpiau prosiect ni, fel pob aelod arall, ond, ydyn, rŷn ni'n hapus i weithio efo nhw, ac yn edrych ymlaen i fwy yn y dyfodol.

We work with them. And it's important for us to be sure that we don't duplicate the work that takes place across the border. So, yes, it was important to have their support. They have expertise in many different things, it's very good to have their support on our project groups, as with every other member of those groups, but, yes, we're happy to work with them, and we look forward to more collaboration in future.

Just to follow up on that, in an earlier answer, if I didn't misunderstand, you talked about sometimes there's a difficulty in you straying into issues that are predominantly UK. But one of the infrastructure issues that has a direct impact on Wales is, of course, within the public transport sphere of rail, and we still haven't—after successive Governments, so this is not party political—squared that problem of just getting enough investment into Wales to deal with uplifting rail as part of the overall public transport thing. Is that something that, within the priorities you have, the limited resources you have, you are likely to express a view on, to seek to influence somehow? Clearly, your remit is answerable to Welsh Government, but unless we solve that paradigm of the pitiful amount that we have into Wales on rail transport, we are kiboshed.

I share your view that we have insufficient funding for rail infrastructure in Wales. I don't think that we carry great weight with the Treasury, if I'm honest, in Westminster. But I would be delighted to put an opinion that—. My personal opinion—I don't know whether the commission will share this—is that we need more funding, but whether we can deliver that as part of our response to the roads review on transport more generally, I don't know. But I very much share that view, and I think that the high speed 2 line funding, for example, is a travesty in terms of Welsh infrastructure.

Yes. Okay. Thanks for that. It's interesting to hear on a committee, even if you don't have huge levers on the Treasury, I think you may have a role somehow in adding to the views and expressing them somehow. Can I just ask one other thing very briefly, which is, in the limited resources that you have—and accepting that this is very early days for you, taking on a formal role—what are the things that you've chosen not to focus on? Because you simply can't do everything, in infrastructure terms. What have you chosen to put slightly to one side for a moment?

So, the easiest way to answer that is to describe the things that we've been asked to work on but haven't. So, grid is clearly one. We have been asked to work on water, and we will probably be trying to do something on water infrastructure. We'll be working where the opportunity and the budget arises. So, because our remit is so broad, we have the opportunity to do a lot of things in a lot of different areas, and we will try and do as much as possible outside of our three main project areas, mindful—. We'll be opportunists. We'll pick up what we can when we can, we'll provide opinions on anything that we have the opportunity to do so within our resources. So, I don't view us as being restrained in any particular way, except by our own resource, and I want us to be as active as possible in as many areas as possible.

10:20

Okay. Well, I'm sure we'd want you to be as active as possible in as many areas as possible as well. But, with that, can I thank you? We've come to the end of our allocated slot. Can I thank Dr Baxter and Dr Clubb for your presence? We look forward very much to continuing with this dialogue in different ways, and, clearly, we have a big interest in your work, and hopefully you will be also keeping an eye out on our work programme as well.

So, gyda hynny, diolch yn fawr iawn. Gwnaiff y pwyllgor nawr dorri am 10 munud, a gwnawn ni ailymgynnull ar gyfer yr eitem arall ar ein hagenda ni heddiw, sef craffu gweinidogol am 10:30. Felly, gwnawn ni dorri. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

So, with those few words, thank you very much. The committee will now take a 10-minute break and we'll reconvene for the other item on our agenda today, which is ministerial scrutiny at 10:30. So, we'll take a break. Thank you very much.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:21 a 10:30

The meeting adjourned between 10:21 and 10:30.

10:30
3. Craffu cyffredinol ar waith y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd a'r Dirprwy Weinidog Newid Hinsawdd – rhan 1
3. General scrutiny of the Minister and Deputy Minister for Climate Change - part 1

Bore da a chroeso'n ôl i'r Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith. Rŷn ni'n symud ymlaen at ein heitem nesaf ni y bore yma, sef, wrth gwrs, i gael sesiwn graffu gyda'r Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd a'r Dirprwy Weinidog Newid Hinsawdd. Felly, croeso cynnes i Julie James, y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd, a Lee Waters, wrth gwrs, y Dirprwy Weinidog. Mae nifer o swyddogion yn ymuno â chi heddiw ac fe wnaf i redeg drwy'r rhestr: Jon Oates, dirprwy gyfarwyddwr newid hinsawdd ac effeithlonrwydd ynni; John Howells, cyfarwyddwr newid hinsawdd, ynni a chynllunio; Andy Falleyn, dirprwy gyfarwyddwr instrastructure delivery—mae'r teitl gyda fi'n Saesneg fan hyn o'm mlaen i; Clare Fernandez, deputy director of water, flood and coal tip safety; ac Eifiona Williams, pennaeth cangen dŵr. Dwi'n meddwl fy mod i wedi cyfeirio at bawb. Croeso cynnes i chi i gyd.

Mi awn ni'n syth, fel roeddwn i'n dweud, i mewn i gwestiynau, os ydy hynny'n iawn, ac fe wnaf i droi yn y lle cyntaf at Huw.

Good morning and welcome back to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee. We are moving on to our next item on the agenda this morning, which is, of course, to have a general scrutiny session with the Minister for Climate Change and the Deputy Minister for Climate Change. So, a very warm welcome to Julie James, Minister for Climate Change, and Lee Waters, of course, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change. There are a number of officials joining you today as well and I'll run through the list of names: Jon Oates, deputy director of climate change and energy efficiency; John Howells, director of climate change, energy and planning; Andy Falleyn, deputy director of infrastructure delivery; Clare Fernandez, deputy director of water, flood and coal tip safety; and Eifiona Williams, head of the water department. I think I've referred to everyone this morning, so a very warm welcome to all of you.

We'll go straight, as I said, into questions, if that's okay, and I'll turn first of all to Huw. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd. Do I need to declare my interest as the salmon champion?

Well, if you do that, then we'll all have to declare our interests as various champions. They are pretty well known, I'm sure.

Okay. Minister, having declared my interest as salmon champion, what's your assessment of the state of our Welsh rivers, not just for salmon, but generally—for bathing, for water quality, for invertebrates, for everything? What's the state currently of our Welsh rivers?

Thanks, Huw. I should declare my own interest in that case and say I'm the native oyster champion, so I'm very pleased to see it being reseeded in Swansea bay. Can I also apologise to the committee generally, because I have the most disgusting cold? I've been having to rely on officials a bit more than I normally would, as my voice is giving up. This is my second committee of the morning, so apologies.

We have concerns around the state of some of our rivers, and some of our rivers are in good quality, as you'd expect me to say, Huw. I expect you want to concentrate though on the ones that we have concerns about, because the ones that are in good quality we're very pleased about, of course. I was very pleased to announce some really good results on bathing water quality across Wales, both for inland bathing waters and for coastal bathing waters, just recently. We've got a number of measures in place to look at water quality across Wales. We've got the better river quality taskforce, which meets frequently and has been focusing on how to deliver storm overflow action plans, resourcing challenges, financing regulatory interventions and timescales. The taskforce is expected to publish an update on its progress in the new year, which is six months following the publication of the original action plans.

Minister, thank you for that. I'll go into some detail on better river quality—. I've a real sympathy for you; I can see you're struggling with your cough as well. But I'm just wondering—. There are many people out there now who are deeply concerned about the quality of our rivers, so how do you square the answer that you've given? And also, I have to say, it surprised many people, the results of the bathing water quality along our coastal areas, when many of us were looking at things such as the Surfers Against Sewage reporting, which they've done for many, many years, that showed, for example, the sewage outflows that were affecting coastal areas through the autumn and the summer as well. How do you make sense for people out there who are watching these conflicting reports of what the real state of our rivers is?

Well, as I say, Huw, it's very difficult to generalise about the state of the rivers overall. It's important to look at each river and consider what its particular issues are, and they're very different across Wales. As I say, some of our rivers are in a very good state; others are not in such a good state. Overflows, which is the thing that you hear most about on social media, for example, have been identified as the contributing reason for not achieving good status in only 3.9 per cent of water bodies across Wales, but they're seen as being much more significant than that due to the adverse public reaction they create. So, that's why the taskforce is immediately focusing on overflows, and that's the first important step on the journey to co-ordinated and focused action in other areas. Oviously, the work on overflows is part of a wider ambition to achieve long-term sustainable improvements to our river quality, and that's supported by co-ordinated action to address other areas and sector impacts. We have sector impacts across all sectors, such as agriculture, sewer misuse, and pollution from disused metal mines, for example.

You'll be aware that the First Minister chaired a summit back in the summer at the Royal Welsh Show, in which we got together in what were ridiculous temperatures at the time. I had the misfortune of having a COVID outbreak in my home and wasn't able to attend in person, but it was like 40 degrees C in the tent. We're in the middle of a climate emergency here, so that's obviously having an effect as well. But at that summit, the First Minister made it very clear, and he received consent from all sectors for this, that each sector needs to look at its own issues. It's all very well everybody pointing the finger at everyone else—the farmers blaming the developers, the developers blaming the water companies, the water companies blaming somebody else. What we've said is that each sector needs to look at its own issues and come up with solutions to put its own house in order.

We put a lot of pressure on our water companies. I've had many meetings with Ofwat about the new price review to make sure that when the new price review comes out, Welsh Water in particular is put into the very best position to be able to invest. I'm sure Eifiona will be able to go into some detail on that if the committee wants her to. But we need to invest very seriously in this. We've also spoken with NRW about the way that they attend and inspect incidents. I was encouraging people during the publicity around bathing water quality to apply for bathing water status because that brings with it higher testing. I think there was a public meeting on the Wye that I see from social media last night, where they agreed to apply for bathing water status. So, there are many ways of doing this, Huw. But each river has a separate set of issues, and we have a whole series of separate measures designed to look at that.

The sustainable farming scheme will do some things, the action on phosphates will do some things, the action on increased biodiversity and the action that we're doing to improve the land around our rivers will do some things, but together, overall, we need to look at those holistically. Each rives has a nutrient management board and an action plan that will go with it. So, I'm afraid there's not a one-size-fits all answer to your question.

10:35

No, I agree entirely. So, will the better river quality taskforce go into detailed individual plans along with the catchment partners for each individual river? And will it asses individually for each river, whether it's the Ogmore in my area or whether it's the Wye, exactly who needs to do what and by when?

We have a series of things that we're doing here. I mentioned the nutrient management boards as well. Sorry, my voice is giving out here. I think I'm going to ask Eifiona to just explain the landscape of how these things are managed, if you don't mind, Eifiona. Apologies, my voice is croaky.

No, that's great, Minister. But if your official could answer that question, whether it goes to the detail on a river basis of who needs to do what and by when. 

There are a couple of things in play here in terms of the regulatory and legislative frameworks. The river basin management plans, which were most recently published on 18 July, set out the overarching framework in terms of each individual water body across Wales, of which there are about 933, which sets out what are the main causes contributing to the quality of that individual water body. What we need to do now is to make that at catchment scale and to river scale so that local communities et cetera can really understand what's happening. We're starting that work with the special areas of conservation rivers, given the phosphate challenges. There will be five nutrient management action plans developed by the nutrient management boards, and we need to replicate that, obviously, across the biggest catchments and the biggest rivers across Wales.

Thank you very much. One final question, Minister, because I don't want to tax your voice and your cough at the moment there. I understand that you've been quite keen on the strengthening of water quality monitoring, either by agencies or by citizen science, but also on the designation of inland waters for recreation. Because I see that, in a similar way to what we've done on the coast with bathing water quality, as one way we will definitely raise standards within specific rivers that people like to swim in, because they're darn well going to make a fuss over it if they can't swim in it. So, can you tell us where we are and your thoughts on that—the designation of inland waters for recreation and strengthened water quality monitoring?

10:40

Yes, absolutely, Huw. There's no way that we can do all of the monitoring that we need to do with NRW. We have a large number of engaged citizens who are very, very keen on this, and who have done an enormous amount of work. I met with a group of them down in the Burry inlet with Lee with his constituency hat on very recently, and these were individuals with a depth of knowledge that we would be hard pushed to duplicate. So, why not take advantage of that? Many of our rivers have people who absolutely love them and do an enormous amount of work around them. Why would we not harness the people power that that represents? Of course we want to do that. We need to do that in a co-ordinated way, and we need to do it in a way that allows their data to be properly looked at. We need to help them produce that data in a way that's usable. Of course we want to do that.

On the inland bathing point, I was absolutely encouraging people to do that. I should declare yet another interest, Chair, I'm afraid, as a crazy all-weather cold water swimmer. I absolutely love wild swimming, as it's called. I'm very, very happy to get myself into a river or a lake or a reservoir where that's allowed, and of course we want to encourage people to do that in a safe way, in a way that allows them to understand what the issues are. We want to make sure that people really get the benefit of that. It has huge benefits. It brings you back closer to nature, and of course it means that people take a real interest in the quality of water and the quality of the beautiful surroundings that they're swimming in. So, of course we want to do that, Huw. I was actively encouraging that when we were publicising the results of our bathing water surveys.

But as I say, you tend to get—and I don't blame people for this, it's not a criticism—on social media and elsewhere the problems, don't you? You don't tend to get people telling you how great everything is. So, 44 per cent of our rivers are at good ecological status, which is the environmental standard that we've set. That's clearly not good enough. I would very much like it to be higher than that. But we do need to acknowledge that that's the case. Not all rivers are in a terrible state. And then, for the rivers that are really struggling, and the Usk and the Wye are the ones that are most frequently in the headlines—although other rivers are available, I feel the need to say—we need to have nutrient management programmes and recovery programmes for those rivers in order to make them sustainable. There is an enormous range of things, as Eifiona has just said, that we're working on to do that.

I just want to slide in a mention at this point, Chair, to the Rivers for LIFE project, which I had the privilege of starting off down in Carmarthenshire at the college the other day, which is the last EU-funded programme that we have to improve our rivers. If Members have the chance to go and have a look at that at Gelli Aur there, please do. It's really interesting and it tells you how much we need to do to help some of our rivers. Those are four rivers down towards the west end of the country. So, there are things happening right across Wales, but we need to make sure that we're doing the right thing in the right place for the right river. There will be very different solutions depending on where you are, which river you're at, and actually which point of the river you're at. You need different solutions for different points of the river as well.

Minister, just one final short question. In general terms, recognising that every river and every stretch of every river is very specific, is the health of our rivers in Wales improving or declining at this moment? What is the data telling you?

I'm really sorry—thank you for the invitation to generalise it, but it's just not possible to do that. Each river has a different set of issues—

Forty-four per cent of our rivers are currently in good ecological status. It's 44 per cent not 48 per cent. I mean, clearly we want to improve on that. I'm very much hoping that because of all of the measures that we currently have in place, because of the taskforce and the nutrient management boards and the various activities that we're undertaking, we will be able to report that more of our rivers get back into good ecological status. We very much want that to happen, and that's why we've got the range of measures and interventions taking place right across Wales. But I couldn't possibly generalise out to say that the remaining percentage are all improving or all declining. Each river has different issues.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Joyce.

Thank you very much. Joyce.

Just to say, Eifiona has just told me, Huw, and I should take this into account, that we have seen some improvements since 2017, because it was 38 per cent in 2017, so it has improved to 44 per cent at the moment. Let's hope that trend continues.

I think that's what we were looking for. Thank you very much. Joyce, you wanted to come in on this as well.

Thank you, Chair, and good morning, Minister. You did talk about the last EU-funded project in Gelli Aur, and I do intend to visit it. Keeping on funding, we currently have a funding model for Welsh Water/Dŵr Cymru that has been in place for a long time. We know it's not for profit, but is it currently the right funding model, or are you giving any consideration to looking at that model and that structure so that they can deliver differently?

10:45

Thank you, Joyce. I'm going to go over to either Eifiona or Clare on this one in a moment as well, but just to say that the other models available for water companies are companies with shareholders, and they pay out enormous dividends to their shareholders. So, to say that I'm not enamoured of that model is putting it mildly. Quite clearly, what we want is for the profits made by water companies to be funneled back into improving the quality of our drinking water. So, absolutely we want to do that. We've been working with Ofwat—and Eifiona will go into some detail, I hope, on this—on the next price review. And what we need to be sure about in the next price review is that the ability for a not-for-profit company like Welsh Water to properly invest and that the price review properly reflects the fact that we have a not-for-profit company here in Wales is front and centre of Ofwat's deliberations—[Inaudible.]—them personally. I know Eifiona, Clare and the team have made that point on a number of occasions, and we've also spoken to the water companies about what they want to see out of it. But I'll hand over to Eifiona for the intricate detail of this—apologies, Joyce, I'm about to cough, so I'm going to put myself on mute for a moment. 

I think the first point to make is that the not-for-profit model doesn't preclude the company from accessing markets and raising debt, similar to private companies. The model doesn't preclude them from doing so, and they are able to do so as any other private entity would do so. I think the challenges that not just Welsh Water but all water companies are facing are the general cost-of-living pressures at the moment in terms of the affordability challenges of delivering that investment. That's something that we are working on together with partners and organisations, through things like the price review forum, which brings together regulators, consumer representatives and the companies to shape that investment package for the water companies to deliver for the citizens of Wales for the 2025-30 period. 

Diolch yn fawr. Are you content? Thank you, Joyce. We'll move on now, then, and I'll invite Janet to come in on a few questions around transport. 

Thank you. I think it's fair to say that, as well as residents, visitors and business owners, we as politicians were very shocked about the sudden closure of the Menai bridge and the negative impact that it's having now on people on the island, people even in my constituency—people generally across north Wales, because the island is such an important and integral part of north Wales. There's a review at the moment of the Menai bridge closure, including what you've found. We want to know when it will be published. I understand, if I'm correct—in fact, I'm sure I've seen it—that concerns were raised about this bridge as early as February this year, so it begs the question why work wasn't undertaken sooner. We've ended up in this situation now, coming up to a very busy time, so in terms of that, what has the review found, when will it be published, and what will be done differently, going forward, not just on this but other large infrastructure projects that we have built already?

There's a lot there, and quite a bit of it already on the public record. We've given detailed explanations of how we've ended up in the situation that we have. I was able to visit the bridge myself last week, and fully recognise the impact it's having, particularly on the town of Menai Bridge. Obviously, the Britannia bridge is still operating, it's open and traffic is flowing most of the day reasonably freely. I'd like to ask Andy Falleyn to address the technical points Janet raises. Andy is the Welsh Government's chief engineer, and it was based on his clear safety advice that we decided to close the bridge at short notice. So, Andy's in a good position to address the reasons behind that. 

10:50

Bore da, everyone. Yes, some interesting questions there. Just as a bit of background to the management of the Menai bridge, it's managed on Welsh Government's behalf by a private sector organisation, called UK Highways A55 Ltd. They manage the bridge and the A55 across Anglesey on behalf of Welsh Government. As part of that process, they carry out, in accordance with (a) the contract and (b) a document called the 'Design Manual for Roads and Bridges', which fundamentally sets out how roads and bridges are managed across the whole of the UK, regular inspections of the Menai bridge in particular. Every two years, they carry out a certain type of inspection and, every 10 years, they carry out a more detailed inspection. As part of that process, they identified the need to do some refurbishment work on the hangers of the bridge. The hangers are—. If you know the nature of the bridge, it's a suspension bridge—it has two large suspension chains spanning across the Menai, and off those, the main bridge deck, as the name suggests, is hung off the chains and it was those areas where concern was raised. 

So, as part of that refurbishment work, UK Highways decided that the way they were going to refurbish those hangers was to remove them one by one, take them away and refurbish them—repaint them and so on and so forth. As part of that process, they brought in consulting engineers—some of the best consulting engineers in the UK, and probably the world, on structures such as this. They identified, as part of the process, in May, some concern about the existing hangers on the main span; in particular, there are certain connectors that connect the main span and the superstructure to the chains. And as part of that process, we introduced, on the recommendation of UK Highways, a weight limit on the bridge. That was in May—at the end of May of this year—based on the information we had. The consulting engineers were then asked to do a more detailed survey of the bridge and a more detailed analysis of the bridge. And as part of that process, they identified potential failure mechanisms that could lead to a catastrophic failure of the bridge.

Now, to give you a little bit more detail around that, this is, in some respects, about assessing the risk profile on the bridge and, forgive me for being a little bit technical here, it's a combination of loading conditions and the nature of the materials used to build the bridge. And what we are talking about here, and what our engineers advised, is that in certain, very narrow circumstances, what we engineers call a 'live load' on a bridge—the weight of the bridge itself is known as a 'dead load' and anything on the bridge is known as a 'live load'—in certain, very specific conditions, a live load could be introduced on the bridge that could put too much strain on the hangers. Because of the nature of the materials the hangers are made of—they're made of a steel that is not ductile, i.e. it doesn't stretch very well—it's more brittle, so, should it fail, it would fail in a brittle way, not in a slower, shall we say, ductile, stretching sort of way.

So, the combination of those two conditions changed the risk profile of the bridge, and it was that information that I used to ultimately make a decision to close that bridge. And, clearly, from a Welsh Government perspective, the safety of the travelling public is paramount, and it was a risk-averse decision that was made. They are very specific circumstances whereby a live load would be introduced onto a bridge alongside, right at the location of the hangers. And if those circumstances, low though they might be—. The impact would be potentially catastrophic. So, when you combine those two things together, I felt I had no choice in making that decision, going forward. As soon as we had that information, we acted very quickly. The first feedback we had of the level of that information was on Wednesday, 19 October. Initially, the first question was back to UK Highways, back to their structural engineers: 'Is this actually the case? Can you rerun the numbers? Are you sure about this?', because, obviously, the impact of closing the Menai would be significant. There are other times and other structures where we have asked that question of engineers, and they've redone the calculations and they've concluded that it is possible to keep a bridge open or keep a structure in operation. On this occasion, the advice was very clear from the structural engineers that there was a credible risk of that load condition happening and, combining that with the brittle nature of the materials used to construct the bridge, the combination could be catastrophic.

So, on that basis, a decision was made to close the bridge. There was some consideration of delaying that decision whilst we could get further communications out, for example, to the residents of the area and Menai Bridge itself, but the conclusion was that the safer option would be to make an immediate closure, notwithstanding the impact it may or may not have.

10:55

Okay, thank you for that comprehensive answer. Many of us are just scratching our heads, really, as to why this was allowed to have happened, really. You've explained the process and how these issues were identified, but, of course, surely they should have been identified in advance, and does that not suggest that the monitoring was insufficient and that this should have been spotted much, much sooner? And if you agree that that should have been the case, then what are you doing to hold the bridge operators to account on that?

Yes, I understand the nature of the question and, again, forgive me, the response to that is not necessarily straightforward. Issues around the nature or the material of the connectors on the hangers, which I referred to earlier, had been identified in reports in the 1990s, but, at the time, the advice the consulting engineers provided had identified that the safe working load for the bridge would be 40 tonnes. And again, it's all about the interpretation of how that live load I mentioned earlier on could be applied. So, on that basis, a number of hangers were replaced at the time, but the advice that Welsh Government, or the Welsh Office at the time—it was before Welsh Government existed—were given was that the safe working load for the bridge was 40 tonnes. So, it's on that basis that the bridge has been operating.

It was as a result of the standard inspection work that took place that remedial work to the hangers had been identified, and, as part of the design process for that, this issue or problem or potential problem with the hangers has been identified. So, I think it's probably fair to say it's not as a result of poor monitoring, and, again, the issue with the connectors and the nature of the materials is that visual inspection or monitoring wouldn't have identified the issue. It's part of the detailed design process. Again, it's as a result of an interpretation pf how live loading can be applied to the bridge. So, arguably, it is a risk-averse approach that we have adopted in closing the bridge, but, again, because of the potential implication of a failure or of an overloading of that hanger, that is why a decision was made to close the bridge.

So, are you saying that couldn't have been anticipated, then, because it sounds as if you're saying that nobody is at fault for any of this?

I think, clearly, once we have resolved the mitigation measures, and we will be looking at this situation to see if lessons can be learned, there certainly isn't, in my view at least, an obvious direction in which to point a finger, as far as this is concerned. It is a combination of factors, going forward. Advice was given at the time based on an interpretation of loading conditions. Another consultant has come along at a later date and had a different version of those calculations. On the point I was making in terms of live loading, if I try and explain, if you were to stand on a plank spanning between two bricks, there's a certain type of load. If you were to jump and land on that plank, it applies a greater load, and, as time has gone on, people have given different considerations to the increased effect of that live loading, and it was that factor that's made a difference this time around. So, I don't think it's a case of people not doing their work. It is quite nuanced in terms of the impact and the combination of risk in this situation. But, nevertheless, we will, of course, once we have worked out the mitigation measures and progressed as far as this is concerned, see if things could have been done differently or could have been done better.

11:00

Before I come back to Janet and then Huw, you say there are different interpretations of loading conditions. So, is that something that you're looking to introduce greater consistency around, then, because one person's interpretation of another bridge out there somewhere might be different to what the reality is, or some other person's interpretation? It doesn't give us confidence that, actually, the system is robust enough to make sure that all the other bridges are as safe as they should be.

Yes, of course, and there is a system in terms of bridge inspections and calculations whereby what's known as a category 3 check—. Depending on the complexity of the design of a structure, you have different types of checks as far as that's concerned. The processes these days have what we call category 3 checks, or an independent or second independent engineer is always brought in to assess these conditions. That is a standard across networks now, so that brings the assurance that any decision or any complex design element carried out by one expert is checked by another expert. So, you always have two alongside each other.

Thank you, Chair. For me, now, I feel quite concerned, really, because we've got the other bridge, of course, we've got the Britannia bridge, but, in this instance, I am aware, and I am sure I have seen, that concerns were raised in February. Now, I know that with any metal—steel or whatever—where you have rust and deterioration, it can cause problems to the integrity and structure of something. If this was flagged up before—and I understand that you've talked about putting replacements in—why weren't the category 3 checks done sooner, because this is a very, very busy bridge? It's not a bridge that's used occasionally; it's massively used. For me now, as an elected politician, I ask myself, if those very latest checks where a catastrophic event could have been likely, then, potentially, there could have been a catastrophic event happening prior to these checks, and so where is any mention now today of lessons being learned so that this never happens again, because it is a huge issue, it being closed? It is a huge issue, and, to me, a failing on somebody's part that a bridge of this importance—and it's not just important in the usage of it; it's important to us as part of our heritage and history of north Wales—. How—? I still can't get over how such a sudden decision to close it when we've seen thousands of people using it over the summer and everything—. So, where are we talking about lessons learned?

Now, we talk about how inspections are conducted to an industry standard. Which body sets these standards? Why is it appropriate for bridge structures? How does the Welsh Government ensure UK Highways A55 Ltd applies it correctly, because I think you've gathered from this meeting there's some doubt, certainly on my part, whether the Welsh Government have ensured that UK Highways A55 have applied all necessary—? Sometimes with things like this, you've got to plan for the inevitable anyway. It was allowed to rust and deteriorate, reports have proven this much sooner, and you can understand the frustration and concern that we're raising as elected politicians.

11:05

Perhaps I can begin to answer this. Janet, it is a very old bridge. We do rely on very old infrastructure in many parts of the country, and that is going to be increasingly an issue for us, especially as the impacts of climate change become more acute. Now, none of us are engineers; that's why we have Andy Falleyn and a team of experts advising us. But it's not a question of this bridge rusting. There was a weight restriction imposed back in June, I think that's the figure that you're searching for. Because, as part of the handing back to the Welsh Government responsibility for the bridges, as part of this design-and-build contract—this is a private finance initiative model that the UK Government encouraged us to take up, it's cost us an awful lot of money and we probably wouldn't do it again—. But, under this 30-year agreement with the company that's responsible for maintaining the structures, there's a long handover period, because it's due to come back to us in 2028, and, as part of the checks being done as part of that handover, then this issue of potential concern has come to light. As Andy said, the likelihood of it happening was very low, but we can't take risks with structures of these kinds. So, Andy's risk appetite is also very, very low, as it should be. So, a very precautionary decision has been taken. So, I think it's important not to be alarmist here. There was no question of it rusting and suddenly falling down. So, I think it's important that we don't—[Interruption.]

What the tests have shown and Andy's tried to explain is that, because this is a very old piece of kit, it's quite hard to monitor, in the way you could with a newer bridge joint, to be able to test its resilience. So, the amount of information available is limited. The inspections have been done to an industry standard. Also, as Andy has said, they've been checked and double-checked by the world-leading independent engineers in this. This is not some guy in Cathays Park with a pencil behind his ear doing this. This is robust and peer reviewed. A judgment was made—there was an initial concern, which resulted in the weight restriction coming in, and a subsequent inspection, which showed that there was a small risk, but nonetheless too high for us to take—that the whole-scale replacement of these joints would need to take place in order to satisfy the heavy loads coming across. I think that's entirely proper. It's entirely fair for the committee to ask where accountability lies and where the lessons have been learned, and Andy has explained that an exercise is being taken to properly look at whether or not this could have been anticipated, if the company should have spotted it sooner, if we should have taken action sooner to make sure the company had reported to us. These are all things that we want to ask ourselves and will look at. But I would say, having looked at this with Andy and the team, I think we've acted entirely properly, but that doesn't take away from the fact it's causing disruption and real distress for business owners in Menai Bridge and in the area and that we deeply regret it and we wouldn't have done it lightly.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. When will the review be published?

Yes. The first thing we're wanting to do—. I fully agree with you, Minister, and fully agree with the line of questioning to make sure that every stone is turned to make sure we understand fully what happened here. What we want to do in the first instance is implement the mitigation measures. We're concentrating our efforts on making sure UK Highways A55 Limited do that as quickly as possible to reopen the bridge. Once that is done, then we'll look at lessons learnt and understanding that. So, it'll be some time in the new year when we've (a) completed the initial mitigation measures and (b) we will then sit down and complete an exercise in lessons learnt, and we can make that available once we've done that.

Thank you, Chair. The reason I'm coming in with a supplementary on this is because it's way bigger than the Menai Bridge issue itself, important as that is. It's surprising how long we're spending on this, but I want to ask something really key, because when we saw the—. I'm glad you've taken a precautionary approach, because anybody who saw the analysis of what appended with the Genoa Bridge collapse and the failure of inspection would have worries. But, of course, one of the reassuring things that was said on the back of that was that the inspection regime in the UK was far more robust, far more independent. But can I ask you two questions linked to that? The two-year and six-year inspection regimes, who are they carried out by and are they fully independent? But, secondly, and the bigger question that reaches across Wales and across the whole of the UK, is that, I understand, from a survey, only half of the 600 plus post-tensioned bridges on England's road network have had a full post-tensioned stress inspection in the last 18 years; up to 200 may never have had a full inspection. Do we know what the extent of that is within any in Wales? Not that we have many of these post-tensioned structures, but we have some. What about the ones in Wales? If you can't answer that now, perhaps we could have an update. 

11:10

Thank you for that question, Huw. The second question first, in terms of the post-tensioned structures, I don't have a figure for that now. I will speak to my head of structures and I'm sure we'll be able to provide you with that sort of information. 

It is a type of structure that we across the UK, and probably wider than that, are faced with challenges on. A lot of them were built in the 1960s and 1970s. We are conscious of that type of structure. I do know we have some in Wales, and we do have monitoring on them, as far as that's concerned. I can't give you a specific answer to that, but we can provide the committee with that answer. 

In terms of the maintenance regime for the Menai, it was two years and 10 years, in accordance with the contract. That work was worried out by UK Highways Agency 5. They will have brought in specialist consultants for that, I am sure. I cannot be exactly sure on that, but, again, I can clarify that to the committee after that and provide you with an update on who exactly carried out those inspections. 

Okay. Thank you for that, Andy. Just finally, then, and very briefly from me to the Deputy Minister: you restated your aim last week of reopening by the end of January. How will you reporting to us and/or the wider Senedd, really, on progress in that respect, so that we can be confident either that it's on track, or that we can understand beforehand if there is any slippage in that? And also, of course, those will be temporary repairs, so what's the latest thinking on when the permanent repairs will take place and what plans would there be, then, obviously, to minimise disruption around that?

Okay. Well, Andy, feel free to correct me, but my understanding is that preparatory work is beginning next week, that the main work will happen early in January. I'm assuming Andy telling me the end of January means that there's some comfort built into that in case things go wrong. So, I think we're reasonably confident that the end of January is a worst-case scenario. We'll get it open as quickly as we possibly can, but only when it is safe to do so. I'll reflect on how best to inform Members of the progress on that, because, again, we'll have the dilemma—do we hold opening the bridge in order that we can tell you, or do we just open it and not worry about the advance signalling? But, if you don't mind, we'll monitor how that goes. If we're able to give Members advance notice through a written statement, we shall.

In terms of the longer term works, then that is a conversation we had on the bridge on Thursday with Gwynedd and Ynys Môn councils. I think we need to work with them on when is the best time, because that's going to involve closing one lane of the bridge at a time while one side of the bridge is dealt with, and then the same with the other side. So, it'll be disruptive, and we want to, obviously, avoid high season, so we need to think carefully about the best time to do that. The work has already been commenced. So, the procurement is already under way. These are bespoke parts; they're going to have to be made especially for the bridge. The availability of the materials has been impacted by the situation in Ukraine. There is a time lag on being able to get all the different parts to come together to be able to do that full piece of work. So, we're not able to give an exact time of when that is going to happen, but it will happen as soon as we can, and considerable effort is being made behind the scenes to make sure this happens, because everybody understands the importance of the infrastructure. 

There we are. Okay. Thank you for that, Deputy Minister, and thank you for spending a bit of time on that, because, obviously, is of huge concern and interest to many.

Instead of starting on our next section, I propose that we just take a short break, about 15 minutes earlier than intended, so that we can dispose of the whole decarbonisation of housing area of questioning in one session, if that makes sense. So, I propose, if you're happy, that we break until 11:25, when we'll reconvene, and then we can dispose of that area of scrutiny then in one session. Okay. There we are. We'll break until 11:25, then. Thank you, all.

11:15

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:15 a 11:25.

The meeting adjourned between 11:15 and 11:25.

11:25
4. Craffu cyffredinol ar waith y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd a'r Dirprwy Weinidog Newid Hinsawdd – rhan 2
4. General scrutiny of the Minister and Deputy Minister for Climate Change - part 2

Croeso nôl i'r pwyllgor. 

Welcome back to the committee. 

Welcome back to the committee. We'll continue with our scrutiny of the Minister and Deputy Minister for Climate Change. Just to note, as well, that we have some additional officials joining us as well: Emma Williams, director of housing and regeneration, and Tanya Wigfall, head of the residential decarbonisation programme, along with others, of course, who remain with us from the previous session. So, welcome to you both. To kick off this session, we'll go to Delyth Jewell. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Now for something completely different. We're going to be talking about the darcabonisation of housing. Minister, you've said that the Welsh Government intends to develop a delivery plan on work across tenures other than social housing, and, in your response to the
Equality and Social Justice Committee report, you said there would be a strategy and a delivery plan. Could you, please, confirm if there will be both a strategy and delivery plan and what the timescale of the delivery plan is likely to be? How long it's going to be working over, whether it's five years, 10 years or—?

Chair, my cold is not improving as the morning goes on, so apologies for that. So, Delyth, we've got a series of things that we've been trying to do in order to best approach the investment that's needed in decarbonisation across all tenures, and the biggest part of that—and this is absolutely by design and not accident—is to advance the social housing sector first, so that we can use it to de-risk the various methodologies that we have for decarbonisation. So, we clearly decided to target socially owned homes in the first instance, and then agreed to prioritise investment in social housing through the funding made available to social landlords through optimised retrofit, which I know all members of the committee have heard me talk about a number of times before.

So, the current position of less activity in the private rented sector and owner-occupied sector reflects the approach of starting in social housing before moving to other tenures, because that's where we have the most levers, we have the most ability to de-risk, and we have the most way of channelling our investment. So, we've been doing this testing and learning approach for how to decarbonise homes effectively and efficiently. We're also evaluating the technical and tenant aspects of the work, and actual costs are monitored, using the assumptions of future models for residential decarbonisation. So, that provides us with a decent springboard to start the decarbonisation programme of other homes and other tenures. 

So, we've just revisited the ORP, as we call it, process to ensure our engagement with social housing better supports our aspirations, and we've moved ORP from competitive bidding. So, in the first instance, we asked registered social landlords and councils to bid for programmes and partner with people to do this. Now, we've moved to a formula-based allocation, which secures funding for each landlord across the social housing sector, and that's to reflect what we now are entering into, which is the roll-out phase of what we've already learnt. So, it goes further to ensure the whole of the social housing sector is being supported, and it leads into the development around the Welsh housing quality standard, and helps support our aspirations for energy efficient social housing.

So, initially, the investment was £220 million over the term of Government, and we've invested £70 million so far, but we've increased our planned spend this year. We've allocated £60 million to social landlords, with indicative funding of £70 million per year for the following two financial years. So, that increases the overall budget to £270 million, and increases the overall funding for social housing by around £50 million. As we've done that investment, we've been getting feedback in respect of the Welsh housing quality standard 2023 consultation. So, the committee should bear in mind that we're consulting on what to do for the next iteration of the Welsh housing quality standard at the same time, and we wanted the investment to help us grow the knowledge and expertise we have in responding to that and also, and absolutely pivotally, grow the workforce and the supply chains to develop the infrastructure necessary to support wider decarbonisation. Because, quite frankly, even if I was offering grants and so on to other sectors right at the moment, where would they get the workforce, the expertise and so on? I know from my own experience that it's really, really hard to find people who know what they're talking about, so growing—I can't emphasise enough that growing the workforce and the supply chain in order to feed into the optimised retrofit programme and the social regeneration programme will produce the green jobs and skills necessary to move to the next phase. So, that's absolutely critical to the reason we've done it the way we have and what we're trying to do.

We haven't finalised the Welsh housing quality standard for 2023 yet. We're doing the analysis of the consultation responses and we're doing a feedback session for stakeholders on 13 December, so next week. And then we've got further sessions in January to discuss the way forward, and we're working very collaboratively with the sector. I'm really, really, really chuffed about the way the sector has come together in cohorts of people to really pull this off for us. 

We know, Delyth, that the decarbonisation of privately owned homes is just as complex, or even more complex, than the social housing sector, and we know that we'll need innovative funding models to pay for the decarbonisation, because we haven't got the money to decarbonise all the houses in Wales in this sector. We absolutely could not. So, investment, as the FM said to you—was it you who asked the question in questions to the First Minister, I can't remember; somebody asked a question in FMQs on this last week—and he said, and he's right, public investment will only carry us so far. It will have to be co-financed by people who have resources that they can make available. And we need to encourage that private investment. So, we've been doing a lot of work with the Development Bank of Wales in this regard, and we've begun to take action with privately owned homes, but not at the scale of the social sector yet, because we're just not ready. The workforce supply chains are not ready yet to do that. But, I'm absolutely confident that the steps we are taking into the privately owned spheres are the right ones and that we're starting from the right place to be able to do this in a coherent, programme sort of way.

I recently made an oral statement, and I know you took part in that, on 8 November, and we're going to bring forward a replacement national demand-led scheme focused on homes in fuel poverty as well. So, this plays into this agenda. And we also intend to develop an integrated approach across all tenures and income levels to drive this decarbonisation. So, the first step is to encourage land owners to explore the possible use of ORP to deliver improvements to small communities, rather than solely tenure-driven solutions. So, what we're looking to do, basically, is to use our audit of the Wales energy efficiency service to understand where communities that have a mix of tenures in them could come together in a community action plan to decarbonise the whole sector. And that's likely to drive change faster than expecting each individual person to be able to come up with a plan. So, I'm very keen to do that. So, we're looking into that at the moment. And then also it supports the development of the skilled workforce and the expansion of the supply chain, obviously, because as we move it out into communities, we continue to do that. 

We're also working with lenders and other people to work out sample solutions to this. And then the last piece of this, Delyth, is to understand what the market is doing. So, one of the most extraordinary things for me is that, if you do decarbonise your home to EPC A, or you manage to get it to carbon neutral or passive house standard, the premiums in the market that you get for having done that work are just not there at the moment. It's a little bit like the conversation I'm sure this committee remembers about broadband and why homes with really good broadband aren't commanding premiums in the market, because if I was buying a house that was EPC F or G and it had no broadband in it, I'd be busy knocking the price down to account for how much money I've got. So, I have been talking to my colleague Rebecca Evans about whether we should start to develop incentive schemes, council tax-type incentive schemes, to assist people to get a benefit, a realistic benefit out of it. Clearly, there is also a benefit in reducing your energy bills, and the cost-benefit analysis right now is interesting. Because of the cost of energy, it's actually better in terms of cost-benefit analysis to invest in some of these systems for owner-occupiers than it was before. But, again, making sure we've got the workforce in place is really important.

So, I'm sorry for that kind of history lesson, Delyth, before I answered your specific questions, but I just thought it was really important to set the context because we have done this deliberately. We haven't just left a sector out, and so on. So, the overarching intent is set out in 'Net Zero Wales Carbon Budget 2 (2021-25)', which sets out the vision, the ambition statements and the policies and proposals, but we recognise further detail and a specific route map for implementation are needed. And we plan to expand and develop on that as we roll out the work from ORP. We're just scoping it at the moment—we're exploring how best to develop a route map for that residential decarbonisation programme. We've got a decarbonisation implementation group and they'll pull together a further group of stakeholders to discuss priorities for the route map for the early part of next year.

So, I just want to acknowledge, and the FM did this as well in his answer, that the construction industry and the housing sector face enormous headwinds, and so we're having to make sure that we can work with them to make sure they can still build the housing that we need. We know there are labour shortages as a result of Brexit and other issues. There are barriers to the importation of materials and there are real global issues, like the war in Ukraine, obviously. The timber prices have been really interesting: they went up to a record high; they're coming back down again now, but not at the rate that we want them to. So, we need to have a plan that takes into account quite a serious headwind and buffeting arrangements from some of these things and that still gets us to the place that we want to get to.

So, I'm sorry for that extremely long-winded history lesson on why we are where we are, but I think it's impossible to understand the answer if you haven't got the grasp of what we're actually trying to do in the programme. So, apologies for that.

11:35

No, Minister, thank you. Actually, that's a really comprehensive answer. There are lots of different points there that I'm sure that different Members will be wanting to raise on the different issues that you covered there. But for now, for me, there's only one other question before we go on to some other Members: during the course of what you were saying there, you were talking about why it's so important to prioritise in terms of tenure what's more realistic, where you'll be able to learn lessons for the more tricky tenures. But then, looking at it in terms of prioritising based on which properties are the least energy efficient and least thermally efficient, what are the mechanisms please that are in place to target those properties and to provide support for them?

Yes, so, again, Delyth, what we're doing is working to see whether we can get this community-based approach in place. So, we've been working with local authorities—and one of the officials, I'm sure, will tell you the exact mechanisms for doing all of this; my brain's a bit fogged by this cold. But we've been working with local authorities and communities around Wales and the Welsh Energy Service to identify—sorry for the sort of pejorative terminology here—the 'worst' communities and homes in Wales and trying to adopt a targeted approach: so, working with our local authorities in those areas to make sure that we target some of the worst housing. So, we do that already. We've got a demand-led scheme, which we run off the back of that, Delyth, and then what we're hoping to do is bring the tail up, if that makes sense to you, so we kind of have a fabric-first, worst-first approach. But let me go over to Tanya or Emma to just let them explain exactly how that works—or John. I'm not sure which of the officials—maybe it's John, is it?

Thank you. As committee members will know, the Warm Homes programme has been operating for over a decade and this is the area precisely that the Warm Homes programme has been operating in to try and target the least thermally efficient homes for the people who have the least resources to be able to improve the quality of their homes themselves. So, the new demand-led scheme that will effectively replace Warm Homes Nest—the Minister declared a desire to get that in place for next winter—will continue in this vein of worst thermally efficient first and those with the least resources first. So, it's not as if this process that the Minister has set out is not tackling a large number of the homes that you asked about there—it is and it will continue to do so. 

Thank you for that answer. Chair, may I just quickly follow up on one—

Yes, very briefly then, please, because we have a number of questions that we need to get through.

—point very briefly? Can I just check, because you mentioned the Warm Homes programme there—could you tell us when the next iteration of that will be launched, please, and how the scope of that will align with your decarbonisation agenda, as briefly as possible?

11:40

'Before next winter', is the short answer to that, Delyth. We want to be ready for next winter and we want to make sure that we prioritise the most thermally efficient and the most carbon efficient methodologies. So, what we're working on is how to make houses heat-pump ready, how to make sure that we get the best out of the learning from ORP and how we get the best out of the fabric-first approach, and then we'll be able to launch the programme to make sure that it hits those targets.

Then, there's a whole pile of other things that I could talk to the committee about around making sure that we get communities ready to make the most out of wind farm income receipts and so on, to help them in this agenda. So, there are lots of things afoot to try and lever private sector moneys into this place, because we know that we won't have the money to do it ourselves. 

Just on the fabric-first approach of your Government, Nesta gave evidence to us suggesting that we should prioritise installing heat pumps now and not wait for the fabric-first idea, and I just wondered whether the Welsh Government is actively promoting the UK-wide boiler upgrade scheme that actively points people towards heat pumps.

It's a bit of a complicated answer to that question, Jenny. The Welsh housing quality standard draft proposals include a step change away from boilers to heat pumps and putting in place minimum fabric standards to achieve it. As I've just said in an earlier answer, the consultation ran from May to August, and we're currently assessing the responses. In leasing scheme Wales, which the committee will have heard me talk about a lot, we've advised participants that homes should target improving fabric insulation measures to achieve EPC band C, based on evidence from developing the Welsh housing quality standard 2023, around the necessary standards to make homes heat-pump ready.

I can't emphasise enough that a one-size-fits-all approach just will not work. So, obviously, we need to get away from gas boilers, but for some homes heat pumps are not going to be the answer; other answers will have to be available. We need to roll the learning from ORP out properly. There's no point in making your house heat-pump ready if a heat pump is never going to heat it, so we really do need to get away from that. But, yes, of course we're promoting moving away from gas boilers, but there is a range of technologies available.

Very recently, for example, we've changed Part L of the building regulations standards to improve the percentage of thermal efficiency in our new-build homes, and we've done that technology neutral for exactly that reason—that not all homes fit all technologies. That new standard came into force on 23 November, again rolling out the learning from ORP that we know that not all technologies work in all kinds of housing.

Okay, so, specifically on that point, it's a bit technical, that document, so can you just tell us how it prevents developers from putting up houses that we're then going to need to retrofit, dumping that cost onto the end purchaser?

New housing has to meet the building regulations standards, and the building regulations standards have been changed, basically, to ensure that there's a thermally efficient standard, so they will have to meet those standards. We've got a huge issue with how long people have to build out planning consents at earlier standards, which we're looking to see whether we can accelerate. I think I'm right in saying it's a—one of the officials will help me here—37 per cent improvement at 23 November, and I can never remember the next bit. It moves to eighty-something per cent improvement by 2025, I believe. Would somebody help me out with that?

Okay, who's going to help the Minister out on that one? Just indicate. Emma. You're automatically unmuted, so if you just raise your hands if you want to say anything, but—.

Yes, I think you may have muted yourself now. Yes, there we are, it's technology at its best. There we are. Emma.

Sorry. I believe John will correct me if I'm wrong, but it's 75 per cent.

Okay. So, the big six will not be able to build housing that's going to need to be retrofitted in the future, given that it's much cheaper and more cost-effective to build an energy efficient home if you're starting from scratch than it is to retrofit.

Yes, that's right, Jenny, and, again, we've deliberately led with the social housing sector. So, we are building low-carbon, carbon-neutral, passive homes in the social sector. Many of the builders that build our private sector homes are also building our social homes. So, they've acquired the skills, knowledge and expertise to do that by being funded by us and the social sector, and then, of course, now, we're forcing them to roll that out into the private sector, and for many of the volume house builders, and I have had a—what can I describe it as—an interesting relationship over the years that I've been the housing Minister, but we've gone from being near to daggers drawn to them absolutely coming on board with us about these standards, and I've been really pleased, and I will pay credit to them for having gone from telling me that they just can't do it to actually embracing this with us, because they can absolutely see, as a result of all of the scandals of the appalling building practices of the recent past, that they cannot continue in that way. So we've moved a long way on that.

So, the Part L move is a very large part of that. There are other moves afoot as well and then, as I say, we will move to a 75 per cent standard in the next iteration. That's also done deliberately, because we know that there are supply chain issues, there are cost issues, there are skills issues, there are workforce issues, and we need to make sure that we roll out the skills programme at the same time. Our colleague Vaughan Gething, with Jeremy Miles working alongside him, will be putting the net-zero skills plan out in the early part of the next year, and we've all been working on that across Government as well.

11:45

Well, yesterday we were disappointed to see that it had been pushed back from this month, so when you say 'early part of next year', when are we likely to see that net-zero skills plan?

Jenny, it's not my scheme, so you'll have to ask the right Minister, but early next year is what the current aim is. 

Could I just come in briefly on that, then? Because you did say earlier that you couldn't emphasise strongly enough the need for skills, obviously, because none of this is achievable without people out there to do the work. It is concerning for this committee that, initially we were told that the net-zero skills plan would be out in spring 2022, then it was said the summer, then it was said before Christmas, and now, I think, Jenny, your committee has been informed that it will be in the new year, which you've confirmed. 

Well, we're now being told it will be—. At least we know it's early in the new year, because in the statement yesterday it just said 'next year'. It could be December next year. 

So, clearly you're hearing our concern around the need to accelerate that and to make sure that it does happen, because in your own words, it won't unlock anything unless we've got the skills to deliver some of this. 

Completely, Chair, and Jenny. Obviously, we need to have a skills plan in place, but it's not my place—I'm not the Minister in charge of this, as, I'm sure you know, I used to be the skills Minister, and one of the things you learn if you are the skills Minister is that you need to get ahead of the FE colleges in particular and the offering that they make to students, and you need to make sure that the students themselves understand what to ask for in terms of future aspiration. So, there's a lot of work in a skills plan. It will be about making sure that we are not just producing gas boiler replacement fitters, but we are replacing people who can, of course, work on current gas boilers, but can also fit all of the other technological solutions coming out of the optimised retrofit programme. We are working at pace to do that, and it's a very important part of the plan. It's not the whole plan, but it's a very important part of the plan, and I am expecting that plan to be out in the new year, but I'm not the Minister in charge of it, so I'm afraid you'll have to ask them for a more specific date.

And we will. Thank you for that. So, can I just remind Members and the Ministers as well that we are against time a little bit now, with a lot of ground to cover?

Okay. So, you clarified earlier that you want to focus on social housing and vulnerable housing, but we clearly have a need to decarbonise the private sector as well because some of the poorest people live in private rented homes. So, how are you proposing to—? I mean, we need the net-zero skills plan before they can do anything, and we're already playing catch-up in the sense that the proposals in 2007 to make homes net zero were torn up in 2015. So, how are we going to capture the interest of the private rented sector and, indeed, privately owned dwellings to decarbonise their homes?

So, this is quite a complicated piece of work, Jenny. At the moment, we're looking at options to support private rented sector landlords to decarbonise their properties, for example through the new scheme via the alignment of ORP with leasing scheme Wales. I think committee's familiar with both of those. Leasing scheme Wales—I'll just remind you very briefly—is a scheme where landlords give their homes over to us and we manage them as if they were social homes, for a minimum period of five, preferably 10 or 15 years, and we help them bring them up to standard.

If we had a line in the sand: 'You must have EPC'—pick a number out of the air—'D', or 'E', as a result, and the UK Government did try to impose an EPC standard. We know that what happens to a large number of our private rented sector properties is that the owners give up and sell, because they don't feel that it's worth bringing the home up to that, or they don't have the initial capital necessary to do it. And one of the big real issues for us is that some of the least thermally efficient properties are larger, multigenerational properties in the private rented sector in our big diverse cities—so Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, and, to some extent, Wrexham. So, we need to make sure that those properties stay available for people to live in, but are also brought up to standard.

So, for us, it is about incentivising the landlords to bring them up to standard with things like leasing scheme Wales, and other options, and also us understanding, via the ORP and innovative housing programmes, what would work on the type of housing that we're talking about, which is often Victorian and Edwardian housing in the middle of the city that can be quite difficult to retrofit. So, the learning that we get out of the Welsh housing quality standard consultation with our social rented landlords is directly applicable here, and then what the options are to do that are applicable.

The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 has been getting a right pasting in some committees as somehow putting landlords off, but, of course, one of the things that the renting homes Act does is insist that rented homes come up to standard; that they're fit for human habitation, and I think that that will be seen, once it beds in, to be a really good thing in terms of driving some of this improvement. So, yes, incentivising landlords to invest in their properties in a way that allows them to stay in the sector is really important. 

And then, the last thing I would say is that the rental market in Wales is really different. So—[Inaudible.]—only own one property, and that's 33 per cent of rental properties across Wales. Over 60 per cent of rental properties are currently EPC D or E rated, and need somewhere between £6,000 and £12,000 to improve to a C rating, which is a significant financial commitment for most landlords. You're talking about a year's rental income there. So, we really need to be sure to get the incentives right to get this done in a way that doesn't contract the private rented sector in a way that will make the homelessness issues that we have across Wales worse, and not better. 

11:50

Okay, but 40 per cent of all dwellings are owned outright, so there's plenty of capital locked into these properties. How are we going to get the owners of those properties to realise that, in the midst of a cost-of-energy crisis, this is the time to be improving the energy efficiency of these homes? 

Very briefly, if you would, Minister, and I'm going to have to move on to another subject then, Jenny. 

So, very, very briefly then, we've got a Wales net-zero performance hub being procured at the moment, and that will roll out learning across the sectors, and that will allow owner occupiers to seek help and advice on how to decarbonise their homes. And as I said, Chair, earlier, actually, ironically, the high cost of energy at the moment means that the cost-benefit analysis works out better in terms of investing in your home for that energy efficiency. So, that will be live next year, and one of the officials can expand on that, Chair, if you think there's time. 

There were two other things I wanted to mention. One was the whole-house assessment and building renovation passports, which a lot of our witnesses were very keen on ensuring that that was a way of enabling the citizen to understand what it is they've got to do, and the sequence in which they need to do it. 

Yes. So, the problem there, Jenny, is that land law isn't devolved to Wales, so I don't have any power to mandate that all homes have a passport, and trying to get the mandate to do that would take a considerable amount of time and effort. And there's a cost to the survey