Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith

Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee

26/10/2023

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

Chris Warner Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Strategaeth a Pholisi Trafnidiaeth, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Transport Strategy and Policy, Welsh Government
Claire Bennett Cyfarwyddwr Cynaliadwyedd Amgylcheddol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director of Environmental Sustainability, Welsh Government
Emma Williams Cyfarwyddwr Tai ac Adfywio, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director of Housing and Regeneration, Welsh Government
Julie James Y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
Minister for Climate Change
Kaarina Ruta Cynorthwyydd Trafnidiaeth ac Arweinydd 20 mya, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Transport Assistant and Lead for 20 mph, Welsh Local Government Association
Lee Waters Y Dirprwy Weinidog Newid Hinsawdd
Deputy Minister for Climate Change
Phil Jones Cadeirydd y Grŵp Tasglu 20 mya
Chair of the 20 mph Taskforce Group

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrew Minnis Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Katie Wyatt Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Lukas Evans Santos Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy 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 09:31.

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

The meeting began at 09:31.

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

Bore da, bawb, a chroeso i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith. A gaf i esbonio bod y cyfarfod yma, wrth gwrs, yn cael ei gynnal ar fformat hybrid? Ar wahân i addasiadau sy’n ymwneud â chynnal y trafodion ar ffurf hybrid, mae holl ofynion eraill y Rheolau Sefydlog yn parhau. Mi fydd eitemau cyhoeddus y cyfarfod yn cael eu darlledu’n fyw ar Senedd.tv, ac mi fydd Cofnod y Trafodion, wrth gwrs, yn cael ei gyhoeddi yn ôl yr arfer. Mae hwn yn gyfarfod dwyieithog, ac mi fydd yna gyfieithu ar y pryd ar gael o’r Gymraeg i’r Saesneg. Ond cyn symud ymlaen, gaf i ofyn a oes gan unrhyw un fuddiannau i’w datgan? Nac oes. Dyna ni. Iawn.

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee. Could I just explain that this is a hybrid meeting? Aside from the adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in hybrid format, all other Standing Order requirement remain in place. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and the Record of Proceedings will, of course, be published as usual. This is a bilingual meeting, and there will be simultaneous translation available from Welsh to English. But before we move on, does anyone have any declarations of interest? No. Okay. 

2. Craffu cyffredinol ar waith y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd: rhan 1
2. General scrutiny of the Minister for Climate Change: part 1

Ymlaen â ni, felly, at yr ail eitem. Bore yma, wrth gwrs, mi fydd y pwyllgor yn cynnal sesiwn graffu gyda’r Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd, a fydd, wrth gwrs, yn rhoi sylw i rai o’r meysydd polisi allweddol oddi mewn i’w phortffolio hi. Felly, a gaf i estyn croeso cynnes i’r Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd, Julie James? Diolch o galon i chi am ymuno â ni. Rŷn ni’n deall nad ydych chi’n hwylus, ond mae’n dda eich bod chi gyda ni ar y sgrin. Felly hefyd eich swyddogion: Emma Williams, sy’n gyfarwyddwr tai ac adfywio gyda Llywodraeth Cymru; a Claire Bennett, sy’n gyfarwyddwr cynaliadwyedd amgylcheddol, hefyd gyda Llywodraeth Cymru.

Mi awn ni'n syth i gwestiynau. Mae gennym ni bron i ddwy awr. Mi fyddwn ni yn cymryd egwyl rhywle yn y canol. Ond mi gychwynnwn ni drwy ofyn i Huw i’n harwain ni mewn rhai cwestiynau.

On we go, then, to the second item. Of course, this morning, the committee will be having general scrutiny with the Minister for Climate Change, who will be paying attention to some of the key policy areas within her portfolio. So, could I give a warm welcome to Julie James, the Minister for Climate Change? Thank you for joining us. I understand you are not well, but it's good to have you here on the screen. Also your officials: Emma Williams, director of housing and regeneration, Welsh Government; and Claire Bennett, director of environmental sustainability with the Welsh Government.

We will go straight into questions. We have about two hours. We will have a break somewhere at the halfway point. But could Huw start, please?

Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Minister, good morning. I wonder if we can begin by looking at some of the issues of biodiversity, and particularly the marine environment, which I'll start with, and the coastal environment. The Conference of the Parties 15 target is to protect 30 per cent of terrestrial, inland water and coastal and marine areas by 2030. Can I ask, what's your idea of what the state of those areas currently is, and what protection should look like, particularly in the marine area? If I could ask you for your view on that at the moment.

Yes, certainly. Thank you very much for that question, Huw. At the moment, we've got about 28.4 per cent of our land protected because of our national parks and other designated landscapes, and about 50.3 per cent at sea. But as I have said, and you've all heard me say this before, just having them as designated isn't where we want to be. What we want is to make sure that they are under effective management, and that they're in good or favourable condition, as it's called. So, we knew that we didn't have enough data for that, so we have got Natural Resources Wales, since 2020, doing a baseline evaluation project to assess the quality of the protected sites and to help us establish an evidence base of the relative health of the key species and habitats across a range of sites. That's actually on land and on sea, but I know you've specifically asked me about the sea.

You won't be at all surprised to find that we haven't got enough evidence to determine the condition of around half of the features of those sites. So, at the moment, the preliminary estimation is that we've got about 20 per cent in favourable condition, about 30 per cent in unfavourable condition, and the rest of them are not where they ought to be. So, we funded them, through something called the nature networks programme, to undertake condition assessments for the marine protected area network. That will be completed in the next financial year. So, that will inform the development of the targets, and that will give us an important baseline for an approach to management and monitoring across the wider suite of protected sites, so that's all the special areas of conservation, the special protection areas and sites of special scientific interest. I'm also very seriously considering, I have to say, Chair and committee, whether we should think of a different naming system for that, because I think if you stop Mr and Mrs Jones on the street and ask them what an SAC or SPA is, they're likely to not fully understand it. So, I'd quite like to have some overarching titles that mean something to people, as well. 

09:35

Some people do have a familiarity with SSSIs and so on, but not most members of the public, and actually what it means in any detail, and certainly not in the management and quality of those sites, and also as we're faced with climate change and the impacts on the migration of species as well as habitat change.

Could I just ask about the marine environment in particular with all the various pressures that are on it that will impact on biodiversity as well? We've talked about this a lot with you, Minister, as time has gone by. So, not just the existing fisheries, but also offshore wind, energy cabling, et cetera, et cetera. We still haven't fully got to grips—and this isn't only a Wales issue—with marine planning, marine designations, as well as terrestrial designations, but particularly marine. Where are we now on that? Because your deep dive into biodiversity showed that we needed to fill that marine planning gap, but we also needed to get on with the marine conservation areas; we needed to do both. You can't do both because of your lack of capacity. Am I right?

Well, we're not going as fast as we'd like, I think is the fair assessment there, Huw. It's not that we're not doing it. So, we're in the process of looking at some of the spatial issues in the marine environment. We'll be announcing some specifics for some of those spatial things and we've got a number of data projects running. I think I've spoken to the committee before about the conversations we have with the Crown Estate, for example, about how they can collect data as part of their auctioning rounds. Last week—time flies when you're having fun, so I hope it was last week—I think last Thursday and Friday, I was at the Irish-Welsh summit up in north Wales at Bangor University discussing the data projects for the Irish sea and the Celtic sea, between us and Irish universities. There's a collaboration that's been going on for the last—. I think the two professors involved told me it was 35 years, between Bangor and universities in Ireland to collect that data. So, we fund a lot of data collection for it as well.

And then, we would like to have a fully spatial plan for the marine environment, the way that we have for 'Future Wales' on land. But you have to bear in mind how long it took us to get to 'Future Wales'; it takes a long time, you have to do it properly and thoroughly, you have to make sure that everybody has the data necessary and so on. So, what we're doing is we're doing it incrementally alongside some of the other things that we're doing. And when we put the White Paper out, one of the things we'll be looking at when we consider the high-level targets is what people's views of that is. That's what the White Paper will be there for. I expect you're going to come on to that. 

Yes, I will. But let me just throw a curve ball in. I'm going to say, possibly, what you might be reluctant to say. I think you have a capacity issue within your own team. You've got a really good team there, but it's very constrained, simply because the pie isn't big enough to throw enough people at this to take it forward in the speed that you want. We've mentioned some of the very affluent players out there, not simply in the offshore wind development, but the Crown Estate itself. Are you having those discussions with the Crown Estate about how they can help you not only tackle issues around the mapping and the data and the staffing—not secondments—but actually putting money into the pot to allow the Welsh Government to go faster on mapping out these areas, on achieving biodiversity targets and so on, literally putting capacity into you?

No. That's not the conversation we're having with them. The conversation we're having with them is about how we can release data from the commercial operations as a result of the auctions in a way that means that it's accessible to everyone and we can do an onsite evaluation as it goes. In the meantime, we've got NRW undertaking condition assessments of all of the marine protected areas' features currently. So, we will have, I can assure you, Huw, very up-to-date data. And we've also just done an end-to-end review of marine licensing to ensure that the process works on both sides. So, it's as speedy as it can be, but it also increases the protection for environmental issues. We're very keen to get the balance right there, and we've just finished doing that, so we've done quite a lot of work. I'm not going to say that we couldn't do with more resource, because, of course, every single area of the Government could do with more resource, but this isn't hampering the work that we need to do for getting our biodiversity targets in place.

09:40

[Inaudible.]—those targets say specifically, then. Wales Environment Link recommends an overarching 2030 and 2050 target, and then detailed targets in regulations. They also suggest some of those specific targets should include species abundance, species distribution, extinction risk, habitat quality, habitat extent. Some of those are important because of the matters of what's happening with climate change, as well, the movement of species and the changes in habitats. Are you minded to incorporate those within the targets, going forward?

I'm sure you know that we've got a White Paper for the Bill, which is expected at the start of next year. We've got the whole team working very hard on preparing that White Paper at the moment. That White Paper is going to set out the proposed approach and, obviously, ask for comments on it, and I'm sure the environmental non-governmental organisations will come back with that as will a number of other people. The proposals will be we have a biodiversity target-setting framework, very similar, for those of you who are familiar with it, with the air quality Act that's currently going through the Senedd, a very similar set-up for that; a duty on the Welsh Ministers to make regulations to put biodiversity targets in within an agreed period of time; a statutory biodiversity duty, which is the monitoring, reporting, implementation, communication of the targets; and then a role for the environmental governance body that the Act will also establish. So, if members of the committee are familiar with the air quality Act, you'll see that it's a very similar framework to that.

And then, obviously, the whole purpose of that is to drive the action and investment aimed at achieving the long-term benefits for biodiversity. We're going to reflect the global biodiversity framework, because we signed up to that. I signed up to that at the Montreal COP with all of its goals and targets, but also then translated, if you like, for our national circumstances and priorities. That will again have a headline target and then a framework of targets around the global biodiversity framework, which includes all of the things you have just listed there, Huw, and then the monitoring and reporting and future requirements for monitoring and reporting. The idea is to give the new environmental body teeth, effectively, so that it can hold us to account and it can hold others to account acting in this sphere. So, the two things will come side by side, and we'll expect both advice on the targets and then monitoring and reporting from the new body.

Delyth wants to come in on the targets, if that's okay.

Yes, on targets, if that's all right. Minister, this is one of the areas, I think, in terms of biodiversity loss, where the public, when they are aware of the loss that has already happened and that is facing us, have a real emotional pull. I think that it's one of the areas where people actually become very engaged in politics. So, as well as trying to reverse the decline in species loss and accompanying the targets, what work do you foresee there being for the Government to try to engage the public more in this to increase public awareness, to make sure that community groups are able to play a part in, I suppose, increasing people's sense of joy in the natural world?

That's absolutely right, Delyth, and I think it's particularly important for young people, actually. We know that climate anxiety is a real thing and that that's mitigated if you get people out into the environment and make sure that they feel they have agency in it. I think some of you yesterday will have heard me talking about planting the seagrass seeds up in Porthdinllaen, which was fantastic. They're collecting a million seeds. We had a series of schools go there. I met two schools while I was there—I know other Members have been there too—and those children were really interesting, because they were engaged, because they felt there was something they could do. They were taught to do it, so they could carry on doing it on their own. They understood what the impact was and they were obviously very engaged with it. We need to do a lot more of that.

Our view as a Government is that we treat these two emergencies together, so the climate and nature emergencies. So we have the net-zero slogan; most members of the public understand that. We want to go for this with a nature-positive slogan, really. The two things go together, don't they? And we're running big behaviour-change campaigns to make sure that people understand what they can do with all of their hats on. You've heard me say this before as well, right, but we're all several different people, so what can you do at home, what can you do as a parent, as a member of a social group, as a member of a family, but also what can you do at work, what can you do with your wider networks, what influence can you have on the organisations you're part of to be part of this journey? So what we're trying to do is make sure that people feel they have agency and don't feel just helpless and hopeless, because it isn't hopeless; we can do this, but we all need to do it together.

09:45

I'll come back to Huw, and then I think Janet wants to come in with a couple of questions on biodiversity as well.

Lovely. Thank you, Chair. One final question, Minister. In all of this drive towards restoring good levels of biodiversity in the marine terrestrial freshwater environments, in the drive towards—as you said, there aren't constraints; it's just the speed get there—proper marine planning, marine conservation and so on, in all of this, how do we ensure that there is genuine buy-in right across Government? Sometimes, even with the superministry that we now have of the climate change et cetera department under your stewardship, we do see tensions between the drive to, if you like, exploit the marine environment, and to actually get that balance right, or alternatively, the drive to develop other infrastructure and so on, or alternatively, agriculture and farming. So, how do we have that joined up across Government, particularly in terms of the economic departments, and also the rural affairs and agriculture department? What holds it all together so we can hit these targets and do what you're trying to do?

We have some quite complicated things happening across the Government. We have a series of civil service programme boards where all directors and director generals from across the Government report in. They all report in, for example, on their net-zero action, on the carbon delivery plan. There are a number of—. Well, I might get one of the officials to tell you the names of them, because they all confuse the heck out of me, because they're all called almost exactly the same thing. But there are a number of programme boards, effectively, that make sure that every part of the Government buys into that. And then at Cabinet level, we have a series of Cabinet sub-committees, including the programme for Government sub-committee, where every Member of the Cabinet is asked to comment on how they are contributing to the various programme for government targets, so that's right across the piece. The First Minister does an enormous piece of work on, ‘We all say that we'll do this, so what are you actually doing about it?’ I can assure you I've been asked on a large number of occasions what I'm actually doing about things that you might think are nothing to do with me—so, relieving pressure on health services, for example, or other things that we've all signed up to together.

We've got a huge energy programme as well that brings officials together from right across the piece. And then just on what we call bilaterals—. Government language is very inaccessible, isn't it? When I meet with one other Cabinet Member, it's called a bilateral, extraordinarily, in my view. I meet very regularly with both Lesley and Vaughan to discuss the very serious overlaps between our portfolios, but I also meet very regularly with other Members of the Cabinet, so with very recently both Jeremy Miles, the Minister for education, and with Eluned Morgan, the Minister for health, because of course both of those have large estates and they have to decarbonise those estates in line with the 2030 goals. So, there’s quite a lot of work—that's the short answer to your question—that goes on to try to make sure we're not operating in a silo fashion. It's been quite a feature, I think, of this Government, especially since the last election, that we do that. I don’t know, Chair, if you want me to go on or not—

There are lots of good structures and good processes, and I’m one of those who welcomes the overarching climate, nature, environment approach there, but let me just go to an example: within that marine biodiversity, freshwater biodiversity and marine planning sphere, are you confident that the needs of fisheries, the needs of energy development and sustainable energy exploitations and protection of the marine environment are all reconciled within those structures; that those discussions, difficult challenges, are resolved through those proceedings and structures you’re talking about, and we get the right result consistently?

At Government level, Huw, we have a marine energy programme, and that has people from environment, energy, economic development—right across the Government—on it. But you'll be aware, as well, that we have rules. So, we've got a very plan-led planning system in Wales for the marine environment as well as for terrestrial, and, in order to do anything at all, you have to get various permits and you have to show—. For example, you've got to do an environmental impact assessment or a marine impact assessment. For those of you who've been in on the infrastructure Bill conversation, for example, we've just been asked to write back to the committee about it. So, we try very hard to make sure that the plans strike the balance between being ahead of a global race to get, for example, floating wind, but also to be at the absolute forefront of protecting our natural environment.

09:50

I was going to say that we're going to break and we'll go back into public session in a moment. Thank you.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:50 a 10:51.

The meeting adjourned between 10:50 and 10:51.

Okay, we're back in public session. We're with the Minister for Climate Change, and, Janet, I think you want to pick up on a few questions around biodiversity. Janet.

Yes, thank you. Good morning, Minister. It was heartening yesterday, when I asked the question about ocean literacy, because I have to say that I think that, from the mumblings and sounds I heard, people in the Chamber, Members, weren’t too aware of ocean literacy. So, it was really heartening to hear the education Minister, Jeremy Miles, actually respond that GwE's doing a project. So, obviously, you talked about the bilateral aspects, Minister—it was very obvious yesterday that you’ve certainly been discussing it with the education Minister, and, as Delyth said earlier, to take people with us, we’ve got to start off really, haven’t we, with our young people. So, I was really heartened by the responses on that question.

So, my question to you this morning is: Wales Environment Link is calling for the revised nature recovery action plan to be a costed plan across the whole of Welsh Government, and whether the new action plan will take this approach by providing an assessment of the resource required to deliver these commitments across Government. What is your response?

Yes, absolutely, Janet. Of course it will. We've got to develop the White Paper and, in order to do that, we have to do a regulatory impact assessment and a cost-benefit analysis in order to put the White Paper out. And then there will be further regulatory impact assessments for secondary legislation to implement the targets, for example, and they will set out the cost of meeting the targets, which will be taken into consideration when we revise the nature recovery action plan. And then that revised plan will outline Wales's approach to delivering targets, clarify the governance arrangements and establish the progress reporting requirements. So, this is all tied up in the new legislation, and, as part of that, of course, we have to cost it out or the committees will not be very happy with us, and we're doing quite a lot of work to make sure that we can do that.

And let's just be really clear: part of the reason for legislating for this is to make sure that it's a statutory target and therefore must be funded. That's kind of the point, really. So, there would be other ways to do this, but they wouldn't necessarily bring with them the resources necessary to continue this into the future. But because we're putting it into a statutory framework, that statutory framework will need to be resourced.

And you're confident that, with all the pulls on the budget at the moment, your department is up to that, resource-wise.

Yes. So, we've been very clear what we need to do. We've obviously continued, as a Government, to resource the legislative programme. We have had to make cuts in the department—there's no doubt about that. But we've done them in a way that we think is proportionate. So, we've protected some areas. I'm sure the committee will get on to some of those areas in a minute. But the areas where we haven't been able to protect the budget entirely—because we've had to lose a lot of money from this budget, let's be clear—we've done that by, really, restricting the rounds of particular funding. So, I'm very sad to say that we've had to restrict some of the rounds for Local Places for Nature and so on, but we haven't removed the programme; we've made sure that, if we do have more resources in future, we can ramp it back up again. We haven't taken away any opportunities. 

09:55

And then, my next question, it says that Welsh Ministers must review the national natural resources policy after each general election, under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. When will the post-2021 election review be published?

Yes, thanks, Janet. So, we've taken forward a whole series of exercises and steps to start to inform a review of the policy. So, you'll be very aware that we've had deep-dive exercises, we've got a series of national summits to identify short- and long-term actions to secure sustainability. We've had renewable energy, tree planting, water-quality improvements and biodiversity ones. We've put written statements out over the course of the last two years, since I've been doing this job, on that. We've been doing a huge amount of work with stakeholders, really, across Wales, and then eventually they will lead to the review. So, the review has to be in each Senedd term, effectively. And I think it's really important to get the review right, rather than to do it speedily, but there absolutely will be a review before the end of the Senedd term, as is required by the law.

Okay. Thank you. Right, we'll move on now, then, to a different area, and Jenny is going to lead us through this. 

Thank you very much. Starting with the UK Prime Minister's announcement that he was tearing up the cross-party consensus on decarbonisation, where does this leave us with private landlords, which is where the concentration of very, very cold homes are, in light of the fact that the UK Government has scrapped the requirement for all rental properties to be EPC C or higher by 2025?

Yes. So, obviously, we're fairly disappointed by that. We were hoping that would come with some kind of resourcing to go with it. We know from the future generation commissioner's report, 'Homes Fit for the Future: the Retrofit Challenge' that the estimated costs of decarbonising the private rented sector are around £670 million. So, obviously, we won't be able to pay that fully as a Government, but we are learning very rapidly from the optimised retrofit programme and the other schemes that Members will have heard me talk about a lot how we can put us in a strong position to assist landlords to do the right thing for their particular homes, and then a variety of options for financing the retrofit. So, they incorporate a series of grant funding and repayable finance, and then you'll all be very familiar, I know, with leasing scheme Wales, where we try to encourage landlords to give their properties over to us and then they attract funding to bring them up to standard. So, there are a number of things that we can do to help. We can't set an overarching target, because that's not devolved; that's a reserved matter. So, we can't set the target in the way that the UK Government could, but we can encourage the private sector landlords to come to standard as part of our plan. 

[Inaudible.]—change of Government after the next general election, have you any idea how quickly a Government that was more concerned about the climate emergency would be able to implement regulations, were they to be ambitious?

So, the thing will be for any Government, Jenny, to make sure that we bring the private sector landlords along with us. One of the real worries we have is that some of the larger houses, where we have people who live in multi-generation families—and I know your constituency and mine are some of the constituencies in Wales with the highest proportion of these houses—we need to make sure that the landlords just don't think, 'Well, it's not worth it; if I have to bring this house up to this, it will cost us too much.' That would be disastrous. So, what we need to have is we need to have stretching targets for that, but alongside funding. And I think that's why the current Government has baulked, to be honest. But we were looking to have a series of grants and loans in place to allow landlords to bring their property up to scratch, and that's what we're trying to do ourselves. But you would have to calibrate the ability of the landlords to do the work and the need for the tenants to have fuel efficient, energy efficient warm homes. You need to get a balance on that. 

I appreciate you need the carrot and the stick. How many landlords have taken up the opportunity of the leasing scheme?

I don't know. I haven't got the answer to that in front of me. I don't know whether Emma knows.

Okay. I don't mean the exact number, but is it in the hundreds or the thousands?

It's in the hundreds, rather than the thousands, but we are bringing more local authorities on board. What local authorities are finding is that bringing the first couple of landlords into the scheme is quite labour intensive, but, once that learning has happened and they have a few landlords on board, it becomes an easier process. I think what's encouraging is that, from a slow start, we are seeing a pick-up in the rate of landlords engaging, and there seems to be an attractive offer there for some landlords who wish to hand their properties over, so we're progressing well.

10:00

Okay. Well, that's good. Thank you for that information, because it seems to me we don't have many sticks here, and that's at least something for tenants who are currently living in homes that they can't afford to heat.

Moving on, I wondered whether you've had an opportunity to tell us when you're going to consult on phasing out oil and gas boilers and reviewing planning rules around domestic heat pumps, which currently couldn't be installed in terraces, under the current rules.

Thanks, Jenny. I'm sure you're aware that we've just published the heat strategy for Wales, and that sets out a pathway to decarbonising heat in domestic and industrial settings. There's a wide range of activity set out inside the heat strategy, and that includes establishing a framework to support delivery and a just transition. It also addresses how we might target the funding to support the financial case for change. So, the consultation on the strategy closes on 8 November, so very soon now, and then, once we've considered the responses, we intend to publish a final strategy early next year. Then that will have an action plan associated with it, setting out all the policy details to deliver it. It's obvious now that the delay from the UK Government in phasing out fossil fuel heating will have an impact on the market across the whole of the UK, so we will need to consider the implications of recent announcements on the timings of our policies in Wales. We know that there are domestic heat pump manufacturers in Wales who have scaled back their activity as a result of that announcement, because obviously you need to be sure of supply before you scale up your production, and the Welsh market, frankly, just isn't big enough to do that on its own.

And then, just in terms of domestic planning and other things that go with it, lots of people ask me about the planning requirements for air source heat pumps. We're just having a look at the noise issue in more detail, because one of the reasons that we have a 3m rule is because of the noise. So, it might be that we can specify specific types of heat pump that could be done with permitted development rights on a shorter frame than that, but at the moment we don't have any way of stopping you putting any old heat pump in if we reduced it. There have been issues in England with it, because some of the heat pumps are very noisy. So, if you had one running 1m outside your window, you'd be very upset about it. We want to make sure that we can have a look at that in more detail and then make sure that the conditions that limit the effects of noise on neighbouring properties bite on the permitted development rights, so that you can restrict the kind of heat pump that goes in. So, I don't think it's quite as straightforward as, 'Just make them permitted developments', I'm afraid.

We might have a look at that in relation to the environment Bill that's currently going through the Senedd at the moment.

Yes, the air quality and soundscapes Bill will have an impact on that, yes.

Yes. Okay. I just want to pick up on the climate change committee's assertion that retrofitting social housing stock to EPC A rating is

'costly and unlikely to be a cost-optimal approach to decarbonising homes',

which obviously goes against the very ambitious announcement you made yesterday in the Senedd about the latest Welsh housing quality standard housing standards for social homes. I just wondered what your response is to them.

Unfortunately, the cost of energy has considerably changed since the climate committee's consideration, so obviously the cost-benefit analysis changes as a result. Energy prices are still way higher than anyone expected them to be, and then, actually, as a result, one of the only good things about that is that the saving or payback time for retrofit is faster, obviously, so you see people who can afford it putting in solar panels and so on now, because the payback time is so much faster than it was only two years ago. We're working with social landlords to consider what the payback for them is, and we're committed to working with them to explore avenues of that. You heard in my announcement, I hope, that there's a three-year period at the beginning of the next WHQS in which we want social landlords to do something called a 'whole stock assessment', and their target energy pathway for their stock. So, those pathways will include timelines and costs for achieving the standards, and we'll be able to calibrate that. And three years is a long time in this kind of technology as well. We know that a lot of the technology is getting cheaper all the time, and we know from our own ORP and innovative housing programmes what tech is available out there and what works where. So, we've got quite a lot of research now for how to do this. So, I'm pretty confident that we will be able to get there. I suspect the Climate Change Committee will relook at some of their assumptions in the light of the current energy price market; it doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon.  

10:05

We have to be driven by the numbers of households who simply are unable to afford to heat their homes. In light of that, could you just tell us how the work of the residential decarbonisation implementation group, and the heat strategy—how all these knit together to really drive forward the urgency to tackle the numbers of houses that are simply not fit for purpose, given the carbon energy crisis?

Yes, so the decarbonisation group and the heat strategy team work very closely together. A series of action plans are being developed as part of the work on the heat strategy, and the decarbonisation implementation group are very well aware of that, and the overlap between the domestic element of the heat strategy and their work in compiling the route-map. So, we've made sure that there's no duplication and that they're all aligned; the chair of the group and I have spoken and they're aligned with the teams. We've got an initial session with stakeholders, which I'm speaking at, on 7 November, and the heat strategy team, the consultants working with them on the strategy, officials in the residential decarbonisation team, and the decarbonisation implementation group members are all going to be collectively at that to pull together, Jenny. 

So, I hope the committee can hear that we do quite a lot of work to make sure that we are lined up, and that we have everyone working optimally in their particular bit of something, and that they're not crossing across each other. It's a very important advisory group, and they've been really helpful in supporting us, and me in particular, and the chair has been particularly excellent. But we're probably going to do a light touch review of its remit later in this year, because we're having a look across the piece at net-zero governance. So, it's getting quite cluttered in the net-zero governance space; we've got quite a lot of other groups working too. And he agrees with that—the chair agrees with me that it will be a good time to pause and reflect on the remit and constitution, and then we'll probably rejig some of the group so that they remain lined up towards delivering the net-zero plans, of which the heat strategy is a very important part, of course. 

Okay. I want to just come back, lastly, to the 40 per cent of houses that are owned outright, either by the people who live in them or by private landlords who rent them out. So, clearly, they are able to pay for new technologies, and the new technologies are marching ahead, despite the Prime Minister's latest announcement. So, how are we getting the message out to people who are absolutely doing the wrong thing, and doing the irrational thing by continuing to pay through the nose for their energy?

Yes, so there's a couple of things to say there, Jenny. I've already talked about the behaviour change programme and making sure that people have the right information to make the right decisions. We're going to be having an energy hwb as part of our Welsh Government energy advice service. So, that will allow people to get proper advice about what might work in the type of home that they're in.

And, then, we'll also want to make sure that, although people might be asset-rich, they might be cash-poor, so they might not be able to afford the upfront cost. So, we're working with the Development Bank of Wales on a pilot project for the owner-occupied sector, looking at upfront loans. We've put an application in for what's called 'financial transactions funding' for the 2024-25 financial year, and we're just waiting on the budget arrangements for next year to go through. But, normally, my portfolio area gets quite a big chunk of FTCs, as they're called. FTCs are—. The committee will have to get somebody from the Treasury to explain them in depth, but, basically, we can only use then for non-public-sector funding. So, we can use them to loan out to private sector individuals what is, effectively, recycled funding. So, we loan out the loan. As it's repaid back, we can lend it back out to somebody else. So, we're waiting on a decision on that, but I'm relatively confident that we'll get the FTC funding that we want.

And then, the DBW is in Vaughan Gething's area of the Government, but he and I have met with them together a couple of times, and their remit letter, written by him, makes a clear expectation that they'll be an active partner in developing a low-carbon economy in Wales, and directs them to respond to market demands and to develop approaches that embed net-zero credentials. So, it's very embedded in their corporate plan and their remit letters. So, I'm pretty sure we'll be able to develop a range of products that allow people to access low-interest-rate loans and recyclable loans in order to release some of the assets in their property in order to be able to retrofit them.

10:10

[Inaudible.]—able to pay loans also apply to leaseholders who, obviously, may be living in an area where there's also social homes, so that they can also make a contribution to decarbonising their home?

Yes. So, we're looking at a number of things, Jenny. We're looking at a straightforward loan, and that would have to be based on the ability of the person to pay it back over a period of time, but we're also investigating the possibility of doing other things, like putting charges on the house, for example, that would be recoverable when the house is sold or when the person dies and leaves it in a will, that the charge is recovered. That's a commonplace thing for local authorities to do, in fact. I'm sure many of you will have become aware of things like that in local authority areas. So, we're just investigating a whole series of measures that we can take to enable people to basically release equity from their home in order to be able to decarbonise it and, as you rightly say, lower their energy costs.  

[Inaudible.]—leaseholders as well as owner occupiers?

We're moving on now to forestry and woodland. When can we expect to see the tree planting rate in Wales reach the level that's required to hit the target of 43,000 hectares of new trees by 2030, considering that Wales, of all the countries, has the lowest amount of trees per hectare?

Thank you, Joyce. So, we have accelerated woodland creation over the last three years. It's gone from 80 hectares to 1,190 hectares. That's the highest level for nearly 40 years, and that's an incredible achievement, but there's an awful long way to go to get anywhere near the target recommended by the Climate Change Committee. So, we're taking a whole series of actions to try and increase tree planting, and we would need woodland creation rates to rise to around 7,000 hectares a year to meet the target by 2030, just to give you an idea of where we are. We've invested a lot more money into woodland creation in recent years, and we've uplifted the woodland creation grant rates to account for inflation, which has really increased our costs, and we're trying to encourage applications by rewarding landowners, farmers in particular, with enough money to plant the right tree in the right place.

It's too early yet to establish whether that will result in significant increases, and there is, as you know, the sustainable farming scheme—. Gosh, the Welsh Government likes a triple-letter acronym, doesn't it? I nearly said, 'the FSS'. So, the sustainable farming scheme is currently out for consultation, and there will be a significant part of that in both the universal optional and collaborative actions. And what we want is to make sure, in our comms, and I want to just get the committee to help us with this, because I'm asked this all the time: applicants will not be disadvantaged when the sustainable farming scheme comes out if they plant additional trees now. I've been asked that question repeatedly by landowners right across Wales. You don't need to wait until the scheme comes out to start planting; it will be taken account of in the scheme. We've been very clear about that. So, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that again.

We've got a couple of other woodland creation schemes. There's a small grants woodland creation scheme to encourage small areas of trees on land, which is either agriculturally improved or low-environmental values, and the woodland creation grant, which funds larger tree planting projects. And we've now, right this second, got funding available for planning new woodland with grants of between £1,000 and £5,000, and NRW are offering a pre-application service, which is very popular. So, if you know anyone who's interested but doesn't know how to go about it, NRW will offer an advisory service to them to assist with where might be a suitable place, if they have land that might be suitable.

I just want to say this, because it's something we say all the time: there will be a mandatory 10 per cent scheme requirement for additional trees to be planted, but we're talking there largely about letting the hedgerows grow. So, I really, really want to get across to people that neat is not good for biodiversity. In some places in Wales, people feel that the hedgerows should be a neat barrel shape all the way along them; I followed one on my way back down from north Wales last Friday. If it hadn't been raining quite so hard, I might have tried to get in front of them and ask them why they were doing it. So, just letting the hedgerows grow into trees and planting another row of trees beside that hedgerow would work for most—most—landowners, and it would make such a difference to our wildlife, because it would give corridors for wildlife across, it would link biodiverse areas together, and it doesn't require an enormous amount of energy. So, we run a project called 'hedges and edges', which I'm sure the committee is familiar with, which is about just making sure that, where at all possible, you just let your hedge grow, and don't cut it back. There will be areas where it's close to a road, where you might need to cut that one side, but it's very rarely the case that you have to just chop the entire thing off at 2 ft, which unfortunately became a commonplace practice at the end of the last century.

10:15

Of course, Minister, you're doing all of this in the backdrop of the larch disease and other diseases, which is going to diminish some of the existing coverage that we have. So, how are you managing to marry the two, the fact that you're going to have significant losses in the future—they've already happened in some places—and also the additionality that we're talking about?

Yes, absolutely, Joyce. So, what that does is it drives us towards understanding how to plant a sustainable forest, and it's quite clear, isn't it, that if you plant enormous tracts of the same tree and then a disease hits, you lose the whole lot, so what you need to do is plant sustainable forests. It was really interesting to talk to people over at COP just before last Christmas about how they're doing that in Canada, for example, and we had a really good meeting with one of the professors there about how they're making their forests more sustainable. It is about having resilient forests, resilient trees, and making sure that we don't have whole tracts of woodland that can go down to the same disease, which is what happened with some of the terrible diseases we've seen very recently.

We've had a series of reviews and deep-dives. So, we had a trees and timber deep-dive, to have an end-to-end review of that; we've had a new woodland creation offer as a result of that, with the three schemes I've already mentioned. Rural Payments Wales are leading a lean review exercise to identify some further improvements to woodland creation processes to make it easier for landowners to navigate. Farmers are really busy people; they don't need to spend four and a half hours trying to figure out how to get £5 to get three trees onto their land. We want to make it really straightforward and easy and proactive for them to be able to do it. The review's ongoing, but we've already identified a number of improvements, including the creation of an online woodland register for customers and woodland planners to submit and track plans, for example, and some mapping things that we've been doing through Lle. We're expecting to conclude the whole thing by summer next year, but we're implementing it incrementally, if you see what I mean, so we're not waiting until the review finishes; as each section is finished, we implement the learning from that. So, we've been doing it as we go along, really. 

That's all good, but when can we expect to see further details from the lean review that you've just mentioned, and all the other reviews?

So, the whole thing will conclude by summer next year, Joyce, and we'll publish the whole thing retrospectively, but we have been publishing it incrementally; there have been a number of written statements and other publications going on. We've got a woodland finance working group as well, which is working with us to try and leverage in finance from elsewhere, because we know that we don't have enough money to do all of this on our own, and that provides recommendations about models to secure investments in woodland creation. We're also working—I think the committee would be interested to know—with the Under2 Coalition, or—[Inaudible.]—as it's called. I'm sure you've heard me talk about that before, which is the global alliance of—a terrible name, I'm afraid—subnational states, regions and city governments—sexy name, but a very, very effective organisation. And we are working with them, as part of their global finance group, to find ways to make sure that Wales benefits from global finance in a way that isn't greenwashing. So, we're very keen to attract good money but not to be a sink for people just not doing the right thing and trying to buy their way out of the problem. And we're working very—I've lost my ability to speak, sorry, Chair. We're working very carefully with them, to make sure that we're part of that. And we're also working with Finance Earth—we've commissioned them to undertake nature recovery in Wales work, looking at ways to secure private investment in a wide range of ecosystem services as well. So, there's a large amount of work going on in this area, to try and both make sure that it's easy to access from the landowners' point of view, but also that we leverage in private sector finance, where that's appropriate.

10:20

So, you've got a timber industrial strategy, and we're just looking for confirmation that it's on course for the end of 2023, which is a couple of months away.

So, it's currently our intention to publish that next year, because it better aligns with all of the other initiatives I've just talked about. So, we've got a delivering net zero project, the net-zero skills action plan, and that consultation is open until 31 December, and then we're supporting a whole series of other things around that as well. So, it'll be published next year, at the same time as the others, Joyce. It's probably slipped about five months, I would think. But I think it's better aligned as a result of the review—we just did a light-touch review, really. And then we've got a whole series of other things. The Home-Grown Homes project runs on that timescale as well, for example, and we've got a second phase of that coming up; that'll run until 2025. So, there's a whole series of pieces of work going into the timber strategy.

This is part of the issue, isn't it, because forests are two different things. Forests are permanent features and homes for biodiversity, but they're also a productive crop. So, we need to make sure that we have both of those elements tied up in our strategy, and we need to make sure that that's clear, and it's clear to the landowners which is the sort of forest they have. Have they got an ancient biodiverse forest, or have they got a cropable forest, or, indeed, ideally, have they got a bit of both? That's what we're really aiming for as part of the national forest plan.

I'm assuming, Minister, that all that will go into a long-term delivery model for the national forest, when all those things come together. And if that is the case, when are we likely to see that?

Okay. So, we've been doing quite a bit of work on the national forest. We had—as I'm sure the committee knows—a whole series of things that happened at the end of 2022 around a series of recommendations to us for how the national forest should work. The group was very clear that the governance model needed to be small and agile and to have a place-based approach, and to grow a community of practice amongst woodland managers, and then also create, develop and manage the national forest trail as a national asset. We appointed a whole team of national forest for Wales liaison officers to engage with landowners, and they've been really instrumental in supporting community groups and landowners across Wales. They've done some really excellent work, and they're an immensely enthusiastic bunch of people, who the committee might want to speak with.

The national forest status scheme was launched in June of this year, to enable non-Welsh Government exemplary woodlands to join the national forest for Wales. We've got a grant that is very happily called TWIG—I think some Welsh Government official must have worked a very long time to get an acronym like that together—to get national forest status into those sites. We're going to announce the first sites that will gain national forest status very, very shortly. And we had a stakeholder event on 13 September, and we've got a whole series of delivery models ongoing, Joyce. So, the first announcements will be made of private sector-owned forests that will become part of the national forest very shortly.

One final question from me: we've gone through biodiversity, we've gone through wood-producing crop, but, of course, the other very important part of woodland is flood prevention and the retention of soil, should we have heavy rainfall, so that we don't get the landslide that we have been watching not only in this country, but all over the world. So, is that also forming part of, and will we be able to see how it is, in your future and current work streams? 

10:25

Yes, absolutely, Joyce. That's part of the natural flood defence programme that we've rolled out, and trees are very much part of the natural flood defence programme, along with something called remeandering, where we take away hard culverts and let the river have gravel edges and small areas where it can flood. There's a brilliant project in Mike Hedges's constituency on the Tawe river, which prevents flooding in my constituency, which is a natural flood plain that's been allowed to develop there properly with reed beds, the most incredible biodiversity. Over the last weekend, you could see it in action; it was really brilliant and nothing flooded lower down the river. That's a combination of tree planting, gravel beds in the right place, rushes and flood plains. So, you're absolutely right: trees are an absolutely essential part of flood management programmes. 

Thank you very much. Thank you, Minister, and everyone. I think now is a good time for us to take a break. So, we'll break and look to reconvene at 10:35 on the dot. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:26 a 10:37.

The meeting adjourned between 10:26 and 10:37.

10:35
3. Craffu cyffredinol ar waith y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd: rhan 2
3. General scrutiny of the Minister for Climate Change: part 2

Croeso nôl i'r pwyllgor. Rŷn ni'n parhau gyda'r gwaith o graffu'r Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd, ac mi drown ni nesaf at Delyth Jewell.

Welcome back to the committee. We're continuing with the scrutiny work of the climate change Minister, and we'll turn next to Delyth Jewell.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Good morning, Minister. We're going to be talking about rubbish now, but not in a disparaging way—about waste. Firstly, on the deposit-return scheme, could you give us an update, please, on that scheme and any timescale for upcoming regulations?

Yes. Well, this has been a bit of a saga, I'm afraid. So, we've been working with other administrations on the drafting of the legislation for the deposit-return scheme. Right up until very recently, we were working to make sure that there was interoperability within the UK, and also, obviously, that it achieved the overarching aims for the scheme in Wales. We had planned, as all four nations of the UK, to go live in October 2025, but I'm afraid the UK Government has changed its path on this, and the impact of their actions on Scotland are quite dramatic, so we're having to review the timeline in the light of the UK Government acting as the English Government in this instance in its view on this. Because it's impacting, I'm afraid, on both our ability to deliver it and the timescale. 

Thank you, Minister. And exactly on that point, on the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, have you had any discussions with the UK Government specifically about how all of that would have an effect on Welsh legislation, and have you put in—. Well, you've already answered that point in part. So, have you specifically made a request on exclusions from the internal market Act for glass?

We haven't made that request, Delyth, because we aren't at the position where we need to do so. All the way through this consultation we had glass included. It's quite clear from the regulatory impact assessment undertaken with the UK Government, and clear from the outcome of the joint consultation, that the scheme is much better if you include glass. It needs to be effective against our baseline recycling rate and it needs to maximise the carbon benefits of bringing in the infrastructure to support a DRS. You have to bear in mind that the Welsh baseline recycling rate is considerably higher than it is anywhere—you know, orders of magnitude higher than it is in England and considerably higher than in Scotland and Northern Ireland. So, it needs to work for us as well as for the others. Not having glass in it is, frankly, nonsensical; it doesn't make any sense at all. None of the outcomes of the joint consultation or the impact assessments, or the carbon cycle, or anything else make any sense of that. I'm perfectly certain, Delyth, that if I introduced a deposit-return scheme that excluded glass, the committee would rightly take me to task over how on earth I'd reached that conclusion, because the regulatory impact assessments are clear.

So, we're continuing to meet at official level almost on a daily basis with counterparts in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland to discuss the scheme. That's still including the scope of the scheme and the materials covered. I've discussed this at the various inter-ministerial groups—IMGs—at the environment, farming and rural affairs one, for example, and in individual meetings with the Minister. So, you know, this is not a happy situation. We don't seek exemptions from the UK internal market Act as we haven't diverged from the previously agreed collective position. Our view would be that it would be England that needed to seek an exemption from the UKIMA, because they are also subject to it. And the conditions on the scheme in Scotland are quite extraordinary. So, anyway, I suppose the short answer, Delyth, is it's an ongoing conversation with the UK Government. You can hear that we're very frustrated by that conversation and we're not yet at a position where we've made a decision.

10:40

Thank you, Minister. And on that point, as you say, in this context, the UK Government is acting as the English Government. Have they—? Representatives you've had these discussions with—do you get the sense that they are sympathetic in any way, or that they show any awareness of why it is that this frustration exists? I mean, do you get the sense that they think that this would actually work without glass?

Well, I mean the thing is, the recycling rate in England is so low that anything would work, whereas that's not the case here and it's not the case in Scotland, and that's causing a problem. But the outcome of the consultation and all of the carbon impact assessments—. And the sheer cost of implementing a DRS scheme, bearing in mind that you have to buy all the equipment and all the rest of it—and we know from Scotland exactly how much all of that costs—in order to not have glass in it is just extraordinary. And then the other thing to say is that the whole point of a DRS scheme is to get litter out of our environment, of course, but it's also to make sure that we can reuse, not just recycle, and glass is the best for reuse. I mean, obviously, you can wash it and reuse it again. So, the type of DRS equipment that you need if you want to be able to reuse a bottle, i.e. it doesn't break when you put it into the machine, is very different than if you're collecting other sorts. So, this isn't a kind of linear thing—you can't just start without glass and then put glass in; you have to have a completely different set of stuff. And we've got successful pilots; there's one in Brecon that's very successful that's running, and they include glass. And obviously, the manufacturers of non-glass items would be very cross indeed at the idea that they would be targeted and not glass, so the whole thing makes no sense at all without the inclusion of all of the items that need to be included. But, you know, the current UK Government is making a decision based on other considerations, shall we say, and not the outcome of any of these things, so we're just continuing that discussion for the moment, but it is delaying the implementation, there's no doubt about it.

Thank you, Minister. Saying that it's based on other considerations—I think that's to put it diplomatically. But, to move on, to extended producer responsibility: could you talk us through, please, why there's been a delay to this, and what effect you think that delay will have?

Yes. So, this is designed, obviously, to reduce unnecessary packaging and to do all the same things I've just talked about—increase levels of recycling, promote the use of more environmentally friendly packaging and to encourage the use of more reusable or refillable packaging. And they introduced the polluter-pays principle, which I'm sure the committee is very familiar with—I know you are, Delyth—so that businesses who put packaged goods on to the market are responsible for the waste that they create at the end of the scheme. So, the current position is that we've already begun the implementation. We introduced regulations to the Senedd earlier this year on new reporting requirements and amendments to data reporting requirements at material recycling facilities, or MRFs, as they're called. We reflected on stakeholder feedback and the deliverability of the timescales. Then, jointly with other Governments, we announced the deferral of 12 months in July of this year. That's specifically at the request of industry, to give them more time to prepare for the new requirements, which include a review and improvement of the packaging they use. Bear in mind that this is a behaviour change campaign—we're not trying to raise money from it. So, if that means that we have industries that will actually review the type of packaging they use and change it to environmentally friendly ones, that's an outcome that we want.

We wanted industry and our local authorities to have more opportunities to be involved in the design of this scheme and to adjust current services. We've had a long conversation with the UK Government about the way that the scheme administrator will work, the way that the funding for the scheme will work, and the way that our local authorities will be funded as a result of the scheme. We're very keen to ensure that our local authorities are not disadvantaged because of our much higher recycling rates. So, we don’t want money collected from our industrial producers here in Wales to be used to improve the recycling rates of authorities in England, for example. We want to make sure that the Welsh pound comes back to our local authorities to incentivise them, and that we get the transfer of costs from the public purse to the polluter pays. We've jointly consulted on draft regulations, and we're currently reviewing the responses. And we've got a whole series of stakeholder engagement items going on into 2024.

I hope very much that we can bring the scheme into force next year, Delyth, which would mean that the scheme administrator and the first fees and payments would be raised and collected for the 2025-26 financial year. So, that’s the current plan.  

10:45

Thank you for that, Minister. In terms of the EPR and manufacturers having to be responsible for the life-cycle of the product, how confident are you that the new legislation that is coming in on single-use plastics will have that effect—that similar awareness-raising effect and behavioural change effect—both with the public, but also with businesses?

Yes. So, there are two different things there, aren't there? One is to take particular items out of the production stream altogether. We're not suggesting that there's a deposit on plastic coffee cup lids. We're saying you shouldn't have them. They just shouldn't exist. What we are saying, though, is that people would continue to produce, for example, plastic bottles, but that they would have a deposit on them, and that they might be either reused or very quickly recycled. So, there are different streams, I guess, of litter.

We know that small plastic bottles and non-alcoholic cans—so, drink cans—are 43 per cent of all litter. So, this is a huge problem, right across the UK and, actually, across the western world, in fact. So, what we're trying to do here is encourage people not to litter them but to bring them back, because there's a small deposit that can be recovered. Then, to be honest, even if that person doesn't think that it's worth it, we think it will encourage others to pick it up. I'm way older than you, Delyth—I actually remember doing that. I remember picking up pop bottles and being delighted to find them and taking them back for the deposit. So, this is an old scheme coming around again. 

Sometimes it's useful to look to the past to learn from it. So, thank you for that, Minister. On the new legislation and the new regime with single-use plastics, and the impact that it will have on businesses, I know that the Federation of Small Businesses has criticised the extent of the awareness-raising that has been undertaken amongst the business community, and it has also said that the Act prohibits plastic-alternative products that could be good for the environment. What would be your response to those two criticisms, please? 

Well, I'm obviously very sorry if a business feels that they haven't been informed, but we've run a big, extensive campaign on this, and it's been in the news for a long time. There's been environmental awareness of this for a long time. I would say, Delyth, that people said the same thing about the charge on the single-use carrier bag, and look at the effect that that had, and how fast it spread across the rest of the UK when, at first, it was like, you know, 'Oh my goodness. This will be impossible.' It just wasn't. I think this will just become part of normal life very quickly. We've given people a lot of time to get used to this single-use plastics ban. Again, I would emphasise that this is not, in any way, any kind of plan to criminalise people or to raise money. This is about behaviour change. So, if we did come across a retailer who wasn't aware of the ban and was still selling some of the items, they would be informed. They would be told by environmental health how to comply, and they would not be fined or in any way charged for that on a first offence, because they didn't understand. We would only be looking for egregious breaches—people who are quite clearly deliberately breaching the ban and didn't care about it—to be fined or prosecuted.

This is about behaviour change, in exactly the same way as the carrier bag charge was, and we think it will be highly effective very quickly. Quite a few of the items on that list are already quite difficult to find, so the public is ahead of us in some ways. It's quite hard now, I think, to find a plastic stirrer, for example—virtually everywhere you go has already gone to wooden ones, haven't they, which are obviously compostable. 

10:50

Thank you, Chair. When I was in Croatia this summer, Minister, on Pepsi or Fanta bottles, the actual tops of the bottles—because I've raised about bottle caps in terms of deposit-return schemes—were actually attached, so you couldn't detach the cap unless your unscrewed it, and why would you? So, I was just wondering whether you have any influence in the retail sector or with the manufacturing industry to try and send out innovative—whether you could persuade them to be more innovative. I just thought it was an excellent thing, because when I'm doing beach cleans, I see far too many bottle tops on the beach. So, I just think if the thing is completely intact, it makes for better recycling.

Yes, I quite agree, and one of the big issues about this whole piece of work is to encourage manufacturers to change their packaging so that they don't fall foul of the regime. So, we really do hope, Janet, very much, that that kind of innovation will spread very rapidly. You do see that in other areas. I'm sure that older members of the committee will know that the caps of plastic milk bottles have changed very radically over the last few years, because they used to not be recyclable and now they are. They've also changed colour because they were affecting the quality of the recyclate and now they don't. So, you can see manufacturers responding to the changing climate with just something as simple as that.

I wish we could go back to the Tetra Pak, though, rather than the plastic.

I noticed they'd changed colour, the tops, and I now know why. There we are. Thank you, Minister. Okay. Are we happy, or do you want to, briefly—? 

Very briefly, Minister. Finally, on the legislation on single-use plastics, could you just talk us through the fact that it's going to be phased in its implementation? You were talking earlier about the internal market Act, what impact do you think that could have on the items in phase 2, please?

We're phasing it because the things in phase 2 are more complex. So, the later inclusions are carrier bags and polystyrene lids for cups and food containers and oxo-degradable plastic products. We just need to consider further particular evidence of needs for exemptions, for example, and other effects. I'm sure Members will be aware that there's been a conversation, for example, with the Co-op chain about whether their compostable bags are or are not impacted by this. So, there are ongoing discussions about what might constitute a banned single-use carrier bag, for example, and we just need to get that right.

Delyth, I've been really clear all the way through the passage of the Bill in the Senedd that the Government's position is and absolutely remains that, where the Senedd legislates in a non-reserved area, it does so free from the requirements of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act. So, as far as we're concerned, the ban at stage 1 and the ban at stage 2 will be fully effective and enforceable. You have to bear in mind that the UK Government could have and did not refer the Act to the Supreme Court.

Brilliant. Thank you, Chair. Minister, I'm gong to turn to the issue of water, our rivers, and everything linked to that. Can I start with a slightly strange question? There is a massive public hoo-hah at the moment about the condition of our water, our waterways, our rivers, both from the ecological status and the wider issues of pollution, and diverse sources of pollution. Do you welcome the fact that there is a massive hoo-hah going on when we have people such as Surfers Against Sewage switching their focus from coastal waters, where there were real inroads made decades ago, we've had real improvements, into our inland waterways, and also people like the former lead singer of The Undertones, Feargal Sharkey, speaking out and saying we need to do a darn sight better? Do you welcome that, or is it a pain?

It's very, very welcome. Less than two years ago, we were discussing how on earth we could get this up the public agenda. We certainly don't need to do that anymore. It's extremely welcome; we want people to be very aware of it. We want them to be aware of it, because we also want them to understand their own behaviours. So, we want people to understand not to flush cotton buds, wet wipes and other things down the loo, for example. We want people to be more responsive, but we also, frankly, wanted the pressure on all of the various polluting agencies to up their game. So, I'm delighted by it, frankly. Those of you who know me well will know that I spent a very large part of my life chained to things or carrying banners, so I've got a lot of sympathy with the people who feel like that.

What we've got to do, though, is we've got to be positive, I think, and hopeful about what can be done. So, we've got a whole series of things in order. I very much welcome the outrage about this. I was speaking to one of the campaigners that you might be familiar with, the lady who floated a coffin down the Usk, for example, at an event I went to on a Thursday evening a couple of weeks ago. She's been absolutely instrumental in getting the thing up the agenda. But we've got to figure out what to do about it, haven't we? It isn't just about combined sewage outflows, although, obviously, they're part of it. It is about making sure that every single area of our economic life that contributes to this pollution looks at its own act and sorts it out.

So, we have these summits where—I don't want the house builders shouting at the water companies, the water companies shouting at the farmers, and the farmers shouting at the house builders or whatever in a circle of misery. What we want is every single area of our lives to look at their own issues and sort them out. So, we have challenged, and the First Minister was very clear that the action plan has to have actions for each section of the population and of the commercial actors that have an influence on this, they have to have an action plan in place and they have to live up to it. So, I will be chairing the next summit at the end of November. The action plan was agreed by everyone at the last summit that the First Minister chaired back in the summer, and we'll be looking at progress on that and what needs to be done, because there are large numbers of actors here; it's not just the water companies by a long way, and we need everyone to get on board with sorting it out.

10:55

Thank you for that, Minister. I think we're clear now that if you weren't sitting in the position in the ministerial chair today, you'd be out manning the barricades and campaigning hard, which is good to hear. Let me just ask on one of those aspects you touch on, because I think it's probably one of the frustrations that we share, that the topicality of some of these things means we switch from a focus on chickens and chicken manure, to a focus on sewage outflows, to a focus on whatever. Actually, there's a heck of a lot of things that we need to tackle with urgency all in one go. But, on that basis, are you surprised at where we are on one of the cross-cutting agendas of Government, river quality, which is to do with nitrates and agricultural diffuse pollution, because we're once again in a situation where things have been slightly delayed? I was surprised that there wasn't a bigger uproar on that, that there weren't greater submissions put in on this from some of the environmental NGOs in Wales to say, 'Stop dithering. Get on with it.'

Yes. So, you're absolutely right, Huw. We need to address all of the issues, and we do have a slight media thing of going round the various actors and focusing on different bits of them, depending on what's in the news. But the truth is, as I just said, we've got to sort all of it out, and we've got to sort all of it out in a way that means that our rivers are maintained in their high quality, where they already are of high quality, and recovered where they are not.

We also need to be realistic about where we are as well, and I'm very keen that we don't have an approach of despair and throwing our hands up, but one of hope and action. So, the action plan is a really important part of this. I'm sure the committee knows that we've got a better river water quality taskforce running, and as part of that, we have a series of nutrient management boards and nutrient management plans for all of our SAC—special areas of conservation—rivers, and we're developing nutrient management plans and a unified nutrient calculator so that we can have like compared with like. We've made about £1.5 million worth of funding available to enable the nutrient management boards to do this, and back in May of this year, we appointed consultants to produce a calculator for each catchment with associated guidance and training materials on how to use them, and we're hoping to bring them into use in December. We wanted to delay production to incorporate the June agricultural survey so that we had more robust data in the model to approve the assumptions used, because otherwise the assumptions would have been generalised and based on data from France and England. So, we think we will have a really robust set of data as a result of the work of the nutrient management boards, and I’m extremely grateful to them for all of the very hard work that they’ve done, and we’ll be able to take it forward from there.

And then, the other thing I should tell the committee, and I should apologise for the timing of it, but it just has worked out this way, but we have a storm overflow evidence for Wales report and that’s going to be published today. It’s going to be published at 2 p.m. after this committee, so I apologise for that, Chair; I would have liked to have done it before the committee but it hasn’t been possible. That report isn’t a report with recommendations; it’s a report that compares the costs and benefits of different policy options for combined sewage outflows to help inform the better river quality management taskforce to develop achievable and affordable targets for the waterways. So, I just wanted the committee to be aware of that, because I wouldn’t normally appear in a committee and then publish a report on topic, but it’s just how it’s worked out.

11:00

We'll forgive you this time, Minister, because we do have many of the relevant stakeholders coming in after half term, so at least it will help inform our discussion in that meeting.

Yes. It's really helpful to know. Thank you for that, Minister. And it's clear that there is a lot of work going on, and it's clear that your focus is bringing together all the diverse stakeholders to tackle water quality, river quality, and so on. And I think we recognise this: you're not sitting there twiddling your thumbs, you're really getting on with this, and the First Minister is involved as well.

Let me just turn with my final question, though, to the issue of Dŵr Cymru environmental performance reviews from both NRW and Ofwat. It shows that in the PR24 business plan, that customers' bills could go up £120 a year. I wonder if you could comment on that, but in commenting, could I ask you also to reflect on the exchange we had yesterday on the floor of the Senedd, where WildFish—and I should declare an interest here as Atlantic salmon champion; I take it really seriously, and WildFish are one of the organisations that nominated me in that position—they have put this legal challenge down, and part of the legal challenge, Minister, is that, actually, it should not fall on water bill payers, taxpayers, that it should be found from the water companies themselves, not just Dŵr Cymru, but across the UK from other water companies for enhancing their environmental performance? It's an interesting position. Now, Dŵr Cymru would say that's impossible, maybe the regulator would say, but I know you have focused on saying, 'We need a different approach from the regulator to make sure that this is fair to bill payers as well'. So, on their performance environmentally, and also on what this means for bill payers, what's your take?

So, I have a series of meetings with NRW and Dŵr Cymru scheduled. I have a two-hour meeting with them tomorrow morning, for example. The meetings were scheduled already, not as a result of the media response. We meet very regularly with them. The meeting is to discuss something called PR24, which is the price review mechanism that will come into effect next year. The price review mechanism sets the amount of money that the water companies can spend on infrastructure and what the bill increases will look like as a result. Dŵr Cymru is in a very different position to the rest of the water companies. And can I just say for the record, I do not control Dŵr Cymru, I have not very many powers over them, they are not nationalised, but they are a not-for-profit private company, so they do not pay dividends to shareholders?

Much of what you've just said, Huw, is about not paying dividends to shareholders in circumstances where the water company could use that money for investment. Well, Dŵr Cymru doesn't pay shareholders. I have had a very robust discussion with them and with the regulator about their reserves and whether they should be spending more of their reserves on infrastructure spend; that's a conversation that will continue, as, I have to say, I think there's a difference of opinion between the regulator and Dŵr Cymru about that, but we'll get to the bottom of that. But the bottom line is we need billions of pounds spent on infrastructure, and they don't have billions of pounds in their reserve, so the only way they have to raise money is through bills, and that's the way that the regulator is set up. And the UK Government, let's be clear, sets the remit for the regulator; I don't do that. We set out our expectations of the water company, and we do that through Claire's team. We put out a letter that states our intention very, very clearly—we've done that. We've been extremely plain that we want a good social tariff and that we want high drinking water quality, high river water quality, and good environmental improvement on that. So, I'll be continuing to do that. 

The Cardigan wastewater treatment works, for example, we know that there's £20 million going in for new treatment works at Cardigan. The enforcement action by NRW requires them to commit to that programme of work for their next investment period. They weren't fined because NRW took the view—and it's a view that they can take—that taking money off Dŵr Cymru in order to get them to invest more in a particular project was counterintuitive. I agree with that, for what it's worth, but my opinion doesn't matter; I don't have a say in it, but I do agree with that.

So, these are about striking balances between the effective action of keeping water bills affordable, especially in this cost-of-living crisis. And I very much regret the fact that the UK Government wouldn't put a social tariff in right across the UK, but Dŵr Cymru has done very well here in Wales with their social tariff, as have Hafren Dyfrdwy as well. But water companies are supporting in Wales 145,000 households through those schemes, so it's substantial, because people are really struggling in the cost-of-living crisis. So, it is about trying to get the effective balance. But there's a political point here, there's no getting away from it.

11:05

I can see that the Chair is talking, but I can't hear you, Chair.

Okay. I was just asking for you to be brief, because we have another two Members wanting to come in on this and we need to move on to other areas. So, maybe, Huw, do you want to come in briefly, then Joyce? 

Yes, very briefly, Minister. Sorry you can't hear us when we're trying to chat back to you. What I was going to ask was, one of the arguments that's been put to me over the last few years is that there should have been a dividend that comes from Dŵr Cymru, being a not-for-profit company, which could well have been invested over a prolonged period in the sorts of things we're now catching up with. So, because of their very structure, they should have had perhaps 5 per cent or 6 per cent more than other companies to invest. Do you challenge that with the regulator? As you say, you don't have control, but is that a discussion that you can have with the regulator to say, 'Is there a dividend that is more than in other companies, and, if so, where has it gone over the last 10 years? What's it been invested in?'.

So, I can answer that, actually, because I asked that question of Dŵr Cymru myself. So, there is a dividend, and it has been invested in social tariffs. 

So, those are the answers there. I would suggest to the committee that Dŵr Cymru would be very happy to come and talk to the committee about how it invests its dividends.

There we are. Okay, fine. Thank you. There we are. Sorry to curtail things slightly, but we do need to go on to another subject area. Janet, I think you're going to lead us on the next area.

How are the outputs from the independent review of reports into extreme flooding events being taken forward? We know what we've seen on Friday and over the weekend, and I know you answered yesterday, Minister, in Plenary, that you've been looking into those post-flooding incident investigations, like those section 19 things. But I've often criticised those as being too long; it can quite often take over 12 months to get those. So, my residents are asking me already, 'When will we know what happened and how we can avoid it happening again?', so a faster method than what's there at the moment.

Yes, absolutely, Janet. So, the review that we commissioned with the co-operation agreement was an important part of a jigsaw where we're looking at wider flood-risk management reporting. So, we've got two other pieces of work taking place: we've got the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales also looking at this and we've got the flood and coastal erosion committee looking at it. The flood and coastal erosion committee in particular are looking at the wider legislative and policy change resources and skills in the flood management sector that we need to implement to change the system. I don't think that there's any argument with you, or with anyone else, that we need to change the system. That's the easy bit, though. The issue is how to change it and what should it look like. Who should have what powers and where should they sit? What powers should the regulator have? What powers should the local authorities have? What should the Welsh Government be able to do, et cetera, et cetera? 

So, we've got an extensive piece of work going on on that, and we're obviously hoping to get that sorted out. We'll probably ask the Law Commission to do a piece of work for us on what the very complex set of regulatory frameworks in this area are as well. Bear in mind that we've had a large number of these come back from the EU as well. So, have they gone to the right place and to the right people and have people got the right powers? Is the jigsaw, if you like, properly located? I think the easy answer is that it is not—we agree that, and that's why we've got all these reviews going on. But we need to let the reviews do their work and then we'll be able to report back to you on what the change necessary is. No doubt there is a change. 

Just in terms of the very localised stuff, though, Janet, we will be asking for a shorter term view of that from the blue-light responders and from NRW, in particular whether flood defences have failed or were over-topped, and I think there's a combination of the two of those things in some areas of Wales, and whether communities who did not think they were at flood risk are now at flood risk, so that they can be incorporated into the wider programme. 

11:10

And then could you give us an update—thank you—on the work of the flood and coastal erosion committee, in particular the findings of the committee's report into the need for wider legislative and policy change and resources and skills in the flood management sector? And I'll tag onto that: when will we have the storm flow reports?

Yes, so I've responded already to the resources and skills report that the committee put out. We acknowledged the extensive list of issues and challenges, and we've asked the committee to do some key areas of significant work on some of the areas that they outlined, and we've got a draft response to the—it's called 'The case for change in legislation and associated policy on flood and coastal erosion risk management in Wales', and it will be formally issued to the flood and coastal erosion committee in early November. 

And also do you feel as a Government you are on track to provide additional flood protection for what we believe to be 45,000 homes this Government term—or could there be even more now?

Yes, so we've got good work going on with our risk management authorities across Wales. Last year we agreed a three-year capital budget, which is £101 million for them, and that plans our investment from 2022-23 to 2024-25 across the three years. We needed to do that because lots of the programmes are big capital programmes and they couldn't be done in a single-year programme. This is the final year of the coastal risk management programme, for example, and all schemes on that programme will commence by March of next year, and then we'll have invested £200 million in key coastal infrastructure. That protects 15,000 properties all by itself. And then we've got several ongoing this year. We've got a couple that are ahead of schedule. So, two major schemes in Newport and Ammanford, which have 2,000 properties in them. So, you can see we're making pretty good progress towards it. 

Thank you very much. Okay, we'll move on, then, to Joyce. 

I just want to ask, before I go on to the next bit, about the prevention of flooding playing a major part in your key policies. And, of course, I would be talking about surface water, but how all those things are marrying up. I also asked earlier questions about using forestry and trees in terms of prevention, because to my mind those things can happen to take that water away from the areas that are now being flooded and have to be incorporated, and I'm sure it is, within your policies. 

Yes, absolutely, Joyce. So, we've asked the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales to look at prevention as well as the committee, which also looks at prevention. I'm sure you heard me say as part of the new Welsh housing quality standard yesterday that we're including water butts in that. I don't remember off the top of my head, I'm afraid, how many tens of thousands—the volume of water that removes—Emma might remember—but it's substantial. And that's the whole point, we need to—. You've been working on this for years, Joyce; I know you have. It's been a campaign of yours for many years. But to try to get people to understand that the run-off from their homes and gardens is very much part of what goes into the combined sewage outflow problem is one of the big behaviour changes that we want. So, if we can encourage people to have water butts—it doesn't matter if you're in a little terraced house, you can still get a water butt under your drain and it will help you in times of drought. The summer before last, for example, I was very delighted to say that I could keep my vegetables going out of my water butts, although they did eventually run out. These are important. They might seem small, but they're important parts of flood prevention, as are, of course, the remeandering of rivers, the tree and natural flood defence programmes that we have, and a number of other things. 

Thank you. I'm going to move on now to the retained EU law. Have you got an update on inter-governmental discussions on whether to save the national emissions ceilings regulations from automatically being revoked on 31 December?

Well, Chair, I'm going to defer to Claire here, I'm afraid, because this is intensely detailed, and her officials have been working on it for us.

11:15

There we are. Claire, would you like to enlighten us?

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Minister. Yes, we're continuing our discussions with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs colleagues about what will replace the regulations. They are still scheduled to be revoked, as set out in the Act, but what we're working on is a cross-UK alternative arrangement. There isn't yet a final proposal, though, on what exactly that will look like. The discussions are ongoing. We've been clear that the benefits of having that framework at UK level are really positive and would support and, I suppose, nest, then, the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill that's currently before the Senedd in Wales within that wider framework. So, we're pushing for something that would provide an equivalent structure to the current arrangements that will be revoked.

I just want to know whether the Welsh Government intends to use its other powers under the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 to preserve or replicate the national emission ceilings regulations in a Wales context. We know we've got some legislation coming forward.

You're right, the Bill that's before the Senedd replicates part of it, but I suppose the point of the national emission ceilings regulations is they provide that UK framework, so that isn't something we can replicate exactly on a Wales basis. The bit that we want to preserve is that joint working across the UK and common expectations, which isn't something we can replace ourselves in a Wales context. But the targets, the framework, towards reducing pollutants obviously is precisely the purpose in Wales of the air quality and soundscapes Bill that the Senedd is considering.

The key issue here is around legally binding emission reductions for the five air pollutants. What exactly is stopping Wales from embracing that in its entirety in our air quality and soundscapes Bill?

Well, I guess, Jenny, I would say that we can embrace our own, but we're part of the UK, and some of the things that happen in Wales are not things that we control, so we don't site large gas-fired power stations, for example, and we don't control some of the other things, so we need a UK framework in order to operate inside them. We will do everything we can do to do the things that we can control here in Wales. I know you've been very much part of the scrutiny of the air quality and soundscapes Bill, but there are some things, as Claire has said, that require a UK view. The air doesn't know where the boundary is. So, if you live along the border, we'd quite like people along the border to be protected in the same way. It's an obvious case for having an overarching framework.

Okay, but at the moment there's no possibility of getting that at the moment—is that right?

As Claire very tactfully said, discussions are ongoing.

Okay. Well, I think that concludes our scrutiny session with the Minister this morning. Can I thank you so much for being with us, particularly given that you're feeling slightly under the weather? It's been a thorough session, I think. We've covered many bases, and we're grateful to you and your officials for being with us, so diolch yn fawr iawn once again for being before us. You will, as always, be provided with a copy of the draft Record so that you can check that for accuracy. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

The committee will now break until 11.30 a.m., and we'll look to reconvene, if we can, slightly earlier than expected. We can break for a good 10 minutes at least.

Yes, we'll try and be ready to start at 11.30 a.m., depending on the Deputy Minister's availability.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:19 ac 11:40.

The meeting adjourned between 11:19 and 11:40.

11:40
4. Cyfyngiadau Cyflymder 20 mya: Sesiwn Graffu gyda'r Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
4. The 20 mph Speed Limit: Scrutiny session with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change

Croeso nôl i'r Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Seilwaith. Dŷn ni'n symud at y bedwaredd eitem, wrth gwrs, ac ail ran y cyfarfod heddiw, i bob pwrpas, sef sesiwn graffu gyda'r Dirprwy Weinidog Newid Hinsawdd ynghylch y terfyn cyflymder 20 mya. Felly, croeso i Lee Waters, y Dirprwy Weinidog atom ni—diolch i chi am ddod—ynghyd â'i swyddogion, Christopher Warner, sy'n ddirprwy gyfarwyddwr strategaeth a pholisi trafnidiaeth gyda'r Llywodraeth, Phil Jones, sy'n gadeirydd y tasglu 20 mya, a Kaarina Ruta, sy'n gynorthwyydd trafnidiaeth ac arweinydd 20 mya, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru. Croeso i'r pedwar ohonoch chi.

Mae amser ychydig yn dynn, felly fe fyddwn ni'n cadw cwestiynau yn weddol focused. Ond mi wnaf i ofyn i ddechrau, os caf fi, a fyddech chi, Ddirprwy Weinidog, yn gallu, efallai, adrodd yn ôl i ni o'r cyfarfod y gwnaethoch chi ei gael gyda'r cynghorau ddoe, a sut oedd hwnna wedi mynd, a beth yw'r cynllun wrth symud ymlaen?

Welcome back to the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee. We move to item 4, of course, and the second part of this meeting, which is a scrutiny session with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change regarding the 20 mph speed limit. So, I welcome Lee Waters, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change—thank you for coming—as well as his officials, Christopher Warner, deputy director of transport strategy and policy with Welsh Government, Phil Jones, chair of the 20 mph taskforce, and Kaarina Ruta, who's a transport assistant and lead for 20 mph from the Welsh Local Government Association. Welcome to the four of you. 

Time is tight, so we'll keep questions quite focused. But I will ask, first of all, if I may, whether you as Deputy Minister could report back to us on the meeting you had with the councils yesterday, and how that went, and what is the plan in moving forward. 

Wrth gwrs, a diolch am y croeso. 

Of course, and thank you for the welcome. 

Yes, so we issued a written statement late yesterday, which I wanted to get out before the committee met this morning, to reflect on the meeting that Julie James and I had on Tuesday with council leaders. And it was a very positive meeting. The general feedback was that they had noticed that complaints had reduced and tailed off, which has certainly been our experience too, and that there were issues of vandalism, which is a concern, and we've agreed to work with them to address that. There are some concerns about some anomalies locally, which we said we don't think need to wait. Officers are keen that the changes are given a year to bed in, and I think that's generally sensible. However, where there are clear examples where, with the benefit of hindsight, roads were reduced to 20 mph, and there's a feeling that that maybe was a mistake, there's no reason why we should wait a year to put those mistakes right. There has to be a local traffic regulation Order passed, and that can take anywhere between 11 weeks and 11 months, depending on the local authority's committee cycle and appetite to move at pace. But we'd expect these to be small in number, but there's no reason to wait for that. 

Beyond that, a degree of confidence was required—and I notice the research that the Members' research service has produced on the local variation around Wales, which is quite striking. And that suggests to us that (a) there clearly is a lot of discretion within the guidance, and there isn't a blanket ban, otherwise how could Swansea have issued so many? But the fact that Denbighshire has issued so few at the other end of the spectrum also shows that there is a lack of a consistent approach here, and you'd expect that to a degree with 22 different local authorities—some have different legal advice. 

So, we want to get to the bottom of that, and why that is. These are obviously local decisions, but we do want to have a degree of national consistency. So, we have offered that we'll work with local authorities to share experiences, to share good practice, to understand why some might be reluctant to use their discretion, and others more so, so they can talk to each other and share that experience. And where they want a sense check, Phil Jones, who I've not yet had a chance to introduce, who's sitting here by me, who led the taskforce work, and has led the process of drawing up the guidelines, will be happy to work with them to give his view on whether or not the judgments made are within the spirit of the guidance. 

Okay. Thank you. We will be pursuing some of those points that you made individually. So, I'll bring in Delyth first, and then I know Huw wants to come in and I know Janet wants to come in. So, we'll start with Delyth. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Good morning, Minister. What are the main lessons that you've learnt from implementing this new change, please?

Well, I think, as expected, there has been a degree of opposition. We knew that would happen. It happened when the Belisha beacons were introduced, when 30 mph speed limits were introduced, when 70 mph speed limits was introduced, when the breathalyser was introduced, when seat belts were made compulsory. So, that didn't take us by surprise. 

I think one of the key lessons we learnt from the pilots was the importance of consultation and engagement in advance of the change being made. And for various reasons, I don't think that has been as full as we would have liked, and we completely understand the pressure local authorities are under. But I think we knew that was going to be the case, and that has proven to be the case. And we did raise this with local authorities a number of times in advance, but I don't think we should underestimate the capacity constraints they are under, and I think that explains that. I think there's also a broader issue we should reflect on, and the committee might wish to reflect on as well, in terms of active travel, because we've seen this before. When the active travel consultation maps were put out to consultation, there was enormous variation to the extent to which local authorities genuinely consulted and engaged with communities, and I think there's a skill set and culture issue within highways departments, which tend to lead on these, where, I generalise, they are generally engineers, and their comfort zone is not community consultation. So, I think there's a broader lesson for us all—I think local authorities and Welsh Government—about how we help them to get consultations right. So, I think that's probably the main lesson, but I'm not sure if—. As I say, I'm quite keen to hear from—. So, just so that I can briefly introduce, Chair—Kaarina Ruta is leading the local authority engagement, Phil Jones has led the expert panel, and Chris Warner is the official in the Welsh Government who's overseeing it too. I know we're pressed for time, but I'm not sure if any of the others want to add anything to that.

11:45

I absolutely agree with Lee. I think we always knew that this—. In some ways, this is a really simple change and, obviously, it has very far-reaching consequences. This is a change in the default, but it doesn't affect any of the abilities of local authorities to set local speed limits. It's simply changing the starting point. But I think we always knew that that was a difficult concept to get across and the ramifications of that were quite difficult.

So, I think communicating that to the public was always going to be a challenge. We know that the way that the law has always worked is that streetlights meant 30 mph, but not many people knew that. So, we had the double challenge of explaining to people that streetlights meant something and that it now meant something new. So, I think that communication with the public is a challenge with local decision makers. So, yes, it's a complex problem, and I think, obviously, it was a challenge. The resources meant that only so much could be done, but I think it went reasonably well, given all those circumstances.

Just very briefly. Do you think that some of the negative campaigning has had the perverse effect of making more people aware of the change and so more people have actually responded in a positive way to the change, which is the opposite of what that campaigning would have sought to achieve?

I think that's probably right. Some of the communications budget was set aside for raising awareness, and I think we've got no doubt that the Welsh public are aware that there has been a change. So, I think, in some ways, it has made that task a little easier. But what we now need to do is demonstrate the benefits and, almost, potentially, congratulate the Welsh public for responding positively when, as we expect, speeds do come down and that it has made a difference, and we celebrate the benefits.

I think the exception to that rule is that the idea spread that this was a blanket limit that applied across a whole area has caused some confusion. We've certainly had anecdotal experience of people travelling at 20 mph in a 40 mph, for example, because they're confused about what the speed limit ought to be, and I think the deliberate misinformation there has been very unhelpful.

Thank you very much. The blanket thing has definitely caused confusion, without a doubt, and I think it's probably worth putting on record that some of the read-across in wider parts of Wales, while, actually, in Bridgend, over 100 exemptions have been put in place—. We've probably got a very good highways department of a more conventional, traditional highways thing, but they did think through—where are the residential areas, where are the non-residential, what are the gaps between them. So, the challenge we're getting is, actually, well, it goes from 20 mph to 50 mph to 30 mph to whatever, but, actually, they've interpreted the guidance that is there in a sensible way.

But I wanted to ask about where you go now on the exemption guidance, because my personal feeling is this does need bedding in. It would be the worst thing in the world to say we need to rewrite the guidance. It just amazes me, the variation. So, you've got Bridgend somewhere in the middle, you've got other authorities that have done more, you've got some who have done nothing—no exemptions. No wonder there's kickback in their area, frankly. I'd be kicking up about it. But that kickup in their area has affected my local public’s perception of how this is working. So, are you going to rip up the guidance now?

Well, I'll start briefly and ask Phil to add to it. So, my feeling is, I don't want to be dogmatic about it. I want to understand the constraints local authorities feel they're under, and if there is a genuine issue of interpretation of the guidance or the guide itself, let's look at that. I think our strong feeling as a starting point is the guidance is that flexible, hence the example you've given. So, I don't think the guidance needs to change. I think what needs to change is for local authorities to have a more consistent understanding of how far they can interpret the guidance to local circumstances. So, one of the things we've been discussing is whether or not we need to reinforce the guidance around how it's used, to make the point that this is to be applied when people and traffic mix. Where people and traffic do not mix, then twenties are not appropriate. But, Phil, do you want to add briefly to that?

11:50

Yes. I mean, the intention originally was that the guidance would be part of a more general refresh of guidance on speed limits across the board, but that didn't prove possible, so we had to bring forward just a piece of guidance around the decision on twenties and thirties. But going forward, I think the intention is to update the guidance, which is called 'Setting Local Speed Limits in Wales', which has been around since 2009, and there is already a piece of work, and that's already kind of running in parallel. I think that will help. So, that will need to be updated next year, and that will obviously reflect the new default 20 mph. That's an opportunity then to refresh things, to learn from experience, and also to bring in those things like the buffer limits, so where twenties butt up against fifties, there's a more general review of speeds. So, I think that's how we have to go forward with the guidance. But in the short term, as the Minister said, the Welsh Government can act as a bit of a clearing house, allow local authorities, now that the dust has settled, to exchange views and come to, perhaps, a more balanced view as to how best to interpret the guidance that exists at the moment, but not rushing to revise it until we've got this more comprehensive piece of guidance.

So, we'll come back to Huw, and then we'll come to Janet. Huw.

So, linked to that, if we can get this to bed in, and a sensible approach being taken by all local authorities—I don't want to revisit what's gone on—I think there are questions over why local authorities didn't work together better. There was a long lead-in to this and so on, and you've been very fair and very diplomatic and understanding of some of the capacity issues and the expertise and whatever. But going forward, there's something interesting. Phil Jones, you've also been dealing—. I should declare an interest here as chair of the active travel group. One of the many aspects we've been looking at is how we can increase the calmness and safety for pedestrians, with some of the work that you've been involved with, on things such as innovative approaches to road crossings and so on—not the traditional ones, but other ones. Surely, if we can get this 20 mph default limit, with exceptions—not blanket; it's never been a blanket—then that allows some of those innovations to come forward on top of this so we have really safe, walkable townscapes.

Yes, very much so. I think there's an opportunity here to build—. I always saw—I think we all saw—20 mph as an enabler; it's not an end in itself. It changes the default, it changes what is expected as the speed, and that then allows other things to happen, whether they be these place-led, community-led interventions to make our streets more liveable, slower, more accommodating places, more attractive, and encourage more people to walk and cycle. So, I think that's exactly what the next steps are, really, and to build on the foundation that 20 mph gives to Wales.

The feedback I've had, Deputy Minister, from my constituency, is that when they've approached the local authority, the local authority has stated, 'The guidance is very inflexible', and they're almost nervous about making exemptions. Now, I will put my hands up and say that there are certain roads in Aberconwy that needed to be 20 mph, and, naturally, we don't get any concerns raised about those. But there are others, and I just wonder whether you could do more work with local authorities, because my main question is: have any lessons been learnt for this particular policy, given the massive public response? And also, Deputy Minister, we all know that, in March, there will be this petition, which is already standing at 460,000 signatures, and I have great respect for petitions and petition signees because I used to be the Chair of the Petitions Committee. So, how will you—? In terms of that petition and the questions I've already asked, how will that shape any future decision making on your part, with the amount of public discord that has arisen as a result of the policy?

Chair, could I ask Kaarina Ruta to talk about the experiences of local authorities, please?

Yes. Well, I'll certainly answer the first part of the question. So, the sessions with the local authorities and highway authorities who are the trunk road agents are already happening as we speak, and all of them have been invited to come and talk to us, to understand how the guidance has been applied differently, and look at how we can clarify it, how we can make it so that it works for everyone and that we can understand those differences. So, that is already happening, and the invitation is open for all the authorities to participate in that.

And could you just remind me again what that's called, because I'll ask my leader whether he is participating?

11:55

Well, we met with the leader of Conwy on Tuesday, as part of the overall meeting, and he is very supportive, I must say. So, they are now, as a result of that meeting, going to be working through officers, in the first place, to learn lessons and to share experiences, and then we'll come back to leaders with any outcomes from that. I don't—

So, the initiative that's just been mentioned, what's that called?

Yes. It doesn't have a specific name, but we are—

No. Okay. Thank you. Right. Jenny wants to come in. Jenny.

Yes. The pilots were deliberately trying to test different methodologies, different ways of doing things. How much do you think the disagreement over this has been pushed by particular pilots that people didn't like? For example, the one in Buckley, in Flintshire, is a village that is regularly used as a rat run. I'd be interested to know how much the people of Buckley were opposed to it, as opposed to those who were using it as a way of dodging queues on main roads.

So, perhaps Phil can briefly answer on the broader experience of the pilots, but specifically on Buckley, that was a very challenging site to have chosen, and we've made life difficult for ourselves for going for one of the harder ones. But, in a sense, it is useful because a pilot is to test things and what works and what doesn't work. Buckley, for those of you who don't know it, has a large road running through it called Liverpool Road, and when you do a Google Street view, or if you go down it, you will see that some sections are surrounded by trees and grass and some sections are surrounded by houses, and it moves in-between the two. It's a really tricky example. We took the view, with the officials at the get-go, not to have exemptions within Buckley, but to take an area-wide approach within Buckley. Now, as I've said before, I think that probably was a mistake, but what we wanted to do was just test that exemption process on the area-wide approach. Now, Flintshire County Council I think will agree that not enough consultation in advance was done around that, to prepare people for what was coming. So, I think that was the second lesson learned from that. And then, of course, there was then mobilised, as you say, a large campaign, including lots of people who drove through Buckley. And, as we know, Jenny, from the research and experience, typically what we find is, when you ask people who live on a street, 'What do you want the speed limit on your street to be?', they often want it to be slower. But if you ask those same people what the speed limit should be on the roads they use to drive to work, they don't want it slower. So, inevitably, we're all a bag of contradictions, intentions, and that is at play here as well. But, Phil, I don't know if you want to say anything more.

Only to say I think, generally—. Obviously, there were eight pilots, and we heard such a lot from Buckley, which is one of the eight, and I think there doesn't seem to be much evidence that I've seen that the other seven pilots had the same level of controversy. So, actually, you might say that, well, seven, out of eight did pretty well. But, obviously, there was a lot of noise and, of course, the way that the media works always focuses on the one location where there is controversy, and maybe it amplifies the negative voices, which may have been the majority or may have been the minority—it's difficult to know. What I would say is that, obviously, we were asked, with Transport for Wales, to have a look at Buckley, and we did help with some interpretation, and I understand Flintshire has made some changes post pilot, pre the national roll-out, to exempt further roads that are perhaps more appropriate, and passed the what you might call the sniff test, as to what would be appropriate for 20 mph or a 30 mph.

But what I will say there was a similar issue in one of the other pilots, in Caldicot in Monmouthshire, where there was a section of road that was locally described as a bypass, where people thought it was absurd to be 20 mph, and the local authority responded to that quickly and changed it within the time period of the pilot. So, again, different local authorities have different levels of risk appetite.

So, in the Flintshire one, just so I understand, because I haven't kept a full forensic analysis on that one: after the pilot, which you've neatly explained—probably that no-exemption approach was challenging—did they then change, when they went for the wider roll-out, and then put exemptions in?

Yes, they did. So, the Liverpool Road in particular was—

It hasn't happened yet, but it's about to.

Oh, it hasn't happened yet.

So, Phil did an extra piece of work for them to give them confidence of where to apply the exemptions within the settlement of Buckley, which they are in the process of doing. However, they haven't really applied that same methodology beyond Buckley.

It's fascinating, the extent to which the Buckley challenges have coloured the whole debate.

Yes. I mean, to be fair to the local authority, Buckley—. They have particular challenges within Flintshire, so they do have a history of litigious former highway officers who challenge them on everything, and so, as a result, they've become very cautious about moving beyond the letter of any guidance, even though they're able to. So, there are always individual circumstances here as well. We are working with them to try and get to the best place. 

12:00

And if you were too prescriptive, then you'd be damned for that as well, wouldn't you? So, there is an element of that, in fairness. 

'You can't win' is the general rule in these things, yes. 

I want to move the debate a little bit wider. What's happened as a consequence of this in my area, a rural area, is people questioning the national speed limit on very small roads, and I've had quite a lot of correspondence in that regard. I'm sure you've had the same correspondence, Minister. So, is it the case that there is nothing stopping local authorities, if they so wished, to amend those speed limits on those roads? And the other bit of correspondence I've been having is on the trunk roads, where there have been some cases where people are arguing that they've been omitted and felt they should have been included. So, are you reviewing any correspondence that you have to that end, particularly on the trunk roads, because that's where we have responsibility? 

I could answer but Phil's come a long way, so I'll let him answer. 

On the point of—. It's a 'yes'—it is open to local authorities to set local speed limits. The way the law works is that on any roads without streetlighting, the speed limit is automatically 60 mph, and that's the problem that we have. It is open to Welsh Government or the Senedd to change that also in the fullness of time, if you chose to, but let's leave the law change. But, in the meantime, there's nothing to prevent local authorities setting a different speed limit. They would have to pass a traffic regulation Order, they would have to put up signs and repeater signs to make drivers aware that there is a different local limit appearing. So, yes, and trunk roads—. The trunk roads agencies are highway authorities separate to Welsh Government, so, again, they can make their own decisions about the speed limit that they choose to set in certain situations.  

So, as part of the setting local speed limits review that we've announced we're going to do, that's one of the things we're going to look at. So, just to respond directly to your point, Joyce, I've also had correspondence from people who live in villages that are on the trunk road that are currently either 60 mph or 40 mph. When they look at the test applied in the guidance for twenties in other areas, they think, 'Well, that applies to us too, so why doesn't that apply here?' And that's an anomaly of the trunk road versus the local road, and we've generally taken the position that for trunk roads, we'll only change the speed limit where there's an evidence base of accidents and deaths, which is clearly the wrong approach because you wait until bad things happen before you respond. But we've fallen behind that defence because we want some consistency. So, that's why we're going to review the speed limits. What I'd like us to see, I think, is a willingness, where there are villages along trunk roads, we apply a consistent approach to where villages are not along trunk roads, but that's what we've got to consult on and go through that process. 

Okay. Thank you. Janet and then we'll come to Jenny. 

What guidance has been given on signs? And the reason I ask this is that in my locality, there have been signs removed, not replaced, and so there's an assumption that it's down to the driver, then, that if there are residential properties, if there are streetlights, then you are doing 20 mph. What monitoring are you going to do, Deputy Minister, on the spend, the money you've provided to local authorities to roll this project out? If they're just removing signs and not communicating well with residents, it begs the question, doesn't it, really, how sure are you that the money you've allocated is going to be spent on that, not used for other things in a local authority? Because, so far, we've seen a lot of 30 mph signs removed and no 20 mph ones go up. Some twenties have, but they've removed more than they've taken down. 

Could I ask Phil to answer on the guidance on the signs, because he wrote it, and Kaarina to talk about the experience of local authorities?