National Assembly for Wales

Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig

Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee

10/01/2019

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Andrew RT Davies AM
Helen Mary Jones AM
Jayne Bryant AM
John Griffiths AM
Joyce Watson AM
Llyr Gruffydd AM
Mike Hedges AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Marie Brousseau-Navarro Cyfarwyddwr Polisi, Deddfwriaeth ac Arloesedd, Swyddfa Comisiynydd Cenedlaethau’r Dyfodol Cymru
Director of Policy, Legislation and Innovation, Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales
Sophie Howe Comisiynydd Cenedlaethau’r Dyfodol Cymru
Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

Swyddogion Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru a oedd yn bresennol

National Assembly for Wales Officials in Attendance

Chloe Corbyn Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Lowri Jones 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.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:33.

The meeting began at 09:33.

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

As we're now in public session, I'll start off with bore da, good morning. Can I welcome Members to the meeting? Can I again ask that, if there are any interests to declare, you declare them? We've had apologies from Gareth Bennett.

2. Sesiwn graffu gyffredinol gyda Chomisiynydd Cenedlaethau’r Dyfodol Cymru
2. General scrutiny session with the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

If Sophie Howe and her colleague, because I can't see that far—[Laughter.]—are ready, perhaps we can—. Are you ready to start off with some questions? 

Yes, absolutely.

Okay. In those immortal words, I'll start. Can I thank you for coming along? We always enjoy talking to you about how the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 does impact on what should be everything we do. Sometimes, we're not always convinced it does. Can I ask you about your views on the responsibility for the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act now sitting with the First Minister and deputy First Minister? Do you expect to see a shift in approach within the Welsh Government as a result of these changes?

I welcome the fact that the implementation of the future generations Act is sitting with the First Minister and Jane Hutt as a Deputy Minister. I think that makes a lot of sense given the kind of cross-cutting nature of the legislation and the fact that it's supposed to permeate all decisions. I think that it also has the scope for making sure that it's more integrated and embedded across Government. Certainly, in terms of Mark Drakeford's former position as finance Cabinet Secretary, he was a keen advocate in terms of driving the principles of the future generations Act through on a personal basis, but obviously, as First Minister, I'm optimistic that he will continue with that enthusiasm. In terms of Jane Hutt's role, I've got a meeting scheduled with Jane, so I'm yet to discuss her approach, but again, I think that having a Deputy Minister who has the detailed grasp of it in its implementation across Government, whilst still maintaining it within the First Minister's portfolio, if you like, is sensible.

09:35

Yes. This is probably a better question to ask you in 12 months' time, really, isn't it?

I'm optimistic, I think is the headline.

Do you expect a culture change within Welsh Government in terms of how it considers the Act? Some of us who might be critical have come to the conclusion sometimes that the term 'the future generations Act has been considered when this has been done' as something that needs to be fitted into reports, where it doesn't actually appear as if it's actually happened.

Yes, certainly, and that's something that you see across the board with the Equality Act 2010 and a range of other things as well, which is why I've been at pains to state, wherever I go, that this isn't about filling in forms and this isn't about complying with process; this is about a different way of thinking.

In terms of what's going on with the Welsh Government, I think I had had some concerns in the early days that perhaps there wasn't sufficient attention being given to supporting the cultural change needed. But that seems to be shifting now, so the Permanent Secretary herself has taken a significant interest in it. She has got a number of programmes working with civil servants to help them better understand the principles of the legislation and to support them to apply it. My office has worked with her to support some of those learning and development programmes. We've also supported her with three challenge questions. The idea is that when Cabinet papers are coming, ultimately, to her for final clearance before they go to Cabinet, she is able to pose three questions, which is a bit of a challenge to get three questions from the whole of the future generations Act, but it needed to be reasonably pithy, to ask how consideration has been given to that. So, I've got some further follow-up meetings with her to understand how those questions are being used. I can tell you what they are if that's helpful. 

The other thing that's happened is that the Welsh Government have now established a team of civil servants who are responsible for supporting the cultural change in this area. It's headed up by some very talented civil servants, I think, and people who have a really sound understanding of the Act. I've seconded someone from my office into that team as well to support that change. And then, one of the early things that that team are going to be doing is supporting work around futures, because we've seen that there are a number of areas where support for implementation and understanding of the Act are required, but in terms of understanding the long term and understanding future trends, and having resources to draw on future trends, that is a particular challenge. So, there's a programme of work that they're starting now with the civil service in terms of trying to nail that down.

I think that there are some—. We've seen some positive examples over the last year or so, of where the culture change is starting to happen within Government. I would put a caveat on that: what happens in Government is one thing, you can get your policies and your strategies right, but then what actually happens outside of Government is often another thing. So, the examples that I would give there are around the work that we've done with Transport for Wales and the transport department, firstly, on revising the Welsh transport appraisal guidance as a result of my intervention on the M4 and with Transport for Wales on the metro procurement. And the planning department, particularly, in terms of 'Planning Policy Wales', we think that's a really good example of where they've embraced collaborative working with us and with others, and have fundamentally changed a policy to align it with the future generations Act. And then, I'd also reference the early working with finance—budget, or Treasury officials now, aren't they—in terms of agreeing a definition of prevention, which we've seen in this year's budget. So there are some positive examples, but the big issue, I think, is the extent to which the Government are understanding that they have an obligation not just to devise policy, to align it with the future generations Act, but actually to support the implementation of that policy and legislation on the ground.

09:40

That was really interesting, Sophie, thank you. I wonder if you can identify for us a bit more—it would be helpful in our scrutiny going forward—what you think the barriers are. So, you talked a bit in your response just now about the culture change that's been coming, but what do you see as the barriers, entirely picking up on what you're saying about implementation, but just thinking about the Welsh Government itself for now? What's getting in the way? Because I think it's important for us to understand that, to enable us to evaluate how effective then the measures that they're putting in place to overcome those barriers are.

I think the understanding of the obligations and what it is we're actually trying to achieve, and that's particularly difficult when you have departments working—and I know they're trying to change this—in silos over very many years. So, someone in the economy department might not necessarily be thinking, when they're devising policy on x, y or z, what the impact on cohesive communities might be of that policy, and so on. So it's about trying to bring different people into the mix. I think they're making some progress, or at least they've got mechanisms in place for more dialogue across Government departments, but I think it needs to be wider than that, and, actually, the civil service needs to be willing to let outsiders in who can bring a different perspective and perhaps different ideas.

Again, we're seeing some elements of that happening. There's a—it's called the short-term experience programme, which I don't you if you've come across; this is something the Permanent Secretary has implemented, which is a short-term secondment/placement programme, where civil servants are going out into third sector organisations—I'm having someone in my organisation—a range of different places, to try and find different ways of working, understanding of different things and cultures and ideas, to bring those back. So, I think those sorts of things, and more of that, would help.

The other thing that I think is a challenge, not just for the civil service, but I would say probably more so out in other organisations, is the layering of multiple different duties. So, we've seen—and, Helen, you might be aware of the work around the integrated impact assessments. So, we're trying to bring together the—. I can't remember how many it was. I've got a feeling it was something like 27 different impact assessments that officials are required to go through before taking a policy decision, and with all the will in the world, without adequate support, you've got one lone civil servant, often, just filling in this ridiculously huge form and probably doing the best job that they can without fully understanding what these impacts are, and what they might be looking for. So, we have approached everything in the past, I think, with a process response to things. If we've filled in the form, it's all okay. If we've retrofitted and justified our decision, it's all okay. What we need to be doing is actually getting people thinking differently right from the outset. So, I don't like impact assessments, really. I think they should be—because it suggests that you look at the impact at the end rather than thinking about it up front. But that's a big issue, I think, for the civil service.

I can't probably not mention the 'B' word, Brexit. Everyone is—. The focus around resourcing that, around the challenges of understanding that and wading through the myriad of different issues that have got to be waded through there—that inevitably takes people's eyes off in a different direction, and I think that that's a particular challenge as well.

Andrew.

On that point, you brought Brexit in at the end, and I get that. If you just go onto any news feed at the moment, you can see it's dominating everything. But in your earlier comment, you said 16 different levels of impact assessment, I think you were saying, that a civil servant has to go through before providing the advice to Ministers to make that decision. That just seems crazy, that does. How does any decision ever get made? What advice, then, given that you've said as commissioner you don't like impact assessments, has your office submitted to Government—or to the civil service, should I say—to streamline that process? 

09:45

So, we have been working with the Government on that, so there is now—for the first year, there has been an integrated impact assessment, so bringing together all of those—I think it's 27, but there may even be more than that, Andrew, to be honest—bringing together all of those impact assessments into one document, and doing some alignment work. So, where you were answering questions maybe in relation to, I don't know, children, for example, there might be similar questions that, actually, in the equality impact assessment, you were answering. So, they've aligned them to stop the duplication. There needs to be a further piece of work, and I'm in discussion with the new team who are heading up the future generations Act work who, as I understand it, are going to take on the further work around integrated impact assessments, to support them to look at how we could streamline that further and how, actually, we don't just have an impact assessment at the end, but how we could change the process so that you have some of that upfront thinking.  

Could I just clarify that you said 27 now, and that they've brought them to be more aligned? 

But do the processes still have to be done 27 times, or is it the case that, by this alignment, there is now one simple working document that will pull all those into one stream—perhaps I'm simplifying it too much—and allow that advice to get to Ministers so that they can make their decision? 

So, there is one working document. It's probably not a simple working document, because it's still quite lengthy, but at least it's cut down the need to fill in 27 different pieces of paper and forms, a lot of which were duplicating each other. But I think that there's still further work to be done. This new team are committed to looking at that work, and my office are committed to supporting them in doing that.  

Can I add as well that I noted another version of a simplified impact assessment on the work on the NDF? So, that one was a bit shorter as well, but there have been concerns from, especially, environmental non-governmental organisations that maybe, by regrouping the assessments, you might water down some elements. So, that's something we are looking at very carefully, and looking at whether the seven well-being goals could be the overall framework in which all these other assessments could slide in to provide comprehensive non-duplication, but very strong and thorough assessment of the policies.   

An NDF is a national development framework, just for clarification. Thank you. 

For planning, yes.

You've just answered the question, because I was going to ask—there are concerns that in bringing 27 down to one, inevitably, you're going to take your eye off the ball on some of them. Now, I'm not arguing for the status quo, clearly, so I'm glad that that's something that you're very much aware of. 

I was just going to say we're getting on for a third of the way through the session, and we've got an eighth of the way through the questions, just to give people some idea of where we are. Joyce Watson.

Good morning. I want to ask some questions about environmental permitting and I'd like, if you can, an update on any discussions that have been had with Natural Resources Wales on its application of the well-being of future generations Act in environmental permitting decisions, since I see that you've had conversations about this. 

Yes. So, environmental permitting has been raised as an issue of concern across a number of different application sites by members of the public, and by MPs, AMs, councillors and so on. I, as you know, don't have a casework function, so can't get involved in individual decisions. However, I have a process for looking at all of the contacts that I receive to identify where there might be any potential systemic issues going on. And because of the level of contact that I was having about environmental permitting, I concluded it was an area that I needed to look at.

We approached NRW about getting some clarity on how they were applying the principles of the future generations Act to their environmental permitting decisions. Their co-operation initially, I have to say, was slow and we spent quite a lot of time to-ing and fro-ing with them. I have to say, when the new chief executive arrived, that co-operation has since then improved. So, my team have done quite a detailed piece of work with NRW asking them to demonstrate to us, and we took a couple of live examples of cases—Barry Biomass was one of them.

09:50

[Inaudible.]—so, a poultry farm development. 

So, there were about three or four cases that we looked at and we asked them to explain to us, 'How have you applied the future generations Act here?' What we could see—. There were a number of findings from that work. First of all, we couldn't see any paperwork at all as to how the Act had been comprehensively applied. When questioned, what they were saying to us was that by applying their approach to SMNR, the strategic management of natural resources, they were indirectly through those means applying the future generations Act. Our view on that is that there are some parallels and crossovers but they're not exactly the same.

They were able to describe to us verbally how the Act had been considered in some areas, but it was piecemeal. They weren't considering all of the well-being goals in consideration of the applications, and some of the areas in terms of the ways of working were patchy. But, I think the key issue is that, in terms of if you're a member of the public trying to understand how NRW had used the future generations Act in their environmental permitting decisions, it would be nigh on impossible to understand how that was actually happening.

So, we've been working with them closely, and then involved Government as well, over the last six to nine months. I wrote to Natural Resources Wales and to the Cabinet Secretary back in—I can't remember when it was, I can give you the date—with a set of recommendations and conclusions from my work. One of the things that we advised should happen is that there should be further guidance issued from the Government to give some clarity as to how the future generations Act should apply to environmental permitting decisions, and also that NRW should work with us to develop a matrix so that they could show, particularly in high-profile environmental permitting decisions, how they would apply the future generations Act. Sorry, that was back in May that I made those recommendations.

So, since then, a number of things have happened—sorry, the other recommendation was around the interaction between environmental permitting and the planning system, which are done quite separately at the moment, and that does pose some challenges and some issues, so we thought that there needed to be better alignment between the two.

So, since then, we've been working with NRW to develop a matrix, we've tested that on some cases. The Welsh Government have issued some further guidance. There is now an issue, however, in that we don't think the guidance the Welsh Government has issued still fully embodies what NRW should be doing in terms of the future generations Act. If I'm honest, I think it was pushed out quite quickly, perhaps before a certain election that's taken place more recently. I don't think it's as comprehensive as it should be in terms of applying the future generations Act.

As a response, NRW have now told us that they don't think that it's worth carrying on the work with the matrix across the future generations Act with us, which we are concerned about. Just before Christmas, I met with the chief executive and wrote to the chief executive and the Cabinet Secretary to say we don't understand this. They have said to us verbally that they think it now contradicts what's in the guidance. We've been through the guidance, we can't see any contradiction at all, only complementarity. So, we're seeking a further meeting with the Minister and officials and with NRW to better understand that. 

Are you trying to say that you're almost being ignored? I agree with you that planning and the environment must be together, and I know you don't have a statutory input into that, although you make a recommendation that says that things need to change and that you have to look at the end of the impact that those decisions finally will have within the wider community, whatever community that might be. I am concerned to hear what you've just said about NRW saying, 'We don't want to do any more work.' I find that really disconcerting and worrying, and I'm sure that others here will too. So, where are you going to go now? What is going to happen now? Because we are seeing decisions, and you mentioned poultry farms—it's an area I'm concerned about as well. So, what's going to happen next? What's the point of you being in your job if you're going to be ignored?

09:55

So, I've written to both the Cabinet Secretary and the chief executive of NRW to ask them to clarify where they think that there was contradiction in this matrix work. 

And we have a meeting with officials next Monday to discuss that.

To discuss that. So, they need to explain to me, because I can't see it—they need to explain to me where they think this contradiction is. If, after that meeting, we still can't see that there's a contradiction—I'd made recommendations in my letter in May to them that the matrix should be developed—then I wouldn't rule out having a section 20 review so that those recommendations then have more weight. But, obviously, the weight of those recommendations are only the weight that is granted to me within statute.

Do you want to explain on record what a section 20 review is?  

So, I have powers as a commissioner to undertake a review of a particular body or a particular issue or a collection of bodies in terms of how they're applying the future generations Act. I can make recommendations following that review, and the public body that those recommendations are directed at have to respond to those recommendations and they have to follow my recommendations unless they can outline justifiable reasons as to why not. So, it's not completely cut and dried, but, obviously, it has a bit more weight.

What I would say is that I've probably conducted here a non-statutory review. I was happy with the initial co-operation that I was getting following these recommendations, but in probably the last month before Christmas, that seems to have tailed off and I'm now in the process of pursuing that, and will pursue that.

Could I just briefly ask: what kind of resource implications would that have for Natural Resources Wales in terms of additional work and the need for additional capacity, because, clearly, that is a big pressure on them? And I'm just wondering whether their resistance is based on the fact that they just haven't got the people to do the job.

That's something we discussed with them, and in the agreement we had, it was that it would only be for cases of high public interest that they would be producing this matrix.

But to answer as well these questions of concerns from the public and elected representatives, part of the discussion we've had with NRW is that they come at the end of the process. So, therefore, they take all the slack of the decision that might have been made already by a local authority towards authorising a development to be built where it is supposed to be built, and they tell us they are there to look at whether this particular site will pollute or will have health and pollution consequences. And, in a way, and it's my own words, it's a bit unfair that all the attention goes on them, because they are last in the chain. So, that's something I think as well that's worth pointing out—that it's not only all about NRW, and they are following their functions as well. It's a bigger problem, and that's why, when you said it's linked with planning, that's one of the recommendations we clearly made, and some of it was addressed as well. And we raised it with the planning team, and there's a paragraph in the new 'Planning Policy Wales' that is addressing this to an extent.

Okay. Moving on to the M4 now. Who's going to start? You can start, Llyr.

Can I just ask initially then—? When the—let me just find the quote—when the then Cabinet Secretary, now Minister for Economy and Transport, was before this committee in November, he acknowledged that the 'Transport Fit for Future Generations' report that had been produced was an important contribution to the considerations around the M4 in Newport. But what he did say was that, based on the modelling that's been carried out, if you were to increase by about 100 per cent the amount of people who use public transport around the Newport area, you'd be reducing the number of vehicles on the M4 by about 5 per cent. Doesn't that blow the report out of the water somewhat?

10:00

Well, the evidence—evidence from Friends of the Earth in particular—suggests that about 40 per cent of traffic around Newport is local traffic. So, there are, as you know, a number of junctions there, with people getting on and off junctions because it's easy to do so. We also know that levels of car ownership in that area are—well, the average across south Wales is that 25 per cent of people in that area don't have access to cars, but in some areas of Newport that's as high as 40 to 50 per cent.

So, I think it's quite difficult to model. Part of the issue, in terms of the whole public inquiry around the M4, is that it's been focused in quite a narrow way around that particular area, rather than looking at, 'If we had better quality integrated public transport across the region, what would that do to change people's modes of transport and the way in which they travel?' So, it is difficult to model that.

My report suggested a number of ways in which congestion could be reduced there, which were investment in active travel, high-speed bus links and so on.

So, you don't accept the Minister's characterisation of that situation.

No, because I think it's just focused—. I don't know the full details of where he's got his 5 per cent figure from, but if you look at the way in which the public inquiry has been set up, it's to look narrowly at that area, rather than looking, as I said, at the whole region in an integrated transport strategy for that region.

Thank you. Good morning. I understand what you're saying around the public inquiry, but you would accept, though, that there is a specific problem around the Brynglas tunnels.

I think there clearly is an issue with congestion around the Brynglas tunnels, but I don't think that building a road, or extending the road, is the way to address that problem in the long term, because we know from evidence that we build roads and we will fill them. The Newbury bypass is a really good example of a similar sort of scenario where it was—

I disagree that it was completely similar, but—. So, you would accept that there is a specific issue at the Brynglas tunnels.

In terms of the definition of 'local traffic', what would you define as local traffic?

Well, traffic from the area around those junctions.

So, the definition is junction 23 to junction 29. Junction 23 is in Magor in Monmouthshire and junction 29 is just at the A48(M), which is 19 miles. Obviously, that's part of people getting on the motorway. For example, this morning, I got on—. I live in Newport—I got on at junction 27 and I got off at the A48(M) to come here. So, that is classed as local traffic, but would you accept that, obviously, not everybody who's getting on from junction 23 lives at junction 23, or not everyone who gets on at junction 27 lives there? There's a distance to travel before they actually use the part of the motorway.

Yes, I think so—yes, that must be case.

So, it's not as simple as just thinking that people get on at one junction and get off, because if you're coming to Cardiff Bay I would be classed as local traffic.

Yes, I mean, I can't comment on the detailed, kind of, traffic.

Are you confident in the report and the statistics that you've used that the traffic, including junction 23, which is Magor services—are you confident that the figures take into account those people who use Magor services who might be travelling from further afield?

Well, we haven't done the detailed modelling. What we have done in my report is to present a number of potential other scenarios, which we believe that the Government should look at, which we believe would have a better contribution to all of the well-being goals, not just the narrow focus in terms of suggested economic benefits. What we're saying is: I'm a team of 20 people across every policy area; the Government has 6,000-odd—5,000 or 6,000 civil servants and consultants. What I have done is to provide some suggested alternatives of better ways to spend that money and better ways to address that situation in the long term, and I'm saying that the Government should be looking at that modelling, and doing that, and taking those proposals forward in a more detailed way.

10:05

Okay. You mentioned on Llyr's question the academic research, which obviously—there's the academic research that went with your paper as well. Do you recognise the academic research from the University of South Wales, which says that only 3 per cent of journeys on that part of the M4 around Newport are 5 miles or less?

There is evidence both ways. I commissioned Sustrans, I commissioned the New Economics Foundation and the University of the West of England, who are credible and reliable academics in this field. We have proposed a number of alternative scenarios. I think it's now for the Government to look. They are the people who need to do the detailed model or need to commission that detailed modelling. What I have proposed are ways in which they could do that that would have a wider benefit to health, well-being, culture, environment and prosperity in Wales.

But you recognise that with the academic research—because I've read the academic research from the University of the West of England, and as somebody who lives in Newport—there are some very broad generalisations. In fact, they do recognise that there are broad generalisations that they've made from it, and they do recognise that there's a big value in speaking to people and perhaps the local authorities who would understand how people travel in their lives, to understand why they use the modes of transport that they do.

As I said, it was never intended to be the detailed modelling on the M4. You couldn't expect a commissioner with a budget of £1.4 million to do that. I wonder what the budget of the M4 corridor around Newport team is—probably quadruple if not more what my budget is. What I intend to do is to pose a series of questions, not just about how we address this specific problem around Newport, but what the sorts of things that a progressive Government should be considering are, in terms of meeting traffic and transportation and modes of travel in the future; what progressive policies would look like if they were meeting all of the well-being goals, not just focused on spending all of their borrowing capacity addressing one specific issue in one area of Wales; and how they need to be thinking about the future trends and what the future might look like. Because spending £1.5 billion—and it's likely to be upwards of that—now, in a way that we cannot be absolutely sure is right and fit for the future, I don't think complies with the future generations Act.

And I think it's important to state that we understand the problems, we really care, and we are trying to show that there could be wider solutions, which would help you every day, but which would also help further. And as Sophie said, it's our role as well to question the amount of money that would be spent in one go in one place, which would be paid for by future generations.

Before I call John Griffiths in, my constituents would be telling me off now if I didn't mention that there's an equivalent problem between Llangyfelach and the edge of Port Talbot, which causes great traffic jams every day. John.

Diolch yn fawr, Chair. Sophie, there are quite dramatic differences now in terms of your evidence to the inquiry and the legal representatives for Welsh Government's evidence to the inquiry. The Welsh Government's legal representative said that Welsh Government doesn't accept that all decisions have to show benefits in terms of all four aspects in terms of the Act—you know, the economic, the social, the environmental and the cultural. Is that a legal interpretation difference, would you say, or are you taking a wider view beyond the strict legalities in terms of what you think the essence and the spirit of the Act is all about?

Well, my duty as commissioner is to promote sustainable development. Obviously, the Act has not been tested as yet. I have taken legal advice from a number of different sources and I believe the case to be that the Act applies to individual decisions. But it's very difficult to—. Until that's tested in the courts, who knows? I think that the duty, however, is very clear, it's to improve the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. You then get into how you need to take reasonable steps to meet your well-being objectives and whether your well-being objectives maximise your contribution to all of the goals; we could go through the minutiae of all of that.

In terms of the M4 decision, or the proposal, initially, I couldn't see how the Government had applied the thinking around the well-being of future generations Act, how they'd applied the five ways of working to their original decision making that, I suppose, went to the public inquiry. And, when you're talking about an issue of that significance and the amount of money, then, actually, there should be a really comprehensive assessment, not just, 'We're going to have a road and therefore, how do we make this road comply with the future generations Act?', but actually, 'We're going to spend this amount of money. Is that the best way to improve the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales?' And I'm not convinced that it is.

10:10

Could I ask about—? Jayne rightly mentioned the problems that I think we're all familiar with around the Brynglas tunnels and that stretch of the M4 around Newport, and there are real issues there—economic, environmental, social and cultural. You've said, haven't you, Sophie, that you believe that there are better ways of spending large sums of money in terms of dealing with those issues and you talk about the wider regional picture, but would you accept that whatever comes forward from Welsh Government, if there is an alternative package rather than the road, it really must deal with those issues that are there in Newport and experienced day in, day out by people living locally?

Clearly, I completely accept that there are issues there and I can accept that there is likely to be some impact on the economy and lives and so on. But, the future generations Act puts us in a position where we can't have economic interests trumping every other aspect of well-being. So, the job of the Welsh Government now has got to be to balance all of those issues and to show that they've really considered what solution to that problem would be most likely to have the maximum benefit across those four pillars of well-being. And, at the moment, I don't think that they've done that.

Just one very quick question, Chair, if I may, only in terms of—people traditionally talk about a stick-and-carrot approach if you're trying to change behaviour. Presumably, quite a lot of that traffic—well, we know quite a lot of that traffic is going into Cardiff. Cardiff is considering a congestion charge, there are measures they could take, short of that, in terms of reducing free on-street parking, making car parking more expensive within Cardiff. You were talking about the regional picture, Sophie, do you see that as part of the solution to these issues? Is there a big responsibility on Cardiff?

Certainly, I see that there should be a regional response to this, and part of that regional response is the metro system and whether that has adequately nailed down funding to deliver it. Cardiff, I think, does have a role to play. Actually, in terms of the aspiration that Cardiff has set out, it's quite impressive. Their aspiration is 50 per cent of journeys done by sustainable transport by 2021. That's the sort of aspiration, actually, that we want to see from all our local authorities, and at a national policy level. And, the sorts of things that they are doing—introducing the Next bike and so on—that's all part of their solution. But, I agree that we can't just look at this as a Newport issue or a Cardiff issue or a Monmouth issue; we have to look at it in the round. And that's where I think this decision for the Welsh Government is so important, because it's putting a marker down as to, 'Are we looking at this in terms of where we want to be, in terms of how people travel in Wales in 10, 20, 30 or 50 years' time, and modelling our policy on that basis? Or, are we just responding to a short-term problem that exists and doing the things that we've always done, i.e. build a road?'

Just on some of the evidence you've given so far, commissioner, you made the point that your office isn't resourced enough to do the detailed modelling and acquiring the information that would better inform your position in your evidence to Jayne's questions. Yet, you have taken a position in that you are against the M4 relief road, as I understand it—you can correct me if I'm wrong. So, it contradicts the evidence you've given us, because you said your role is to pose a series of questions, but my reading is that you've actually stated a position that is against the M4 relief road.  

10:15

My role is not to do the detailed modelling of congestion around Newport. My role is to say, 'If we're to spend £1.5 billion, how are we spending that in a way that best addresses the seven well-being goals and this aspiration and vision that we've got for the Wales that we want in the future?' So, it's not a technical issue around the modelling of congestion there. That, in a way, is a bit of a false argument. What I'm doing is raising the issue, saying, 'I don't think if we're spending that amount of money, that the Government have demonstrated that they've thought about how, addressing that problem there, that they're thinking about it in an integrated way across all of the well-being goals, that they're thinking about it in an integrated way across the whole region, that they're thinking about it in a long-term way in terms of, 'What's the vision for transport that we want to create in Wales?', that they've thought about the future trends like a decline in young men even learning to drive, that they've thought about autonomous vehicles and all of those things. I am saying that I don't think that they've done any of those things, and therefore their proposals to invest that amount of money in this area can't be right.    

Sorry, I just need to clarify—[Interruption.] I agree with you—this is an important question, Helen Mary, I appreciate it might be tedious for some, but I consider it quite important. 

I don't think it's tedious; I'm just questioning the balance, because some of us who have other views are standing back. 

Can we let everybody else ask questions? I haven't stopped anybody, and I don't intend to. 

But the point that I would agree with is that it's not your job to model, because that's what the department of transport's job is and to provide that evidence to be analysed. But I'm just questioning you on the evidence you've given us this morning, when you say that you haven't been able to undertake a level of research or get answers to questions that you want, and yet you've taken a position—a formal position—that you are against a project. That seems to be a contradiction to me—that you can take a formal position of objection when you acknowledge that your office is unable to do the detailed research because of a lack of resources. Don't you see the difficulty of that?  

No, because what I'm looking at is the broader—. So, the reason why I've taken this position is because I don't think that a proposal to build a road in this area has—. It may address congestion there—I don't dispute that—in the short term. In the longer term, that's entirely another matter. But what it doesn't do is maximise its benefits, or maximise the benefit of that spend across all of the well-being goals. So, that is why I am opposed to this, because it doesn't do those things.  

Llyr Gruffydd. This gives us balance now. [Laughter.] 

Yes. There is a question about what you model, how you model it, what criteria you use, what weighting do you apply. So, it isn't just modelling—there are different types of modelling as well, and I think we need a debate around that, and it's a debate that's happening. But just for clarity, then, could you tell us whether you believe that the decision-making process around the M4 has reflected the requirements of the future generations Act? 

Just to follow up Andrew's point, because I think it's valid to ask based on the evidence, are you confident that your view that the decision hasn't complied is well evidenced?  

I think we've had balance in that discussion. I think it's been more of a discussion than a question, but I think it's important that we do get the opportunity to discuss this. John, on to you on transport—non-M4.  

Right, okay, Chair. In terms of WelTAG, then, Sophie, there's been quite a lot of discussion, as I think Llyr and Helen Mary have suggested, that it's possible to come up with all sorts of modelling and ways of assessing the benefit, or otherwise, of particular projects or decisions. And I just wonder how you intend to measure the success of WelTAG 2017 compared with the 2008 version.  

As you know, we've worked with the transport department to revise WelTAG. This does come back to an issue with the M4, because the WelTAG that was used in taking the M4 decision was the old version of WelTAG, which hadn't been updated to reflect the future generations Act, so that was seen as a—. We viewed that as a substantial issue. We've worked with them to revise the WelTAG guidance, and we've also now gone back into some work where we're broadly happy with what the WelTAG guidance now looks like. The big issue, however, is how that WelTAG guidance is actually being applied, and we have gone back and looked at a number of cases, if you like, of how that WelTAG guidance has been applied. And we've identified a number of challenges in terms of the level of understanding of what the guidance now requires, and the kind of change in mindset, if you like. 

So, the new WelTAG, at stage 1, the kind of strategic outline case, that really should be the place in which you say, 'Okay, what is a solution to this that has maximum benefit across all of the well-being goals?' Exactly what I was just describing in terms of the M4. What we're seeing, however, in the handful of cases that we've looked at, is that almost that thinking is sort of being bypassed, and we're going to, 'What we need to address this is to have a road,' and other things aren't necessarily having that kind of full consideration. 

We think that this is because, often, for these big schemes, they're passed on to consultants; local authorities are passing the work on to consultants, who have been working to build roads for very many years, and they're not understanding it. I've recently written to all Cabinet Secretaries, or all Ministers, sorry, regarding how they're resourcing the cultural change and understanding of new guidance that's coming out, whether that be WelTAG, whether that be 'Planning Policy Wales', whether that be anything else. And, at the moment, it doesn't appear that there are very many resources going into that. So, I need to have a further conversation with the Minister for Economy and Transport to talk to him about how actually we're going to address that, because we're not seeing the change on the ground. I don't know if Marie wants to say anything else. 

10:20

So, what we have seen as well is that the idea of the new WelTAG is the well-being of future generations Act being intrinsic, it's weaved in at every single stage of the new WelTAG guidance, and some of the documents we have seen from consultants actually add an annex. So, they do business as usual and a new annex on the well-being of future generations Act, which defies the purpose that it should be taken into account and be at the heart of everything. And as Sophie explained, it's really now a question of training, explanation.

The other thing we are seeing, but, again, we saw it with the M4 before, is some of the terms might be a bit more subjective than others. So, what is 'long term?' The guidance says minimum 10 years; 25 years plus would be ideal. So, it's explaining over and over again all these messages to ensure that the practice on the ground is actually delivering what the guidance is saying. 

And will you, commissioner, be part of the Welsh Government review group that will look at the latest WelTAG and its impact and outcomes?

So, we've agreed with them and we have looked at its implementation in a number of schemes. So, we looked at the A483 in Llandeilo. We've looked at the A48, or the proposed A48 in the Vale. We're having further discussions as to what the next stage of the review would look like, but I would certainly want to be involved in that. 

Thank you. We're running very short on time, but can we move on to public bodies, with Helen Mary Jones next?

Thank you. I wanted to ask a broader question, but I might park that, Chair. So, just because of time, if we start with the specifics. It's been put to this committee that—. Looking at Transport for Wales and the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, which aren't specifically listed as bodies that are answerable to you, it's been put to this committee before by Welsh Government officials that, because both of those bodies are wholly owned subsidiaries or advisory to Welsh Government, there isn't a need to specifically name them because the duties of Welsh Ministers to have due regard to the future generations and well-being Act sort of cascades down to those bodies. And I'm just interested to know whether you would agree with that or whether you think there's a need to name them specifically.

10:25

I think we would start from the point that those duties cascade down. In fact, I've had a discussion already with the chair of the infrastructure commission to make that clear. So, any—. They're not a decision-making body as such, they are making recommendations to the Minister. So, in theory, I guess, they could make recommendations to the Minister that weren't compliant with the or didn't apply the future generations Act and the onus would be on the Minister to ensure that when he actually takes the decision that they do apply. That is not really where we want to be. We want to make sure that the infrastructure commission are making recommendations that do apply the future generations Act. But that is the sort of process, as I understand it. I know, Marie, you've had a number of discussions, haven't you? So, perhaps I can bring Marie in.

Just for information, I'm a lawyer, I used to work at Cardiff University for many years. There is indeed a mechanism that is called, as you know, delegation of function through agency arrangements and provision of services, whereby, when the Government or another body is asking a third organisation to carry out some of their functions on a contractual basis and on a case-by-case basis, they will decide if they carry forward or cascade down the duties that the original body has.

So, we've had queries as well about the planning inspectorate and Careers Wales to know, in the same scenario, are they quota or not. I discussed that with Welsh Government and I told them, 'Look, my understanding is it depends on the contractual arrangements you have with these bodies to find out', and they told me they have criteria that they apply to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the duties have passed along. So, I inquired several times and I wanted to see those criteria, and, at the second or third time I raised it, I was told, 'Oh, it's not actually written criteria, it's more part of a discussion.' But it's something that I think is really interesting and maybe the committee would like to question more about. It's something I will continue to pursue, but, legally, I recognise that it will be down to each individual contractual arrangement between the public bodies and their subsidiaries, subcontractors, whatever they are, to see if the duties actually cascade or not. 

That's really interesting. It's one thing, I suppose, with the National Infrastructure Commission, because that's advisory, but, with Transport for Wales, that's a very important delivery body, and I'd guess we'd want to be really clear that they have cascaded those duties. That might be something that we can think about, Chair—how or whether we want to ask Ministers specifically about that. But it seems to me there ought to be something a little bit clearer than something that's a matter for discussion.

Yes. I think Chloe's written that down. I think, when we come to the next series of questions to the appropriate Minister, that'll be one of the ones we'll be asking.

We might want to ask them. Just to end then, briefly, Chair, if I can, with those two specific bodies in mind—and perhaps we should separate them, because their roles are different—particularly with Transport for Wales, because it's a delivery body, would it be tidier for you if it was just named as  having a duty in and of itself, rather than having to depend on which civil servant has had which chat with which person in Transport for Wales about something that they might or might not do if they happen to have time on a spare afternoon?

I think we'd always welcome that. I think I can say that actually the engagement that we've had from Transport for Wales has been really good and they're probably in my upper quartile of people who are more, or organisations that are more, engaged with the future generations Act and willing to embrace it. But, as you allude to, sometimes that can rely on personalities and people rather than actual mechanisms—so, always helpful to have it clarified, I think.

That's helpful, and I think I'll leave my general stuff for another day, Chair, thinking about time.

We've run out of the time we've had allotted. Are you able to carry on, or do we come to an end?

It's entirely up to you, Chair.

I'd like to carry on, if only for quarter of an hour, if that would suit you.

We move back to energy efficiency, energy generation and decarbonisation. Jayne, was that you?

I think it was Joyce, maybe, Chair—but I'm happy to ask. Or was it John? Was it John? Was it you, John? It's John, actually.

Okay. Yes, commissioner, I think the committee would be interested to know how you've worked with Welsh Government regarding the 'A low carbon pathway for Wales' consultation and the proposals within that.

10:30

Okay. So, we've been engaging with the decarbonisation team in Government over quite a lengthy period of time as they have worked up to producing their consultation. I think the most significant issue that we've been discussing with them is the need for them to develop a matrix to consider their proposals across the well-being goals, because I suppose it's similar to the other things that we've discussed here—the need not just to look at decarbonisation or any other policy just through a narrow lens, but actually look at the actions that we could take to decarbonise, which would have a multiple benefit across all of the well-being goals. So, we're pleased that they'd worked with us to develop that matrix, and we think that they've done a reasonable job there. We've also supported them in terms of helping them with their consultation, engagement with different stakeholders, both in terms of feeding into the consultation and in terms of getting information and views from stakeholders to actually inform the consultation as well, and, obviously, we've responded as well.

I have more recently written to the Cabinet Secretary then, Minister now, regarding the need for the decarbonisation plans to reflect the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in terms of perhaps increased ambition in terms of carbon reduction, and I know the committee have done an inquiry into that and I'm aware that the Minister has said that she's willing to take advice from the UK climate change commission to look at that in light of the IPCC report.

In terms of how ambitious we should be, then, commissioner, given what you've said, do you believe the emissions reductions targets that are currently in place are sufficiently ambitious?

I don't think that they're sufficiently ambitious in light of the IPCC report, but I would await—. I think it's right that the Minister takes advice from the UK climate change commission on that. Certainly, what I've seen from the UK climate change commission is that they're saying, in terms of the more immediate and short-term actions that Governments are taking, that, actually, they should do that with the fact that emissions targets may need to be increased at the back of their minds. So, really, that only stresses and re-emphasises the need for some really quick action to start delivering on some of these targets, and I think we need to ramp that up, really.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, commissioner, for your evidence so far. In the papers that we have—and you have touched on the planning system already, you have, and the engagement that you've had—it says it's critical to have a well-functioning planning system to create fundamental improvements in sustainable development and achieving sustainable places. Do you think we've got that in the planning system now? Because you've indicated heavy engagement with Welsh Government; planning guidance 10 seems to have moved things along. Are we in the place where we need to be?

I think that the new 'Planning Policy Wales' is a really excellent example of, well, a number of things—first off, of embedding the well-being of future generations Act; it's weaved absolutely right through it. It's also been a really good example, actually, of engagement with my office and willingness to work in collaboration with us. So, Marie, in particular, was directly involved in drafting sections of 'Planning Policy Wales' and commenting on various drafts and making sure that the Act was fully weaved through that. So, I think the policy that we've got is now a good policy, and, if it's implemented correctly, would take us well in the direction of implementing the well-being of future generations Act.

As with everything else that I've said, though, the devil is in the implementation, and, again, this support for people on the ground, your local development control officers and consultants and others actually understanding what this means in practice and having the time and the capacity and the resource to do that and to fully embed it in their day-to-day work—that is the real challenge. Because we've seen brilliant policy come from Government before, and it's fallen down in terms of its implementation.

10:35

But isn't the issue with the planning system the complexity of it, if you're the poor applicant trying to get in on the planning system? We all have an image of great big companies with massive planning departments dealing with it, but, by and large in Wales, most planning applications are dealt with by one-man bands, as such, or individuals. You highlighted for the planning enforcement officers to understand—isn't it equally as important for the applicant to understand and get a fair crack of the whip as well, then? Do you think that, in the system that you've helped devise, there has been enough emphasis on the applicant, rather than, necessarily, empowering the officials?

We've been working with Planning Aid Wales to address that specific issue, so, if you want, the next phase of what we are trying to do as well, is to go really—. Because we receive hundreds of letters every year in relation to planning and planning applications, so we are really trying to see, as an office, how we can really help on the ground, without having a casework function, maybe to point people to help where it exists and to make sure that the people advising applicants also know the Act and can apply it well.

I think you raise a really fair point, actually. I'm not sure that there is enough in the system to support that understanding. Obviously, our focus has been: get the public bodies, the planning officials and so on who are covered by the legislation to make sure that they're applying the legislation. But, actually, their job would be made easier if the people doing the applying in the first place understood what the requirements were. So, I don't have an answer for you, but can I say that I'll take that away and give that some consideration, because I think that's a fair point?

If you could, because, surely, the system is there for the applicant and also the protection of the environment—the two need to work in tandem.

One final point on planning, if I may. We've just had the reconfiguration of the Government. Joyce introduced the point that it's important that planning and the environment go hand in hand. For successive Governments that was the case, that the Minister/Cabinet Secretary was the Cabinet Secretary for planning and the environment. The current First Minister has taken a choice to, obviously, put housing and planning together and divorce the environment. Do you have a view on that?

At the very start of your evidence you talked about that there's still this issue of silo working within the Welsh Government. Do you have a view on that, because, obviously, there is a danger now, with that divorce of the two, that the silos start to take over, they do, then, albeit that I think the change has had widespread—even in the debate yesterday—support about looking at housing and planning together?

You put it with the environment and are you siloing off housing, cohesive communities and other issues, or you put it with housing and are you siloing off the environment? The whole concept of the future generations Act, really, is to try to avoid that happening. We know that, in practice, because we've been working in this siloed way for so many years, that that is a process, not an event. You can't suddenly say, 'We've got a piece of legislation and now the ways we've worked for decades will now all change.' But the obligation, in terms of the legislation, is really clear, and planning is one of those cross-cutting issues, which is why I think 'Planning Policy Wales' has been so important in terms of that concept of place making—so, you know, recognising the long-term impact that planning decisions have on the environment, on people's ability to live, work and travel in an active way, and on their ability to access jobs and so on and so on. So, wherever you put it, there's still an absolute need to make sure that it's connecting with all of the other departments in Government. But that's a challenge for, I think, the Permanent Secretary to ensure that that's happening, and, of course, Ministers to make sure that they're driving that and that they have the mechanisms through their operations as well.

Llyr wants to come in on housing. All I would say is—[Interruption.] Can I just say one thing before that? I'm not convinced that silos are just departmental; I'm sure they're sectional as well and planning will run as a section—no matter where it is, it will still be on its own, as it were. Llyr.

Thank you. I'm just wondering if you could give us an update on your work to influence the Welsh Government's affordable housing review and the housing innovation grant as well, and whether you're getting much traction from Government for your criteria that you believe would help to make housing fit for the future.

In terms of the housing review, I have to say that there's been really good engagement from Lynn Pamment—Lynn Pamment's the chair—and from the housing review panel themselves. They have allowed my team to go in as observers to a number of their meetings. That has been useful to us in terms of, one, hearing the evidence that they're hearing, and understanding the direction of travel. Next week—. We'd agreed right at the outset that they would welcome a kind of constructive challenge session from us. So, next week, I and my team are spending a whole morning with the housing review panel to challenge around what are, perhaps, some of their kind of—. They haven't published even draft recommendations yet, but we've got a feel for the sorts of things from our engagement so far—a feel for the sorts of things that might be coming out. So, we've got a session to challenge their thinking around that. So, I can't give you more detail as to exactly what will come out from that at the moment, but I would say we've been pleased with the level of engagement and the willingness to have that kind of constructive challenge from my office. 

In terms of the housing innovation programme, I suppose the first thing to say is, you know, I think the housing innovation programme is a good thing. I think that it's—. Well, clearly it's designed to support some innovative practice in the housing sector, and it's starting to do that. I do have some concerns about the criteria that were used. Even though we had engaged with officials in the department there, they didn't take fully our advice, and actually specified in the housing innovation programme that applications should demonstrate that they contribute to at least one, but no more than three of the well-being goals, which is completely at odds with what the legislation requires. 

10:40

Very weird. We can't fathom it, and we've struggled to get an explanation. So, with the new Minister for housing now, that's one of my priorities to discuss the next round. I mean, to be fair to them, they did involve us in helping to inform—. We did some sessions with them, informing potential applicants of what the future generations Act would require and so on and so on, but actually, the criteria that they set was really unhelpful in terms of driving that. What they seem to be saying is, 'We didn't want to overwhelm potential applicants with having to do all of these things.' Well, that is the legislation and that is the requirement.

That probably brings us back to exactly where we started this session, in realising how big a challenge we still have left in terms of getting that cultural change.

Yes, absolutely.

Thank you all very much. Can I thank Sophie Howe and her colleague Marie Brousseau-Navarro for coming along? A special thanks for adding an extra quarter of an hour in at the end of it, and for the detailed answers you've given us. You've certainly given us a lot of food for thought, and I'm sure that we'll have a fairly lengthy discussion after you leave, so thank you very much.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, committee.

3. Papurau i'w nodi
3. Paper(s) to note

I now move on to papers to note: correspondence from the Llywydd to the First Minister regarding legislating for Brexit; correspondence to the Chair from the Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee regarding the publication of its report, 'Preparing for Brexit'; and correspondence to the Chair from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs regarding the marine protected area network management framework for Wales. Noted.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 (vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 5, 6 a 7 o gyfarfod heddiw
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) to resolve to exclude the public from items 5, 6 and 7 of today's meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 5, 6 a 7 o gyfarfod heddiw yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 5, 6 and 7 of today's meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Can I now move a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from items 5, 6 and 7 of today's meeting? Thank you.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:44.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:44.

Explore the National Assembly for Wales