Y Pwyllgor Deisebau - Y Bumed Senedd
Petitions Committee - Fifth Senedd13/11/2018
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|David J. Rowlands AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Leanne Wood AM|
|Mike Hedges AM|
|Neil McEvoy AM|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Kath Thomas||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Sam Mason||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
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.
Bore da and welcome to the Petitions Committee. We do have some apologies. We have an apology from Janet Finch-Saunders, who is not available today. We understand that Leanne Wood will be joining us in a short time.
So, we'll go on to the second item, new petitions, and the first of these is 'Adopt WHO guidelines for air pollution into Welsh law and introduce a new Clean Air Act for Wales'. This was submitted by the British Heart Foundation Cymru, having collected 688 signatures. An initial response to the petition was received from the Minister for Environment on 23 October, and we've had further comments from the petitioners. There is one point: Public Health Wales says it's an urgent public health crisis in some places in Wales. We will make the point that the Welsh Government has established a clean-air programme to develop and co-ordinate actions across all Government departments and sectors and intends to publish a clean-air plan for Wales for consultation next year.
I was going to suggest that we do what we always do and write back to the environment Minister to ask her to respond to the further comments. Then, after we've had that response, we can decide whether we wish to take evidence on it or not. But let's give an opportunity for the Minister to respond first.
Okay. Neil, do you agree with that?
Yes, I would agree with that.
Fine, okay. So, if the committee can write back to the Minister for Environment.
The next petition is 'Save our Hospital at Prince Philip Llanelli'. This petition was submitted by SOSPPAN, having collected 12,745 signatures on paper. I think we ought to note that the petitioners now state that they have met with the health board and that this has answered a number of questions and concerns that they previously had. I understand that the Welsh Government has confirmed—or the health board's confirmed that they will not be downgrading Prince Philip Llanelli to the extent that was thought was first imagined. So, the committee could write to Hywel Dda university health board to seek their response to the petition and the comments received from the petitioners and request an update on proposals relating to service changes at Prince Philip Hospital.
They've got 12,000 signatures; that's over two and a half times the number that we ask for for a debate. There are still issues regarding travel time to other hospitals, mental health services, access to ambulances. I would be very keen to ask for a debate.
Right, but we've had a similar debate—I just want to point this out, Mike—with Withybush hospital, when a number of these matters were raised and obviously debated at length. Now, given the petitioners' reactions to what's been stated, do you feel that we still ought to seek that debate?
Well, Withybush is a good hour and a half of travelling along west Wales roads from Llanelli. That's one of the problems with the Hywel Dda health board: it covers such a large geographical area. I live in Morriston, which has the major hospital for people living in Hywel Dda; it's a good two hours to Bronglais and a good hour and a half, hour and 45 minutes down to Withybush. Up until now, anytime anybody has broken the 5,000 signatures, we've asked for a debate. I would be loath to stop doing that. I think that it's—
I don't think we've asked for every one that's come in over 5,000, Mike, but can I just suggest this: we do request an update on proposals relating to the services and then wait for the petitioners' reactions to that before we proceed?
Okay, I'm happy with that. But I don't know whether anybody could tell me of any one that has been over 5,000 where we haven't asked for a debate so far.
If I can, Chair: there have been several in that situation—some because the committee felt they'd actually been resolved by the time they reached committee, so maybe they're a slightly different case, but some where the committee has decided to run some further investigations first, such as gathering some extra information. But that issue is still—. The committee could still ask for a debate at a later date.
Perhaps you could bring a report on those that have exceeded 5,000 and those that we have asked for a debate and those that we haven't.
In terms of timescale, will we be within the timescale if we wait, in terms of the proposals?
My understanding of the next step for this is—. It was around a month ago that the health board announced its view, following the consultation on what it intended to do, and in later November, they'll be bringing a more detailed paper back to their own board meeting, which would set out a longer term plan for health services in Hywel Dda. So, yes, I think, on the debate, we wouldn't miss the opportunity for the committee to ask for a debate.
Shall we wait? I'm keen to have a debate, but maybe the most informed debate possible.
I'm perfectly happy to go down the road of a debate, Mike. I'm not saying that we shouldn't, I'm just suggesting that, perhaps, we get an update from Hywel Dda with regard to what is actually intended.
And we'll also have a report on those that have exceeded 5,000 and what we've done with them.
Yes, fine. Okay.
The next petition under consideration is 'Let Welsh Students have the opportunity to choose the best study option for them'. This petition was submitted by Sharon Ellis, having collected 127 signatures. Although this does relate to a particular student, and I believe it's the daughter of the petitioner, I think it has wider implications for the Government, and that's why we've brought this for consideration. We had an initial response to the petition from the Cabinet Secretary for Education on 9 October. And although it says in your information packs that the petitioner hasn't made further comments, late last night, the petitioner did—well, did not make further comments, but made a request to meet with the decision makers. We could, of course, ask the Cabinet Secretary if that's a possibility.
I will make—. The Welsh Government says—. This seems a particularly non-committal statement by the Welsh Government, because it says:
'explore the possibility of running a pilot scheme to establish whether it is possible or desirable to extend the student support package beyond the UK and EU'.
That doesn't seem committal, as far as I'm concerned. Anyway, the committee could await the views of the petitioner on the initial response, on which we've now had some feedback from her. So, are we content that we ask the Cabinet Secretary to make some arrangements to meet with the petitioner, or for her officials to meet the petitioner?
I'm content. I would have thought that a more sensible answer from the Cabinet Secretary would have been to say the UK and European Union but we know that any of the top 100 universities in the world, outside of that, will also be accepted. What you don't want is people going off to universities in other countries that don't have the same standards, but any that make the top 100—. I, for example, would be upset if somebody was going to Harvard or Yale and was turned down for support. Those are two of the best universities in the world. So, I think we'll await the Cabinet Secretary's response, but I don't know whether we can ask whether the Cabinet Secretary could consider allowing universities that are in the top 100 in the world to be treated as available for students to get support.
To be clear, the Cabinet Secretary has said that she would be confirming the Government's position in a statement later this year on this issue, and that is following a recommendation by the Diamond review into higher education funding and some research that she's commissioned. So, I think it is on the radar, though she has warned that under her current financial agreement with the Treasury, she feels she's unable to offer tuition fee or loans to students who study outside the UK, but we could ask on that.
She said that of the Treasury. Is that true for English-based students and Scottish-based students as well—they can't go to Princeton, Yale, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Harvard with support?
I don't know.
Perhaps could write and ask her that.
Do you have any further comments on that, Neil?
No, that's fine.
Okay, we move on to item 3, which is updates to previous petitions. The first of these is 'Roundabout for the A477/A4075 Junction'. This petition was submitted by Pembroke Town Council and was first considered by the committee in January 2016, having collected 597 signatures. I believe that the town council has particular concerns with the safety at that junction. The committee last considered the petition on 23 January and agreed to await a further update from the petitioners in relation to their correspondence with haulage firms before considering any further action. The petitioners have provided correspondence from Collins Bros Plant Hire. The letter from Collins Bros Plant Hire demonstrates support for the petition and expresses a view from heavy goods vehicles drivers that the lack of visibility at the junction is dangerous. Do we have any comments with regard—?
We are awaiting correspondence from Valero as well, aren't we? And if we could hold on until we have that response from Valero.
Yes, I think so.
Yes, and I have suggested that perhaps we ought to ask the local authority to make a comment with regard to this. This has come from the town council, but we haven't had any correspondence with regard to this matter from the local authority, so shall we write to the local authority and ask for their comments in this regard? Fine.
The next petition is 'Land & Access Lane Sale at Abercwmboi'. The petition was submitted by Sue Waterson and was first considered in January 2017, having collected 65 paper signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 17 April when Members considered correspondence from the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport and comments from the petitioner, and agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary to ask that the Government consults with any residents directly affected in the event that it does propose to sell the land.
The petitioner has provided an update. The petitioner has informed the committee that, as of March 2018, negotiations were ongoing between the Welsh Government and Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council. So, our possible actions are: the committee has previously asked the Welsh Government to consult with residents directly affected in the event that a sale of the land proceeds. As the petitioner is in contact with Government officials, there may be little further practical action that the committee can take. Members may wish to consider closing the petition.
I think that one of our greatest successes is when we get the Government talking to those people who they've not been prepared to talk to in the past. There's nothing further we can actually achieve, apart from getting that dialogue.
Yes, fine. Are you happy with that, Neil?
So, we're happy to close this particular petition. Fine.
The next petition under consideration is 'Reopen Crumlin Railway Station'. The petition was submitted by Michael Davies and was first considered by the committee in September 2017, having collected 208 signatures. We have had correspondence from the Cabinet Secretary with regard to this, and obviously there is a very large plan with regard to the provision of railway stations, and the Cabinet Secretary has expressed the fact that all possible stations are under consideration. And he has told the committee that all stations will eventually be taken through to a more detailed assessment at phase 2.
So, in light of the assessment process being taken forward by the Welsh Government in relation to potential new station developments, and the fact that Crumlin is being assessed as part of this, the committee could close the petition and thank the petitioner for his work in campaigning on this issue. Are we content that that's what we will do at this point?
The following two petitions will be considered together. The first one is 'Slaughter Practices'. This petition was submitted by Royce Clifford and was first considered in June 2012, having collected 400 signatures.
'We call upon the National Assembly to urge the Welsh Government to ban the practise of slaughtering animals without pre-stunning them.'
The second petition was to have CCTV in all slaughterhouses. The petition was submitted by Animal Aid and was first considered in November 2012, having collected 1,066 signatures.
The Cabinet Secretary has informed us that there is a food business investment scheme that is in position by the Welsh Government, and this is to provide CCTV to any slaughterhouses that require them. We've had the opinion that, actually, we really don't understand why the Welsh Government refuses to actually make the installation of CCTV in slaughterhouses mandatory, but they seem, obviously, very reluctant to do that.
Can I welcome Leanne Wood to the committee? Welcome, Leanne, and I take this opportunity as well to thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for his input into this committee in the time that he was a member with us. We're just considering one of the petitions. We've moved on—we've done several petitions, Leanne. We're just considering a petition now, or two petitions actually, which are 'Slaughter Practices', and 'CCTV in Slaughterhouses'.
Okay. Thank you. Thanks very much.
Okay. Fine. Thank you. So, the Welsh Government seems to have some reluctance about making the provision of CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses, but I think that one figure that stands out to me with regard to this—although, at first, the Welsh Government said they didn't know how many slaughterhouses actually had CCTV installed, it now appears that David Grimsell has provided analysis based on freedom of information requests to the Welsh Government, and this states that 14 slaughterhouses do not have CCTV installed, and that's out of a total of 26 operating in Wales, which seems quite a large percentage of slaughterhouses that don't have CCTV installed.
So, the committee could take a watching brief until the impact of the current scheme on improving the installation of CCTV in slaughterhouses is known, or, in light of the length of time these petitions have been under consideration, and the further timescales involved with the grant scheme, the committee could produce a report to summarise the evidence it has received and formalise its recommendations to the Cabinet Secretary. I feel that that's probably the way we ought to go with regard to this.
It's an issue I feel very strongly about. I was in a pub last night—not a great surprise—which had CCTV in the pub, there was CCTV outside, without any great problem. So, I'm not sure why it is a problem putting them into—. It's incredibly cheap as well—it's not like the 1980s, where CCTV and all these things were incredibly expensive, and people had the expense problem. I think we should produce a report and recommendations to the Cabinet Secretary, and let's see where we go from there. But I just find it very difficult to understand why we don't want CCTV in slaughterhouses.
Yes. I just really don't understand why there's this reluctance to make it mandatory—it seems very strange to me. Shall we go forward with—? Which of the actions do you feel—?
The second one—produce a report.
Yes. I just want to echo Mike, really. I'm actually a fan of CCTV, on the grounds of personal liberty. I've found it very useful in my life. And it guarantees rights sometimes, in how you behave. So, why shouldn't animals have the same rights? I think it's important that we protect animals, and CCTV should be mandatory.
Do you have any input into that, Leanne? Happy with that action?
Yes. I'm happy.
Okay. The next petition is 'End the Exotic Pet Trade in Wales'. The petition was submitted by David Sedley, and was first considered in March 2017, having collected 222 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 27 February, when Members considered an update from the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, and agreed to await further comments from the petitioner before considering further action on the petition.
The committee also received previous correspondence from the RSPCA, who call for a ban on keeping primates as pets. I think that—just to give a little bit of background, Leanne—one of the problems that we saw with introducing this is that it would affect fish as exotic pets, and that would have a devastating effect on the pet industry, as such. So, there was a difficulty in introducing this. So, where we stand at this moment is: the committee could write to the Cabinet Secretary to request an update on the consideration given to the developments in England and Scotland—which is what she indicated to us, that she wanted to see what the developments were with regard to England and Scotland—since her previous correspondence in February 2018, and that she provides a definitive position from the Welsh Government as to whether a ban on the trade of exotic pets would have merit at this time.
I don't disagree with any of that, but I think we need to ask really what pets the Cabinet Secretary would consider to be exotic, and which ones she would consider to be worth banning. I just can't understand why anyone would want a chimpanzee and a monkey in their house, but people do. So, I think that there are a number of animals that are not suited to be kept as pets, and I think that you are clouding—I don't think you, Chair, but people are clouding the issue, talking about guppy fish in the garden pond; it's entirely different to having a chimpanzee in your living room. So, I think that, really, we ought to be asking what they consider to be exotic pets, and which ones they think are unsuitable. On something you said earlier, keeping a primate in an urban environment—I'm not all that keen on keeping them in zoos, but certainly keeping them in an urban environment, or in a house environment, is totally unsuitable.
Yes. Given the variety of pets that are now kept by people, I think it would have to be highly definitive as to what we're going to ban—the number of snakes, et cetera, and that sort of product. But I think that we could go forward with this recommendation, I think, as the possible action.
With my added bit.
Do you have anything to add to that, Leanne, or are you quite happy that that's where we're going?
No. I'm astounded that anybody has primates in their living rooms, to be honest with you.
Okay, we'll move on to the next petition, which is 'Ensuring Equality of Curriculum for Welsh Medium Schools e.g. GCSE Psychology'. The petition was submitted by Chris Evans and was first considered by the committee in November 2017, having collected 652 signatures. Basically, the Welsh Government says that these matters are done by Qualifications Wales and are their jurisdiction as such, and we've had correspondence, I think, from Qualifications Wales with regard to this.
In the past, yes. It's not in Members' packs for this meeting, but, for a previous meeting, we'd had a position set out by Qualifications Wales, including the background on GCSE psychology in particular, but a wider perspective on the process too. There are a few summary points for Members on—page 18 of your brief sets that out. Qualifications Wales talk about a priority being to secure the availability of English and Welsh medium provision in education, and that the background specifically in psychology GCSE was that the WJEC stopped offering the qualification because the numbers were too low. Qualifications Wales arranged with an exam board based in England to provide the GCSE but they couldn't get agreement on those materials and the examination arrangements being available through the medium of Welsh, so the GCSE is currently available in English only.
Does that affect any other GCSE courses?
Qualifications Wales did provide us with a list; it does affect more. They are primarily smaller subjects and include foreign languages as well. I guess the ones you would pull out as being maybe of a similar size to psychology are things like statistics, engineering, economics, astronomy, ancient history. That kind of thing. There was a list of around 20 GCSEs. As I say, that includes foreign languages such as Chinese and Japanese, and then there are a smaller number of A-levels and AS-levels that are similar subjects.
Can I ask a question about whose responsibility it is? I know that the Government are saying it's Qualifications Wales's responsibility—to provide the materials, yes—but isn't it Government's responsibility to ensure that there's parity between provision in both languages, given that both languages have official status? So, do we need to go back to the Cabinet Secretary and make that point forcefully? Because it looks like they're trying to avoid responsibility here to me.
I'm happy to do that, yes.
Can we write to the Welsh Language Commissioner, asking for their view as well? From personal experience, my daughter studied music through the medium of Welsh right the way through, including A level. She would have found it difficult if she'd had to transfer to doing it in English when she went to examination level. I'm sure other pupils studying other subjects would find it exactly the same. Statistics is one where it's just a continuation of mathematics. So, they know all the mathematical words in Welsh, and all of a sudden now they have to learn them in English as well in order to do statistics. They've got to be disadvantaged.
Fine. Okay. I think we could word this, where we say—. Writing to the Cabinet Secretary to express a view, I think we write to the Cabinet Secretary asking why it is that it's not provided, given their commitment to providing everything in the Welsh language—words to that effect. Are you happy with that?
I think we need to assert that it's Government's responsibility to ensure parity between the two official languages as well and that no child should be disadvantaged because they opt for an education through the medium of Welsh.
I think it's quite extraordinary having this conversation in Wales. Why on earth are we discussing providing something through the medium of Welsh? It's incredible. It just should be done.
Right, fine. So, you're happy—
And would you like us to write to the Welsh Language Commissioner on that as well?
Yes. I'd just like the Welsh Language Commissioner to be coming in on our side.
Or to be aware of it, at least.
Okay, we'll move on to the next petition, which is 'Change the National Curriculum and teach Welsh history, from a Welsh perspective, in our Primary, Secondary and Sixth form Schools'. The petition was submitted by Elfed Wyn Jones and was first considered by the committee in February 2018 having collected 5,133 signatures; in fact, with a number on paper as well, there is a total of 5,794 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 9 October, and agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Education to ask for a list of pioneer schools working specifically on the history element of the new curriculum to enable the committee to seek further information on the work being undertaken; and for her views on how the new curriculum could strike an appropriate balance between providing discretion for schools and teachers on the content of lessons, and ensuring that pupils in Wales are taught about national and local history. The Cabinet Secretary provided a list of pioneer schools working on the humanities aspect of the new curriculum. Do any of the committee members want to make any comments?
I understand the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee are looking at this, aren't they?
So, shall we just pass—? They are in a much better position to produce a detailed report than we are.
That's right, yes. Are we happy with that?
I think if Members are—
Neil, do you think that's appropriate?
If they're looking at it, but I think we should provide them with the evidence that we've gathered up to this point.
Okay. So, the action is that the committee will provide the evidence it has gathered on the petition to date to the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, so that it can inform their inquiry into the teaching of Welsh history, culture and heritage. Are you happy with that?
Okay. In terms of the status of the petition going forward, at that point would the committee, when they write to the other committee, like to close the petition on the basis that the issue will be having detailed consideration elsewhere in the Assembly?
Are you happy?
The next petition under consideration is 'Fair Deal for Supply Teachers'. This petition was submitted by Sheila Jones and was first considered by the committee in May 2018, having collected 1,425 signatures. The committee last considered the petition on 25 September, and agreed to seek an update from the Cabinet Secretary for Education on work under way to implement a Welsh model for setting teachers' pay and conditions; and revise the tender specification for agencies. A response was received from the Cabinet Secretary on 19 October. The petitioner has further requested that the committee ask the Cabinet Secretary to consider a public sector solution for employment of supply teachers instead of using private agencies.
Quite frankly, I could never understand using private agencies when it's quite simple to set up a public sector agency, if you want to call it that for this. I really don't understand the thinking of paying extra to these agencies and letting private companies make money out of it. It seems absolutely appalling.
We don't pay extra to them, what they do is that they take the money off supply teachers. It's a social justice issue to me. But my first answer to almost everything is: is there a public sector solution first? If there isn't, then look, is there a voluntary sector solution? If there isn't either of those, then the private sector solution is the third option on my list. It's only dealing with the public sector, so it's only dealing with schools, which are being maintained and paid for by the people of Wales, and I just think that we should ask them to look at a public sector solution, whether the Welsh Government kept a list and dealt with it centrally, whether it was dealt with on a regional consortium basis or a local authority basis, I don't care, but I think this idea of people making substantial profit off the backs of people who are working as supply teachers is something I find abhorrent.
Well, I do too. It's happening, as we know, in the national health service. It's absolutely crazy to me that they can't set up their own agency.
Can I just declare an interest? I've worked as a supply teacher, and when I got on the books I was earning twice as much more, which was going to the agency previous to that, and what this is: it's a funnel for taking millions of pounds a year from the Welsh education system to a company based in London, because there's a local agreement amongst the consortia, and that company is actually quite expensive in comparison to others. So, even if we're looking at the private sector, then a private sector option is cheaper than what is being recommended at the moment. We may as well just sign a cheque and give them £9 million. It's incredible.
That's where I disagree with Neil. The fact they're in London, to me, is irrelevant. If they were in Cardiff and they were doing exactly the same—
It's in the local economy then, though, isn't it?
It might be in the local economy but it's fundamentally wrong. It's almost like saying, in the nineteenth century, the exploitation of coal miners by David Davies was fine because he was Welsh but it was wrong by people who came from England. I just think it's fundamentally wrong. Sorry, I just had a rant.
I agree. Well, the committee could write—
Can I ask—?
I'm sorry, Leanne.
Are we aware of any schools or local authorities that actually do this in-house? My understanding is that some—a very small number—may still actually do it internally. If we can find them then it's worth working out the costs of that and seeing whether or not we can make that argument for every Welsh local authority and for there to be direction from Ministers to do so.
Okay. So, the local government would do it rather than having an overall one set up by the Welsh Government.
Well, it could be done either way, couldn't it? It could either be done locally or it could be done centrally and then organised at a local level. Either way, I agree with the points that were made that this should be done in the public sector and there shouldn't be a private company making money out of it, wherever they're based.
Okay. The committee could write back to the Cabinet Secretary for Education to ask whether the Welsh Government is still giving consideration to developing an alternative model for maintaining a list of supply teachers, and we would suggest that that model should be a public sector solution, if we're happy to word it that way.
And we will seek to identify the local authorities or the schools that do do it in-house or employ supply teachers directly and work out the costs of that and come back to you.
My understanding is no local authorities do it. Some schools do it, but they do it on a sort of ad hoc basis, they know people who are available for supply work and they do the supply work in the school. Other schools have part-time teachers who they then up to full time in order to meet the supply needs. But anybody who is bringing in long-term supply is under pressure to use the preferred supplier.
Can I just say—?
The preferred supplier will sometimes get £160 a day and the teacher will get £85. It's an absolute scandal. If it was a £15 admin fee, you could go with that, but it's that, come on—.
We're in agreement on that. It's a social justice issue.
Well, I think we're all in agreement on the fact that, really, we should have a public sector supplier for these teachers.
We can move on 'To Amend the School Admissions Code Relating to Summer-Born Children'. The petition was submitted by Flexible Admissions Wales Group and was first considered in September 2018, having collected 241 signatures. The committee considered the petition for the first time on 25 September and agreed to write back to the Cabinet Secretary for Education to seek further information about the review of the school admissions code, including scoping intended timescales, before considering further action on the petition. A response was received from the Cabinet Secretary on 18 October. The petitioner was informed that the petition would be discussed but had not provided further comments when these papers were finalised. You've read the papers with regard to this. Do you have any comments?
I've got a lot of sympathy for this. So, I think a child—all the stats show that children in this category are disadvantaged, they are actually a bit too young to go through the system when they do. So, I think we should write to the local authorities and see what their policies are and what they actually do; how many have requested deferral, how many have been granted, how many have refused. I think it's outrageous for any application to be refused, actually.
Yes. Do you have any comments, Mike?
I'm happy with that.
I don't have anything to suggest on this, I'm afraid.
As a July-born child, I have sympathy.
Yes. But, you know, if you move the date it'll be somewhere else, won't it? That's the problem.
Somebody's always younger. My daughter was born on 30 September. She was the oldest right the way through.
I think it might be worth the committee noting that the Cabinet Secretary has said that there will be a review of the schools admission code. It sounds like that's a routine process. The code has been in place for five years in its current form. So, there's time, at this point, potentially, for the committee to do something that might inform or help to influence that. So, if we wrote to the local authorities to see what actually happens in reality—. The other key point I think the petitioners are making here is, while the Government says that the current code provides the flexibility for parents to request a deferral, a lot of those applications are rejected by local authorities, so the petitioners believe.
But, also, there's a question about which year the pupil would then enter once they do enter school, as to whether a deferral, essentially, means you have to skip the reception year and you start in your chronological year anyway, which appears to be the Government's position. The petitioners are arguing that reception is a very important year for pupil development and that you should start in reception at a slightly older age. So that might be something the committee wants to bear in mind, going forward.
But in the first instance, we could get the views from local authorities or the position from local authorities, so that we know how large this issue is.
Can we make plain, actually, in the letter, to get them to state what they actually do? So, if there is a deferment, what happens to the child? Because, I think most people would assume that they'd start in reception, which is crucial, really.
Are we happy with that?
The next petition is 'Male domestic violence victim support services to be independently run & funded'. This petition was submitted by Families Need Fathers Both Parents Matter Cymru and was first considered by the committee in February 2018, having collected 138 signatures online.
The committee last considered the petition on 25 September, when Members considered correspondence from the leader of the house and the petitioners, and agreed to write back to the leader of the house to request that the committee is notified when the analysis of the recent Welsh Government consultation on the regional commissioning guidance is published. A response was received from the leader of the house on 24 October, and the petitioners have provided further comments and also submitted information on 22 October.
The Government’s response states that it
'will strengthen the links between conducting the needs analysis and commissioning services to meet these needs'
in the final commissioning guidance.
Do we have any comments with regard to that? Neil.
I probably should declare an interest. I think the petitioner is now working for me on a temporary basis, basically because of the case loads that I have and the amount of abuse cases that I deal with. I also declare an interest that I've been a service user and also a volunteer for Both Parents Matter.
I think it would be a good idea to write to the leader of the house to see what consideration has been given to specifically supporting male victims and how that's monitored and how it's going to go in future. I'm optimistic that—. I think Cardiff are looking at this seriously. Declaring an interest as a councillor here, I'm told, from April next year, there will be service provision for men, which is something completely new. There is no non-judgmental support for men in this city. There is nowhere to go if you don't want to be judged, so, I think it's a really good thing that is coming forward.
I would just say that it's really important that there is a mechanism for making sure that whatever organisations are receiving public money or public referrals are following widely recognised and certified programmes that—. There are very good programmes out there for supporting people, but there are also some quite dodgy programmes out there. So, there has to be a mechanism when there's public money or public referrals, to ensure that the mechanism and the programmes that are used by these organisations are legitimate. So, I would just throw that in as a word of caution.
What about gender-specific programmes?
I come from a Women's Aid background, so I recognise the years of experience that have gone into developing programmes from that perspective, and, also, the perpetrator programmes that are run through the probation service. I've got some experience of that as well. It makes sense to me that services are provided by people who've experienced a similar background. That's how Women's Aid was born. Women came together to develop their own refuges, so it makes sense to me for the male domestic abuse movement to develop in the same way, but it just has to be done according to properly accredited programmes. Because I'm aware that sometimes, you know, these organisations can be used by abusers, potentially, to carry on abusing their victims, and we need to be really, really careful that we're not, as a public sector, supporting that kind of thing.
Neil, is there a reluctance on the part of male victims to go the institutions that are primarily women, or for women institutions? Is there a reluctance there?
Well, the problem is there are no actual organisations you can go to for non-judgmental support. People out there may find this surprising, but I agree 100 per cent with what Leanne has just said. There is some dodgy practice out there. But I'm pleased that, in my experience, Both Parents Matter are first class in what they do.
I think what we should also recognise is the biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide, and a silent killer of men is domestic abuse, because, as I said, there is absolutely nowhere for you to go. As Leanne said, quite often perpetrators do use the system to continue the abuse, and I'm certainly aware of men who fall into that category. I think the whole area needs tightening up, and better policies throughout can be adopted. But everyone needs an open mind, regardless of gender, really, but I fully support that men do need support, and it does need to be, in this case, as the petitioners —
Okay. Under possible actions, the committee could decide to await the production of the final regional commissioning guidance and seek the views of the petitioners at that time, given the likely importance of this in determining the type of services that will be available in the future, and—instead of 'or' here I think we should say 'and'—the committee could write to the leader of the house to ask what consideration has been given by Welsh Government to directly funding a national service to specifically support male victims, and, following on from Leanne's comment, for details as to how it intends to monitor the types of services that are commissioned under the new regional approach. Does that cover your concerns, Leanne?
Well, I think there needs to be an element of rigour with this in particular, because I'm aware that perpetrators can seek cover, okay? So, there needs to be some understanding of how that works and you need to have an element of expertise to make that assessment, I would suggest.
Can I come in there? Because, stepping outside of the male-only provision, identifying perpetrators is a problem across the board. Because I've come across black-and-white evidence, concrete evidence, of abusers using the system, but actually within the system there is no mechanism to unveil the players, if you like. I think rigour across the board for female charities, for male charities, is absolutely fundamental, and evidence is key. There needs to be a way of sometimes providing evidence to weed out those who are using the system to continually abuse.
Okay. Should we put in the words 'to rigorously monitor' the types of services that are commissioned? Would that perhaps—?
We could—. If the committee wanted to, when we write back to the leader of the house we could ask a specific question about how they assess, how they intend to assess, under the new programmes the methodologies that will be used by organisations receiving funding.
It would be good as well to maybe ask how they monitor them presently, because they basically don't, in lots of cases.
Okay, thank you. We need to move on, because I see that time is moving on.
The next petition is 'Gender Pay Gap Reporting'. This petition was submitted by Estelle Hart and was first considered by the committee in October 2018, having collected 56 signatures. Previously the leader of the house told the committee that public sector equality duties require public bodies to publish and review pay differences, and that:
'Simply reporting the gender pay gap is not enough. The Welsh specific duties require appropriate action to be taken.'
The petitioner refers to a lack of detail as to the date of publication and the nature of data published.
So, do you have any comments in that regard?
A couple of comments: (1) I know Estelle Hart, so I declare that I know her, and I think that's something you'd need to record. I just think: go back to the leader of house, because you're asking the leader of the house to do something that the leader of the house actually wants to do.
Fine. Are we happy to do that? Yes?
The next petition to consider is 'Welsh Place Names—Protection & Promotion Bill'. The petition was submitted by Dr Dafydd Williams and was first considered by the committee in June 2018, having collected 431 signatures. I think that if we move on, actually, to possible actions, in light of the recent consideration given to this specific issue by the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee during its inquiry into the historic environment, and their recommendation that this issue be kept under review, the committee could agree to close this petition. There's little further we could add as a committee to those deliberations. Are we happy to close that petition? Yes.
The next petition is 'Reopen St David’s Medical Centre, Pentwyn Full Time'. The petition was submitted by Joe Carter and was considered by the committee in September 2018, having collected 380 signatures. It does appear, actually, that this petition has been successful in that the Government—. We've been assured that this particular centre will remain open. The health board's decision-making panel met on 23 October and decided not to uphold the application to close. So, the possible actions are the committee could decide to close the petition at this juncture in light of the health board's rejection of the application to close the centre and the satisfaction of the petitioner. And we could write to the petitioner and thank him for bringing the matter to our—
Is it going to be open full-time or part-time?
We could do both, really.
It appears full-time, I think.
I believe that—. In the petitioner's comments he states that there's no proposal to reopen it full-time, but, given there was a further threat to close it completely, the petitioner appears broadly satisfied with the outcome.
Okay. So, the full-time nature of it is not crucial—the fact that it's open is what's most important.
Right. Time for a very short break.
Okay. I understand the petitioner and witnesses are all here, so we can bring them straight into the room, if the committee would like to move straight on.
Right, fine. Are you happy? Did you want—?
Could we have a quick comfort break?
Did you want just a five-minute break or—?
Just a couple of minutes.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 09:53 a 9:57.
The meeting adjourned between 09:53 and 09:57.
Good morning, bore da, and welcome to this evidence session of the Petitions Committee. Please don't think this is some sort of interrogation. It's simply that our questions are designed just to give us some background and some further information as to what the petition is about so that we can then decide what further action we can take as far as that. So, there will be questions from the committee. I shall ask them to ask the questions, but if I kick off the session by saying: what has led you to start the campaign and to submit this petition in the first place?
Can I just say that you don't all have to answer every question? And can I ask you to be quite quick about how you answer them because, obviously, there is a time schedule that we're working to?
I think, essentially, very briefly, it's a community group that has continued concerns over Natural Resources Wales's plans for the area, in particular the devastating effect on the unique linked Victorian parks that we've got. It's been commented that their highest rated attribute is the variety of trees; they are quite spectacular. There was then a failure or refusal of NRW to engage with us. That culminated in the peaceful protests that you are aware of back in December last year in the parks to prevent the trees being felled, 8,500 people signing the petition, a significant amount of fundraising, and, effectively, why we're here today. Eventually, NRW started to meet with us in late January 2018. We, effectively, want what we've always wanted: we want the project, the phase 3 of it, to be reassessed on a stand-alone basis. Welsh Government policy has changed, technology has changed. Phase 3 is a discrete separate flood risk. There are other viable options and, quite frankly, cheaper options. And really the scheme lacks public support. Unfortunately, we've had to go to the lengths we have to get ourselves heard. We've engaged and paid for a hydraulic expert and, more recently, a flood engineer and expert to provide a report. That's been at a high financial cost to the local community. We feel that we're doing this to try and hold what is effectively a public body to account, and we are doing what they should be doing, I think.
Just to add to that, where we are—and I think we'll be talking about it presumably later, to some extent—the rights and wrongs of the original decision are probably not relevant anymore. I mean, the key question for us is: where are we now and what will serve the best interests of the community in general and Wales in general? Where we are now is that it is a stand-alone project, whatever Natural Resources Wales say. They finished Waterloo gardens and they haven't started—well, they cut down a couple of trees at the back end of last year. They haven't done any more works. They have told us that they are going to change the contractor for the works because they're not happy with the contractor on phases 1 and 2.
There is new guidance in place as to what NRW should be doing, and just public bodies in general should be doing, about the environment. The scheme, as it's currently designed, doesn't have the support of the community both at large and, actually, amongst the homes that are being protected. And we'll talk about that, undoubtedly, a bit later. All we're really asking for is that this project is looked at afresh by NRW through the eyes of the new policy and what they should be doing to look after the environment.
Okay, fine. Neil, would you like to carry on with the second question? Mike, you do the third.
So, I'm doing question 2, am I?
Yes, carry on, please.
Before coming to question 2, really, I'd like to ask what your views are of—. I probably should declare an interest, because I know Lee in another capacity, in a professional capacity. I'd like to know what your view is of NRW and how helpful they've been or have not been, really.
I think it does depend on the period in time. Initially, it was very unhelpful. We were asking for meetings during November and December, and we even asked for one—I think we wrote a letter on New Year's Day. We eventually got a response to that letter, but it didn't refer to a meeting. But I think there was a lot of pressure with the publicity, so they did start to meet with us in late January.
There have been a lot of meetings. Are we moving any further forward? I don't know, because NRW's stance is still that it's basically up to us to re-evaluate it and go to them with something that's viable. Whereas I see it as there should be a bit more of a discussion about, 'Are there any other options?' We've got these experts we've spoken to and what they'll look at—
So, would you be keen to have your experts, the council, Welsh Water and NRW sit down in a meeting?
Would that be useful, do you think?
Yes, or separate meetings—you know, however it works. NRW have agreed to have a meeting with our engineer, I would add, and we just need to set that up.
The other thing we want to know is what were the results of the independent review of the flow and rainfall calculations. Has that changed your understanding of the flood risk to the area?
The results of that review—. Well, I think there are a few issues around that. The results of that review were that, certainly, what NRW have done in their rainfall calculations for the area showed that we're in line, more or less, with industry practice. It's admitted by everyone that this is a very difficult area to assess—Wales is generally, unfortunately, because of the number of hills, but this is a sort of flash flood area and it has never flooded, therefore it's very difficult. And they've got no actual data to base it on, so they're basing it on data from other areas, and they've got no starting point data either, as to what level it is at a certain level. So, there are difficulties with the data, but it's accepted that the practice they've used is standard.
But what did come out of it was this idea that, actually, at one point, our hydrologists understood that Roath brook flowed through the reservoirs, which it doesn't, but if it did, then, actually, the flood problem in our area would almost fall away. That came out of that, and that was when we started looking at the reservoirs as a potential option, as well.
I think there's a lack of clarity of how areas are prioritised for work. Obviously, we've seen over the last month or so half of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire under water, and then we're talking about spending £0.5 million in the centre of Cardiff in an area that's never flooded, with the significant destruction of the amenity value of parks and trees, which is also about £0.5 million. This just doesn't make any sense.
In NRW, I think you've got individual employees who are competent and they're hardworking and they're trying to do the right thing, but I think, more generally, there is a culture of a lack of transparency, an attitude of, 'We know best', and an attitude of doing stuff to the community rather than for the community.
Would you like to carry on with question 3, please?
What alternative options are there for you guys in terms of alleviating the problem?
There are a number of alternative options. We've engaged with an engineer and we have a draft report from him, but that was only provided over the weekend, so we haven't shared that with NRW yet, but the plan will be certainly to share it with NRW and the committee before NRW come to give evidence. There are options identified within that. One option identified within it is Roath park lake, and the use of Roath park lake. That was identified, or looked into, by NRW as an alternative to the scheme as a whole. And when I say 'the scheme as a whole' I mean Waterloo gardens and the part of the gardens that we're now looking at—Roath brook and Roath mill gardens. It didn't work for that, but what Professor Chris Binnie has talked about is that the fact that (a) we are looking at a separate area on its own and specific alternatives haven't been considered for it, and (b) technology has now moved on a lot, particularly in terms of forecasting. So, one of the dangers with using Roath park lake was that they didn't feel they could—. They would use a weir system, which lowers the level of the lake maybe one in every 10 years when there is a forecast flood, and they were worried they couldn't empty it quickly enough. But with the way that technology has moved on and forecasting has moved on, Chris Binnie points out that that is now possible.
Other issues with Roath lake, I think, involved whether there was the level of protection needed there and the amount of the works because of the dam, but there are works planned, or there should be works planned, for Roath park lake because we understand that the reservoir engineer has said that works need to be done on the dam at Roath park lake anyway. So, it would seem sensible for there to be some joined-up thinking. If you are doing significant work on the dam, can you put a weir into it? These things are things that—. We just feel like we're banging our heads against a brick wall sometimes in getting people to speak to each other about what are serious options.
Other options identified—
Can I just add there? I think as well the reason the council haven't met with us so far is that, in correspondence I've seen, they've said there's no point because we've got a tidal risk of flood in our area, but as phase 3 we don't. And NRW have said that as well, that that is the situation; it's only a fluvial risk. So, I think it's that mistaken understanding by Cardiff council that has led them to say there's no point in the meeting. So, we've been trying to explain that it's not tidal, but we haven't got anywhere.
Just to go back to other options, obviously we've talked about the reservoirs. Chris Binnie was himself one of the top reservoir engineers in the country for a number of years, and he has looked at what Welsh Water have said to us and he says that that just doesn't add up. So, there are possibilities there. The other possibility, which NRW have never looked at, is individual flood protection for these properties. That's a significantly cheaper option. It's about floodgates that can be put up temporarily. It's about bricks that can be put over the air vent bricks to stop flooding, and temporary barriers that can be put up in the parks in the event of flooding. We are talking about a between one in 30 and a one in 75 chance of flooding in any year. So, this is very rare actually, and if there are procedures in place for individual property protection, it would actually come in at a fraction of the cost and not cause any of the damage to the parks that is going to be caused.
Just adding to that, I think I understand why NRW didn't do that initially, because they were looking at trying to protect 420 homes. And, from talking to companies that provide the product for individual flood protection, that wouldn't really be feasible. But, certainly the companies that I've spoken to have said that protection for homes in schemes for around 130 homes would be very normal. So, now that we're in a stage of trying to protect what is now 70, it would actually be very feasible, but that wasn't looked at because phase 3 hasn't been looked at stand-alone.
I just want to make a comment so that it's on the record. We had a meeting with officials and the former chair of NRW, I think it was last year, or early January, or early this year maybe. It's the only meeting I've ever sat in in 20 years to be told by officials that there was no alternative. And yet, we're sat here now hearing that there are alternatives. I want to flag up the issue of Roath park lake. We were told by officials that it would cause environmental damage to the park if the lake was used, and, frankly, that's absolute rubbish. So, I feel particularly misled as a Member. I feel quite strongly about that, so I'd like that recorded please.
I think we just want a holistic assessment. So, that includes reservoirs, Roath park lake, potential for local house-by-house—. Those things have not been considered; it's been very much a top-down engineering solution—this is the way or no way. Just very briefly, even doing engineering works in the parks is not set in stone, because, after discussions last year, NRW said, 'Well, okay, we'll still need to do the work in the parks, but we can not take down 20-odd trees', I think.
No, it was about seven or eight.
But the point being that they were prepared to think about doing it in a slightly different way. So, that suggests that the way that it's being planned isn't the only possible way to do it. Now, there are side issues there, in terms of, they said, 'Well, look, if we do that, there's no guarantee those trees will survive', and blah-di-blah-di-blah-di-blah. But the point being even they acknowledge that, even with an engineering solution, the exact plan that was set out at the start isn't necessarily the one that has to be set in stone.
Fine. If we can just move on, can you give us your comments on the independent arboricultural assessment?
Yes. We were recommended to speak to a gentleman called Jeremy Barrell in the summer. He remains an independent expert—we haven't paid him to provide a report. We did pay him travel expenses, which was all, but, thankfully—because he travelled some way—he didn't charge us. But he was very concerned. I would add that he couldn't look at the Waterloo area at this time because it was still fenced off. But what he could see in the parts of Roath brook and Roath mill, he was quite taken aback by the variety of trees we had, and the opposite of that was the highly poor quality of the newly planted trees—the little twigs. He thought a lot of them were either dead or dying, they were of poor quality and shouldn't really have come off the van and put in. He also was concerned that, whilst a lot of standards had been set on how the trees should be treated, and that work should be done around them, those weren't actually being followed on the ground level.
We provided that letter to NRW in July, and gave them some time to consider it, and to have a look at it, before responding, and before making it public. I think it's fair to say that they did take it very seriously, but the frustrating thing was they didn't take us seriously beforehand. We constantly raised that we were worried about the state of the new trees, and I was told in meetings, 'There's nothing wrong with them, they've been checked, they're fine.' So, we could have gone to the expense of spending thousands of pounds to get Mr Barrell down, but, as it happened, he gave his time freely, and it was only after Mr Barrell put his thoughts out there that they were prepared to look at it and turned round and said, 'Right, of the 60 new trees we've planted, 23 need to be replaced, and a further 20 need to be monitored.' I was quite staggered and had to double check that figure—that we were talking 43 trees out of 60 being either substandard or potentially substandard. And, throughout this whole process, NRW have said we will have the best-quality trees to replace what are wonderful specimens we're losing. I've personally lost faith in that.
Did this include concerns about tree species, or was it simply the way that they were planted and nurtured?
Is it fair to say this? Some of the newly planted trees—it was difficult to work out just from looking at them what species they were. We'd had previous meetings with the people who designed the new tree planting and it sounded quite sensible, but whether we're getting good-quality species, I don't know any more.
The problem with them wasn't necessarily the planting and some of the aftercare for them, but actually the species—the actual tree that had been planted. I think he mentioned they should never have been allowed off the back of the lorry, frankly.
And it was also the standards around the protection of the trees that are staying, and being careful not to damage the root system of those for the works that are happening. And he was concerned that there might be some further damage being done to some of the trees.
I think the other thing to add about Jeremy Barrell's report, which has moved on slightly, is that he mentions in there the fact that policy is changing and specific, kind of, tree value should be taken. He mentions, I think, that there are a number of trees that he saw that would be worth £50,000 on their own. We have—well, first of all, we asked NRW to do a valuation of the trees, in line with the new 'Woodlands for Wales' policy. They told us they wouldn't. Well, they said they'd consider it, then they came back saying, 'We don't need to, there's no decision to be made, it's been through planning, we don't need to do it.' We've had to go away and we've done what's known as a capital asset value for amenity trees valuation. Nick can talk a bit more about what that means, but, effectively, it puts a value on urban trees, and it's in line with the 'Woodlands for Wales' strategy of using these technologies. The trees in Waterloo gardens, Roath mill gardens and Roath brook gardens come out at £7.5 million before this work started, £1.25 million-worth of trees has already gone through phase 1 and phase 2, and this plan is to take away another £420,000-worth of trees in phase 3.
I think if we had a public building that was worth £7.5 million, there would be no way that people would allow £1.5 million-worth of damage to be done to it. I think we do generally need to think about whether Wales is actually making this new progressive legislation, such as the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, and the future well-being of generations—. Whether we're actually—. Talking about it is one thing, but actually acting on it is another. And we're not talking about private contractors here, we're not even talking about any public body, we're talking about Natural Resources Wales, the body charged with looking after our environment. This is the level of devastation that is being brought to these parks.
I understand exactly where you're coming from. We have to move on because, obviously, there are a number of questions we'd like to ask you, to help us with our enquiries. Leanne.
Thank you very much. I'm struggling to understand if, as you say, there's been no flood in this area, how NRW can consider it to be a flood risk. I'm really confused about that.
I know you're new to the Petitions Committee, but there has been discussion about what NRW call the communities-at-risk register. Before this project started, they said, and I've got a statement here from one of their documents:
'This register ranks all areas at risk of flooding from main river sources in Wales and allows us to prioritise our work programme. The risk area for the Roath Brook is currently ranked 17th within Wales.'
That is for the whole area, phases 1 and 2 of the area—there is a history of flooding, although we understand it only ever entered one property.
So, you don't dispute that ranking, then, do you?
What we have now discovered is that, even after all the works have been done, Roath will still stay seventeenth on the communities at risk register. The reason for that being that the communities at risk register, the max rating, which is what they register properties on first of all, doesn't take account of any flood protection works. So, that may sound surprising. There is a min rating. The min rating will have changed after phases 1 and 2. We have asked NRW to recalculate it, and they've told us it's inappropriate to do so. What they do say is that they use this as a tool to work out where to spend money and then they look at other factors such as whether the area's ever flooded, local knowledge, the number of properties being protected. But, we are struggling to understand. There are over 21,000 houses in Wales at a high risk of flooding, which is less than 1 in 30. None of the 70 houses being protected by this scheme are at a high risk of flooding.
Will it make any difference to your insurance, then? Because you've got to follow the money, haven't you?
What I should say is—when you say 'your insurance'—I live above the brook, so my house has limited chance of flooding. Those houses below the brook, the 70 properties being protected—we understand NRW put out a questionnaire and we understand 10 of those responded saying that they had had some problems with insurance. Would this scheme make a difference to insurance? I understand it will, but I understand it may also draw the attention of insurers to the fact that there is a flood protection scheme in the area. But certainly any other scheme would have a similar effect on those insurers. But, out of the 70 houses, only 10 of them responded to say they had any insurance problems.
Okay. NRW have said in their statement:
'It is not acceptable, in our view, to have one part of the community protected to a lower standard of protection compared to the rest, when we consider that flood risk to be unacceptable.'
What is your view on that statement?
It depends what—. When we talk about a community, the community is NRW's boundaries. They draw up what is every community on the communities-at-risk register. My answer to NRW is: is it acceptable to have one area of Wales at more risk than other areas of Wales, on that same basis? You've got a property down in Pembrokeshire, down in Carmarthenshire, which has a high risk of flooding, less than 1 in 30. Should money be spent on an area that isn't at a high risk of flooding? To me, it seems a rather stupid question to even have to ask.
But there's a dispute between you and NRW about whether or not there is a risk of flooding—
Not about the risk of flooding. There's no dispute between us that there are properties in more need of protection. There are 21,000 homes at high risk that are all at a higher risk than the properties in this area. There's no dispute over that.
NRW tell us that people in the Roath brook gardens area, who are living in the 70 properties protected by the work, are generally happy with the scheme. Is that your understanding?
We've got some updated figures. There's a paper that we'll give you to consider because I know there's a lot of information in here. NRW put a survey out to 70 homes, the 70 homes they're going to protect. I should note—it's in the paper—that this figure has changed over the last year. It's gone from 65 to 60 to 62 and it's now 70, which quite frankly is shocking after all this time. They put a questionnaire out to 70 homes. They've put it out twice and they've done door to door and they've got 38 responses, so 32 presumably don't have strong views either way on the scheme. Of those, when asked:
'Do you feel the works proposed are proportionate to the flood risk and have adequately considered the value of the Park Gardens'
fourteen have said yes and 19 have said no, and then you've got two unsure and three no responses. So, of those homes, you have 20 per cent who have actually said, 'Yes, we are happy with this flood scheme', you have more who've said, 'We aren't happy', and you have others who haven't made any comment at all. I don't think it's right that the people in those homes are generally happy. Even amongst those who've responded, the majority of them want NRW to find a different way to protect them.
It's not to say they shouldn't have flood protection, it's to say that there are other ways. Individual flood protection could cost—some flood barriers can cost around £300 per property, some can cost £1,000 per property and then you'd need to protect the ventilation bricks as well. They're obviously much less significant sums than what is currently on the table.
Ultimately, you have to make a sensible cost-benefit decision. That's what all these decisions are based on. You have to take account of the full risks and you have to take account of the costs, including the destruction of the amenity and value of the parks. We don't protect every single area where there are two people or three people that demand or suggest they should have flood protection. We do a sensible cost-benefit analysis, and that's not happened in this case. Even the 14 people that have responded in the way that's just been described, they are responding to information from NRW that we would not necessarily agree with. It doesn't mean that we can take their replies at complete face value, or that they're totally happy that they will be protected from flooding and they're totally happy with the level of works that are going to go on in the parks.
If I could just very, very briefly add to that—NRW did send me their questionnaire for a few of us to comment on before it was circulated. We provided eight or nine comments, which were, I thought, quite sensible, and NRW did tell me they seemed quite sensible, because we wanted some clarification because we thought some of the questions were misleading. I think one of those comments was taken on board. For one example, I asked NRW if they could clarify that this scheme wouldn't protect people from cellar flooding from the drains, et cetera, because a lot of people are telling us they think it does, but it doesn't, and they didn't add that clarification in. I thought that isn't very fair for people to not know that information if they then think, 'My house is now totally safe.'
What is interesting is they didn't add that clarification in and then, when they sent us the results, they said there were a couple of people who had commented that they had been flooded and then NRW said in the results that it's probably the result of cellar flooding. So, indeed, that is quite unfortunate that they didn't put that in.
It just seems a bit of a culture of telling people the minimum information they need to know for them to try and make their own decisions and not fully informing them. You expect public bodies to be open and direct about what they tell people and say, 'This is what we're doing and this will be the result of it.' That's what I'd hope, I guess.
I promise this is my last comment on the questionnaire, but when we actually asked NRW, following the first round of results, which haven't really changed after the second, whether they were still content about going ahead with the scheme, given what people had said who lived there, they said, '"Want" is only one of the factors we take into account.' So, what the people actually want is only one of the factors they take into account. I would have thought it should be the major factor.
Actually, I would have thought need would be the major factor because what people want and what people need are not necessarily the same thing. But just moving on from that, your preferred option is individual house protection rather than a large-scale scheme—that's what I've taken from what you've said up until now. The other question is: where is the water going to go? I think that I've seen a number of schemes that have been very successful at stopping flooding at point A, and all they've done is move flooding lower down to point B.
Do you want to deal with the first question?
I think, just on the first part of it, it's not just individual flood protection. That is one option, but the other options are the reservoirs and looking at the lake or a combination of these things or the rec. Once the trial is finalised, we'll happily share the engineering report, which sets out those options, with the committee.
I think, to be honest, whilst we, probably, do have a preferred option, it shouldn't really be—. We don't want to be giving a preferred option. We just want NRW to, actually, assess these options, talk to the people, talk to everyone and bring the best option to the table. And we just don't feel they've been properly assessed.
Second question, about where will the water go—it won't go down the drains if you've seen any of the drain clearage in our area, certainly with all the leaves at the moment. Where it is intended to go is—. It, sort of, goes down through Waterloo gardens and it will then go into the River Rhymney which goes out by Sainsbury's on Colchester Avenue. So, that's where the water—. The effect it has on the water levels there—I'm not the person to ask, I'm afraid.
So, the question we need to ask somebody is, 'What's going to happen to the River Rhymney? If the River Rhymney is going to have additional water, is that going to cause it to flood?' I can talk with absolute ignorance, because I'm unsure where the River Rhymney goes, but it is a key point that, if you're putting lots more water into a river, then you can actually cause problems somewhere else.
Yes, and these are the options that storage gives you. So, upstream storage, where you slightly lower the level, so, you can keep more water up there, and then release it slower, such as the reservoirs or the lake, over time when the rains have stopped. It gives those options.
One last thing, I live in Swansea—you can probably tell from my accent—and we've got the River Tawe flood scheme that has just created an area that floods, and it creates one lake, two lakes. The water then makes its way back into the river. But it stops flooding, both higher up and lower down, because the water's got somewhere to go. Is there anywhere around there—? You've talked about the lakes. Is there anywhere apart from the lakes that could be available for flooding?
Yes. There is—. Certainly, within—. As an alternative to the whole scheme, they looked at the flooding of St Peter's rugby club.
Rugby field, sorry, yes, and also Roath recreation ground. St Peter's wouldn't have any effect on the works we're looking at now. Roath recreation ground would. They discounted it on the basis of the amenity value of the recreation ground. But we're talking about a one in 50, one in 75-year event, and would people worry about the rec being out of use for that period? We don't know the answer. But, again, it's not something that's been looked at as an alternative to this particular part of the scheme, because it was just all considered as one.
They may have looked at the amenity value of flooding Roath rec, but they haven't looked at the amenity value of cutting down the trees in the two parks. They've basically assumed that is a zero cost. It's not—it's £0.5 million.
It is quite interesting that in a project appraisal report that sets out the various different options there were that were considered, things like the rec and the lake are talked about with their amenity value. Option C, which is the option they went to, doesn't talk about the amenity value, even though they acknowledge that it's a conservation area, they're listed parks and that the potential disruption for the trees is significant. But, it's glossed over on the option they want to go for.
Given that there are tools available now and have been for a while, but are now increasingly used—. They're used by contractors. They're used by, for example, a highway authority that was going to cut down 40 trees to widen a road and build a cycle lane that was going to cost £100,000 to have an alternative solution, so, that was too expensive. Then they did a CAVAT assessment of the trees. They were £250,000. So, if you assume a zero cost to the trees, you cut the trees down. If you do a proper accounting of their value, you'll suggest alternative solutions. So, basically, they built a raised cycle lane. It cost £100,000. They saved £250,000 of the amenity value of the trees. Brilliant—that's the right decision. We're all for cost-benefit analysis, but use the right costs, use the right benefits. If you assume a zero cost to cutting down trees and destroying amenity value in the parks, you're going to get the wrong answer. Quite frankly, it's staggering that an organisation such as NRW, which, as Lee has said, is the body that is charged with looking after the environment in Wales is refusing to do this. It's just bizarre.
It's worth saying that the 'Woodlands for Wales' strategy recommends these tools to value the trees as well.
Well, you talked about the Tawe valley. NRW have used iTree and CAVAT in an assessment a few years ago. Why are they not using them here? There's a precedent there. Why are they not using them? I think we know why, but it's just totally inappropriate.
Okay. You've seen the Minister's response—the Minister for Environment's response to the petition. Can you give us a view on what you think of that response, please?
The Minister's response is very much—I wouldn't say drafted by NRW, but certainly takes NRW's view of it. I don't want to be too harsh on the Minister, but she was referred to at one point as the 'Minister for cut and paste' amongst the campaign group, because we just seemed to get the same response from her. Unfortunately, at the moment, we're getting no response. It's quite disappointing that since the beginning of October, we've sent the Minister some messages just asking about her view, given the lack of public support for the scheme, her view given the recent flooding events that have occurred and whether money can be prioritised elsewhere, and also suggesting that, as our work is coming to an end, we have a meeting with the Minister to discuss it. We had one very early on at the beginning. We've had no response to those. We're outside the 17 days, I think, that ministerial correspondence should be replied to. The only acknowledgement we've had is standard acknowledgement. So, that is quite disappointing, to be honest, given where we are. We did ask specifically for a response ahead of today's Petitions Committee. We didn't get anything, and that was chased last week.
The last communication we've had was on 9 August, where the Minister said that she expected NRW to use the context of the importance of trees in towns and cities in the context of making their decisions, but that's the last communication we've had.
Yes. I mean, even just when the pause started, it was actually—. There was a pause for a week in December, which is when Cardiff Council was bringing it in front of their scrutiny committee. Even then, a statement came out that the Minister was meeting NRW to discuss the concerns of the public. Well, meet the public—why speak to NRW? We're here. We're sensible people. We're quite happy to have a conversation. That was just, frankly, bizarre. And then an A4 notice appeared in the parks that the work was going to start the following Monday, and that was the only way we found out about it.
[Inaudible.]—flight to get back quickly.
Okay, thank you.
Okay. Well, can I thank you all for your comprehensive answers to our questions and can I ask if you have any further comments or recommendations you'd like to make to the committee that we might not have covered with our questions?
I think, really, just the summary of what—. Obviously, it's for you as the committee to decide what you can do or what you're happy to be involved in, but we'd like to push to have—I think you highlighted it, Neil—a discussion with Cardiff Council on the basis that they understand the true nature, that it's not a tidal risk of flooding, to get Dŵr Cymru to the table. What's been frustrating with that is: we asked NRW to try and facilitate a meeting between us and Dŵr Cymru. They agreed. We didn't see an e-mail go across, and then following a freedom of information request, we found out that that wasn't quite what had happened and what had happened was that Natural Resources Wales just sent an e-mail to Dŵr Cymru basically reassessing the reasons why they probably didn't need to meet with us, and therefore we didn't meet with Welsh Water. So, we'd very much like to meet with Welsh Water and our engineer, Chris Binnie as well, and to try and speak to the Minister and to get NRW to try and consider what these other options are for this phase, really.
Yes, I think it's always been about, for us, just reassessing it, just NRW to go back into this with an open mind, and they just don't seem to have an open mind. As I talked about, there is a new policy. Well, there's a change in management of NRW. There are new policies in Wales: there's 'Woodlands for Wales', there's the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, there's the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. These are progressive legislations, and from our point of view I think it's time we stopped talking about them and started enacting them. You know, actually make a difference, be a champion for trees—
Be an exemplar.
Yes, because time is running short.
We're doing our best as a community, acting in a kind of civic way. Lots of other communities are not as favoured. You know, Penylan's quite a prosperous area; we're fortunate. If you're going to put the burden on the community to provide evidence to challenge decisions, that is deeply iniquitous, because we are fortunate, we have some capability to do that. Lots of other people in Cardiff, lots of people in Wales, don't have that capability. This would have been done by now. That's wrong. So, I would urge you to take that away and to think about what that means in terms of how you do public policy for people rather than to people.
It just sadly seems that, to date—I don't know whether it's the right way to phrase it, but NRW seem to have a bit of a blasé attitude to being scrutinised, and maybe they just don't want to try and change their minds. But I think we've all got to look at the environment and what the future holds, and we need to be sensible about it.
Well, again, thank you very much, and thank you for attending the evidence session. I'm sure we've got a fund of information now, further information, that we can use in order to decide as to how we'll progress this petition. Thank you very much.
Could we leave packs, which are just some extra information?
Yes, and I will mention the fact that a transcript of this meeting will be available to you.
Brilliant, thank you.