Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig - Y Bumed Senedd
Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee - Fifth Senedd12/11/2020
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Janet Finch-Saunders MS|
|Jenny Rathbone MS|
|Joyce Watson MS|
|Llyr Gruffydd MS|
|Mike Hedges MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Neil Hamilton MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Ceri Davies||Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru|
|Natural Resources Wales|
|Clare Pillman||Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru|
|Natural Resources Wales|
|Dr Christianne Glossop||Y Prif Swyddog Milfeddygol|
|Chief Veterinary Officer|
|Gian Marco Currado||Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Jeremy Parr||Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru|
|Natural Resources Wales|
|Lesley Griffiths MS||Gweinidog yr Amgylchedd, Ynni a Materion Gwledig|
|Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs|
|Sir David Henshaw||Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru|
|Natural Resources Wales|
|Tim Render||Llywodraeth Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Andrea Storer||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Elizabeth Wilkinson||Ail Glerc|
|Marc Wyn Jones||Clerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:46.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 13:46.
Prynhawn da. Can I welcome everybody to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee? There are no apologies and there are no substitutions. Are there any additional declarations of interest? There are none.
So, we can move on to our first item: flooding in Wales, evidence session with Natural Resources Wales. Can I welcome Clare Pillman, their chief executive; Sir David Henshaw, their chair; Ceri Davies, their director of evidence, policy and permitting; and Jeremy Parr, head of flood and incident risk management? Croeso. Welcome.
If I can start off with the first question. Is NRW sufficiently supported to undertake its various responsibilities as set out by the Welsh Government's new national strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management? Somebody needs to unmute Clare.
Thank you. Thank you, Chair, and thank you very much for inviting us to join you today for what I think will be a really useful and timely session. As our flood review has highlighted, the challenges in managing flood risk are increasing owing to climate change. So, what might have been appropriate in the past will not be what we need in the future going forward, and we're really pleased that the Welsh Government's flood and coastal erosion strategy recognises this and the role that NRW plays in managing flood risk, both now and into the future.
The strategy contains 24 measures, of which 12 are NRW-led, either solely or jointly; seven are actions to groups in which we are a key player; and the remaining five are ones in which we also have a part to play. So, these asks are on top of or extensions to our current responsibility, and there therefore needs to be a recognition that there will be a requirement for additional effort and revenue funding to fully implement the strategy that the Welsh Government have published.
Thank you. We're going to come on to funding later. Moving on to Janet Finch-Saunders.
Thank you. Good afternoon, Clare. The NRW review found that some flood warnings were issued late, after the onset of flooding, or not issued at all, consisting of three flood warnings issued late in the lower Taff valley, three flood warnings issued late in the Teifi valley, 11 flood warnings not issued in the Rhymney valley, and one flood warning not issued on the River Tywi. Will you clarify why some warnings were not issued at all? Are there different reasons for the differentials in river catchment areas?
Sorry. Get used to this. Thank you, Janet. It is absolutely true that those flood warnings were not issued or issued late. They were all during that incredibly challenging period on the early morning of 16 February during storm Dennis when the teams were receiving flood warning triggers roughly every 90 seconds, and were issuing flood warnings and flood alerts for a whole range of rivers and catchment areas. Clearly, we don't see that as being acceptable, and we have put in place measures to ensure that, should we be faced with similar challenges this winter, we would be better able to cope. Sorry; your question was whether there was a difference between—. Can you just—? What was the exact—?
Are there different reasons for the different—
No. It was simply that the team were overwhelmed during that really, really challenging night. They were issuing flood warnings at very, very quick intervals. Of course, flood warnings are only one aspect of the way in which we communicate with the public about flood events, so in actual fact, flood alerts had been issued on all these rivers earlier on, and we were communicating through the mainstream media and on social media throughout the night.
I have to be honest, I do think your social media presence is good. I've actually signed up now, because I think when it happens here in Conwy, I'm not getting to know. So I've signed up, and to be fair, it was pretty regular.
Just a final point on this aspect. I mean, you've acknowledged that the website performs poorly, and a particular section that is frustrating is that on river levels. What steps can you take to provide data probably about at least every half an hour as to the river levels?
Absolutely. I mean, one of the real problems was that, during that incredibly intense period, with great demand, our website didn't perform as well as it should've done at times. We have now rectified that; we've tested it and we are confident that it will perform whatever the requirements on it. That will have those regular updates on river levels. I'm really glad you've signed up to our flood warning service. A lot of people, even in houses or businesses that are at risk, aren't signed up to it, and anything any of you can do to encourage people to sign up would be really good.
Thank you. Thanks, Chair.
Ceri Davies wants to come in. You're still muted. I hope somebody is going to unmute you shortly.
There we are; I'm unmuted. I just wanted to add to what Claire had said there that we've also got the Floodline service, and that's the sort of extra belt and braces, if you like, should anything happen to the website. We've not got a single point of failure; we've actually got two channels by which we can communicate with the public, particularly with regard to flood warnings and flood alerts, and that did remain available throughout the period. So, you'll see us promoting both our website as a source of information, but also our Floodline service. So, just to point that out.
Thank you very much. Neil Hamilton.
Building on Janet's question, you referred, obviously, to the terrible floods that we had last winter, and it's not a problem for you just when there is potential flooding in a huge number of areas. But also, within the overall flooding network, your ability to respond quickly by means of warning is dependent upon the speed at which water collects, and, therefore, the flood risk. It is evident—and you referred to this in your flood event data summary—in relation to steep catchments in the south Wales valleys and north Wales, and you stressed that estimating flow rates from river levels isn't straightforward, particularly for extreme flows where there is little or no historic data. So, I fully understand that this is complicated problem for you, but can you tell us what exactly you are doing to try and cope with this endemic problem?
Yes. I'd like to bring Jeremy in, as our expert in this area, if that's all right. If somebody could unmute him.
I hope you can hear me okay. It is extremely challenging in those sorts of catchments that you describe, where we've got very steep-sided valleys, very small catchments, very flashy catchments, which means that when the rainfall hits, it gets into the rivers really quickly. We saw that and it's evidenced in the report—river levels going up really quickly and going down really quickly. Part of the answer here is technology, part of the answer is our working relationship with the Met Office, using the best computers, the best brains in terms of the forecast, applying that to the models and getting the best lead time that we possibly can on these catchments. But also it refers to the previous question that a huge part of this is also making sure that the public, and society as a whole, understand what these warnings mean and the different levels of warning, and also understand what it means in terms of taking action. Because by its very nature in those steep-sided catchments, you haven't got very much time.
We've put a lot of time and effort in down the years, ourselves and with partners, in working with people to understand what it is that you need to do when you do get a warning, because the thing that comes through all the time is, 'I didn't realise it was going to happen to me, I didn't realise how quickly it was going to happen and I didn't realise really what I needed to do.' So, we've invested a lot of time in working with communities on community flood plans, for example—we've got over a 1,000 of these across the whole of Wales—and really what we're trying to do is say to communities, 'Think about what you need to do about moving cars out of harm's way, about moving pets out of harm's way and putting things upstairs.' That's no comfort, ultimately, for people who are flooded, but there are things that you can do to try and lessen the impacts. And there are also things that households and communities can start to think about doing about managing water in their catchments and property-level protection. It's not easy for everybody by any means, but these are some of the options that we do need to look at when we're facing climate change and increasing challenge going forward.
Flooding is in intermittent event and isn't always going to take place in the same place every year, but you know what the configuration of a landscape is and you know if you live in a steep-sided valley then potentially there's greater risk than if you're on a floodplain, although that's a different kind of flood risk that you get there. So, are you keeping or building up a computer database of potential flood risk related to this issue of steep catchment areas, so that your public education role can come to the fore and people know that they're going to have less time to respond to floods of a severe kind in their area, and therefore they should take care to watch the weather forecast in advance and make the necessary preparations?
Absolutely. We have tools and techniques to help us identify where the risk is and what the level of risk is, and the speed of onset of flooding and the depth of flooding is a key part of that. So, it's not only that it might happen quickly, but when it happens quickly it'll be at dangerous levels. We use that information, alongside other information, to help us prioritise where we make investments. That's around defences, but it's also around the flood warning service. And we also use that to prioritise where we go in and talk to communities about flooding and the risks of it. As I say, one of the big challenges is that a lot of people think it's not happened recently or hasn't happened in living memory and so it's not going to happen. That's a particularly real challenge—to get to talk to people and work with people to say that just because it hasn't happened doesn't mean it can't happen in the future. So, the south Wales Valleys, some of those areas that flooded, unfortunately, this time were an example of that. Some of them—not all of them, but some of them—hadn't flooded in recent history, and it's perhaps at the backs of people's minds. So, what we want to do is stimulate that debate. It's a big challenge, though, in terms of the climate emergency, it's a challenge inland and it's a challenge on the coast as well. We do it on a prioritised basis, and we do have an extensive network of community flood plans and community wardens, as I say. But more work to do.
Thank you very much.
Moving on, then, to Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you very much. Thank you for your excellent report—a very clear analysis of the lessons from last February. And I'm sure nobody who was actually in the flooded areas needs much convincing at the moment about the risks involved. As Jeremy's already said, the difficulty is getting people to understand that it could happen in their area too. I noticed in one of your reports you said that at one point NRW was asked whether or not Cardiff needed to be evacuated in February, which, obviously, would have been a huge operational event. But, very locally in my constituency, there's been huge resistance to improving the flood defences in a particular area of Roath, because people think that cutting down any trees is just beyond the pale. So, how do you approach this? If you're saying that even a 1 per cent chance event needs to be planned for—that is obviously a very low level in most people's minds.
Am I unmuted?
Yes, you're unmuted.
Thank you. Thank you, Jenny. I think it's really interesting, the Roath case, and of course we also had the discussions in Dinas Powys in the last year or so. I mean, I think that what the Welsh Government strategy does really well is recognise that in the face of more and more severe flood events, consequent upon climate change, we have to look at a range of responses. We have to look at hard-engineered defences, but as you say, sometimes those are not going to be acceptable to communities, for aesthetic reasons, for other environmental reasons, and equally, we are not going to be able to build ourselves out of this problem. We need to look at community resilience, some of the things that we've just been talking about there, about supporting communities to know how to respond, to look at ways in which communities can recover more quickly if they have been flooded, and we also need to look at adaptation, and we need to look at whether there are some communities where the risk is just too great going forward. So, I think it's that full range of responses, but as you say, the role of the community and the conversation that we have with them is not straightforward. We might come up with a solution that, for good reason, does not meet what that community wants. I think that is another aspect of this conversation. The Minister, when she launched the strategy, said that we need to have this conversation with communities across Wales, with flood risk management authorities across Wales, about what is the right solution for different communities.
So, where do you put the bar, then? Because clearly, some flood events are incredibly expensive, both in human suffering and in impact on buildings. At what point do you say, 'We have got to do this, because it's far too expensive to leave it to chance of not having this flood'?
I'll ask Jeremy to talk in a minute about the way in which we look at the communities at risk and build the business cases and what those are predicated on. But on that point of where you set the bar, I think that is—and I've said this before and it comes out very clearly in our flood review—part of this conversation that we need to have now with those communities and with other flood risk management authorities around the level of service that we can provide, that collectively we can provide, and where you put your emphasis. So, do you put lots and lots of money into hard defences? Do you put more into natural flood management, up-catchment land management? Do you put more into community resilience and supporting communities to recover quickly? It is a conversation that we need to have collectively, but also, clearly, with Welsh Government. Let's face it, Welsh Government and local authorities are facing huge numbers of other pressures on resources at the moment, so there's a conversation to be had about that level of service. Jeremy, do you just want to come in on that specific point about the level to which we build and the factors we take into account?
Certainly. In looking at the best solution for a location, we take into account, essentially, the costs and the benefits, and the benefits being the damages avoided. We do that because we're required to by Government rules, but, in doing so, what's really important is that we look at all of the options. I think, as Claire said, it often isn't one single thing that can solve or reduce the risk. What's really important is that we look at a catchment-wide basis as well. For example, if you take the Taff valley, it's a very long valley; you've got the Cynon coming in and the Rhondda coming in. It's a complicated picture, and if you build higher walls in one place, often that can just have the impact of pushing that water downstream to the next community and cumulatively as you go down the community.
So, we've got to think big and we've got to think differently in terms of making space for holding water back in various locations—all of these things need to be part of the thinking. And I think it's thinking in terms of not only what the solution is now, but what the future holds as well. But in essence, in answer to your main question there, we use Government rules in terms of making the decisions and business cases for investment, and a large part of that is on the cost and on the benefits.
Janet. You're still muted, Janet.
Sorry. NRW have stressed that there is a need to complement defences with nature-based solutions, such as holding back and making space for water. Is there potential for reservoirs to hold more water during flood events? I've done some work with RWE in terms of the reservoirs is the higher Conwy valley. Would you consider working with Welsh Water and RWE Renewables to establish what gains could be made from, in some instances, reducing reservoir water levels ahead of storms so that they can then hold more storm water during the actual bad weather? The Llyn Eigiau and Ffynnon Llugwy reservoirs are two that spring to mind. I know that there's some appetite there for discussion, so it may be something that we can talk about again. If you could just respond on that theory—that practice.
Thank you. We obviously do work very closely with Dŵr Cymru on their flood risk management authority and we work very closely on a whole range of issues. And clearly, natural flood management measures are an important part of the wider picture, and I'm always happy to talk to anyone with good ideas about how to reduce flood risk. But, Jeremy, do you just want to come in on the specific issue? Because there was clearly some misinformation or misunderstanding around reservoirs in the context of the February storms and whether there'd been additional releases from them, which there weren't, but clearly that had caused some anxiety. So, Jeremy, I don't know whether you want to come in on that.
Yes, thanks, Claire. There was quite a lot of misinformation in terms of what the causes of flooding were, including releases from reservoirs. It wasn't the case that there were releases from reservoirs that were contributing to it, nor was it the case that the tidal barrage in Cardiff was shut, causing backwater effects. It's the huge quantities of water that are involved and—[Inaudible.]—on these catchments.
I was just going to make the additional point that, of course, holding back water is one of the things that we do and we invest in. So, we've got schemes like that in Pontarddulais, where we've created, in effect, a reservoir that is empty most of the time, but, when it rains, it fills and it stops Pontarddulais flooding. We've got a similar thing in Cowbridge, and actually, about a year ago, it prevented Cowbridge from flooding. I don't know if anybody saw the pictures at the time, but it was absolutely full to the brim and held back a colossal amount of water, without which Cowbridge would have flooded. So, these are some of the very ideas that we need to be looking at, and nature-based solutions have their place, but equally they're not going to solve it on its own, particularly with these colossal amounts of water that we're talking about.
Okay. Now, capacity issues following outcomes of the review—. That's the next one, sorry.
My next question is: the following is noted as an outstanding issue for south-east Wales, South Wales Central and mid Wales—that there is a significant outstanding policy matter regarding improvements to flood defences that already provide the normal indicative standard of protection against a 1 per cent chance—like a one in 100 event. Dialogue between the Welsh Government and NRW policy team is required. Has the dialogue about improving flood defences in south-east Wales, South Wales Central and mid Wales been undertaken and, if so, what was agreed for the three regions separately? Thanks.
Jeremy, do you want to pick that up?
I'm happy to. So, yes, we have been in discussions with Welsh Government about the standard of protection and the designs. As I said in a previous answer, we use industry standard methods to calculate levels of protection and calculate designs, and they do allow for climate change allowances in the future. So, you've got that on one side, but, on the other side, you have got the inevitability that these events—and we all know it—are becoming more and more frequently and testing the network that we've got. And it goes back a little bit to the discussion that we've just had about what's the right response to that. So, yes, we are discussing this with Welsh Government. It isn't a case that it's fixed at a one in 100 level of protection; there is flexibility around that. It does come back, also, to the cost-benefit element that I introduced a little bit earlier, but I can absolutely confirm that this is one of the subjects of debate, not only with Welsh Government but across the whole industry.
Just following on from that and levels of engagement with other bodies, what sorts of levels of engagement and influence do you feel you have? Do you think it's sufficient with planning authorities particularly? And I'm talking here, again, about surface water being created, because, you know, you've heard me talk many, many times about urban creep, and there's a real need now to take this quite seriously. It adds an extra 11 per cent into the agreed amount of water that would be running off as a consequence of building the existing framework in that detailed planning application, and yet we all know, almost immediately, there's an additional 11 per cent added once people put a non-porous hardstand to park their car. So, I can see you're agreeing with me, and I'm sure everybody here would agree with me, but what do we need to do to make sure that that cannot happen, because everywhere now is experiencing very, very heavy downpours of rain, regardless of where they live?
I'm going to bring Ceri in on the planning issue, if I may, and I can see that she's put her hand up. Lovely.
Yes, thank you. So, in terms of your first point around how we are working or is it effective, we do work really closely with the other flood risk management authorities, but also with the planning authorities in their planning role, and we are a statutory consultee to planning development. And, obviously, if we've got concerns around flood risk management, then we will make those through that consultation process, and we do the mapping and modelling to back up the comments that we make.
I wanted to just highlight—and I know you will have been aware of and probably even visited—the work that we did really closely in support of Welsh Water. In Cardiff on the Greener Grangetown and the Llanelli schemes, there was a huge amount of working together to look at what the issue was around surface water flooding and the overloading of the sewer system and the impact on properties; and looking at re-instituting the greening of those communities so that there was a better capacity within the communities to absorb the water that was coming down in these sorts of monsoon-type events so that there was a better chance of the sewer system, for example, in the cases of both of those, being able to deal with the water that was then entering them and then not causing the flooding issues. You know, to retrofit those is quite tough to do because you're going in and you're taking away people's hard surface and parking spaces, et cetera, et cetera. But I think the Llanelli scheme was really successful in terms of the joined-up approach, with the local planning authority, and two local authorities actually, ourselves and Welsh Water going in and having those conversations with the communities affected where the greatest benefit could be had, through greening up those areas and putting in the ability for the catchment to be able to deal with the water.
That's fine, and I've seen all of that, and that's great, but that's not my question, is it? My question was, and I suppose it's two questions: do the local authorities or should they have to take note of what you're saying? I know you're a statutory consultee, but I know that you're very often ignored. So, that's the first question. The second question—. It's pre-empting, isn't it; my question was pre-emptive. I've seen all that work, it's fantastic, but what do we need to do to stop people taking those actions afterwards, because that is a major part of the surface run-off? It's what people are doing after, post application, so it should be in the pre-application.
Yes, absolutely, and the Welsh Government consulted on, last year, changes to technical advice note 15, and that's the one that sets the policy around which development planning occurs. There are a number of roles for us. We go right back to the spatial planning side of it, the development plans, to look at sharing our evidence and data and undertaking that statutory role around advising where there are problems within catchments and, therefore, where they need to be particularly sensitive in terms of developments going forward. We will often push for there not to be development at all, and if there is to be a development, that it's sensitive to the risk that it could be under. So, I think TAN 15 and the changes that are planned to come in next year on TAN 15 help with that.
We are a statutory consultee and we do work hard with the local authorities, and we believe that they do listen in the main to the advice that we give. There is a lot of dialogue and discussion between us where there may be areas where there is a particular pressure point on development and where we are demonstrating through the evidence that that will cause flooding problems. So, we do work together and we do try to stop the problem from occurring by working hard on those planning responses but also the development plans at the outset, so that we identify well in advance of planning coming forward where it's best not to put the development. But the TAN 15 policy and the national framework are absolutely key in this regard, with local authorities being brave around taking the decisions not to move forward with developments where we advise on that, and that's where we rely on the policy in TAN 15.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you very much. I just want to go back a little bit to where we were when we were talking about investing in more and new infrastructure, be it hard infrastructure or soft infrastructure. There's also the issue, of course, of maintaining and repairing existing infrastructure, which brings substantial cost with it. I'm sure you'll be aware of issues with the Tan Lan embankment in the Conwy valley, where it was breached in February and hundreds of acres flooded, crops lost, livestock lost. I think Natural Resources Wales quoted around about £150,000 to fix the breach, but that wasn't going to happen until a viability study was completed to look at options around the embankment. That isn't going to be completed until at least 2022, and then, of course, the options would be identified, there'd be a preferable option, there'd be a need to resource work, commission work and then complete it. So, you're talking potentially three, maybe more years between the breach and its effectively being addressed. In the meantime, of course, as I'm sure you know, the local community has come together and they've forked out to fix it themselves, using local contractors. It cost £15,000, so there's a question there about making best use of your own investments if a local community can do it for £15,000 and you're quoting a price tag of £150,000. But the question I'm asking is, shouldn't NRW have been in a position to fix that even if it was only on an interim basis, given that the community actually had to do it themselves in the end?
Yes, I'm aware of the Tan Lan embankment and talked to Janet about it. It is not one of our managed assets. We do have around 3,000 assets that we maintain and keep up to standard, invest in and ensure that they operate. But it is a hugely labour-intensive and difficult cycle, and, as you've demonstrated, Llyr, you can maintain them up to a particular level, but, equally, over time they take more and more investment. So, we always need to look at the viability of that particular asset and the expenditure against it. But I can see Jeremy wants to come in too.
But, in the meantime, it was just going to be left by NRW as it was. Sorry, Jeremy.
No, not at all. I think you're right, Llyr, in terms of the maintenance legacy from the network of defences that we have, and we have to make decisions about where to prioritise the resources that we've got and the investment that goes in. We have repaired those embankments, as I'm sure you know—we've repaired the embankments at Tan Lan at various points in the past. But this presents some of the challenges and some of the issues in terms of the resource that we've got and the prioritisation, obviously, across Wales. It is done on a risk-to-life basis—it is driven largely by where communities are. Where we don't have communities then, unfortunately, we would like to do more work in locations, but in some locations we can't, or it is harder to do. That's the honest position of where we're at, and part of the consequence of having to prioritise.
We're always keen to work with local stakeholders, we're always keen to look at what the solutions are, including in locations where perhaps the time is—I'm not saying necessarily so in Tan Lan—to step back and put the line of defences somewhere else. Obviously, that comes with massive consequences, not least to the landowners. I stress again that's not what necessarily will happen here, but I think again it goes back to our earlier question about thinking about what all of the options are, and what all of the options are in the long run.
So, how could it be, then, that addressing the issue cost £15,000 to a local contractor, when, actually, NRW were telling people locally it would £150,000?
I don't know the detail, unfortunately, Llyr, in terms of what the cost comparisons are. I don't know whether that's a truly like-for-like comparison, for example.
Maybe you could write to committee giving us what exactly—
I think probably we would have been looking at doing it to a different standard.
Yes, okay, but the point remains, I think, that the local community obviously feel—and this is what they tell me—that NRW washed their hands of that problem, because the breach was still there. The community stepped in and addressed it moderately cheaply in terms of cost, and maybe it's something that NRW could have done themselves, maybe should have done themselves, but it does bring us to the point where, actually, we wanted to end up, and this is about resources. Clearly, it's been a bugbear of mine, every time we've had somebody from NRW before us, just to ask—you know, we're waiting for you to tell us, 'We can't do our job because we haven't got enough money', but I know it's not for you to say that. But the point here is, of course—what work are you doing, what steps are you taking, to address capacity issues in terms of staffing, within existing revenues initially, and go on then to what else is needed?
Yes, and you will always get the same answer from me, Llyr—yes, we need more money, but, equally, what we do within our existing budgets to increase capacity, increase efficiency, is equally important. I was going to ask Ceri to come in on that.
Yes. Thank you, Clare. So, we benefitted this year, Llyr, from additional grant-in-aid funding from Welsh Government to the tune of £1.25 million-worth of revenue, which was very welcome. So, that has allowed us to invest more in additional resources. We've recruited 36 FTs to help us move some of the issues forward that Jeremy and Clare have already covered. That was really welcome additional funding for this year, but, unfortunately, it hasn't been baselined, so we're running at some risk at the minute in terms of—we bolstered our staff numbers, but we don't have the ongoing certainty that that additional sum will remain with us. But, in the meantime, we are filling in the key roles in our revenue-delivered activity so that we can ensure that we're providing the best service that we can within the resources that we have—so, improving our hydrometry and telemetry network, improving our incident response, improving our flood risk warning system, having more operational people out on the patch to help us to confirm river levels, et cetera, where we need to issue flood warnings going forward. And that's just some of the 36 roles. But they are all front-facing roles, helping to improve our operational delivery.
Another area, if I could touch on it, in terms of where we're working within our additional capacity and it's drawn out in our flood review work and the lessons learned, is around trying to brigade from within the wider resource pool within NRW to help us in some of the activities where maybe we don't need such specialist staff as we need for many of the roles in flood risk management. So, following our early experiences in February, we went out through the organisation to ask for people to volunteer to help increase our numbers on our rotas, for example, our emergency rotas. And we had 180 people volunteer to take part in that, having seen the work that we were doing and the experiences of the communities, within which our staff live as well. So, when we see these communities being flooded, we're part of those communities. And what I'm really pleased to say is that, out of that initial group of volunteers, we've now placed 112 people on rotas to help in supporting roles, in main-line roles, within our incident management response, so that we can improve our service going forward. And that's one of the key themes that came out of our review—around looking to see what we can do in our wider organisation to make sure that the specialist roles can concentrate on the actual specialisms that are needed in things like telemetry, hydrology, issuing and making the decisions around the flood warnings, but where we could use other staff with great skills to fill other roles.
We've identified as well, through the—. I know your question was about within existing resources, but we have identified what's needed, looking forward, in terms of the level of service discussion that was mentioned earlier by Clare, and what that would look like in the light of the increased frequency, with climate change, of the sorts of events that we're anticipating in the future. And that's where we've identified that we'd need to double the numbers that we've brought in so far up to the 60 to 70 level, so that we can really make a difference in terms of improving the resilience within our organisation for dealing with events of that size.
I'd just like to touch on one other thing around capacity, and that's the non-staff areas. So, again, we've undertaken a really thorough assessment of our assets, and we've already made many repairs in the period since February, because clearly we want to also give communities the confidence that we've repaired the damage that was felt through that. We've undertaken many repairs to our defences and, for those that didn't need immediate repairs to restore and ensure that they have the level of protection after February as was present before, we've featured those longer term repairs and modifications into our programme looking forward. And obviously we'll continue, as we do with our flood risk asset programme, to talk to Welsh Government on an annual and even more frequent basis around what that looks like. There's still a lot of work to be done, as we've identified in the review, but just to give you a summary of some of the work that we've already put in place.
Well, just to be clear—. Thank you for that. Just to be clear, the 36 full-time equivalents you mentioned actually reflects the 30 full-time equivalents that were asked for in the review, yes? Is that in the short term?
In the short term, we had additional funding and we've taken on the 36, and then what we've done is we've estimated how many we'd need if we were to undertake all of the actions we've identified in the review, and that's 60 to 70, but that's including the 36, if we had that baselined, and then we doubled that.
That's the case. So, it's not permanent at the moment.
It's not at the moment, no. It's one-year funding, yes.
It is one-year funding, okay. But it's 60 to 70, then, on an ongoing basis longer term.
That would equate to about £2.5 million. We've got the £1.25 million as a starter, perhaps, on that.
Yes, so that would be a permanent £2.5 million, year on year—
So, where are you in terms of discussing that with Government?
We're in the middle of budget discussions for next year with Welsh Government, along with everybody else. Clearly, with COVID and all the rest of it, those are challenging, but we are talking to them about this element of it. But also, going back to our earlier discussion, we talked about what was needed not just by us, but by other flood risk management authorities, to implement the strategy. So, there's a series of conversations and, as I've said, it is about having that honest discussion about where you put your money, the relationship between capital and revenue, the level of service you're looking for, and critically—and I think this came out very strongly, not just from our review, but from the submissions that you've had from local authorities—we need capital and revenue, but we also need multi-year settlements. It's the ability to plan confidently and to manage things over multiple years that will really start to build that resilience, not just in the assets that we manage, but the assets that local authorities manage, and the community engagement and community resilience work that we've been talking about.
I couldn't agree more, and I think Welsh Government wouldn't mind a multi-year settlement as well.
Of course, and I have enormous sympathy with them on that.
I don't often happen to agree with them, but—
And I think they are hopeful—and I suppose it is partly whatever happens with COVID—that it would be possible, at the beginning of a Parliament, to be able to give local authorities and ourselves perhaps a three-year settlement, with indicative for the fourth year or something. That would really help.
Yes. Absolutely. Thank you, Chair. Absolutely. Thank you.
Can I just say—this is just a comment—of course, they could give you an indicative that would be cash flat over three years, which would not leave you in a particularly good position? Okay, I will call in Janet.
Thanks. Llyr's touched on a couple of the issues. We understand that additional staff are needed for a variety of flood-related responsibilities, including flood forecasting, warning, asset management and planning, plus maintenance and operational incident response. But could you clarify around how many staff, technically, who are employed to deal with flood-related matters in NRW also have to deal with other non-flood-related matters?
Gosh, that's quite a difficult one to answer. I will try and do it, but I may need to write to you with the exact figures. So, there are around 300 staff in NRW who have some responsibility for flood. Now, at one end, you might have somebody who spends their whole time working on telemetry or flood mapping or whatever, and that's their dedicated job. At the other end you might have our integrated workforce, who might be doing something on a national nature reserve one week or helping with a flood asset the next week. So, there is a range within that. And I suppose that is one of the advantages of bringing all the different environment bodies in Wales together—that you have that opportunity to have those integrated, particularly at the operational end. But I can write to you with the exact breakdown of—
That would be great.
—within those 300, exactly what everyone does.
That would be quite interesting, actually. Thanks, Clare.
Thank you. Jenny Rathbone.
Thanks very much. We've already touched on, earlier, the need for local authorities to be brave and simply refuse applications to build on floodplains or to build in ways that, obviously, don't allow water to run off in a natural way. So, what indication is there, in the light of the events last February—which, obviously, nobody could have avoided noticing—that these relevant authorities have a commitment to work better together to understand the causes of flooding, and that can be different in each area, and to get together a sort of longish-term plan about what to do about it.
Yes. I think that's one of the things that would be interesting to discuss, really, because I think at a local level, and operationally, we work really well with other flood risk management authorities, with local authorities, with Dŵr Cymru, with Network Rail and all the rest of it, and that operational response. Yes, there are always things you can do better, but the relationships are good and we get stuff done.
I think what you're talking about is absolutely what needs to happen, and those conversations that need to happen, which are the broader, the more strategic, the longer term, the sort of, what is going to be the threat in five, 10, 15 years' time. What is the balance between hard flood defence, natural flood management, adaptation and community resilience? And those conversations need to start to happen, and I think the Welsh Government strategy gives that framework; when the Minister launched it, she talked about those conversations needing to happen. And it is that sort of—. It's up from the on-the-ground, 'How do we deal with this flood defence? How do we deal with the combination of factors of surface water, tributaries and main river flooding in a particular area?', up to that next level, about which communities are going to become more vulnerable, how do we support them, what are the big things that we can do.
And a lot of comparisons have been made this year with the terrible flooding that happened in south Wales in 1979, when huge swathes of Cardiff were flooded, and that was seen as a really pivotal moment, and I think that this is a similarly pivotal moment. This is a moment when everyone involved with flooding needs to be involved in those conversations about the future, and really to be thinking as—. A lot of the work that was done after 1979 protected communities last February; a lot of that work was set in train then. I think we're at a similar point now, thinking ahead for the next 30 to 40 years and how we respond to that, and as I say, those four areas that we all need to be engaged in and talking about, and not just, as I say, on a local level, but on a regional level. So, I hope that answers your question.
Well, nearly all the organisations we're talking about are signatories to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. They are obliged to be thinking in the long term. However, it's a work in progress. But do you think public services boards are a useful vehicle for ensuring that all the organisations who are responsible for a particular area are aware that this is a major strategic issue, and one that we can't just be planning what's going to happen in the next 12 months?
We're heavily invested in public services boards. We sit on every single one, and in Ceri, you have the chair of Newport public services board, and she might want to come in and talk about things from that perspective. But I think that—. You said it: nobody in Wales can have missed the seriousness of those events last year. It was the wettest February on record. It was just an extraordinary amount of water coming on the back of a very, very wet winter, and I think that every public services board needs to be thinking, as you say, in the context of the future generations Act, 'What does this mean for us now, but, critically, what does it mean for our communities 10, 15, 20 years ahead?' Gwynedd public services board have had to get to grips with the issue of Fairbourne; other public services boards are going to have to get to grips with similarly complex issues around communities and flooding. But, Ceri, I don't know whether you'd want to come in as a PSB person?
A specific question to you, Ceri: what happens when house builder X comes with a load of money dangled in front of the faces of local authorities, 'We'll build you this and you're going to get lots of revenue'? What is the perception within PSBs that they simply can't just say, 'Oh, yes, that's a great idea'?
Yes, and as Claire said, I've benefited from sitting on the Newport PSB as a deputy chair and, you know, some really good work is being done in that regard, Jenny, in terms of rather than looking at things by organisation and functionally, but actually looking at what the wider outcomes are that we need to deliver. Newport is a really great case in point with a major, hugely tidal river running right through it, with big infrastructure and strategic developments happening still, and have happened. But also the need to bring together the more natural and the ability for the environment within Newport, and to be able to deal with those issues. So, I am seeing that things are being talked about differently, we look at things from the multilevel outcomes that need to be achieved, rather than just a housing development there, but actually a conversation around what all of the issues and all of the opportunities are that could happen if we all pitched in together.
And I think what I would say is that the experience of having worked on Caerphilly previously and now Newport PSB, the response and the coming together around COVID was just so much slicker as a result of the work that we've done together on PSBs, developing up the plans and implementing them. That does give me heart for some of these really difficult, tricky issues, where previously we might have made our own decisions within our own organisations, but actually bringing those to the table and saying, 'So, we do want to develop and we do want to improve the infrastructure and the commercial outcomes of Newport, but we need to do that in a green way, in a carbon-neutral way, in a flood-resilient way.' And how do we ensure, then, that building back of more green infrastructure into it, so that the population can use that for recreation and environmental benefits, which, then, of course, also will help in terms of flood alleviation. So, we are having those conversations, and I think, as Claire has said, also in Gwynedd around Fairbourne, it's quite clear that PSBs are now starting to take on those really difficult, multilayered issues.
One final but very important question around collaborative working across boundaries, and that is the relationship with the Environment Agency. I notice in one of your papers that you said that you simply weren't able to get information from the Environment Agency in Herefordshire in relation to the River Wye in February, and I read separately in the newspapers that there are serious concerns about the Environment Agency's capacity to do the job it's supposed to be doing. So, how big a problem is that?
Well, I think the issue is Herefordshire was that a gauge went down, but Jeremy can confirm that. So, it was a very specific issue that a gauge was knocked out, so we didn't have the upstream information coming to us. But we work very closely with the Environment Agency; we share a long border and Jeremy is in contact with them all the time. So, do you want to come in quickly on that?
Yes, just really quickly. You're absolutely right in terms of that specific issue was a gauge in Herefordshire that went down. But, on the back on that, it just shows the expertise of the staff that we've got, because without that data they were still able to predict when it was going to flood in Monmouth and, remarkably, got it within 5 cm and got it within an hour or so of the peak, just by projecting it down stream. A bit technical, I know, but that, for me, shows the value of the staff that we've got and the expertise that we've got. We spend an awful lot of time working cross-border with the Environment Agency, sharing an awful lot of data. A large part of what we do is the same, and the working relationships are good.
That's the end of our time. Can I thank you very much for coming along? I'd be failing in my duty if I didn't also say about the success on the River Tawe, where the flood plain in Ynysforgan and the fact that you've widened the river and put more bends in the river has stopped an area that consistently flooded over decades from flooding at all during any of the heavy rains we've had in recent times.
Thank you, Mike. I just wondered—. Sir David has been waiting patiently. I just wonder whether, David, you wanted to come in at all.
Well, the team, I hope, explained everything very fully. Just going back to Jenny's comment, I think in the end this will come down to some quite hard, very hard choices. These will be choices that, if you like, elected politicians will have to make, per pro, on behalf of their communities. To get that base, you're going to have to have some big conversations with communities about what's more important, where you spend the money, et cetera. I think if I had one message for us, it's that you can't build yourself out of this; we're going to have to have a conversation with the people of Wales about what level of service we want, where we're going with this, and actually we are going to have to step back in some places from protecting things where we can't possibly afford it. But we're not in a position to drive that, and I think you made it very clear earlier on about Roath. We're operating a very different methodology in working with the communities now, using co-design, working with communities to work out what package of measures, but in some cases they don't want them. So, there are some difficult conversations ahead.
Thank you very much. I'll thank you all again for coming along, and I look forward to seeing you again in the future. Thank you. We will now have a break until 3 o'clock. Thank you.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:47 ac 15:01.
The meeting adjourned between 14:47 and 15:01.
Can I welcome Members to the second part of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee? Can I welcome Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs and her officials Gian Marco Currado, director of environment and marine, Christianne Glossop, Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales, and Tim Render, director of land, nature and food? Croeso. Welcome.
If it's okay, I'll move straight to questions on green recovery. Will there be additional funding made available to support the green/blue recovery, and, if so, how much?
So, we published, as you know, our 'COVID-19 Reconstruction: Challenges and Priorities' document last month and that underlined our commitment to a green recovery. In that document, we did set out some additional funding for our circular economy fund—that was a key component of the green recovery. So, £12.5 million has been allocated to the circular economy fund to support 74 projects now, across Wales, under round 2. So, I think that fund now has been expanded to around £16.2 million, and colleagues probably will be aware that the circular economy has now come back into my portfolio, with the changes that the First Minister made to Government last month.
These sorts of projects will really help deliver and demonstrate that the transition to a circular economy is already happening on the ground as a key part of the green recovery, and it includes supporting academics in Swansea, for instance. We've also got some local food share hubs in Gwynedd, along with other reuse projects. We've launched a third £3.5 million round of the circular economy fund, and that's primarily for public bodies, to enable them to support the green recovery, and that's just opened for applications, so I haven't got any further information on applications at the current time. In addition, we've allocated a further £13.2 million to fund repair and reuse activities—that's in our town centres, and applications are coming in for that fund also. I know that there's a share and repair shed in Llangollen and a repair workshop and reuse shop in Llanelli, which have already come from that fund, but, again, we are seeing—I think the pandemic has raised these issues—a growing demand for repair and reuse and remanufacture and refill facilities.
So, the funding that I've just described is a clear signal of the importance of a circular economy and our commitment to decarbonisation. We know that we're in a climate emergency. I think it also reflects some of the lessons that we have learned in relation to the pandemic from that about the resilience of the economy, so I think we need to do everything that we can to support organisations, particularly around our supply chains. Sometimes, I think we recognise that they're too long and a bit vulnerable and that we need to make sure that they are resilient, going forward.
Thank you. Will you be setting biodiversity targets?
Well, we're having discussions around biodiversity targets as part of the Edinburgh declaration, which you're probably aware of. So, those talks—we're in conversation with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and obviously other parts of the UK around that. I think that's something that we need to look at. We clearly—again, you've heard me say that biodiversity, nature, is in an emergency also, and we haven't hit the global targets, so I think we certainly do need to look at them, but those are ongoing discussions.
Okay. Thank you. Joyce Watson.
Thank you, Chair. And if I can just add—
I can't hear you, sorry, Joyce.
Too many things to remember. If I could just add: you said you're setting biodiversity targets—have you got a timetable?
No. I said we're starting to look. So, we're looking at the Edinburgh declaration that's been brought forward in relation to this. So, I wouldn't say we've got a timetable. Obviously, we've only got six months of this Government, and I would certainly like to make an announcement during that time. I think, before the end of the year, we're looking to do something around the Edinburgh declaration, but whether that would bring forward specific biodiversity targets, I'm not sure, because those discussions are ongoing.
Thank you. I'm going to ask on fisheries and how the Welsh Government is monitoring the impact of the national lockdown particularly on the closure of food and drink establishments. That clearly did affect the fishing industry.
So, there are a couple of ways that we monitor fisheries. There's Seafish and there's also a monitoring group, and they give us feedback on the way that that is affecting it. I don't know if Gian Marco can say a little bit more about that other group whose name I can't remember, sorry—the monitoring group.
Absolutely, Minister, very happy to. So, it's the UK joint fisheries marketing monitoring group, which looks at, in effect, landings data and prices, and then Seafish, which is a UK-wide non-departmental public body that supports the seafood industry, as I said, across the UK. They collect broader intelligence. And, basically, those two sources of data are what help us to monitor the market impact on the fishing industry. In addition, obviously, we as officials, and the Minister as well, meet very regularly with stakeholders from the industry, and they clearly keep us up to speed in terms of the impact it's having on their businesses.
So, in terms of the impact on the fishing, we've heard a lot, haven't we, about milk being thrown away because people couldn't get their coffee in a plastic cup. So, in terms of fisheries, we don't seem to have heard quite so much. So, it's really reassuring us here that they've been included in the thinking by Welsh Government, should they have suffered loss due to the first lockdown and now the second lockdown, and whether, you know—the pandemic will be here for some time—the long-term plans in supporting the fisheries, but also the aquaculture of businesses, particularly with processing and direct sales.
So, you are right, we haven't heard as much around fisheries, but, if you think about it, certainly if you go back to the start of the pandemic in March, I suppose the majority of our fishing fleet were tied up; they weren't going out to sea. So, I guess we didn't have the waste that was so apparent with milk. But you'll be aware we did set up a fisheries fund to support them when they did tie their boats up at the beginning of the pandemic, and we continually review the options of what further support could be needed, or might be possible. Obviously, we haven't had the outcome of the comprehensive spending review as yet. We don't know how we're going to leave the European Union when we come to the end of the EU transition period. So, we're having to look in relation to supporting fisheries from that aspect too. And, of course, there's the pandemic also.
There is quite a lot of support available, as you're probably aware, through Business Wales, and our fisheries stakeholders are very well aware of that. We certainly include fisheries stakeholders in all our discussions. You'll be aware of the round-table I have, and I know Gian Marco and some officials from his team talk to fisheries on a regular basis. So, absolutely, they are included in discussions, not just in relation to COVID but, obviously, EU exit, which could have a massive impact on them also.
Thank you. Janet.
Hi, Lesley. So, in terms of agri support during the pandemic, Minister, as you well know, earlier this year, eligible dairy farmers who had lost more than 25 per cent of their income were entitled to up to £10,000 to cover 70 per cent of their lost income. At the time, the Welsh Government told the committee it was monitoring the situation regarding the red meat sector, but chose not to introduce a bespoke support scheme. The Welsh Government has not announced further sector-specific support for any impacts of this firebreak. Given the recent re-closure of food and drink establishments, what impacts have you assessed the firebreak has had on the agricultural industry and what further plans for sector support schemes could you put in place?
Thank you. So, you're quite right, we did bring in a dairy-specific support scheme earlier this year in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have—. This is the reason I couldn't remember the last one—we also have a UK agricultural market monitoring group, and that gives us analysis around the questions that you asked. And at the current time—. So, the last advice that I received was—it certainly doesn't indicate that the agriculture industry is facing the same issues as they did earlier this year. So, there are no current plans for further support schemes linked to COVID at the moment, but we will, obviously, continue to monitor all agricultural markets going forward.
Thank you. And then my next question I've raised with you before. Sector officials have informed me that some types of mountain sheep wool produced in Wales are now thought to be worthless, and you may be aware, because it was on social media, of the 800 fleeces that were burned at a bonfire night protest at rock-bottom wool prices. It's very evident that the Welsh wool sector is in a huge crisis. What assessment has your department made of the evolving situation and have you made the case for targeted support for this sector to the Cabinet?
So, obviously, I was aware of the fleeces and the state—. It's not just the Welsh wool sector—
No, I know, I know.
—it's the sector as a whole. So, certainly, I've had meetings with the British wool board, I've had conversations—I haven't taken it to Welsh Government Cabinet, but certainly I've had discussions with UK Government Ministers around this issue to see what we can do to support the sector more. One thing I think we can do, and, again, I have had discussions with my colleague Julie James around whether we can use wool in housing. Obviously, there are procurement processes that we have to do, but it's certainly something that we can look at for how we can help. But I do think this is something that the UK Government need to lead on. I've got another inter-ministerial group Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs meeting on Monday morning, so it's something that we've discussed there also, but, clearly, there are concerns around sheep meat and EU transition. But, in relation to the wool part, those are the conversations that I currently have.
Thank you. And then—do you want me to ask the question now, Chair, on air quality or wait?
Can you wait, because Jenny's leading on it—
Yes, that's fine. Thank you.
Thank you very much. There is no uncertainty around the importance of air quality, unlike some of the other subjects we've just been discussing. If anything, the pandemic has highlighted just how dangerous poor air quality is in terms of the vulnerability of individuals to COVID. Could you just tell us whether the pandemic has impacted on your legislative timetable for introducing a White Paper on a clean air Bill? I appreciate we're not going to have time in this Parliament to actually take the clean air Bill through the Parliament.
No, it hasn't had any impact on the timescale. As I proposed, probably for the last 18 months, we will be bringing a White Paper forward during this Senedd term.
So, do you think it's reinforced with your colleagues the importance of tackling air quality, given, as I say, the link with COVID vulnerability?
Yes. Yes, I do, and colleagues may be aware, last week, we had Wales Climate Week, and, obviously, air quality and how we deal with emissions is something that—it's right across Government, not just with me, and we had a very successful Wales Climate Week, and I hope I can say a bit more about that later on in this session. But I think it's not just in my portfolio, is it? It has to be dealt with by everyone. So if you think of the initial funding that was given during the pandemic by my colleague Lee Waters in relation to active travel, that is obviously because everybody recognises that we need to do more about poor air quality.
Okay, that's reassuring. I just wonder if I could ask you about your letter that you wrote to the Chair on 2 November, because you acknowledge that the decrease in traffic during the main spring lockdown obviously led to many reductions in pollutant levels, but some other pollutant levels increased, i.e. fine particulate matter and ozone. I wonder if you could explain why that was. Is it the interaction of the two different types of pollution, or just simply that industry kept on going?
It will take some time, I think, to understand the full impact of actions relating to air quality in the pandemic, although it's obviously very clear that road vehicle activity decreased considerably, certainly in the first lockdown, and I think clearly in the firebreak that we've just come out of also. But it is less clear as to what the changes in the concentration of air pollutants have been, as you said. So I think the early results that we've had from it—and I haven't had an update for a little while—were that it is a very complicated picture. So, the first two months, I think it was April and May, showed significant decreases in some pollutant levels—nitrogen oxide, for instance—so I think that is obviously very consistent with road traffic levels. But the other pollutant increases of particulate matter, which you referred to, and also ozone increased, so we do need to drill down to find out why that was. So, we're continuing to investigate that, and also the interventions and potential impacts as they are relaxed, so that then obviously will form the management of air pollution across Wales, and also the development of any future policies and legislation that we need.
Okay, so are you able to put any timeline on understanding the complexity of this? I appreciate you haven't got all the data.
No. So, I met with the senior official who's dealing with this a couple of weeks ago, and I think we've got another meeting in the diary before Christmas, so I hope maybe the next time I come to committee in the new year I would be able to update you.
Yes, I just thought a little bit more on that one. I think we all noticed that, during the pandemic, weekly trends in deviations of nitrogen oxide concentrations were considerably lower than expected, and a limited sample of traffic data shows a drop in vehicle flows. Given an expected return during our reopening—and there's some ambiguity whether we'll ever go back to how it was, or it may be a completely different type of reopening fully when we get through the pandemic—what moves are you making to retain the gains made during lockdown with regard to clean air? How will these gains be sustainable and remain in lockstep with the necessary green economic recovery?
It is about locking in that behaviour, isn't it? We've talked about how we lock in that behaviour, so that's down to, obviously, individuals as well, but we need to make sure that the legislation is fit for purpose. So I suppose all the data that I was just referring to in answer to Jenny will obviously then feed into the White Paper, and the White Paper will then feed into the legislation. So I think it is really important, but how do you lock that in? I think, at the moment, a great deal of people are still working from home, so you're not seeing the numbers of cars on the road, you're not seeing the rush hour as much as we were. For somebody like me, who lives on the border, it's interesting to see the amount of traffic, particularly if you go down to Cardiff. Obviously, along the border, it's interesting to see—when we were in the firebreak it was quieter on the Welsh side, and obviously now England has gone into lockdown.
So I think people's behaviour is different, but whether it's because it's being locked in and they are choosing to do that, or whether it is because of the situation that they're having to work from home or they're having to stay home depending on the regulations that they're in. So, I think it is difficult, isn't it? We saw it with shopping. I think, in the pandemic, in the beginning, people were far more keen to use their local butcher, their local shops, which they could walk to, than perhaps going to the supermarket as often. We were told to go to the supermarket perhaps once a week. And I think that happened, but I don't think that's happened as much in the firebreak.
No, and I don't.
But it's for individuals to decide as well, isn't it?
Thank you very much. If we now move on to Brexit, and the first question is from Neil Hamilton.
Good afternoon, Minister.
I've a couple of questions about Brexit, which won't surprise you very much, I'm sure. Well, the talks are still going on between Monsieur Barnier and David Frost. None of us knows whether either side is going to blink before 31 December. The EU is still maintaining that it has to have the right to legislate for British business in many important respects, on questions relating to the environment, health and safety, perhaps even taxation and other areas that are vital to the UK. And clearly a Government that has been elected on a programme of getting Brexit done couldn't possibly accept that kind of regime. So we have to, I think, operate on the basis that there won't be a deal on 31 December, however much we might all want one of some kind or another. So can I just ask you, therefore, a few questions about that?
First of all, the advice that you're giving with that background. The farming unions in Wales have been criticising the guidance that Welsh Government has given on its website for the end of the transition period. They say it's a huge and complicated array of different links to different pages, and any small business owner is likely to get very, very lost amongst all that. So, what's your view on this, that it is too complicated in practice for people whose life is not normally spent behind a computer screen to use?
I suppose I agree, to a certain extent. We try to make things as simple as possible, but I have to say it is very complicated and the UK Government's guidance is very complicated. I don't know if you've had the opportunity to look at their border operation paper, but it's over 200 pages long. It is a really complex, complicated, difficult topic. So, businesses aren't sure how they're supposed to prepare, they don't know if there's going to be a deal, they don't know if there are going to be tariffs. I've raised this with George Eustice, that businesses have told me—Welsh businesses have told me—they find it incredibly patronising that the UK Government are saying, 'You've had four and a half years to prepare', because they don't know what they're preparing for. And, as you say, those negotiations are still going on, nothing has been finalised. I personally think there's a deal to be done and they need to get on with it and do it, but I do have some sympathy with people thinking that everything is very complicated because, frankly, it is.
Yes, well, I fully agree with you on that point. I think it is quite unfair to say we've had four and a half years to prepare because, up until the last general election, it was always possible that there might be a second referendum and everything might be undone and there were all manner of different options that might have been arrived at in between that extreme and leaving on the basis of 'no deal'. So clearly—
I'm sure, Neil, that you didn't think it would be this complicated and, perhaps, you know, on reflection you might disagree now with the proposals at the beginning.
I did assume some basic rationality on the part of the EU, and I agree, I might have been mistaken in that respect. I don't want to go into, obviously, the Brexit debate again, but fundamentally you've got the EU's fundamental aim being political and the British Government who, in this part of the negotiation anyway, are concentrating on the economic advantages to either side of a deal of some kind. But at the moment, it doesn't look as though this is going to lead to an agreement. There'll be an impasse, and therefore, on that basis, we have to prepare for a 'no deal' outcome, otherwise, on 1 January, there'll be a great hiatus, which will be of no benefit to anybody—quite the opposite.
We know that, although we are not self-sufficient in most temperate food products, the one area where everybody says there's potentially going to be a big problem is in relation to the sheep meat sector, and particularly this is true in Wales, and therefore there must be some special regime of support, come what may, for our sheep farmers.
Those like me, who have said all along that we should prepare for Brexit on the basis that nobody, broadly speaking, could be worse off, and the taxpayer, therefore, has to intervene in order to compensate people for the losses that they may suffer, are keenly interested in whatever deals might be done internally in the UK, between the devolved Governments and the UK Government, to enable that position to happen.
So, in relation to the sheep meat sector, I wonder if you could tell me what the contingency plan is. I gather that a preferred option is now direct financial support—the so-called 'crisis payments'—which were agreed at the Inter Ministerial Group for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and that that's going to be implemented through a UK-wide breeding ewe headage scheme. Can you tell us a bit more about this so that we can judge exactly where we are and what might be the regime after 1 January?
Yes. As you'll be aware from numerous question and answer sessions that we've had, we have been preparing for a 'no deal'—Welsh Government has been preparing for a 'no deal'. If you look back at last year, I think it was three times we prepared everyone for a 'no deal' as best we could, only to, obviously, then be stepped down again. But, obviously, we've had to carry on that work this year and, certainly, support for the sheep sector was part of that contingency work last year. So, those conversations, obviously, resumed this year.
I'll ask Tim to come in to explain some of the specifics around headage, et cetera, but, certainly, those conversations are carrying on now between the UK Government and the other devolved administrations to assess the scale of the impact against all the agricultural sectors, but as you say, the sheep sector is particularly vulnerable. Thirty-five per cent of Welsh lamb is currently exported, of which 95 per cent is destined for the EU. So, we are preparing a business case to support the sheep sector financially in the event of a 'no deal'. The Treasury have agreed a joint bid between all four administrations as the preferred option, so that's what we're currently doing, and we will carry on doing. But I don't know if Tim has any information he can give on specifics.
Thank you, Minister. I think the first thing to be clear on is that this is something that is really a problem in the case of no deal, but, hopefully, if there were a deal and you have, presumably, as part of that, tariff-free trade continuing, the level of the problem is massively reduced. So, this is one of those areas where getting a deal really makes a huge difference is, I think, the first thing to say.
And, yes, we are working—all four administrations are working together—for a common scheme. We all face the same problem. Looking at the precise mechanism, we're still pinning that down. Headage is certainly one of the simplest ways of doing it, but there are different models and different times of the year as to what works best. As I say, we're still pinning that down.
We're agreeing a business case to the Treasury to secure that money. I think we're basically nearly there on that. This is not an issue on which there is really any significant difference between the agriculture departments, but it's now really getting to boring Treasury talks to provide money for precisely the justification that you outlined at the start. So, it's very much a very live negotiation that we are having now, but, were there to be a deal, may disappear as a major issue.
What's the scale of the financial issue for the Treasury? Lamb exports, the last time I looked, for the UK, were about £300 million all put together, I think. So, in the context of the sums which the Treasury has been flinging around in relation to COVID, obviously this is all trivial. But nothing is trivial to the Treasury where candle ends are concerned, as we know from long history. So, what sort of sum of money is going to be needed in order to fund this scheme?
I'll ask Tim to come in again, if that's okay.
Our estimate was probably about £40 million for Wales, and we have about a third of the UK lamb crop, so £100 million to £120 million for the UK. It's depends a bit on how long you would want it to last, obviously, but that was what we thought to get over the early days shock and give people a chance to start to adapt.
Well, it would be extraordinary in my view if the Treasury were to put a spoke in the wheel of this. But that's not a question you can answer, Tim, is it?
We do our best in our arguments with the Treasury on very many things. They're a tough organisation to negotiate with.
There are lots of battles going on, as you can imagine, not just in relation to this.
Thank you very much. Jenny Rathbone.
Thank you. I just want to follow on from Neil Hamilton. The end-of-transition document that was published by Jeremy Miles yesterday talks about if we have no deal, there will be disruption of trade, particularly across the channel crossing from Dover to Calais. And while there isn't a risk of general shortage of food, it will impact on the imports of fresh fruit and vegetables. Choice is going to be more limited, prices may increase—I think that's probably a definite—and imposing particular burdens on our most vulnerable citizens, and I wonder if you could just say how the Government is planning to mitigate that.
Again, food security is something that we look at on a UK basis, because we don't just do it individually as a country, and we've been very clear about food prices. Funnily enough, I was in a meeting a week ago where I raised this, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Secretary of State insists that it's a possibility, but like you, I think, unfortunately, it is probably something that's going to be happening.
Clearly, fresh produce is a concern, because so much has to be in place by 1 January, and our borders—. Obviously, if you've got somewhere like Dover, that has much more of an infrastructure than Holyhead, for instance, so a very large piece of work is currently being done—I think personally it was a bit late starting—by the UK Government around our borders, to make sure that food, particularly fresh produce, isn't sitting on the dockside because of lack of certification and paperwork. But for me, that is clearly the issue, and I know Tim is leading on borders, which Jeremy Miles is also leading on, but I know Tim's leading on that, so he might be able to say a bit more in relation to that.
But obviously, food security is something that I think is on the agenda on Monday again in our meeting. I only met last week with DEFRA inter-ministerial group; we're meeting again next week, so you can see the scale of the conversations and how often they're taking place at a ministerial level, but obviously at an official level every day. But clearly, that's a great concern. Tim, do you want to say anything about that?
Yes. Thanks, Minister. There's an awful lot of work going on across the UK on the food security side. The UK food supply chain is fully integrated, so in a sense, what we can do in Wales, we're very dependent on what happens elsewhere, and the particular vulnerability is disruption at the channel crossing. Obviously, we grow a lot of our own food; we import a lot of food; a lot of that comes in through ports other than Dover, and from non-EU countries, and that isn't particularly disrupted, but it's that crossing over from Dover to Calais, channel tunnel, and particularly affecting fresh produce originating primarily in southern Europe, which obviously, the real risk is that that's on such short shelf-life that any delay getting across really starts to impact on the supply. So, that's seen as the biggest risk.
Well, we can agree it's a risk, and it's well described in the document. What are we doing about it?
Well, there are regular conversations with all the suppliers and all the supermarkets. Those are twice a week at the moment to make sure that they are able to manage the logistics. The way that the border will be operated and goods prioritised through the channel tunnel in the immediate weeks following 1 January—food is prioritised for that. We know that supermarkets, for instance, will be looking at alternative sourcing options. If I look back, a few years ago, there was some very substantial disruption to supply from southern Europe caused by very bad weather, and the supermarkets—. There was probably a couple of weeks when there was disruption, but they very rapidly sourced from other places, less sustainably because a lot of it was flown in, more expensive because a lot of it was flown it, but there are ways, and I know that they are looking at those sorts of alternative options for the product categories that are affected.
Okay. So, supermarkets, obviously, are highly dominant, but they're not the only places where people buy their fresh fruit and vegetables. What about the wholesale markets that other outlets, smaller businesses rely on?
So, there are lots of contingency plans being drawn up, not just in relation to food and drink, but water, waste. There's just so much work going on right across my portfolio, it's just bathed in everything EU transition. So, for the type of businesses that you're referring to, this is part of business preparedness and trying to support them. We're trying to support them financially to make sure they are prepared, however, the UK Government, they refused to move the date of the EU transition period from the end of this year. I think we're down to 50 days—I think yesterday was 50 days, that's why we launched the plan. We're now down to 49 days. They've got to provide, I think, the additional funding that will be required to help our businesses prepare.
Chair, do you want me to go straight on to discussion of common frameworks, or does Neil or somebody else want to come back?
We'll move on to environmental governance.
Yes, okay. So, just moving on to the post-membership-of-the-EU world. Could you—? I think I have—. You mentioned biodiversity earlier and the Edinburgh convention. There were some announcements made by—. Obviously, there are a lot of voluntary sector organisations who are very keen to see us making a commitment to banning all deforestation in everything we do. The UK Government have said, they made some warm words available yesterday, but they're going to rely on local laws to ensure that it happens, but we know that the Amazon rainforest is being burned down within the law, I think, in Brazil, or at least without the enforcement required. So, I just wondered what the Welsh Government position is on how we're going to take forward these things. Is it going to be in a—? Are we going to have to rely on the UK Government framework, or are we going to be able to set our own Welsh standards, or is that impossible if the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill goes through?
So, as you know, there are a lot of ifs and buts there. Interestingly, last week, I mentioned the Wales Climate Week that we had, one of the workshops—not workshops, the virtual discussions I was in, somebody had brought forward a suggestion around how we could look to do it ourselves, but it really does depend on the internal market Bill, as you say.
And I wonder if you can just clarify the position around genetically modified organisms and whether they are going to be part of a UK framework, or whether that's going to be entirely down to what each country decides to do?
So, I think I did provide, Chair, some further clarification in my letter on this. There's the GMO framework and the strategic environmental assessment framework, they've been classified differently in the revised framework analysis that's been published by the UK Government. So, we did have an agreement that frameworks weren't required for those two areas. So, the GMO framework that Jenny's asking about falls within the DEFRA portfolio, so we agreed around that. It was along with some wider outputs in relation to the reclassification exercise. So, the UK Government, I know, are continuing to look at the analysis around those decisions, but that's the current position.
But Wales is going to be dependent on what DEFRA comes up with—is that right?
Yes, we're going to have to see what they come up with, but as I say, we are part of the discussions.
Okay. All right. Could you just explain why no frameworks are going to be required on the natural environment, in light of what I've just been talking about earlier—different interpretations?
So, there are a few around biodiversity, as you say, the environment and the marine environment also. The decision in those areas where no framework is required was, again, a result of discussions that we held on a four-Government basis when we were developing the frameworks. So, the outcome was that those—. The existing arrangements between the four Governments were viewed as being sufficient, or that no framework was needed. This is going back a few years now. I think this was about three years ago that we decided that. I haven't got all the information to hand on the rationales that we worked on, and I'd be very happy to provide a note if that would be helpful, Chair.
Okay. All right. My last question on this is around the food and feed safety and hygiene, in the context of some of the problems we've seen in the past around animals being fed feedstuffs that caused major health problems. Is this in your portfolio or, once again, are you going to have to rely on the UK DEFRA?
No, it's not in my portfolio; it's in Vaughan Gething's portfolio. But, again, officials are obviously having—. Welsh Government has had input into that. So, no.
I don't know if anybody—. I'm just thinking, maybe Tim or Gian Marco want to say a bit more about frameworks.
Thank you very much, Minister. Oh sorry, Tim. As the Minister said, we can provide more specific rationale on the individual decisions, but I think one of the main criteria underpinning this is that we've focused the frameworks in highly regulated areas where decisions are going to be taken, say on specific products like chemicals, and where we absolutely need to know how to operate those regulatory frameworks. In some areas, like biodiversity, you haven't quite got the same hard-wired regulatory framework. It's more about information exchange, how we work together to forward, perhaps, common biodiversity objectives, and in some of those areas it was felt that the current arrangements were probably sufficient to manage that. So, I think that's perhaps one of the key lenses through which we've looked at frameworks. I thought that might be helpful for Members to hear.
Okay, thank you.
Tim's nodding. On to Janet.
Thank you. Minister, in July of this year, the Welsh Government announced it had established a task group to provide advice on interim governance measures. I also note that the Welsh Government is recruiting an interim environmental protection assessor. Now, it is suggested that the interim assessor will monitor the implementation of environmental law and lodge complaints regarding compliance until a governance body commission is established. So, will the annual report of the interim environmental protection assessor be subject to any Senedd scrutiny? Are you able to confirm what cost will be incurred by these interim measures, or when they might be published for scrutiny? What assessment work have you undertaken in concluding that a single individual would be enough to oversee compliance until a body is established? And when do you expect a permanent environmental governance body to be implemented? Sorry, there are a few there.
A lot, yes—hang on, I think I've got them all. So, this is obviously an area that's had a huge amount of focus, and an area I've been lobbied on, and we've worked very closely with our stakeholders and, obviously, many of the environmental NGOs are represented on the stakeholder group and this is clearly an area that has had a big focus. I think the group you're referring to is the environmental governance stakeholder task group, which certainly didn't start in July this year; that started a couple of years ago. It might be that I had the report—. I think I had the report before then. But, I receive quite a few pieces of advice and reports from that group.
So, we have to have interim measures; there isn't the time to look at this. I think, for me, what I want is a better system than we've got at the moment, and I want it to be a genuine system and I want people to have confidence in it and I want it to be quicker, because if you look at some of the issues that have been taken up with Europe, it's taken a long, long time to deal with. So, I think, for me, that's what I would want to get out of it.
You're right, we have just advertised for an assessor. Now, part of that assessor's role would be to put himself or herself forward for scrutiny by the Senedd or by Senedd committees. So, in relation to whether they would produce an annual report that then would be scrutinised by the Senedd, I would say 'yes', because that's part of their role, to come forward. And just say your committee wanted to scrutinise the report, I'm sure that they would put themselves forward for that. I haven't got any costings to hand in relation to it, but we've been very clear that we will need to have a White Paper developed in this area. I have also committed to publishing my response to the advice and the report that's come out of the group that you referred to—the stakeholder task group—before Christmas, so, i.e. next month, and I'm on track to do that.
The development of a White Paper will take place next year, clearly, and we've been very clear that we are committed to legislating around the environmental principles, environmental guidance, and put it on a statutory footing. You may remember when the First Minister announced the legislative programme for the rest of this term that, unfortunately, some really difficult decisions had to be taken in light of COVID-19, and the legislative programme wasn't able to find time to do that during this term. So, obviously, until a new Government makes its legislative programme available next year, I don't know when we would be able to put it on that statutory footing, but certainly, as a Government, we are committed to doing that.
Thank you very much. Llyr.
Thank you, Chair. So, how long is 'interim'?
How long is 'interim'? Well, as I say, until we get all those building blocks in, I'm not able to say that. I can't commit, for the next Government, to their legislative programme. But certainly, for this Government, I would want to see it done very quickly, but I don't know in reality.
So, if it's legislation in the next Government, then we're talking at least two years from now, I'd imagine, aren't we?
Well, it depends how quickly we can bring the White Paper forward. As I say, for me, the most important thing is that we have a better system than we've got now, because I think it's too time consuming and I think people genuinely feel that it takes so many years, it's not worth doing sometimes, and I don't want people to feel like that. But I'm not able to commit in the way that—. If we had just hit the start of the Senedd term now, I would be very happy to commit it, but I obviously can't do that.
And why do we have to wait until the end of the year to see the report from the task group?
It's mainly capacity. You'll be aware that it's the same people working on EU transition as are working on COVID-19, and, you know, there are only so many hours in the day.
But the group reported in April. It isn't very time consuming to actually publish that, surely.
Well, as I say, my response to it will be published. I've committed to publishing it by the end of the year.
I know that your response to it will be published. You need time to respond to it, but surely the report itself could've been published before the end of this year.
Well, it will be published, as I say, at the end of the year.
Yes, I know. You've said that—
And I've said it's due to resources.
Well, I don't understand that at all, because it's merely just releasing a report that you've already received.
Well, you know—
Your response takes time, clearly, but not the report.
So, why should we be asking you in a meeting like this whether the interim arrangements would be subject to scrutiny from the Senedd? Surely, in advertising the role, you will already have a clear understanding in your mind what the arrangements would be. So, do we have to wait until the end of the year for that, as well, do we?
No. I said in my answer to Janet that the annual report—no, I probably didn't say this, actually—will be produced by the assessor. It will be published on the web pages, it will be copied to all interested parties. But I did say in my answer to Janet that it is part of the assessor's role to make themselves available for Senedd scrutiny or committee scrutiny, obviously.
But shouldn't we be party to this information before having to scrutinise you to understand what the role is, what the remit is, what our role within this is? We've known that this is on the horizon, we've known that this is coming, and I appreciate that you're working in difficult circumstances, but it feels very much as if the Government is having to make it up as you go along.
No, no. We've just now advertised for the assessor. I'm not aware that that should have gone—if that's what you're referring to—through Senedd scrutiny.
Not through, but people have been asking for a very long time what the arrangements would be in terms of environmental governance. We've had little from you, as a Government, in terms of what the longer term arrangement would be, let alone the interim arrangement, and now you're already advertising for something, and we're having to ask you what the arrangements would be around its role, in terms of roles and responsibilities, our role in terms of contributing to that process. And if we are having to do that, then there'll be other stakeholders out there who are probably even further away from knowing what's happening.
Well, a lot of those stakeholders have sat on the taskforce for me—
Published a report that we haven't seen.
Well, they've come forward with many recommendations. Those recommendations will—. The approach that we're taking in relation to the interim measures are based on those recommendations. You will see the response to the report next month and you'll be able to, obviously, assess it then. But you have to appreciate that it is down to resources, a lot of this.
I understand that there are huge pressures on resources.
Llyr, you may not like the answers, but I think we're reaching one of those games of tennis where the ball's being batted back and forth.
No, I fully appreciate the pressures on Government, it's just that I can't understand why the report wasn't published, that's all.
We're going to hear next month, so can you move on, please?
Move on to—?
The next bit you want to talk about.
Right. Yes, I wanted to talk about—. Well, it's going to get worse, then, Chair, I feel, because we're coming on to the future agricultural policy post Brexit. Now, clearly, you're committed to publishing a White Paper, and we're looking forward to seeing that before the end of this year, which I presume means within the next four of five weeks, probably. But, of course, you are publishing that White Paper whilst the outcome of the economic impact assessments that you're committed to aren't going to be available until next year and until any formal piloting has been carried out, really. So, it's something I've raised with you before: you're publishing a White Paper before really knowing what the impacts of what your policy proposals are going to be on those who may be affected. You're also doing so, of course, at a time where—. You've just been talking to us, in the last half an hour, about how little we know about where we're going to be within 49 days in terms of the end of the transition period, whether we'll have an export market, whether we'll have a glut of produce on the domestic market, whether other producers in other countries will have enhanced access to Welsh markets. The goalposts are moving and you're trying to pin the tail on the donkey with a blindfold on. So, are you not putting the cart before the horse in publishing the White Paper before all of these pieces are in place?
I don't think we are. I do take on board your comments, and I am committed to publishing the White Paper next month. That is absolutely still on target. But, obviously, those questions around—. You're right, we don't know the trade deal, we don't know the financial impact, we don't know the environmental impact, and I've said no major decisions will be taken. This is a White Paper. I have to publish it by the end of this year in order, then, to have the 12-week consultation. Even then, I know that publishing it just before Christmas is not a great time, but because of where we are in the electoral cycle and the fact that I want to give a full 12-week consultation period, unfortunately, I have to do it now in order, then, to pave the way for the agricultural Bill. So, I don't dismiss your concerns or the concerns that my Cabinet colleagues have raised with me when I've taken papers to Cabinet in discussions around that. So, again, with the farming unions, they are very aware of why we're publishing it next month, but there's going to be some major decisions that are going to have to be taken when we know more, particularly around trading—you're absolutely right.
So, you accept that there could be a need for major changes to the White Paper when and if it comes to a point where it's turned into formal policy and legislation.
Yes, I think we've got to be flexible. Certainly, when you see the White Paper, as you've probably seen in other documents before, there are changes that are having to be made because it is such an uncertain time on so many levels. But because of where we are in the electoral cycle and the fact I do want a 12-week consultation—.
Okay, that explains something. That's an important point, I think. Thank you for that. So, are we likely to see a draft Bill, or is it just going to be a policy White Paper?