Decision time for Welsh rail infrastructure

24 March 2016

Article by Andrew Minnis, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Rail traffic into and out of Cardiff Central Station

Image from Flickr by Jeremy Segrott. Licensed under Creative Commons

 

What’s been published and why now?

The Enterprise and Business Committee published it’s final inquiry report of the Fourth Assembly today, considering priorities for the future of Welsh rail infrastructure (PDF 896KB) .

Rail projects are delivered in five year “control periods” with the next, Control Period 6 (CP6), running from 2019-24. Although this is still a few years away, the Committee wanted to consider this issue now because preparations for CP6 are getting underway as the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) launches “Periodic Review 18”.

While Welsh Government has powers to invest in rail infrastructure, primary responsibility for funding Welsh rail infrastructure is not devolved. The process will therefore lead to the Secretary of State setting out what he expects the rail industry to deliver and ultimately to “final determinations” on Network Rail’s outputs and expenditure for CP6.

What did the Committee recommend?

The Committee a total of 18 recommendations in a number of areas.

High level priorities for infrastructure improvements

The Committee set out its key priorities in north, mid and south Wales in eight recommendations. Since this is a largely non-devolved area these focused largely on influencing UK Government and other rail delivery bodies. These included:

North Wales

Delivery of a compelling business plan for north Wales electrification to be funded by the UK Government.

Access to English airports from north Wales.

Mid and West Wales

Enhanced services in mid Wales, particularly further improvements linking Aberystwyth to the English Midlands and beyond.

South Wales

The need for absolute assurances that the electrification of the South Wales Mainline will continue unbroken as a single project all the way to Swansea.

The need for a robust plan for Cardiff Central Station with the track and signalling upgrades needed to create a station fit for a 21st Century capital city.

Freight

Upgrade of North and South Wales lines (and relief lines) to the largest gauge for freight containers, electrification of the Vale of Glamorgan line and the need to identify, and work to deliver, infrastructure priorities for freight across Wales.

Infrastructure planning and delivery

The Committee looked at the way in which planning for this non-devolved policy area is undertaken. It made recommendations for improvement of the current, non-devolved, arrangements and also considered arguments for further devolution.

In terms of current arrangements, it found that the Welsh Government’s role as a so called “third party” or “minority” funder of infrastructure is unclear. It felt this to be a concern, particularly as Welsh Government begins to take the lead on large-scale multi-million pound projects such as Valleys electrification.

It also felt that there is not enough transparency about Network Rail financial and performance data in Wales. In particular it concluded that the next Control Period should see targets and outputs set by the ORR at a Wales level (currently they’re set for England AND Wales), with improved reporting.

Having heard evidence suggesting Network Rail has underperformed on some projects, the Committee identified a need to ensure Network Rail structures are “fit for purpose” when working across the organisation’s administrative boundaries, and that Welsh projects should be managed by teams based in Wales (previously some have been managed from Swindon or Bristol). However, it was pleased to see that Network Rail is already working to address some of these concerns.

In terms of Welsh Government powers, the Committee recommended that Welsh Government should have greater responsibility for rail infrastructure, and that Network Rail must be more accountable to it as more investment comes from Wales itself.

It heard that there are options to do this without legislation, but identified a “strong case” for legislation formally devolving rail infrastructure powers to Wales. However, in recommending formal devolution it identified four key issues to be addressed clearly in advance of devolution:

  • The need for a fair funding settlement;
  • The approach to apportioning Network Rail’s current debt and managing future borrowing;
  • How the cross-border network will be managed; and
  • How risks, such as latent defects or overspend, will be managed.

Cross-border issues

Evidence emerged of the need for strong links with the new devolved English transport planning bodies such as Transport for the North (TfN) which will increasingly be responsible for planning rail (and other transport) enhancements.

While Welsh Government has developed a Memorandum of Understanding with TfN, the Committee felt the Welsh Government should “increase its efforts to develop key cross border relationships” with these devolved bodies and other key English stakeholders.

The Wales and Borders Rail Franchise

Since the Committee held a full inquiry into the future of the Wales and Borders rail franchise in 2013, it had not originally intended to cover this ground again.

However, issues emerged during this inquiry arising from planned devolution of responsibility for procuring the next Welsh rail franchise to the Welsh Government from 2017.

In particular, quite a lot of evidence pointed to concerns about the proposed review of the “franchise map”.

If cross-border / England only services are transferred into adjacent English franchises, respondents and witnesses expressed concern about the impact on the franchise, and particularly inconvenience for Welsh travellers forced to change trains.

While the UK Department for Transport said reports that cross-border passengers might have to change at the border are “spurious”, the Committee concluded “until we see the proposals for the next franchise in Wales, speculation about what is in and out will continue”.

It recommended that Welsh Government “must make it a priority” that “popular, profitable routes which are essential to the travelling public” are included in the next Welsh franchise.

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The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015: What is it and what does it mean for Wales?

22 March 2016

Article by Chloe Corbyn, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act will come into force on 1st April 2016. The Act aims to improve the social, economic and cultural well-being of Wales by placing a duty on public bodies to think in a more sustainable and long-term way. This blog post outlines the key aspects of the Act and what it means for the public sector in Wales.

Well-being goals

The Act puts in place seven well-being goals that public bodies must work to achieve and take into consideration across all their decision-making.

To measure progress towards achieving the goals, Welsh Ministers must set national indicators, and accompanying milestones.The final set of 46 national indicators were published on 16 March, following a commission to the Public Policy Institute for Wales to advise on development of the indicators, and a consultation period that ran from October 2015 to January 2016.

 

Sustainable Development

In the Act, sustainable development means:

…the process of improving the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales by taking action, in accordance with the sustainable development principle, aimed at achieving the well-being goals.

When making their decisions, public bodies need to take into account the impact they could have on people living in Wales in the future. There are five things that public bodies need to consider in order to demonstrate they have applied the sustainable development principle:

  • Long-term: The importance of balancing short-term needs with the need to safeguard the ability to also meet long-term needs.
  • Prevention: How acting to prevent problems occurring or worsening may help public bodes meet their objectives.
  • Integration: Considering how the public body’s well-being objectives may impact upon each of the well-being goals, on their other objectives, or on the objectives of other public bodies.
  • Collaboration: Acting in collaboration with any other person (or different parts of the body itself) that could help the body meet its well-being objectives.
  • Involvement: The importance of involving people with an interest in achieving the well-being goals, and ensuring that those people reflect the diversity of the area which the body serves.

Which public bodies does the Act include?

The Act covers public bodies in Wales, specifically:

  • Welsh Ministers
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • Local Authorities
  • The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales
  • Local Health Boards
  • The Arts Council of Wales
  • Public Health Wales NHS Trust
  • Sports Council of Wales
  • Velindre NHS Trust
  • National Library of Wales
  • National Park Authorities
  • National Museum of Wales
  • Fire and Rescue Authorities

The Act places a well-being duty that the public bodies will be expected to carry out. The duty states:

Each public body must carry out sustainable development. The action a public body takes in carrying out sustainable development must include:

  1. Setting and publishing objectives (“well-being objectives”) that are designed to maximise its contribution to achieving each of the well-being goals, and
  2. Taking all reasonable steps (in exercising its functions) to meet those objectives.

How will we know if public bodies are making progress towards achieving the well-being goals?

Pubic bodies must publish a statement when setting their well-being objectives explaining why they feel the objective will help them achieve the seven goals and how it has applied the sustainable development principle. They must also publish an annual report showing the progress they have made in meeting their objectives. Where the Future Generations Commissioner has made recommendations to a public body, it must publish its response.

Twelve months before an Assembly election Ministers must publish a Future Trends Report that shows predictions of likely future trends in social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales and any related analytical data and information that the Welsh Ministers consider appropriate.

Public Services Boards

The Act establishes Public Services Boards for each local authority area in Wales. The Members of the Board must include the local authority, the Local Health Board, the Welsh Fire and Rescue Authority and Natural Resources Wales. In addition, each PSB must invite the following people/organisations to participate on the Board who become ‘invited participants’ if they accept the invitation:

  • Welsh Ministers
  • The Chief Constable for a police area
  • The Police and Crime Commissioner for a police area
  • Certain probation services, and
  • At least one body representing relevant ‘voluntary organisations’.

It can also invite other people who carry out public functions.

The role of the PSB is to improve the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of its area by assessing the state of these aspects of well-being and setting objectives that are designed to maximise the PSBs contribution to the well-being goals. They must so this in accordance with the sustainable development principle.

Each PSB must prepare and publish a Local Well-being Plan setting its objectives and the steps it will take to meet them. The plan must state why the PSB feels its objectives will contribute within its local area to achieving the well-being goals and how it has had regard to the Assessment of Local Well-being in setting its objectives and steps to take. Each PSB will carry out an annual review of the plan showing its progress.

The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

The Future Generations Commissioner’s role is to act as a guardian for the interests of future generations in Wales, to support the public bodies to work towards achieving the well-being goals and monitor progress in achieving objectives. The role is supported by an advisory panel, including the other Wales Commissioners, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, a representative of Natural Resources Wales, Wales TUC and Welsh businesses.

The Commissioner has a number of roles and responsibilities:

  • Reporting: The Commissioner must publish, a year before an Assembly election, a report containing an assessment of the improvements public bodies should make to achieve the well-being goals.
  • Advice: The Commissioner can provide advice to public bodies and Public Services Boards on working towards meeting their well-being objectives.
  • Research: The Commissioner may carry out research including into the well-being goals, the national indicators, milestones and the sustainable development principle.
  • Carry out reviews into how public bodies are taking account of the long -term impact of their decisions, and make recommendations based on the findings.

The Auditor General for Wales (AGW)

The AGW may carry out examinations of the public bodies to assess the extent to which a body has acted in accordance with the sustainable development principle when setting well-being objectives and taking steps to meet those objectives. The AGW will work with the Future Generations Commissioner to ensure that public bodies are working to achieve the well-being goals for Wales.

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A Smarter Energy Future for Wales

15 March 2016

Article by Chloe Corbyn, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Photograph of Assembly Members launching the report

On 16th March, the National Assembly for Wales will debate the recent Environment and Sustainability Committee report on a Smarter Energy Future for Wales. The report is the culmination of over 12 months work by the Committee, which started with a fact finding trip to Germany to see how the German Energiwende has transformed the energy landscape there. (For more information on the Energiewende see the previous research service blog). It builds on previous work on Energy Policy and Planning undertaken by the Committee during the 4th Assembly, offering a vision for a sustainable energy future for Wales.

The key messages from the Committee are:

If Wales is to meet its climate change obligation of at least an 80% reduction by 2050 we need to change the way we think about energy; its generation, distribution, storage and conservation. The landmark deal on climate change in Paris last December sets a framework for Wales to accelerate its action in this area, making real strides towards reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and setting the bar high for a new energy model.

Leadership is key to achieving an energy transformation, with a clear and stable policy direction paving the way. This policy must lead Wales to a decarbonised energy system, with the aim of Wales meeting all of its energy needs from renewable sources. Local energy supply to local markets is a cornerstone of this new policy, and, whilst larger-scale inward investment projects will continue to play a part in providing energy security, diffused local solutions must also feature highly in a future renewable, sustainable energy jigsaw.

Energy conservation and demand reduction must be addressed, and are areas where Wales holds the necessary levers and powers to take action now. Both new buildings and existing housing stock present opportunities to improve energy efficiency.

The Committee makes 19 recommendations about what Wales must do to make the smarter energy vision a reality. A number of these are summarised below:

  • Establish a clear vision for future energy policy, including a central role for local energy;
  • Set annual targets to reduce demand for energy and help people use it more efficiently;
  • Aim to meet all of its energy needs from renewable sources;
  • Urgently revise Building Regulations to ensure that all new houses are built to ‘near zero’ energy standards;
  • Explore linking the cost of stamp duty land tax to the energy performance of a house to start to increase the value of energy efficient homes;
  • Urge the UK Government to enable Ofgem to allow prioritisation of local supply to local users in Wales;
  • Amend planning policy so that it prioritises local and community renewable energy projects; and
  • Provide ‘hand holding’ support and advice for local and community projects.

The Committee sums up by stating:

“The responsibility to ensure a smarter energy future is shared by every one of us in Wales. We must each play our part if we are to meet the challenges we face and take the opportunities presented to us. For everyone to have the opportunity to play their part, the next Welsh Government must provide the necessary leadership to set the vision and framework for this change. Wales must seize opportunities to transform its approach to energy now”.

Sustainable Wales, working with Community Energy Wales, has recently launched a video as part of its Shine a Light? Campaign, advocating local and community owned energy.

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M4 Relief Road: another corner turned on the road to delivery?

15 March 2016

Article by Andrew Minnis, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

M$ South Wales

The Welsh Government’s plans for an M4 relief road south of Newport, between junctions 23 and 29 of the current M4, took another step forward on 10 March.

A substantial number of documents marking a key stage in the planning and delivery process were published. Ten public exhibitions were also announced where members of the public can inspect draft orders, environmental information and other associated reports and materials.

This blog post explains what has been published and what happens next.

What’s been published?

A pretty substantial number of documents has been published in three areas.

Draft Orders and Statutory Certificates

Four draft orders have been published using powers conferred under the Highways Act 1980:

Two more documents are expected to be published on 24 March 2016:

  • A draft compulsory purchase order: providing powers to acquire the land needed to build the road; and
  • Section 19 certificates: under s19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 giving powers to replace common land and allotments.

Environmental Statement

The Environmental Statement sets out the Welsh Government’s assessment of the main environmental effects it has identified during development work. It describes how the Welsh Government intends to mitigate the impact of the road.

The statement itself is a huge document. However, the Environmental Statement – Non Technical Summary gives a more digestible version of the findings. In particular, it summarises environmental specialist assessments considering impact and mitigation in areas such as:

  • road drainage and flooding;
  • air quality;
  • cultural heritage;
  • landscape and visual impact;
  • ecology and nature conservation;
  • geology and soils;
  • noise and vibration; and
  • impact on community and private assets.

“Associated Reports”

A range of other “associated reports” have also been made available, including a scheme assessment report, a sustainable development report, an economic assessment reports and a traffic forecasting report.

The scheme assessment report gives a useful overview of what is happening. It summarises key non-environmental aspects of the scheme including details of the route, walking and cycling infrastructure, the junctions, bridges and other structures required, and how far the scheme affects connectivity from side roads.

Thirty five bridges are planned, including a River Usk / Newport Docks crossing, presumably to try to address concerns from Associated British Ports that the new road will negatively affect the operation of the Port of Newport.

The report also says that the scheme would require a total of approximately 721 hectares of land, including land needed temporarily for construction. This is said to include “areas of environmental and historical interest”. The road will require demolition of 12 residential buildings, 5 of which are already Welsh Government owned, including one Grade II listed building.

The assessment also sets out what the Welsh Government expects the impact on congestion to be:

Total vehicle transfer from the existing M4 around Newport is generally anticipated to be 45-48% (rising to 60% through the tunnel because there is less local movement through the tunnel). The level of HGV traffic transfer at the tunnel is expected to be about 75%.

Do we know more now about the cost?

Yes. The documentation includes cost estimates. While the First Minister told the Assembly on 12th May 2015 that the relief road would cost “well below £1billion”, these documents suggest the total cost will be higher.

While the estimated construction cost set out in the assessment is £857m, the “project estimate” included in the scheme assessment report (i.e. including “work by others”, land and compensation and project risk/optimism bias) comes to £1.093 billion. It is worth noting that these figures are the “project estimate, excluding VAT and inflation”.

Additionally, the economic appraisal report identifies further costs of about £38.19m, including costs of £16.19m for reclassification and reconfiguration of Caerleon Junction which are outside the scope of the main contract, so that the “total cost for economic appraisal” is estimated at £1.131 billion.

The assessment makes clear that the project would be funded “through a combination of UK Government borrowing and Welsh Government Transport budgets”. It anticipates that three quarters of the project costs will be spent in the Welsh supply chain, and estimates the benefit-cost-ratio to be 2.83 (i.e. a return of £2.83 for every £1 spent).

Where do we go from here?

The public is invited to respond to Welsh Government on the draft orders and environmental statement by 4 May 2016.

Depending on these responses, the Welsh Ministers will decide whether to hold a Public Local Enquiry. If they do, the Welsh Government anticipates this taking place in autumn/winter 2017 and then, following the inspector’s report, the Welsh Ministers will decide whether to proceed with the scheme.

If they do decide to go ahead, and barring any further legal challenge, construction is expected to start in spring 2018, with opening planned for autumn 2021. At this point work to reclassify the existing M4 route as a trunk road would begin to be completed in Autumn 2022.

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Assembly to vote on new food hygiene rating Regulations

10 March 2016

Article by Elfyn Henderson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Photograph of person cooking

 

The Assembly will vote on secondary legislation (PDF 790KB) on 15 March 2016 that will require takeaway food businesses to include a statement on hard copy publicity material that directs customers to the food hygiene ratings website.

What will the Regulations do?

The Regulations will require takeaway food businesses in Wales to display a prescribed bilingual statement on certain hard copy materials – for example menus and leaflets – that directs customers to the food hygiene ratings website, and encourages customers to ask the food business for its rating.

They will also make provision for the voluntary use of food hygiene rating images, and, if used, prescribe what form the graphic should take.

The Regulations will make it an offence not to display the statement in its prescribed form or, if used, to display an incorrect or fabricated rating, or to display the rating graphic in a form other than that prescribed.

Finally, the Regulations will also create a power for local authority food enforcement officers to issue fixed penalty notices, undertake prosecutions and remove materials for the purposes of investigation.

Background 

The Welsh Ministers have the power to make the Regulations under the Food Hygiene Rating (Wales) Act 2013 (122KB). This is the legislation that makes it compulsory for food businesses to display their food hygiene rating where it can easily be seen by customers.

During the Act’s passage through the Assembly, the Health and Social Care Committee and the then Minister for Health and Social Services, Lesley Griffiths, discussed the merits of including a statutory requirement for food hygiene ratings to be displayed on food businesses’ promotional material.

The Committee agreed with the Minister that including such a requirement would impose additional burdens on food businesses and, given that the same promotional material can be used over a number of years, cause confusion if a business’s rating changes. The discussion is summarised in the Committee’s Stage 1 Report (624KB).

However, the discussions did lead to the Minister amending the legislation so that the Welsh Ministers could make Regulations requiring food businesses to publish a statement on publicity materials directing consumers to the Food Standards Agency website, where they can view the food hygiene rating scheme.

The Welsh Government consulted on the Regulations between 24 August 2015 and 13 November 2015 and has published a summary of responses and its response to the comments it received (PDF 346KB).

The Welsh Government has produced an Explanatory Memorandum (PDF 386KB) to accompany the Regulations.

If passed, the Regulations will come into force on 28 November 2016, allowing a lead-in time for both food businesses and local authorities. Their full title is: The Food Hygiene Rating (Promotion of Rating) (Wales) Regulations 2016 (PDF 790KB).

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