Brexit, agriculture and rural life in Wales: Assembly Committee publishes report

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Following the result of the EU referendum, the Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee launched an inquiry into the Future of Agricultural and Rural Development Policies in Wales.

The Committee gathered a wealth of evidence over the six months of the inquiry hearing from, amongst others, farming unions, academics, environmentalists, foresters, LEADER representatives, the tourism industry and the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs. This included a stakeholder workshop, oral evidence sessions, written evidence and an on-line dialogue.

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The Future of Designated Landscapes in Wales

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A debate is due to be held in Plenary on 28 March 2017 on the review of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This blog post outlines the 2015 review of designated landscapes and the emerging work in determining the future role and vision for Welsh landscapes.

Designated Landscapes in Wales

Clwydian range landscape

Nationally important landscapes in England and Wales are designated as National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.

Designated Landscapes cover around 25% of Wales. Wales is home to 4 AONB’s (Anglesey, Clwydian Range & Dee Valley, Llyn Peninsula and Gower – additionally the Wye Valley AONB spans England and Wales) and 3 National Parks (Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast and Snowdonia). In 1952 Pembrokeshire Coast National Park was designated as the first coastal National Park in the UK, and in 1956 the Gower was designated as the first AONB in the UK.

The current management and purpose of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Currently, National Parks in Wales are managed by National Park Authorities (NPAs) which are the statutory planning authority. These nationally important landscapes have protection through planning law. National Parks have two statutory purposes:

  • To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of their areas; and
  • To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of their areas to the public.

Where conflict arises between these two statutory purposes the NPA shall attach greater weight to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area under the ‘Sandford Principle’.

AONBs are areas designated for the purpose of conserving and enhancing their natural beauty and differ from National Parks in that they lack the statutory purpose to promote opportunities for the public to enjoy and understand the area. An AONB designation has the same status in planning as a National Park but while a National Park may carry out its own planning functions, for an AONB this will be done by the relevant local planning authority.

Review of Designated Landscapes

In 2014, the then Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant commissioned a group of experts (Professor Terry Marsden, John Lloyd-Jones and Dr Ruth Williams) to undertake a Review of Designated Landscapes. In launching the review the Minister highlighted its timeliness considering that the statutory purposes of National Parks and AONBs were originally set out in legislation that is almost 70 years old. The purpose of the review was to ‘ensure that our designated landscapes are best equipped to meet current and future challenges while building on their internationally recognised status’. Changes considered included whether there should be a move towards a single designation.

Key recommendations of the Review of Designated Landscapes (2015) to the Welsh Government include:

  • There should not be a single designation so that both the AONB and National Park designation is retained in future;
  • The names of “National Parks” and “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty” should be retained and collectively referred to as the “National Landscapes of Wales”;
  •  There should be three interlocking statutory purposes for both the National Parks and AONBs; these are:
    • To conserve and enhance the distinctive landscape and seascape qualities of the area (the Conservation Purpose);
    • To promote physical and mental well-being through the enjoyment and understanding of the landscape of the area (the Human Well-being Purpose); and
    • To promote sustainable forms of economic and community development based on the management of natural resources and the cultural heritage of the area (the Sustainable Resource Management Purpose)
  • There should be a new single Statutory Duty; ‘to contribute to the delivery of the three purposes of the National Landscapes’;
  • The Sandford Principle, confirming the primacy of the conservation purpose, should be applied across all the designated landscapes; and
  • The National Assembly for Wales, as it evolves its own internal architecture, should consider the relationship between itself and the National Landscapes of Wales to maximise scrutiny and accountability.

Previous blog posts further outline the review and the emergent recommendations; A Review of Designated Landscapes in Wales: National Parks and AONBs, Review of Designated Landscapes: Recommendations from Stage 1 and What next for National Landscapes in Wales?.

Following the review, the Future Landscapes Working Group was set up by the Minister for Natural Resources. Led by Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM, the group involves representatives of the National Parks, AONBs, environmental groups, business and local government to explore the recommendations. Furthermore, it would allow consideration of these recommendations in the context of new legislation; the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 (which were enacted subsequent to the review).

The Terms of Reference (PDF 195.4KB) for the Future Landscapes Working Group sets out the membership and the group’s plan to advise on the themes from the review. The report, which is due to be published imminently, is expected to describe the future role and vision of designated landscapes in Wales. In an interim letter (PDF 62.6KB) to the then Minister in May 2016 prior to the Assembly elections, the Chair stated ‘It is clear that new ways of working will need to be adopted.’


Article by Dr Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.
Image from flickr by Andrew. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

Making the Most of Marine

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A debate on 22 March 2017 calls on “the Welsh Government to bring forward an ambitious Marine Plan to support the sustainable development of the blue economy and to make it a central plank of its new economic strategy”.  This blog post looks briefly at the development of a Marine Plan for Wales, and considers the potential of the blue economy for Wales.

Marine Planning

The Welsh Government’s Welsh National Marine Plan (WNMP) is due to be consulted on in mid-2017. It will cover Wales’ inshore and offshore areas –which almost double the size of Wales. This will be the first plan of its kind in Wales to focus on Welsh seas, and importantly to articulate how they can support the well-being of current and future generations. A WNMP will introduce an integrated cross-sectoral plan–led approach to decision-making, and will inform regulatory systems such as marine licensing.

Marine planning activity in Wales is guided by the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and the UK Marine Policy Statement, signed by all devolved administrations and the UK Government in March 2011. Underpinning this is a commitment to five High Level Marine Objectives and a vision for clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas.

Other marine planning authorities, such as the Marine Management Organisation, are working to develop marine plans in English areas, such as the south west and north west, that border Welsh waters in the Severn and Dee estuaries. Scotland published its national marine plan in 2015 and is working with marine planning partnerships to plan regionally.

A Blue (or Green) Economy

The Welsh Government considers green growth in Wales to be:

about fostering economic growth, development and social equity while ensuring that our natural assets can continue to provide the resources and environmental services where our well-being is concerned.

In a Welsh context green growth, therefore, includes the marine and coastal environment.

The New Economics Foundation’s New Blue Deal sets a vision for revitalising coastal communities and protecting natural resources. It aims to balance the economic and social needs of communities with those of our marine environment, to ensure they return to prosperity.

According to the European Commission, the blue economy is worth roughly 5.4 million jobs and generates a Gross Value Added of almost €500 billion a year across Europe. The Commission’s Action Plan for a Maritime Strategy in the Atlantic Area has a strong focus on the ‘blue economy’ and sets maritime priorities for 2013-2020, covering aspects such as marine renewables, fisheries and aquaculture, research and investment.

An Inquiry into the Potential of the Maritime Economy in Wales was undertaken in the Fourth Assembly by the Enterprise and Business Committee (final report February 2016 (PDF 952 KB)). The Committee heard from a range of stakeholders, including Irish Government on their approach to marine planning. Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth – An Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland (PDF 2.05 MB), published in 2012, places a strong focus on promoting the maritime economy and includes targets such as, increasing the turnover from the ocean economy to exceed €6.4 billion by 2020. One of the Committee’s main findings was that the Welsh Government should:

ensure that the Wales Marine Plan provides a comprehensive and overarching framework for the sustainable development of Wales’ marine resources and coastal communities. It should contain objectives and measurable targets – including for economic performance – and be implemented through a ‘whole government’ approach, modelled on the Irish Integrated Marine Plan.

A range of marine industries in Wales seek to maximise the contribution that Welsh seas can make to sustainable development. The Wales Seafood Strategy (PDF 56 KB)  is an industry owned and led strategy, published by Seafish, which seeks a 30% increase in fisheries and aquaculture production by 2025 and a 10% increase in employment in the same timeframe. Other sectors, such as marine renewables, could see Wales playing a global leading role in marine energy.  At present in Wales there are two wave and tidal stream Demonstration Zones, seabed agreements for three wave and tidal stream projects and companies such as Tidal Lagoon Power planning significant tidal lagoon energy projects in Wales, including Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay.

Work by the Celtic Seas Partnership (an EU LIFE + funded project led by WWF) found that the Celtic Sea provides jobs for 400,000 people, making an annual contribution to the economy of approximately £15 billion. Its work on future trends over the next twenty years found that these waters will get busier, creating competition for space and challenges to ensure we live within environmental limits. The Welsh Government is committed to implementing an ecosystem-based approach to the management of the marine environment. For example, the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires the achievement of Good Environmental Status (GES) by 2020 in Welsh seas. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 also requires the Welsh Government to manage Welsh seas for future generations.


Article by Dr Wendy Dodds, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.

Assembly to debate the general principles of the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill

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The Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill was laid before the Assembly on 28 November 2016, and introduced in plenary by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government on 29 November 2016. The Assembly will debate the general principles of the Bill on 21 March 2017.

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Devolution of energy and environmental powers: is the new settlement a lasting one in the face of Brexit?

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The devolution settlement is changing under the Wales Act 2017 which received royal assent on 31 January 2017. This article explores what this means for energy and environmental powers in Wales, and also highlights the different attitudes to the devolution of powers following withdrawal from the EU.

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