The Future of Designated Landscapes in Wales

24 March 2017

Article by Dr Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

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

Image from flickr by Andrew. Licensed under the Creative Commons

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.’

Making the Most of Marine

21 March 2017

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

View this post in Welsh | Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg

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

Welsh beach 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.

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

17 March 2017

Article by Helen Jones, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

View this post in Welsh | Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg

Image from Flickr by Adam Levine. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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.

The Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill (LDT) is concerned with establishing the legal, administrative and operational framework to replace Landfill Tax (LfT) in Wales in April 2018. Landfill Tax is currently a UK tax on the disposal of material as waste by way of landfill at landfill sites which are permitted under environmental legislation. The current tax was introduced in 1996 as a key environmental behaviour change driver in encouraging the diversion of waste from landfill, greater recycling, reuse and recovery of waste. Since the tax was introduced it has contributed to a significant reduction in the proportion of waste sent to landfill, and an increase in recycling.

This Bill is the third piece of legislation related to the devolution of tax powers in the Wales Act 2014. The Bill was preceded by the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Act 2016 which established the legal framework necessary for the future collection and management of devolved taxes in Wales and the Land Transaction Tax and Anti avoidance of Devolved Taxes (Wales) Bill, which will replace Stamp Duty Land Tax from April 2018.

Further information on the background to the Bill, an overview of its parts, a summary of financial implications, and a Welsh glossary are provided in the Research Service’s Bill Summary (PDF, 844KB).

The Finance Committee reported (PDF, 1MB) on its Stage One consideration of the general principles of the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill on 10 March 2017.

The Finance Committee’s report sets out a number of recommendations aimed at strengthening the legislation. For example, the Committee would like to see the proposed rates of taxation, a list of qualifying materials and provisions for bad debt relief, included on the face of the Bill.

Whilst the Welsh Government intends to bring forward secondary legislation in relation to some of these provisions, the Committee remains concerned that secondary legislation is not subject to the same amount of scrutiny as a Bill.

The Committee also believes that businesses need certainty when it comes to the application of new tax legislation, and that including such detail in the law itself would help to address concerns.

The Committee heard considerable evidence in relation to the importance of the Landfill Disposals Tax Communities Scheme. The Committee recommend that a Communities Scheme is included on the face of the Bill to show commitment to the scheme going forward, but accept that some of the detail could be specified in regulations.

The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee considered the appropriateness of the provisions in the Bill about powers to make subordinate legislation. Its report (PDF, 2MB) was also published on 10 March 2017.

Subject to the Assembly agreeing the general principles of the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill, the Bill will proceed to Stage Two (detailed Committee consideration of the Bill and any proposed amendments). Stage Two proceedings are expected to be completed by 26 May 2017.

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

14 March 2017

Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service 

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

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.

Devolution – the current ‘conferred powers’ model

The current devolution settlement is based on a ‘conferred powers’ model. Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 sets out the 21 devolved areas for which the Assembly can legislate. Everything else falls to the UK or European Parliaments. Areas devolved to Wales include, amongst other things, the environment, agriculture, fisheries, planning and energy. For example, the Assembly has recently passed three key pieces of legislation in relation to the environment in Wales; the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Planning (Wales) Act 2015. At present all laws passed by the Assembly must comply with EU law which is of particular relevance for the environment as many policy areas are shared with the EU including agriculture, through the Common Agricultural Policy, and nature conservation, via the Birds and Habitats Directives.

Devolution – the ‘reserved powers’ model

The Wales Act 2017 introduces a ‘reserved powers’ model of devolution. This turns the situation on its head; it sets out the areas outside the Assembly’s legislative competence, leaving everything else devolved to Wales. This is more similar to the situation in Scotland. The reserved powers model is due to come into force in April 2018 and the model in Schedule 7 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 will apply up until that date.

New powers in the field of energy and the environment brought to Wales

In addition to introducing the reserved powers model, the Wales Act 2017 brings new powers to Wales in the field of energy and the environment. Most of these changes will not come into effect until next year, with many requiring additional legislation. The Wales Act 2017 will give Wales:

  • Responsibility for marine licensing in the Welsh ‘offshore region’– 12 nautical miles out to the median line (currently limited to the ‘inshore region’ – 0-12 nautical miles);
  • Power to designate areas in the Welsh offshore region as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) (limited to the inshore region currently- Skomer is the only existing Welsh MCZ);
  • Power to consent energy projects with a generating capacity of up to 350MW for both onshore and inshore energy extending the current 50MW limit for the onshore and 1MW limit for the inshore. This would include the planned tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay. Onshore wind projects will continue to have no upper limit;
  • Responsibility for licensing onshore oil and gas, including the extraction of shale gas, and for new coal mines;
  • Power of consent for ‘associated development’ for energy projects, for example transport links and overhead power lines to the same body that is responsible for the main project;
  • Power to make building regulations in respect of ‘excepted energy buildings’ – buildings that form part of energy infrastructure; and
  • Additional power to legislate over water supply and sewerage.

Implications of Brexit on the devolution settlement

The Wales Act 2017 has come at an interesting time as the UK Government prepares to trigger Article 50 and start the formal process for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. As Wales shares powers with the EU, especially in environmental fields, there are questions around whether the settlement will change as a result of Brexit.

The Welsh and UK Government have expressed different interpretations on where powers currently shared between Wales and the EU will lie. The UK Government has made reference in its Brexit white paper to the ‘repatriation’ to the UK of existing EU powers to set common regulatory frameworks:

[…] even in areas where the devolved legislatures and administrations currently have some competence, such as agriculture, environment and some transport issues, most rules are set through common EU legal and regulatory frameworks, devised and agreed in Brussels. When the UK leaves the EU, these rules will be set here in the UK by democratically elected representatives.

As the powers to make these rules are repatriated to the UK from the EU, we have an opportunity to determine the level best placed to make new laws and policies on these issues, ensuring power sits closer to the people of the UK than ever before.

The view set out in the Welsh Government / Plaid Cymru white paper on Brexit is quite different in that powers returning from the EU, in devolved areas, will land in Wales rather than Westminster:

Currently a range of powers already devolved to the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government are operated within an EU regulatory framework. These include agriculture, fisheries, environment and economic development. At the point of UK exit from the EU, when EU regulatory and administrative frameworks cease to apply, these powers will continue to be devolved in Wales.

The Welsh Government / Plaid Cymru white paper highlights the constitutional implications and challenges of EU withdrawal are particularly acute in the field of environment and rural affairs:

These policy areas are all significantly devolved and over the 17 years since devolution began there has been significant divergence of policy direction between the different parts of the UK.

On Saint David’s Day the Prime Minister addressed devolution and the importance of UK frameworks and an internal single market:

… we are discussing with the devolved Administrations the whole question of the UK framework and devolution of issues as they come back from Brussels. The overriding aim for everything that we do when we make those decisions is to ensure that we do not damage the important single market of the United Kingdom, a market which I remind the right hon.

A key question facing Wales today is whether the ethos of the UK Government’s Command Paper, Powers for a Purpose: Towards a Lasting Devolution Settlement for Wales will be challenged on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Wales leads the way on recycling

10 March 2017

Article by Chloe Corbyn, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

Bales of aluminium drinks cans sorted and waiting to be recycled.

Image from Flickr by Scott Mcpherson. Licensed under Creative Commons.

On 28 February the Welsh Government published the latest recycling statistics for Wales, covering July to September 2016. Continuing the upwards trend, the total local authority municipal waste combined reuse/recycling composting rate increased to 62%  for the 12 months ending September 2016, compared to 58% in the previous year.

In the 12 months to the end of September 2016:

  • The local authority with the highest recycling rate was Ceredigion (70%); Blaenau Gwent had the lowest rate (52%);
  • A number of authorities saw significant improvements, most notably Merthyr Tydfil (13% increase) and Flintshire, Wrexham and Powys (each with a 10% increase);
  • One local authority, Cardiff, saw a decline in its recycling performance with a 2% decrease, reporting a 57% recycling rate; and
  • When grouped together, rural authorities continued to have the highest recycling rate.

In comparison, statistics on waste managed by local authorities in England from the UK Government website shows that total recycling rates reached 44% for 2015/16, a decrease on the 45% rate achieved in 2014/15.

Although the recycling figures show good progress for Wales, the total amount of local authority municipal waste generated in Wales increased, with the tonnage rising by 3%from 411 to 425 thousand tonnes (compared to the same quarter of 2015).

Towards Zero Waste

The Welsh Government’s waste strategy, Towards Zero Waste, has set a target of 70% recycling/composting of municipal waste by 2024-25. There are a number of minimum Statutory Recycling Targets for interim years (set in the Waste (Wales) Measure 2010); 58% by 2015-16 and 64% by 2020. In relation to the current target of 58%, according to the latest statistics Cardiff and Blaenau Gwent failed to meet the required standard. Failure to achieve these targets could result in fines of £200 per tonne for every tonne of waste by which the local authority fails, although to date Welsh Government has waived fines for underperforming authorities.

In response to a question in Plenary on 8 March, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs stated that she is currently reviewing the recycling targets in order to make them more ambitious, and that her goal is for Wales to be number 1 in the world for recycling performance.

The ‘Collections Blueprint’

As part of the Welsh Government’s municipal waste plan it published a collections blueprint, which was independently reviewed by Eunomia Research and Consulting in 2016. The blueprint describes the Welsh Government’s recommended approach for collecting waste from households, aiming to deliver higher recycling rates and cost savings. The review found that the blueprint continues to offer clear benefits in terms of cost and material quality as well as its impact on recycling performance.  The Welsh Government’s recommended model for the collection of waste from households includes:

  • Weekly separate collection of dry recyclables via ‘kerbside sort’, with material being collected separately in boxes and/or in re-usable sacks, with two or more boxes provided per household, and recyclables being sorted into separate compartments on the collection vehicle by the collection staff;
  • Weekly separate collection of food waste;
  • The use of modern lightweight, multi-compartment vehicles for a single pass collection of dry recyclables and food waste; and
  • Fortnightly collection of residual waste, from collections with reduced residual waste capacity, where ‘no side waste’ policies are enforced.

Local authorities are not obliged to follow the blueprint, but the Welsh Government recommends adherence in order to achieve maximum recycling rates. There is huge variation across Wales both in terms of recycling practice and in the frequency of collection of residual waste, although the vast majority of local authorities collect recycling on a weekly basis. Some local authorities have moved to 3 weekly refuse collections in order to encourage householders to recycle more, and many have imposed limits on the amount of residual waste that can be put out for collection. This has been met with resistance in a number of areas, with householders objecting to the less frequent collections.