Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith

Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee

09/12/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Delyth Jewell AS
Huw Irranca-Davies AS
Janet Finch-Saunders AS
Jenny Rathbone AS
Joyce Watson AS
Llyr Gruffydd AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Claire Stephenson RSPB Cymru
RSPB Cymru
Clare Trotman Y Gymdeithas Cadwraeth Forol
Marine Conservation Society
David Jones Blue Gem Wind
Blue Gem Wind
Dr Richard Unsworth Project Seagrass
Project Seagrass
Emily Williams Cyswllt Amgylchedd Cymru
Wales Environment Link
Jasmine Sharp Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru
Natural Resources Wales
Jess Hooper Ynni Morol Cymru
Marine Energy Wales
Mary Lewis Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru
Natural Resources Wales
Rhian Jardine Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru
Natural Resources Wales
Sean Clement WWF
WWF
Sue Burton Ardal Cadwraeth Arbennig Forol Sir Benfro
Pembrokeshire Marine Special Area of Conservation

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Lorna Scurlock Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

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 09:16.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:16. 

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions, and declarations of interest

Croeso cynnes i chi i gyd i gyfarfod diweddaraf Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Croeso i'r Aelodau atom ni. Gaf i esbonio, fel dwi'n gwneud ar y cychwyn bob tro, wrth gwrs, fod y cyfarfod yn gyfarfod dwyieithog, a bod yna gyfieithu ar y pryd ar gael o'r Gymraeg i'r Saesneg i'r rhai sydd ei angen ef? Bydd dim angen i unrhyw un ohonon ni weithredu ein microffonau ein hunain; mi fyddan nhw'n cael eu gweithredu ar ein rhan ni, pan fyddwch chi'n cael eich gwahodd i gyfrannu. Gaf i ofyn ar y cychwyn oes gan unrhyw Aelodau unrhyw fuddiannau i'w datgan? Jenny Rathbone.

A warm welcome to you all to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. I welcome the Members. Could I explain, as I do at the outset of every meeting, that the meeting is bilingual, and that simultaneous translation is available from Welsh to English for those who need it? No-one will need to operate their own mikes, that'll be done on your behalf when you contribute. Could I ask at the outset whether any Members have an interest to declare? Jenny Rathbone.

I'd just like to point out that my partner is doing some work for Bute Energy.

Just to say I'm a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

There we are. Okay.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Gwnaf egluro hefyd y bydd Delyth Jewell yn camu i'r adwy i gadeirio'r cyfarfod os bydd fy nghysylltiad i yn cael ei golli â'r cyfarfod yma. Felly, yn amlwg, fe fyddwn ni mewn dwylo da os ydy hynny'n digwydd, ond gobeithio na fydd ei angen ef.

Thank you very much. I'll explain also that Delyth Jewell will step in as temporary Chair if my connection is lost with this meeting. So, we'll be in good hands if that happens, but I hope we won't need that.

2. Rheoli'r amgylchedd morol - sesiwn dystiolaeth 1: Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru
2. Marine environment management - evidence session 1: Natural Resources Wales

Felly, mi awn ni at yr ail eitem, a chychwyn derbyn tystiolaeth. Mae gennym ni ddiwrnod llawn o dderbyn tystiolaeth heddiw ar reoli'r amgylchedd morol. Rŷn ni, wrth gwrs, fel pwyllgor yn awyddus i sicrhau bod yr amgylchedd morol yn cael sylw blaenllaw yn y chweched Senedd yma, ac felly rŷn ni'n mynd i glywed tystiolaeth gan randdeiliaid ar amrywiaeth o bynciau morol, gan gynnwys cynllunio, ynni adnewyddadwy, cydsynio, trwyddedu, y bylchau mewn tystiolaeth, ardaloedd morol gwarchodedig, carbon glas hefyd, wrth gwrs, ac mi fydd yr holl dystiolaeth y byddwn ni'n ei chael heddiw yn help i lywio ein gwaith ni, nid yn unig yn uniongyrchol yn sgil yr hyn rŷn ni'n ei glywed heddiw, ond, gobeithio, dros gyfnod hirach y Senedd yma hefyd—wel, y chweched Senedd, dylwn i ddweud.

Felly, mi gychwynnwn ni gyda'r panel cyntaf, a dwi'n gweld ar y sgrin o fy mlaen i fod gennym ni gynrychiolwyr o Gyfoeth Naturiol Cymru, a chanolbwyntio ar rôl a gwaith Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru yn y cyd-destun morol yma rŷn ni am wneud dros yr awr nesaf. Felly, gaf i groesawu yn arbennig Rhian Jardine, pennaeth cynllunio datblygu a gwasanaethau morol; Mary Lewis, rheolwr mannau cynaliadwy tir a môr; a Dr Jasmine Sharp, sy'n gynghorydd arbenigol arweiniol ar reoleiddio morol?Croeso i'r dair ohonoch chi.

Mi awn ni yn syth i mewn i gwestiynau, os ydy hynny'n iawn gyda chi, a gwnaf gychwyn jest i ofyn i chi roi ychydig mwy o wybodaeth i ni ynglŷn â'r rhaglen ynni adnewyddadwy oddi ar y tir, yr offshore renewable energy programme. Yn amlwg, mae'n chwarae rôl bwysig iawn, ond dwi'n deall bod yna gwestiynau, efallai, ynglŷn ag ariannu ar ôl mis Mawrth flwyddyn nesaf, a rhyw bethau felly. Felly, byddai diweddariad o beth sy'n digwydd ar hyn o bryd, a beth yw'r rhagolygon yn y tymor hirach, yn rhywbeth y byddai'r pwyllgor yn ei werthfawrogi. Dwi ddim yn siŵr pwy sydd eisiau—. Rhian, ie. Rhian i ateb. Diolch.

So we'll move on to the second item, and we will start taking evidence. We have a full day today of taking evidence on marine environment management. As a committee, we're eager to ensure that the marine environment is given prominence in the sixth Senedd, and so we will hear evidence today from stakeholders on a range of marine topics, including planning, renewable energy, consenting and licensing, evidence gaps, marine protected areas and blue carbon as well, of course. And the evidence that we receive today will help to inform the committee's work, not just directly in terms of what we hear today, but hopefully over the longer period during this Senedd term—the sixth Senedd, I should say.

So, we'll start with the first panel, and I see on my screen before me that we have representatives from Natural Resources Wales, and we'll be focusing on the role and work of NRW in this context. That's what we want to do for the next hour. So, could I welcome Rhian Jardine, head of development planning and marine services; Mary Lewis, manager of sustainable places, land and sea; and Dr Jasmine Sharp, lead specialist adviser on marine regulation? So, I welcome the three of you.

We'll go straight into questions, if that's okay, and I'll start by just asking you to give us some further information on the offshore renewable energy programme. Evidently it plays a very important role, but I understand that there are questions in terms of funding after March next year, and some other issues. So, an update on what's happening at present, and what the forecasts are for the longer term, would be something that the committee would appreciate. I don't know who wants to start. Yes, Rhian. Thank you.

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Cadeirydd. Gwnaf i ateb yn Saesneg, os nad oes gwahaniaeth gyda chi.

Thank you very much, Chair. I'll answer in English, if I may.

Back in 2019, we understood that marine renewables was certainly coming up the agenda, so we did some horizon scanning. We discussed with the industry, we were members of the marine energy Wales panel, we were also part of the strategic consenting group as well, and we went on a fact-finding tour, really, up to Scotland to see what they were doing in relation to supporting their marine energy industry, and how they were dealing with consenting. They'd obviously formed quite a large team there, and we came back with a proposal when we met with the First Minister back in 2019, in terms of setting up and developing a way forward for the OREP, offshore renewable energy programme, within NRW. The overall aim of the programme is to reduce environmental consenting risk of marine renewable energy development. So, we've built a dedicated team in NRW. We funded it at risk for the first three years. That's what we said we'd do. The benefits of that are around having casework management in one place, a dedicated staff resource. We've developed key position statements and guidance. One of those is the adaptive management position statement that Jasmine might be willing to elaborate on. We've also pulled together the evidence needed to allow consenting uncertainty—to look at where those areas are as well.

Obviously, the funding, moving forwards, we've flagged with Welsh Government, where members of the marine energy programme within Welsh Government now are looking at the tidal lagoon challenge and a whole host of other aspects, and we've recently been involved in the Deputy Minister's deep dive on renewable energy. We've flagged the need for this programme to continue. Currently, we're dealing with 15 applications and there is a very long lead-in time in relation to how long it takes, and the amount of time needed in terms of surveys and everything to bring an application into the decision-making process as well. And I think that maintaining the programme in its current size can deal with what's ahead of us now, but we understand that there is far more to come in the next 10 years, probably. We work with the Crown Estate on their leasing rounds, so we know that there are more applications and more work likely to come, and we understand that we probably need to ramp that up. One of the recommendations in the Deputy Minister's report yesterday, the oral statement, did say that—one of the recommendations is to have an urgent review of resource needs and options for NRW's offshore renewable energy programme. Thank you. 

09:20

Iawn. Felly, eich galwad chi i'r Llywodraeth, efallai drwyddom ni fel pwyllgor, yw os ydy'r Llywodraeth o ddifrif ynglŷn â chynyddu'r cynlluniau ynni adnewyddadwy ar y môr, yna mae'n rhaid i'r rhaglen OREP gael adnoddau ychwanegol sy'n adlewyrchu'r twf yna, ie?  

So, your call to the Government, maybe through us as a committee, is if the Government is serious about increasing offshore renewables, then the OREP programme needs to have additional resources to reflect that. 

Heb os. Mae'n amlwg bod angen iddi gael rhagor o adnoddau, a'r dystiolaeth sydd ei hangen hefyd. Mae eisiau gwneud quality assurance validation o'r modelau sydd angen eu defnyddio. Byddai hynny i gyd yn helpu i hwyluso'r broses.  

Yes, without a doubt. Evidently, it needs more resources, and the evidence that we need as well. We need to do a quality assurance validation of the models that need to be used. That would all be a great help in facilitating that process. 

Ocê. Diolch yn fawr. Fe wnaethoch chi gyfeirio at yr adaptive management statement—

Okay, thank you very much. You referred to the adaptive management statement—

Do, fe wnes i. Fe fydd Jasmine, efallai, yn gallu ymhelaethu ar hynny. 

Yes, I did. Jasmine may be able to expand on that. 

Ocê, os ydy Jasmine yn hapus i ddweud ychydig wrthym ni am hynny. 

Okay, if Jasmine is happy to expand on that. 

Yes, absolutely. One of the challenges particularly in the marine renewable energy sector is that it's a new sector, and so there is some significant difficulty in providing the evidence to demonstrate that there won't be significant environmental effects without ever having had a device in the water. NRW's position is that where it's possible to collect environmental information, we are asking developers to do that. So, baseline information, we are asking developers that they need to provide that. But we accept that even once that has happened, there will be a residual amount of uncertainty as to the environmental effects of the technologies. NRW judges that the appropriate position to take on that is to use an adaptive management approach, where small-scale devices can be put in the water in order to monitor what the effect will be on various different environmental receptors. There is a requirement for the developer to monitor and report back to NRW on what those effects would be, and, on a rolling basis, we are able to assess the continued effect to allow either changes in the mitigation required—so, if there was a greater effect than initially predicted then there can be increased mitigation—or, if the effect remains small, then the developer is allowed to scale up the development. That also feeds into subsequent information that we have for further developers.

09:25

Okay. We'll come on to interrogate evidence and data gaps more specifically in a moment. Maybe I'll go to Joyce first, just to ask a few questions.

Good morning, everybody. You talked about Lee Waters's statement and the deep dive that he issued yesterday at midday, so needless to say we haven't interrogated that yet. But we're interested in the consenting process for offshore renewable energy projects and whether they've been streamlined—you mentioned that you'd been up to Scotland, and we understand that NatureScot has worked with Natural England to streamline those—and whether there's an appetite, or whether there have been discussions, and you've started talking about that, to do something similar in Wales.

Yes, we have been to Scotland. We went a few years ago now. We had various meetings with NatureScot and also the regulator in Scotland, which is the Marine Scotland licensing operations team. The consenting regime is slightly different in Scotland, because they have their own legislative powers there; they use the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. in Scotland, the regulator, Marine Scotland, is the regulator not only of marine licensing, but they regulate the energy generating consent, which is a section 36 consent under the Electricity Act 1989. Marine Scotland have streamlined that by effectively running those two processes in parallel with the same regulator. And what that allows is that a lot of the considerations are the same considerations, and so they're simply able to twin-track them, and as far as the developer sees, they don't see anything other than they've put one application in and it comes out the other end as two separate permissions.

In Wales, that isn't the case. NRW is the regulator for marine licensing. The section 36 consent is applicable to energy generation up to 240 MW, and that is currently administered by Welsh Ministers. They're using the new PEDW, Planning and Environment Decisions Wales. As it stands, NRW has had significant discussions with Welsh Government's planning department in order to streamline those processes as much as possible, bearing in mind that they are separate consents. There are some things that we can do. For example, both of those processes need an environmental impact assessment consent, but it's possible for one regulator to pass on the EIA consent to another, to adopt the consent of another. And in the case of renewable energy developments, there is a ways of working agreement between NRW and Welsh Government and Welsh Ministers, to enable that to happen.

For larger consents, so over 240 MW—that would generally be offshore wind, or some of the very large developments in wave and tidal—those are still reserved to UK Government, and so those are determined using the Planning Inspectorate and then BEIS, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. NRW is currently working with BEIS in order to try to work out how we can streamline that consent, because a development consent order is a very large consent. It has a fixed timescale and the planning Act sets out very clearly, end to end, exactly what the process is. So, they've not got a lot of room to change their process. We're looking at how we can adapt our processing in order to make that as easy as possible for developers, so it's not complicated, and also to ensure that we have the shortest timeline that we can whilst ensuring that there is a relevant level of environmental scrutiny.

09:30

Thank you. Will yesterday's written statement make any difference to anything you've just said?

In the written statement, there were recommendations to look for an end-to-end review of the marine licensing process. Obviously, NRW has an internal department that looks at regulatory developments and how to improve regulatory processes, so that will continue. But it's possible that, through a review, we may steer the direction of exactly which work is progressed more urgently.

I was just going to add a little bit more in relation to what's come out of the deep dive, from your specific question there. Because, obviously, those recommendations, we've only just seen them in full ourselves, so we're just getting to grips with them as well. But we have fed continuously into that renewable energy deep-dive process, and in addition to the specifics around the actual regulatory process and streamlining that Jasmine's talked us through and that are picked up in the deep dive, we have flagged continuously in the deep dive—and they are captured in the recommendations—some of the wider work that's needed that actually helps smooth the path through the consenting process, as well as actually looking at the process itself, which, obviously, Jasmine has explained.

We've flagged—and there are recommendations in the deep dive—the need to address critical evidence gaps and find the mechanisms and resources to fill those. Because having a better understanding of the evidence reduces the uncertainty for applications as they go through the process. We've also flagged the need, which you've already discussed with Rhian, to adequately resource the consenting and supporting advisory processes to match the scaling up of renewable energy, and there's a recommendation in the deep dive in relation to that. Also, the deep dive picks up on the need for more prescriptive spatial planning in the marine environment to help direct applications for renewable development to the more appropriate areas in the first place. So, all of those wider issues—evidence, resources and spatial planning—should help us arrive at applications that have a smoother path through the consenting process, although then, there are additional things that we can do around the process itself, which Jasmine's referred to.

Okay. Thank you. Apologies for disappearing momentarily from your screens. I kicked the mains cable out of my monitor, so I was there, but you probably couldn't see me. So, apologies for that. Jenny, did you want to come in on something earlier?

I wanted to come in on the discussions you were having with the Department for Transport when you've got these very large proposals. Do they ever subcontract work to you, or has it not arisen yet? Because obviously, if they're responsible, they should obviously be ensuring that the payments go with whoever is doing the work.

I can try that. That hasn't arisen yet. For the very large works, those are mostly offshore windfarms, and although we're expecting some offshore windfarm applications in the very near future, we haven't had them. That's one of the discussions that we need to have—how the person doing the work will be enabled to be paid.

That's an important point. Okay. Thank you. We'll move on to Delyth.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. I wanted to ask about evidence gaps and resourcing. Mary's just been referring to this; it's come up a little already. Firstly, is Wales's marine evidence strategy—? Can you talk us through the role and how much you think that that is able to help combat these evidence and data gaps? And specifically about resourcing for marine monitoring, you've highlighted, I know, that funding for that monitoring falls short of what's required, particularly for multi-year research programmes. Could you talk us through that a little bit more, please? 

09:35

Thank you. The Wales marine strategy is a collaborative strategy agreed between Welsh Government and NRW, and was published in 2019. How effective it's been? There's been a panel that's been pulled together recently—Welsh Government, Joint Nature Conservation Committee and NRW—to look at its effectiveness, and the report on that is currently with the Minister for sign-off. But my understanding is that it shows that over 90 per cent of the areas highlighted in that strategy have been progressed over the last three years. It is that very high-level strategic framework, and under that strategic framework both Welsh Government and NRW have their own evidence programmes. In NRW, we review and update and reprioritise ours annually. We have probably around 15 reports that we're hoping to publish this year, and they are a mix; they're not only ones that NRW have commissioned and published. We've also worked collaboratively with other countries' nature conservation agencies and wider UK bodies. For example, the review of methodology to assess the loss of fish from development is one report that we've worked with the Environment Agency on, and another, around understanding the potential effects and consequences of displacement of marine mammals by wave and tidal arrays, is another example of where we've worked collaboratively. And both those have been funded through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs marine biodiversity impact evidence group. So, we look wider than just our own resources in terms of trying to find funding for these projects. 

Many of our evidences are complex and, as you say, they require multi-year programmes really, and our annual funding cycle makes that quite difficult. We've worked with JNCC in relation to our marine monitoring work, and, I think, that's what you refer to, in terms of the fact that there isn't enough funding for it. We've worked with JNCC and the other countries' nature conservation bodies to work out what would be the options in relation to funding a wider adequate programme, so both our water framework directive and special areas of conservation habitats directive and marine protected areas monitoring. And the options that we looked at, the favoured option—and we worked with the Welsh Government as well and they supported us on this—the favoured option was for around five times more than we currently have. Obviously, over the last nine years, the amount of money that we've had to fund our own marine monitoring programme has decreased. We've had decreases in our grant in aid. So, the bid that we put forward, the option that we agreed on, went into DEFRA with a view of going to the comprehensive spending review. Obviously, the pandemic came along, and it was delayed, and we're now discussing with Welsh Government whether they are still pursuing our element of that bid into the comprehensive spending review. It would mean that our marine monitoring programme would increase eight-fold, but the cost would increase five-fold. So, that's the kind of scale that we're looking at. I don't know whether I've answered all of the elements of your question, or whether anybody else wants to come in. 

Thanks, Delyth. I just wanted to ask, because this flags up some major concerns, obviously, in terms of the drive towards sustainable exploitation through marine renewables and so on, which is accelerating at a pace, the gaps in data we already know and the massive gaps that you have just signalled, which we were aware of, in funding to compile that data, would I be right in saying—I'm not trying to put words in your mouth—but would I be right in saying that we have a high level of risk of possibly inappropriate development being permitted because it's beyond the capacity of the data we have and the relation of the data to licensing and permitting?

09:40

It's fundamentally important that we understand the state of our marine environment in order to enable us to make the right decisions. Legally, we have to be precautionary, so it's unlikely that we would allow developments to happen if we knew that they were likely to cause damage. But obviously, the point is that we need to understand better and that's what we're trying to focus on—the key risks in terms of the evidence gaps. But there are evidence gaps, without doubt, and that's also being flagged, in the Deputy Minister's deep dive, as an area that needs to be reviewed and urgently progressed.

Sorry, Delyth. So, in the absence of data and in the absence of the green light for additional funding to get that data and to have the analysis and the analysts—the marine science analysts on the ground—would it be NRW's approach not to consent because that has implications then in terms of the push to develop sustainable exploitation of marine resources?

I'll let Jasmine answer that, but that's why we've developed our adaptive management position—to allow developments to happen on—. It's something that we can monitor specifically—the risks associated with that. Sorry, Jasmine, I didn't mean to jump into your area of expertise, but maybe you'd like to come in.

So, yes, the expectation would be that, when developers put in their application for a consent, they would supply the relevant information to enable the marine licensing team to make a determination. One of the difficulties is that a lot of what they rely on is modelling data that is reliant on baseline data, which they cannot do the assessment for. And so, what they're using is, they're using data that NRW has collected, or other bodies have collected, but that is now very old, and that's the best available evidence.

So, we are using best available evidence, but that's not to say that there isn't better evidence that could be collected if there was the funding to do so. But that does mean that the developers are being asked to provide environmental information, which, for the most part, is the correct way of consenting. But what that means is that, because there's not a big set of information on the baseline data, the developers won't collect that data until they're at the point where they've identified where they want to locate and what they want to do. Whereas, if they had a broader range of data that would feed into the Welsh national marine plan and planning in general, then they could select more intelligently perhaps, based on having a range of data available, which would be costly for any individual developer to collect all of before they've really narrowed down what they're trying to do.

But as Rhian says, the purpose of the adaptive management approach is to try to consent at small scale, with lower environmental risk, to enable some developments to actually encourage the sector and to encourage that to occur. But obviously, if there were more data available, that would all be quicker.

Yes, I was just going to add one point in relation to Huw's question about the absence of evidence. Obviously, Rhian and Jasmine have covered that we've taken the adaptive management approach to try and address that, but in relation to the evidence gap, there are two main types of evidence that I think we need to bear in mind. One is the monitoring—so, that baseline understanding of what is where and the trend and distribution extent and condition et cetera, and that Rhian referred to the need to invest in further.

There's also the evidence that we need to invest in more, which is to understand the interactions of these different kinds of renewable energy devices with different habitats and species, and especially mobile species. And that kind of evidence also needs multi-year investment to see—. You need to see multiple seasons to understand what's happening.

And that's where I think there's good opportunities to work across the UK, because we're talking about the similar kinds of interactions in different areas around the UK. So, we are participating in schemes like the Crown Estate's offshore wind evidence and change programme. That enables us to access multimillion pound evidence programmes. For example, there's a project there looking at the effect of offshore wind on the distribution of prey that's needed by mammals and seabirds, et cetera—all of these levels of complexity and the interactions of things that we need to understand, as well as the baseline of what's where and how much. But if we can make use of some of the UK programmes, that will really help us, but we also need to invest in Wales in our understanding of the unique environment in Wales as well. 

09:45

Diolch. This is probably a difficult question because I'm asking you to quantify something unknown. But, in terms of the gap in knowledge in the marine environment around Wales, either how would that gap in knowledge compare with, say, what's facing other parts of the UK, or, if it's easier to quantify this, the funding problem, or the funding problem in terms of multi-year research, is that something that is replicated in other parts of the UK as well, or are there other areas that seem to be more able to get multi-year research funded?

I'm happy to have a go at answering the question, but really, I don't think that we are fully—. We don't actually know the detail of that.

We can do a bit of research after this and come back to you on that point. 

Yes. Just that this raises whole areas of concern—it's a red flag really—that we might start allowing and giving permission on an unknown. And that's what I think we would all be concerned about here. And, also, I'll come to it later, but nonetheless, you can't ignore the fact that we've left the European Union, and the funds available through that programme won't be available in the future either. So, it puts on those sorts of pressures. And how, if there is data gathering—because you talked about the movement of species; the boundaries aren't just the UK, are they, they're much wider than that, the movement of some of those species—so, how is it going to be interconnected with other European programmes that we're now not going to be part of, when we're trying to give large scale—I'm talking mostly here large scale—licences for people to move forward with energy projects? And we think of things like dolphins and whales; they don't stop in our shores, but they do appear in our shores. 

Rhian, do you want to come back on that, or Jasmine has indicated? Maybe Jasmine first. 

Okay. So, I think the first concern that you'd highlighted was the possibility of giving consent for the unknown. And I should probably just highlight at this point that the precautionary principle still applies, which is that there is still a requirement to meet the habitats regulations, the environmental impact assessment regulations, which have a requirement to make an assessment of what the impact would be, and to ensure that, for the habitats regulations, that adverse effects on sites—marine protected areas in this case—wouldn't occur. And, so, the measures that we put in place through mitigation or adaptive management mitigation, are designed to ensure that that cannot occur, and that we would know if we were approaching that point, and that we would be able to take action to prevent that. 

In terms of your question about mobile species, you are absolutely correct. NRW has a position statement on the use of something called 'marine mammal management units', which sets out where the connectivity is between different species of marine mammals and, therefore, what their natural range is. And you are correct—that, for some of those species, the natural range of, say, for example, dolphins or porpoise, can go beyond either the Welsh boundaries or beyond UK boundaries. But there is information that sets out what that would be, and in the case where we think that there is the potential to have impact beyond our waters, then there are legislative requirements in the environmental impact assessment regulations that set out what needs to be done in terms of collaboration with other states. But also, NRW works quite extensively with other regulators and other nature conservation bodies in the UK in order to make those decisions and to come up with that evidence and data across the UK, with the best available evidence.

09:50

Okay. Thank you for that. Before we move on from evidence, I'm going to slip another one in, if I may. You may be aware that I'm the species champion for the sand eel, and we're very aware that there are severe gaps in information and data for that particular species, and it is a bellwether species as well, of course, because it tells us a lot about the wider environment and ecosystem in which they exist. So, I’m wondering, does the sand eel feature on any current work or intended work, going forward? I know it’s a bit specific. Mary.

We’ve got this list, as Rhian’s referred to, of prioritised evidence needs, that are particularly what we need in terms of our advisory and other functions in NRW on where we can see there are real pressures and issues. Specific evidence around sand eels isn't in our list at the moment, in terms of the top priorities, but there are dozens and dozens of things on the list and, in the top priorities, we pick off 20 a year that we feel we can tackle. But what we have done this year is we’ve just completed, and we’ll be publishing soon, research into the status of the black-legged kittiwake, and, obviously, the sand eel is the key part of their diet as well. So, in a sense, the kittiwake is like the indicator species for aspects of the ecosystem that includes the sand eel. So, that report will be available in the next few months, and we can certainly provide that to you if that would be of interest.

It would. I think I'll give you five out of 10 for that. That's not bad. But, as the species champion, I'll probably have to come back to you to make the case again. But thank you for that answer—that's really good of you. Okay, we'll move on. Janet.

Good morning. In a letter from marine energy link last year, concerns were raised that, as the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 does rely on the section 158 definition, there is this discrepancy between the aim to promote sustainable management of natural resources, up to the 12 nautical mile line, and the legal responsibility for nature conservation throughout the Welsh 200 nautical mile zone. Now, given that, in a sense, we are all talking about this much larger scale energy infrastructure that’s now proposed further offshore, including by BP in north Wales, what engagement have you undertaken with the Minister to address this discrepancy? And do you feel that this discrepancy may have hindered marine conservation efforts beyond the 12 nautical miles? Would you be able to provide an overview of any work that’s ongoing?

So, in relation to that issue, which we’ve heard and had raised with ourselves as well, to clarify a little bit around that, as you say, the environment Act goes out to 12 nautical miles, but Welsh Government has jurisdiction for nature conservation, fisheries management and marine planning throughout the Welsh zone, so beyond 12 nautical miles. NRW’s responsibilities are largely to the 12 nautical mile line, but there are some things that we do beyond, for example marine licensing. Beyond 12 nautical miles, there is the Joint Nature Conservation Committee—JNCC—who are the equivalent statutory nature conservation body to NRW in the offshore area. So, that nature conservation advisory role is undertaken in the offshore. Also, we have worked with Welsh Government to make sure that the sustainable management of natural resources principles and purpose are embedded in the Welsh national marine plan, and that policy framework is what sets the framework for all decisions throughout the Welsh zone in terms of all developments. So, we think we're fairly comfortable as NRW that the sustainable management of natural resources principles and purpose are in the planning framework throughout the Welsh zone. Our purpose now as NRW, and wherever we're acting and whatever we do, wherever it may be, we would be applying those environment Act SMNR principles.

But also, just to pick up your point about whether you think that mismatch of legislative requirements geographically has hindered anything, it's worth remembering as well that, in the offshore area, we still have a UK marine strategy, which is what came to us from the marine strategy framework directive, now the UK marine strategy regulations. So, we've still got the UK marine strategy and also the UK marine policy statement, which sits above all the marine planning processes throughout the UK. Both of those embed an ecosystem approach, and that ecosystem approach, when you look at the definition, is very similar to the definition of sustainable management of natural resources. So, I think we're very confident that the requirements of SMNR can be met through all those different frameworks, and are being met. And we haven't seen anything that would give us cause for concern in NRW that that sort of wider, sustainable management view is not being taking forward in the offshore area as well as in the inshore area.

09:55

I know many of the conservation groups that I've spoken to are very concerned at the absolute humongous number of very, very large wind turbines that are coming off the north Wales coast.

Yes, we recognise that concern, and, as we've just been having the previous conversation, there are multiple other processes and assessment processes, like environmental impact assessment, habitats regulation assessment, and all sorts of other requirements that, as I say, make us comfortable, including the embedding of SMNR in the marine plan, which covers the offshore—comfortable that that principle of sustainable management is applied offshore as much as it is inshore. We understand the concern about the scale of development offshore, but the processes and regulatory requirements and conservation considerations are all still there.

So, if all of that is still there, and if the Government was minded to, for the sake of consistency, say, extend your responsibilities to 200 nautical miles and amend the environment Act accordingly as well, would resource be an issue?

Yes. Obviously, it's an enormous expanse of additional sea area, and, obviously, there are multiple staff in the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and other organisations that work in the offshore area. So, hypothetically, were our duties to be extended into the offshore area, that would need to come with the equivalent resource to undertake that work as well. We have actually flagged—. Just as an aside, it's come forward in the renewable energy deep dive to look at considering delegating the nature conservation advisory role for renewables in the offshore to NRW, to provide that consistent nature conservation voice throughout the Welsh zone. But if that were to happen, again, in relation to your question, it always needs to come with the equivalent resources, yes.

I want to talk about MPAs—marine protected areas—and, particularly, I want to ask for an update on any development of the new reporting indicators for those and what the next steps are for assessing them. I note in your paper that the last report was in 2018, and you say that you're about to report again.

Okay. Yes, so, that's right. We've talked to you, or the previous committee, about the work that we've done to produce a full suite of indicative site condition assessments, which we published in 2018, which were produced through a process of getting experts in the room to use the best readily available evidence as a way to give us indicative assessments in the meantime. Because full detailed assessments to take into account every attribute of every feature of every site is a highly complex process, and we don't necessarily have all the available evidence to do that detailed assessment. So, we did the indicative assessments in 2018 and published them, with the results that 46 per cent of our features were considered to be in favourable condition and 45 per cent unfavourable, and the rest, unknown with a lack of evidence.

So, what we've done since then is that we've made use of the European maritime and fisheries spend to develop a project that's concluding in the next six months. And what that project has done is design a more sustainable process for carrying out cyclical site condition assessments forward into the future. So, it's set rules and principles for how to do that consistently. But, very importantly as well, what we've done is a lot of work on all of the different feature types across our MPAs to identify a small set of indicators that we think are best used to indicate the condition of those features, and where, ideally, we would have the evidence available. So, we've identified all of those indicators. What we're doing now is we're running internally some pilots—pilot condition assessments—using those indicators. We expect that will throw up a few little gremlins that we hadn't realised—that some indicators are harder to use or the data or evidence needs some work before we can apply it. So, we'll work through those sorts of issues, and then that project will conclude, we hope, in about June. So, we'll have a full set of indicators to use and an ongoing process.

What we want to do then and what we're seeking resources for is, if you like, the final and most important stage, really, once we've designed all of that, which is then to do a full revision and to do a full set of site condition assessments for all our features and all of our sites using this new process, and then to use those new condition assessments to fully revise our conservation advice packages for our SACs and SPAs to update the conservation objectives, to be clearer about whether we need to maintain condition or restore condition et cetera, and provide more detailed, prescriptive conservation advice. So, that's what we want to do next, but that's dependent on us securing the resources for that third stage in the project. But, once we've concluded this designing of the process, we could send through the outcomes of that to the committee.

10:00

Thank you. I notice, if I can, Chair, you said 'restore or maintain condition', but, obviously, if—. Should it not be the case that we go beyond restoration to where we are now to where we need to be? Because I hear this language quite often about, 'We'll restore it to the point at which—'. I need to understand whether you are talking about restoring it to the point at which it is in the best condition at the moment, rather than the best condition it could be, because there's a big difference between those two.

No, absolutely there is. So, when sites are designated, they're designated because they're considered to be suitable to be part of a designation series at that time, and a judgment is made at the time as to the condition that those features are in. So, if they're already in a favourable condition at that point in time, then maintaining them means that you're actually keeping the condition that you want those habitats to be in, to play their full role in a wider resilient ecosystem. If, at the time, there were issues, they would be flagged, and then we would have always been seeking to restore them. But, for some of our sites, that nuance between whether or not they were already degraded—[Interruption.]—and therefore declining, or—[Interruption.]

Sorry, Janet needs to be muted. That's fine, you are muted now. Sorry, Mary, carry on.

That's all right. So, whether they're on a slightly declining trend or an increasing trend in condition is really exactly why we need to be able to do this site condition assessment process, and have a really good, solid monitoring programme, which Rhian was talking about before. Because, until we've got all of that, it's actually very hard for us to really understand the direction of travel for a site. We would always want them to be in the best condition they can be, but we just need to understand the direction of travel to be able to give that advice as to whether or not we think they're largely there or there is more work to be done. 

I'm fine with that. You said June, didn't you? So, we can look forward to a report in June.

Yes, so June will be, 'This is the process that we're going to use; it works, here are the indicators', and we're seeking resources now to then apply that process to do a full suite of new condition assessments. So, we'll keep you up to date with whether we've managed to secure the resources to do that. 

And that was exactly my short question: can you just tell us where you are seeking those resources from and can we be of any help?

So, we're seeking them wherever we can. It's a difficult time at the moment in terms of resource envelopes. So, obviously, we bid internally. We're also looking to the new funding programme that Welsh Government's developing with NRW to look at the condition of all protected sites across land and sea—the nature networks programme. So, we're also looking to that as a potential way to give us the additional resources we need for the next couple of years to do that work.

10:05

But you agree with us, with Joyce, with the line of questioning, that if you fail to complete this final stage of it, then all the work you've done is wasted. 

At some point or other, we are determined that we will be able to apply this new process to have a full suite of condition assessments. It's whether we can do it short, sharp and quick—that's what we want to do, because that's of most benefit. If we don't have additional resources, it'll take us much longer. So, we'll get there, but we'd rather do it quickly, and that's why we'd rather see resources. We flagged it in the baseline exercise that NRW is doing with the sponsorship division as well, that this is one of the key areas where we need a boost in resources to provide the evidence and advice we need in the marine environments.

Okay, and we would prefer that you do it quickly as well, I'm sure. We'll move on to Jenny.

I wanted to address the rather urgent issue of the relationship between dredging and bottom trawling and the state of our MPAs, because I am alarmed to understand that this sort of trawling is going on in all our MPAs according to Oceana, a non-governmental organisation. I just wondered if you could tell us why you think this is a medium priority.

So, in relation to bottom trawling, we're aware of work that's been published by the Marine Conservation Society and others highlighting the issue of bottom trawling in offshore marine protected areas. In Welsh waters at the moment, we don't have marine protected areas for sea bed sediment habitats. That is being pursued through the network completion project that Welsh Government are running. So, those headline statistics don't really apply to our understanding of what's happening in Wales. We're also aware, just in terms of anecdotal understanding, that, in terms of bottom-towed gears, there is not a lot of that in the Welsh fleet. That's not to say that it might not happen in terms of fleet that comes in from elsewhere.

But we don't have a really close handle on the degree to which this really is as damaging and concerning and impacting Welsh waters as it might be elsewhere in the UK. We understand that Welsh Government are seeking to introduce a vessel monitoring system inshore that will certainly really help with that evidence on what gears are being used where. But I think we really do need to know that before we can arrive at clear conclusions as to what is actually happening in Welsh waters.

In the inshore area, and we may be coming on to talk about this, we have completed a full suite of assessments in terms of the most sensitive bottom-towed gears and their interactions with marine protected area features through the assessing Welsh fishing activity project, and those are with Welsh Government. By March this year, we'll have completed in NRW 60 further assessments of all other mobile gears in Welsh waters. So, the evidence base in Welsh waters for the interaction between mobile gears and our marine protected area features will then be there and be complete. What we need is further evidence on what's happening where in Welsh waters rather than the rest of the UK, to really understand how much of an issue it is, so that Welsh Government have the information they need to bring in whatever management measures they feel they need to do.

I don't understand why we're not taking a precautionary principle here. Oceana has said, as I highlighted, that there's actually been a 10 per cent increase in the use of fishing with bottom-towed gear between 2019 and 2020. So, goodness knows what's been happening this year.

So, again, I think it's unpicking what may be a UK pattern and needing the knowledge of what's actually happening in Welsh waters so that Welsh Government, who are, obviously, the fisheries manager, are able to bring forward whatever management measures they feel are necessary. They can act in a precautionary way if they choose to, or they can wait until they've got the evidence of what is happening where. But, certainly, the work we've done on the assessing Welsh fishing activity project is the environmental evidence base to understand what the impact would be, but I think it's probably a question to pursue also with Government as to how precautionary or otherwise they wish to be with the fishery management measures.

So, if the Welsh Government wished to take a precautionary approach and limit bottom-towed fishing gear being used in Welsh waters, they have the powers to do that as soon as possible. Is that right?

10:10

Well, the powers are there; it's always a judgment on whether or not that's the right thing to do in terms of how much of an impact it really is in Welsh waters, and I think, at the moment, that's a moot point as to whether or not it's as much an issue in Welsh waters as it is elsewhere in the UK. So, there's a balance to be had on understanding those different levels of risk, really. 

Okay, but you're basically telling us you don't know. Is that right?

We're at the point of understanding what the impact is from different mobile gears on the different features and habitats and species in Welsh waters. So, by March, we'll have completed that data set or those evidence assessments. In terms of what happens where, we know anecdotally where there is towed gear in the Welsh fleet. What we don't have, which hopefully will be forthcoming once the vessel monitoring system is in place that Welsh Government plan in due course—. Once that's in place, we would know what is actually happening where and at what intensity. But, until that evidence is available, it's hard to know precisely what the impacts are where. But it's not an area that we're hugely concerned about, but we just do need to have the better evidence to see whether action is needed. 

Okay, but your excellent graphs seem to indicate that, if you start disturbing the bottom, you're eroding all the carbon—[Inaudible.]

Absolutely. If it's happening intensively, the impacts are significant. That's absolutely the case. What we need and what's always the best way to proceed in terms of any management measures is understanding of the activity and whether it's happening at the level of intensity that would cause the kinds of impacts that would be a concern. 

Okay, well, let's bring Joyce in here, because I think she wants to raise something as well. 

I do—it's scallop dredging in Cardigan bay. That's an activity that we do know is happening, and I'm going to declare my species to champion, which is the dolphin, and the dolphins live off scallops. But it's not just about the dolphin, although it clearly is as well; it's about the damage that's being done and was done. Those beds were shut. Bangor University said after I think it was two or three years that the evidence told them that they were okay, and yet everybody else said you need 10 years before you can evaluate and have certainty about the state of a pre-dredged area. And also, it's in a special area of conservation. So, what involvement, if any, do you have in that licensing process and keeping an eye on it, if you like, in terms of monitoring and updating the evidence on the damage that's being done there? Because what concerns me here is that we might do in the sea what we've done on land in terms of allowing little pockets all the time to degrade until, in the end, we end up with large-scale damage because it's been assessed in isolation. But I particularly want to know about Cardigan bay.   

Okay. Our role is as the statutory nature conservation adviser. So, Welsh Government brings forward the fisheries Orders that manage the scallop fishery and, when they do that, they're required to undertake a habitat regulation assessment. That's the key point where we have a role as NRW. So, we advise them on their habitat regulation assessments.

An important factor in some of the SACs in Welsh waters, for example the Cardigan bay SAC, of which bottlenose dolphins are a feature, is that when those were brought forward, those original large SACs in Welsh waters, a very large boundary was drawn around to create large sites that encompassed multiple features, whereas the approach that had tended to be taken elsewhere up to that point was to draw boundaries very tightly around the distribution of features. So, there are large areas within that Cardigan bay SAC that are scallop beds and then there are large areas that aren't. There is also an understanding of the distribution of the bottlenose dolphin and its feeding patterns within that area, and so it is possible for different activities to carry on in these very large SACs alongside a mobile species population, because of the fact that we haven't drawn boundaries tightly around different pockets of habitat. 

So, we have advised on the habitats regulation assessment and certainly advised about where we need to avoid interactions with mobile species so as not to create that kind of damage. But also, I think what's really important here,  and another really important part of our role, is where Rhian was talking earlier about our monitoring programme. What we really, really do need is to be able to scale up our monitoring programme if we can, because then we really will have the evidence in terms of sea bed damage that would help inform further management, because, lots of the time, we don't have that on-the-ground evidence that we would need to be able to provide that direct advice. 

10:15

Thank you, Mary. We're up against time now, but I think that's a key message that we come back to on a number of these issues, and it's certainly one that we as a committee will take seriously into consideration. So, the final question to Janet before we conclude this session.

Thank you, Chair. We know our fabulous Welsh seas contain seagrass, salt marsh and seaweed blue carbon habitats, which do assist with massive carbon capture, but they're also well positioned to bring research and some employment benefit. In Yorkshire, a pioneering seaweed farm is looking to produce a sustainable crop that can be used in a large range of ways, such as biodegradable plastics, to even a new source of pharmaceuticals. What engagement have you undertaken with stakeholders and the Welsh Government to review the economic possibilities offered by blue carbon initiatives? Are you doing any work on making sure that, whilst they are really good initiatives, or could be, they don't actually work against us in terms of our conservation and biodiversity, and, in your assessment, what would be the barriers to progress were such a start-up to begin in Wales?

There are a few aspects to that there. I don't know who wants to take it, but whoever it is will need to be rather concise. Mary.

Well, just to say, in terms of economic possibilities, we haven't ourselves as NRW or with Welsh Government done any assessment of that. We have had some approaches in Wales about seaweed farming and other projects that are specifically proposed in order to enhance our blue carbon stores, and that's part of the rationale of those projects. The discussions we've been having with those people that are looking at those is exactly as you mentioned there—that whilst we absolutely want to see, wherever we can, the opportunity to enhance blue carbon sequestration and storage, as a wider benefit of any restoration projects or any development projects, we will also always need to apply the wider assessment processes to make sure that we're clear that whatever we're doing is not having adverse effects on the environment for other reasons. That's part and parcel of what we would do as part of our daily work.

Okay. Thank you so much. That brings us to the end of our hour-long session with Natural Resources Wales. Can I thank the three of you for your evidence? Excellent stuff, and it sets us up well for the other sessions today and, of course, for hopefully some of the work that we'll be doing over the next period. You will be sent a copy of the draft transcript to check for accuracy, but, with that, can I thank you again for your attendance this morning? Diolch yn fawr.

Mi wnawn ni nawr fel pwyllgor ohirio'r cyfarfod tan tua 10.25 a.m. er mwyn i ni ganiatáu amser i'r tystion newydd ddod i mewn i'r cyfarfod. Felly, mi wnawn ni oedi'r cyfarfod a'r darllediad tan tua 10.25 a.m. Diolch yn fawr.

We'll now suspend the meeting until about 10.25 a.m. so that the new witnesses can join the meeting. So, we'll adjourn and suspend the broadcast until about 10.25 a.m. Thank you very much.

10:25

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:18 a 10:26.

The meeting adjourned between 10:18 and 10:26.

3. Rheoli'r amgylchedd morol - sesiwn dystiolaeth 2: datblygwyr ynni morol
3. Marine environment management - evidence session 2: marine energy developers

Croeso nôl i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Dŷn ni'n symud ymlaen i'n trydedd eitem y bore yma. Dŷn ni'n edrych ar reoli'r amgylchedd morol, wrth gwrs, ac mae'r ail sesiwn dystiolaeth yma'n mynd i fod yn ffocysu ar ddatblygwyr ynni morol, a dwi'n falch i groesawu Jess Hooper, sy'n rheolwr rhaglen, Ynni Morol Cymru; a David Jones, sy'n rheolwr ymgysylltu â rhanddeiliaid gyda Blue Gem Wind. Mi awn ni yn syth i gwestiynau, felly. Mae gennym ni awr wedi'i glustnodi, felly gwnaf i wahodd Janet Finch-Saunders i gychwyn y sesiwn yma. 

Welcome back to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. We move on to our third item this morning. We are looking at marine environment management, and this second evidence session is going to focus on marine energy developers. I am pleased to welcome Jess Hooper, who is the programme manager with Marine Energy Wales; and David Jones, who is the stakeholder engagement manager with Blue Gem Wind. We will go straight to questions, therefore. We have an hour allocated, so I will invite Janet Finch-Saunders to start off with questions.

Thank you, Chair, and good morning. Jessica, in your organisation's written evidence to the UK Parliament's Welsh Affairs Committee inquiry, you estimated that there is 6 GW of tidal range resource in Wales. Now, given that the Welsh Government has conducted a soft market testing exercise, what further assessment is required to review if the Welsh supply chain has the capability to meet the ambitions and capacity to bring back or store the electricity generated? Also, last week I met with officials from TP:Gen24, who are exploring academic partnerships to continue their research and development, so how do you feel that we can better join up the dots between the ambitions of stakeholders and the knowledge base offered by Welsh universities?

Certainly. Thank you very much, Janet, and thank you, Llyr. So, the request for a further assessment really was based on the fact that tidal range across the UK has been held back by a lack of policy support at Westminster. BEIS has previously indicated some interest, but want well-developed and cost-effective plans to be submitted. But without policy support as a backdrop, it's impossible to get the funding to put together such a proposal. So, the fresh assessment fund—the Tidal Range Alliance, which we work quite closely with, has actually submitted a paper to BEIS, which I could potentially share with you if it would be beneficial, but the proposal there is that BEIS release £20 million to support a fund for that assessment, which would do two things. It would provide independent evidence for all parties to have dialogue on its affordability and importance, and obviously we saw the Hendry review come through and provide pretty robust support for the sector, but that didn't necessarily take the sector forward. But it would also, in that fresh assessment, indicate to institutional investors that government has not given up completely on this important potential solution, and the lack of future baseload and inertia in the UK's future energy system could be realised in Welsh projects. 

So, you mentioned using academia and the like, and an understanding of the Welsh opportunity that's there; I think that that is a robust foundation from which we can grow, but ultimately we need BEIS support on this. The size of some of the projects we'd be taking forward would obviously go beyond the devolved powers within Welsh Government. So, ensuring that we've got that—and there's also then a requirement for revenue support, which ultimately is going to come from that level. We've seen the regulated asset base be announced for nuclear in recent months, and we see that as a potential solution for revenue support for tidal range and tidal lagoons going forward. It's worth emphasising that the request for that assessment doesn't cut across the tidal lagoon challenge at all. We very much support and welcome the Welsh Government's admirable initiative. It's just really a question that those projects are likely to be restricted to the devolved powers, so up to 350 MW, but really, in order to supply sufficient power and realise the full opportunity, we've got much bigger projects that could be progressed, potentially up to 2.5 GW—projects such as the north Wales tidal lagoon, for example, which obviously will require that BEIS commitment to take it forward.

10:30

Is there anything more you want to tell us about the tidal lagoon challenge? Is there anything that you want to expand on that?

So, at the moment we're anticipating feedback from Welsh Government. The lagoon challenge, I think, itself, closed in around March time, and I know, or I understand, there were in excess of 20 submissions to that. It was a soft market test, so it would have seen a lot of various different approaches from supply chain through to potential developers come through. At the moment, as a sector, we're not actually aware of how that is progressing. We are aware that it has been taken to the Minister, but that there are further discussions and outcomes that are required—I believe, potentially, linked to the Welsh Government budget, which I think is due on the twentieth.

Okay, yes, so you know as much as we do, then. There we are. That's fine.

I thought that might be the case.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Good morning. Could you talk us through the role of the Crown Estate, please, in marine energy development and ambition? How does the role of the Crown Estate, as it is, enable that to happen, and how does it constrain it?

Okay. Who wants to respond to that, first of all? David, do you want to come in on that?

Yes. No, no, I appreciate that—I've been reading the newspapers. Or reading the newspapers online, as we do these days. Look, they're critical, aren't they, essentially. If you want to carry out any activity in the sea bed, you need the involvement of the Crown Estate, obviously, in terms of leasing and licensing. So, an absolutely critical role. In the announcement, fairly recently, they talked about a 4 GW ambition now for the Celtic sea and floating wind. That was really, really welcome news. As project developers, we feel there is market interest that could go faster than that, particularly from a floating—. I'm talking about floating wind in particular, specifically. And if you look at it in terms of facts, essentially, from a floating wind perspective you could argue that, at the moment, Wales is disadvantaged vis-à-vis Scotland. Scotland have already built two floating wind projects. They now have the ScotWind leasing process, which is commercial scale. What that does, essentially, to the market and to the private sector, is it sends a real signal that things are going to happen, because there is an ambition for a leasing process, and then that enables investment to happen. Just this week there was a perfect example; Nicola Sturgeon was opening up a floating wind manufacturing factory in Scotland, you know, linked to poor investments. I think of the company that I'm involved in, TotalEnergies. Total announced that they were investing £140 million in supply chains at Scottish ports, based on the fact that they have a commercial-scale leasing process coming from ScotWind. So, critical, crucial, and it just opens up the market for investment.

Thanks. Jess, do you want to add anything to that? There are lots of things I'd want to ask you, but I don't think it's fair to ask you two these things, so—.

You can ask. Ask away—I don't mind. I think that's what we're here for.

There are—. Okay, so again, it's politically charged, evidently. There are some, including me, who would argue, and people who would know far more about it, of course, who would argue, that were control over the Crown Estate to be devolved, that that would allow greater flexibility in how Wales could determine how renewables are deployed, particularly in Welsh waters. Is that something that you would—? Well, that's a leading question. Okay, I'll just put it to you, and what are your thoughts?

Okay. I can appreciate where that comment is coming from. Working in the offshore sector in Wales for the last 13 years, I can understand why you're making those comments. I'm sure that we all appreciate that there was a split between the UK Crown Estate and it's now the Scottish Crown Estate. There's a feeling from sector that they're probably closer to Government and respond more to Government ambition than perhaps the Crown Estate England and Wales, who are very clear on the fact that they're an independent organisation. There could be benefits to Wales. I guess, what we would be cautious of is if that move delayed anything. You know, the ambition is to—. What floating wind brings is pace and scale and we need pace and scale at the moment to respond to the climate emergency. So, that would be our slight concern. I'm not saying that moving those powers is a good or bad thing; I don't know, but we just wouldn't want them to slow anything down, I think is our main concern. 

10:35

Okay. Before I ask Jess, maybe, to respond as well, Huw just wants to come in on this as well.

Yes. If I can ask the corollary to Delyth's question: is there anything in the current structure of the Crown Estate within Wales that causes difficulty and challenge for you, or are they an energetic partner in taking forward consenting?

They obviously have a really, really broad view and they have to consider all the activity around the UK, and I think it's fair to say that the focus very, very recently has been on round 4 fixed offshore wind, and obviously, Wales will benefit from that, we hope, from activity in the Irish sea and a lot of activity on the east coast. So, I guess from a resourcing perspective, there will have been a big, big focus on that. We're selfishly looking at the Celtic sea and the ambitions for floating wind, so we would want them to go faster. The market is ready, you know, the market is ready to invest. As Simply Blue Energy, we have a joint venture with TotalEnergies to build two floating wind projects in Wales; we have a joint venture with Shell to build two floating wind projects in Ireland. The market is ready to invest in this space, particularly because of pace and scale, and so, we would like the Crown Estate to go faster.

Sorry, Chair. I wonder whether I could extend Delyth's question further, then. Based on what you've said about Scotland—and bear in mind, I'm impartial; I'm genuinely coming at this from an unbiased view in my putting this question—would it be of advantage to you, based on your experience in Scotland, if there was an ability to direct your ambitions for this through something that felt more of a fit within the Welsh policy framework, but also that had some democratic input? Because one of the criticisms of Crown Estates over many, many years is that they are something of a law unto themselves. It's difficult even for Government to get a grip on them, frankly. As an industry sector, would you prefer there to be something that looked more like the Scottish model?

I think being closer aligned to Welsh Government policy ambitions could be helpful, assuming your policy ambitions—. Again, it's back to that point of pace and scale, you know, the market's ready to invest. It really, really is ready to invest in floating wind in the Celtic sea, and as I say, selfishly, from Blue Gem Wind's perspective, we would prefer them to go faster.

Yes, if I may, there are a couple. I think Dave's made a very good case there on both sides, hopefully reasonably measured. I think, from our point of view, we are at a point where I think we could be about to see the Crown Estate do things slightly differently, so I've experienced working the previous rounds, which have been quite slow and quite onerous. We are seeing now mention of enabling actions coming through. We actually work, as MEW, through the Celtic Sea Cluster, which Welsh Government support, to essentially anchor a supply chain in the respective regions of Wales and Cornwall, and the Crown Estate have taken on a watching brief within that Celtic Sea Cluster board and are committing to those enabling actions, which I think will hopefully accelerate things.

We have to recognise that we are coming from a bit of a position that is behind Scotland, and that has got implications in terms of CFD rounds—so, the contracts for difference with BEIS. And we are ultimately going to end up competing. We have the advantage, I think, with the stepping stone approach that's been proposed. So, obviously, we've got Erebus coming through at 100 MW, we've got the 300 MW projects planned and then the 1 GW pipeline. So, that visibility really does give good supply chain ambition and pipeline security for investment. And I think that the Crown Estate's enabling actions, should they be done right—and we have yet to see what they're going to look like, so there's a bit of a caveat there—they could facilitate that scale and pace that the developers so desperately need, want and are ready to see and deploy alongside.

10:40

Okay. I think we can hear a message in all of that—that's pretty clear; thanks so much. Your reference to Erebus brings us nicely, I think, on to Jenny Rathbone.

David Jones, you warn in your paper that all our natural advantages are in danger of floating away—that things are not happening as quickly here as they are in other areas of the UK. So, I wondered, in talking about the Erebus project, if you can tell us what you think we need to do to ensure that doesn't happen.

Thanks, Jenny—good pun. From the Erebus perspective, I have to say, we're progressing really, really well. It's Wales's first floating offshore windfarm. We've finished two years of offshore environmental surveys. We've done a lot of offshore work; we did a lot of onshore work. We know where our grid route is now. So, we're progressing really, really well, essentially, and we are probably two weeks away from submitting planning. So, NRW and Welsh Ministers should be getting a—not first sight; we've been working with NRW for the last year and a half actually preparing the consent submission. So, actually, we're pleased with Erebus; we're pleased with the progress, and that was because the Crown Estate already had a leasing process in place for test and demonstration projects and Erebus comes under that. We already have a sea bed lease from the Crown Estate; we have grid agreements. We're on track to hopefully spin the meters in 2026, essentially.

But the comments were linked then—I think we just touched on them slightly—that at the moment in Wales, there's a process where we can submit an application for a 100 MW test and demonstration, but there was nothing in place beyond that. Jess alluded to it actually—we took a recommendation from the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult that said that because floating wind is new to this part of the world—in fact, new to the UK—Catapult said that the best way to engage with the local supply chain is to have a stepping-stone approach to development. So, you start with a smaller project—in our eyes, it was Erebus—then you could start with a slightly bigger project, and we proposed Valorous to do that. So, it's a 100 MW; Valorous is 300 MW. There's a two-year gap between them, and that gives the supply chain the chance to get involved when the bigger projects come in in the 2030s, essentially. 

So, the bit of the jigsaw that's missing at the moment is that Crown Estate—that next, 'Can we apply for 300 MW?' and then, 'Can we apply for a commercial-scale project?' They've announced, since we actually made the submission, their ambition for 4 GW in the Celtic sea and to support that early commercial 300 MW. But, again, we'd just like it to go faster.

Okay. Obviously, we're not—. Are we going to have any control over the Crown Estate?

Looking more widely, what is it that Wales needs to do to ensure that we don't miss out on this really important way of decarbonising our energy?

Jenny, that's a really good question. I think it's probably fair to say that the only thing we will be asking Wales plc for is a consent determination in 12 months. We're not asking the Welsh Government for funding. This is international inward investment that's coming from Ireland and France. We've been working with NRW for the last year and a half on the EIA itself and we've been very, very clear throughout this process that we're going to submit to planning what we feel are two proven technologies. We're taking a wind turbine and we're putting it on an oil and gas platform. Those technologies have been around for a long, long time. We've got 10 GW of offshore wind around the UK. So, our message is clear: we believe that, if Wales is open for business and wants to capture this floating wind opportunity, then turning that consent around in 12 months is critical for us. Because what that enables us then to do is apply for a CFD in 2023, which then enables us to build the project by 2026, and if we miss that 2023 CFD target, then we have to wait another two years for the 2025 CFD, and it delays the programme for years. That’s when you could miss out on the opportunity. So, I think, Jenny, there’s lots of stuff Wales could do, and I’m sure we'll dig into it, around ports and supply chain and all those kinds of things, but having resources within NRW to turn consent applications around is really, really critical.

10:45

Okay. But you will have read in NRW's evidence that speed of determination is mainly dependent on the quality of the information provided by the developer. So, are you confident that you'll provide everything that they need?

I would hope so, because we've been working with them. We've used the discretionary advice service. We’ve been paying for advice from NRW. We’ve been working with them for the last year and a half, and going through the process. We’ve had planes flying for the last two years. Again, working it out with NRW—'Is this the right way? Are we doing it in the right way? Is this going to be suitable when we submit the application?' So, I appreciate that response, but also, if our EIA is not grade A after working with NRW for the last year and a half, then I don’t know what more we could have done to submit a really, really high-quality EIA.

We hope that reaps success for you. Jess Hooper, what's your experience in this?

I think it’s really in support of Dave’s position there. Fundamentally, it’s going to come down to consenting decisions. From a floating offshore wind point of view, we actually represent the Celtic sea developers alliance. So, we’re chair and secretariat to a composition of 15 developers at the moment, and increasing numbers with the Crown Estate lease announcement that came through recently. There’s a lot of attention on the region and on the opportunity and, fundamentally, I think the stepping stones that can be realised must be realised in a sustainable way, and that will mean NRW making decisions relatively quickly. To bring in a little bit of experience from the marine energy sector, unfortunately, we do have challenges where we perceive that NRW are probably quite risk averse, and decision making isn’t taken in a timely fashion. Because a lot of the deployments that we talk about are innovative and new to the Welsh waters, there's a very precautionary principle and approach taken, which means that whilst, yes, NRW can say it’s about the robustness of the evidence that is put forward to them, there’s also a requirement for NRW to draw on experiences elsewhere around the UK under the same legislation, and in Europe under the same legislation. There are deployments that are happening, that are going ahead, that can be used to inform decision making that fundamentally needs to, basically, come into play in this regard, and be utilised to the best effect. And we don’t necessarily see that. NRW have adopted an adaptive management principle more recently, but it still is steeped in complications and potential delays. So, there is a real risk there. There’s just the uncertainty associated with it, and for investors looking to the region, that creates a big risk, in their eyes. They need to be confident that the decisions they’re making and the investments they’re seeking to make have promise—no guarantees, obviously, but a determined time frame in which they can take that forward.  

Okay. They told us that they are involved in various UK-hosted networks, which has given them access to quite a lot of expensive research, which they don’t have the resources to do, around deep-water developments. Is there anything else that you think they could or should be doing, realistically, that would enable them to be more confident about your innovative approaches?

Good question. I fundamentally believe that there’s a background to NRW that's probably steeped in a conservation remit rather than a sustainable development remit, and so some way and mechanism of changing that and influencing that, I think, would be welcomed. We note the Deputy Minister's recommendations from the deep dive yesterday actually include an independent review—or a review, I think—of NRW. I would strongly recommend that that should be independent of NRW and potentially even Welsh Government—so, bringing in an external sources. We've seen the benefits that can be reaped in Scotland, probably 10, 15 years ago now, with an independent review of the regulatory authority. The chair of CSAG—the consenting strategic advisory group—Jim McKie, is an ex-regulator and has brought in valuable experience to the table that really echoes the benefits of that independent review and how that can be taken forward. I do think NRW do struggle from a resource point of view. They're relatively thin on the ground, and that makes it pretty difficult for them to respond and react promptly. I think there's a real need for further investment in how the NRW teams are comprised, in order to take it forward and make it meaningful and make decisions a little bit faster, from both the floating offshore wind and marine renewable point of view. And that's going to have impacts on tidal range, tidal stream and floating wind, and, hopefully, wave in the slightly longer term.

10:50

Sorry, Llyr, can I just add—? I was going to just add to Jess's point about resources being so, so critical. It feels like a couple of years ago now that the offshore renewable energy programme was put in place and NRW recruited, I think, between 13 and 15 new roles, which was absolutely fantastic. From the sector's perspective, that was a real statement of intent. I believe that was time-bound funding. That would be a real loss if we were to lose those skills now that have been built up, and that experience, at a really, really crucial time when we probably expect more consent applications than ever. You know, it's not just Erebus any more; you've got Llŷr 1 and Llŷr 2 coming as well, hopefully, to submit applications. So, yes, the resourcing point is really, really critical.

Thanks for that, David. We were told it was the first three years funded at risk by NRW themselves, but now it's got to a point where they're really looking to Government to help them. Because, as you say, it isn't just carrying on with what they have; they need to ramp up to reflect the hopeful growth in renewables as well. Joyce, you've been very patient, and you can come in now.

I have, and I'm going to pick up from where Jess started, about being risk averse. We have to be seen to be ensuring that what we do to give ourselves energy doesn't actually destroy what we currently have in the sea. I had to pick that up, so I did. You've said that there are projects that have been ongoing for some time, so there must have been—. I'm not talking about this country, of course; I'm talking about others where this has been deployed. There must be papers that come from both sides—the risk averse and the ones who want to drive the profit fast and forward. So, there must be papers from both sides. Have you had any of those papers? If you have had any of those papers, could you direct us to them? Because that's the sort of evidence that we're all going to need when we move forward.

Certainly. There's a robust evidence base that is available already. The OES—I can't remember what that acronym stands for now, which is not too helpful—produced a 'State of the Science' report approximately 12 months ago, which pulled together global experiences of wave and tidal deployments around the world, being global, and really did create quite a foundation for how particular risks or perceptions of risk could potentially be retired.

The challenge that we've got is that this paper was presented and utilised by a number of our developers in conjunction with discussions with NRW, and there was a reluctance to retire any risks in respect of a project because it didn't necessarily reflect on how Welsh waters may receive said technology. You referenced and I referenced global projects there; actually, the UK is the global—[Inaudible.]—here, so a lot of our experiences and project deployments do come from the national deployment opportunity, predominantly in Scotland, but you'd imagine there are similar species and similar legislation that are being utilised to inform those decisions and take projects forward. So, theoretically, it should be relatively replicable for Welsh waters.

We've got developers that are developing both in Scotland and in Wales who would highlight that actually there's a perception that Wales is potentially not open for business for these deployments, because of the difficulties they're seeing that we've referenced, the open-ended process and the time taken to take things forward. There are also examples where there's a really onerous requirement for a comprehensive pre-application survey, which you don't necessarily see elsewhere in the UK. So, Scotland have adopted a deploy-and-monitor approach—and we can provide papers that evidence how that has worked for them—where they've then been able to get kit in the water faster, monitor how that kit is affecting, or not, as the case may be, the local environment and inform future decision making for, for example, phased deployment of the project, so incrementally adding on them. There's a project up in Shetland that I think started out with one or two devices and is now up to, I think it will be five by the end of this year or end of next, and that's been done in an incremental way, under the deploy-and-monitor approach, to ensure that the deployment is sustainable and that the environmental impact is well understood. But the key was enabling that first device to be deployed and not putting really onerous requirements on the advance of making that decision to let it go.

We're also seeing significant post-monitoring survey requirements. So, as Marine Energy Wales, we actually run the marine energy test area. And I should say that the decision making there appeared to be quite a bit more pragmatic, but it still took us more than 12 months, I think that was 18 months. And these are for short-scale deployments of test kit, so not long-term energy production, but actually just working to understand how those devices respond to the water and vice versa, how the environment receives them, but between six and 12-month durations. The post-monitoring requirements that we're seeing there are quite significant, so the ability for us to get in the water is potentially hampered there, which is a challenge when you're trying to get kit in the water to understand it to then develop it and overcome some of those innovation barriers.

So, there's a real difficulty and perception there that, I think, NRW have more of a problems-based and precautionary culture. And I completely understand that they have to take on board the legislation that they are acting in support of, but ultimately, places like Scotland have had the same legislation and have enabled these projects to go forward for more than 10 years. As an example, I think there have been 15 or 20 deployments in Scotland now; we're still only sitting at two in Wales, and that's despite work and efforts being undertaken for—. I think I started on a project in 2011 that was looking at a Skerries development, so that's a protracted period of time with very little deployment going in.

10:55

Okay. Thank you. There's a clear message there. Fine. We'll move on to Janet, then.

You may be aware that I've been very concerned and calling for the introduction of a spatial marine plan to address the biodiversity concerns around such energy productions. RSPB and other conservation groups have actually stressed that the Wales national marine plan does not embed strategic forward planning, or it doesn't even seek to proactively address conflict. As representatives of the industry, what engagement have developers—? What have you had with stakeholders to discuss the benefits of a spatial planning scheme? And do you see this as hindering your progress or do you see this as being part of your responsibilities as well, and support for our biodiversity and conservation agenda?

Yes, I'm happy to take that. Thank you. I think, Janet, first and foremost from a project-development perspective, we would spend quite a lot of time choosing the site of least constraint. When we go and find a site, we screen for between 50 and 30 different activities; we look at special areas of conservation and special protection areas, bird movements and marine mammal movements, shipping and fishing and all of those kinds of things. As a developer, you want to find a site where you're going to bump up against the least constraints. So, that's a really, really important point to make first.

And then, obviously, you need to fit within the Welsh national marine plan. There has been talk about strategic resource areas and the development of strategic resource areas. There has been a focus just—and correct me if I'm wrong—on wave and tidal, and I think aquaculture initially. Floating wind has now come into that conversation. So, I can understand what NGOs are saying, I appreciate that. I think in Wales, we're really, really good at the policy bit. I believe it's probably the action and delivery bit we may need to sharpen up on, and that's not a criticism of everyone, that's just us in Wales, I think. So, I can understand that.

Do we need something other than the Welsh national marine plan that's only been developed fairly recently? Should we let the strategic resource area work carry out what it is trying to achieve? It's an interesting question, and I don't think we have a particular preference at the moment, apart from to say: if we're going to do something else, are we going to delay anything even further? Sorry, I'm back to that pace and scale thing that we really need to move at, so hopefully that helps. I'm not sure it does. [Laughter.]

11:00

Yes, I just wonder—. When I speak to energy companies, they say, 'Oh yes, we agree on that,' but I know that, as you rightly pointed out, the NGOs believe that a spatial plan rather than ad hoc—. They see it as big schemes being allowed on an ad hoc basis. Rather, if we had a fundamental spatial planning scheme, everyone would be happier, because we'd know our species would be protected and it would be really nice to hear that from the industry without us pushing for it. 

Yes. We certainly wouldn't push against it. But, like I say, the question is: the Welsh national marine plan is relatively new, a lot of work went into that, and I will, actually, tip my hat to Welsh Government, we were involved heavily in that process, all the way through, as stakeholders. I think stakeholder engagement has been a real positive in that process and within that experience. It's just the industry would prefer certainty. It's uncertainty that makes everyone really, really nervous. So, yes, if what you're talking about provides additional certainty, and the spatial plan tells you where you should go and carry out your developments, I think we'd welcome that.

Yes, David, I'm just interested in your comment there, which you passed over fairly quickly, on the strategic resource areas. I picked up from your facial expression then some reservation about it. What's the issue here?

No, not a reservation; it was just, I guess, the concern that we all slow everything down again. That would be my only concern. I guess, in the decade when we've got to move faster than we ever have done before—and I've heard Welsh Ministers say that—do we keep slowing things down by trying to get everything exactly right? I don't know how long we've been working on strategic—we, the royal 'we'—Welsh Government have been working on strategic resource areas. I think floating wind is just coming into it now, and, to be fair, floating wind is a sector that's moved really, really quickly, I think it's fair to say. All the developer would like is some certainty, and I think if there were some certainty around which development areas were good places to go and do that, I think developers would welcome that. As I say, we do it ourselves otherwise, and we found Erebus by going through a whole screening process.

I guess the question is, Chair: if not SRAs as part of marine spatial planning, then what? If I can put back to you and maybe to Jess, the environmental organisations out there push very heavily now on the basis of the biodiversity crisis, as well as—

—the climate change crisis. The planning system, whatever we put in place, and it is early days in the marine environment, needs to actually achieve net biodiversity benefit, not just stasis. Now, would you agree with that? And, if so, from a developer's perspective, how do we achieve that within marine planning?

11:05

Yes, that's a really, really good question. 'Yes' would be my first response. We've been looking—. It is early days even for Erebus, but we've been looking at, potentially, with the way our mooring lines are laid out it's going to be really difficult for commercial fishing to go in there, essentially. So, by default, are we creating a no-take zone, essentially? We've had some conversations with the Welsh Government, actually, that that could be a real win-win for stakeholders. Fishermen are not going to go in there, but then they wouldn't have to worry about another MCZ that may or may not come along. So, I think there are some opportunities around that space that will be really, really interesting to work through. I absolutely appreciate that joint crisis around biodiversity as well. I'm not sure if I've answered your point, Huw. 

Yes. So, I guess—. I don't know, I'm a bit of a map geek, so in terms of a marine plan, I assumed it would be spatial. I think that's when you get to the nitty-gritty, that's when your stakeholders can really get stuck into stuff, isn't it? You can have all of these warm policy words and all of these supportive words, once you get a map out and try and work out where these areas are, I think that's when you really get into meaningful planning, and I'm not sure we're there yet. 

Yes, maps would be lovely. I think there's a fundamental, not issue, but opportunity here around data and evidence gathering. So, we're talking about spatial plans. The challenge I think we see a lot from environmental non-governmental organisations, and probably NRW to some extent, is that we're not confident in the level of data and evidence that's available about our own waters. So, actually setting out to collect and collate that on a strategic level would enable that map to be so much better informed, and that will fundamentally create better decision making. So, your spatial areas that you're identifying have a robust evidence base that you can take forward decision making based on, and you can be confident that what you're doing and where you're doing it is of the lowest potential impact. And I think that's quite key.

It's something that we have explored within the consenting strategic advisory group, actually, looking at the aggregates industry and how aggregates have come together to collectively pool money in a pot with, I think, additional support from Government, potentially. And I think the marine renewable sector would certainly welcome additional support from Welsh Government, but almost match funding a pot that could enable that data gathering to be really robust, to inform that decision making and then almost a better way, maybe, of investing the money, that you would invest in a spatial plan, potentially looking at how you make what we have got more robust and more reliable.

I think the Welsh national marine plan, as Dave alluded to, is fairly recent, it's been done and there are activities that are linked to that. So, the sector locational guidance—Dave was right there—at the moment it does only look at wave, tidal and aquaculture, but expanding that to include floating offshore wind. And I think fundamentally, looking to the Crown Estate there and what they're doing in terms of the enabling actions, I suspect there'll be quite a significant focus on the environmental basis there, so you're going to have a number of different authorities that are looking to that data and evidence and potentially enabling its collation to come together. The question, and I'm sure Dave will back me up on this, is how quickly it can happen in order for it to be meaningful and useful. And that's going to be the absolute key to this, and making those areas really, really robust and informed to make that decision making easier are key.

I think I would also say that the net benefit question—. Dave alluded to no-take fishing zones, and there's potentially a greater net benefit that maybe we don't fully understand as yet. So, you can see where NRW were asking for post-deployment monitoring to come forward to understand it, but actually looking at that as a positive outcome, how you're seeing, for example, with fixed offshore wind, almost reefs being created where you've got fixed offshore wind bases. Recognising the benefit of that and how that is creating new habitat—admittedly man made, but habitat that is to the benefit of the wider ecosystem—I think is fundamental, and I know UK Government are looking at a consultation at the moment but there's nothing at the moment in Wales to do the same, and I think we really do need to have that. Unfortunately, it all seems to come back to data and evidence, and I should have mentioned before, we actually sit on the science and evidence advisory group, which is a spin-off of CSAG, which is looking at some of these things and how that can be taken forward, and drawing together that information and identifying where those gaps are, but I think if we've got a pot of money that sits alongside that, that SEAGP—the SEA group—can sort of say, 'Okay, well, maybe let's target that to here, there, or over there, and this specific interest', you begin to develop a much better understanding.

11:10

Huw wants to come back in, and I think David, you want to pick up on something as well, but we'll go to Huw first, and then maybe you can come in then.

Thank you. I mean, really interesting answers, and as you say, the maps and the spatial planning are only as good as the data that underpins them, and we're a million miles away from having that right system that can provide that data. It cannot all rely on NRW or Bangor University or whoever. This needs to be the best practice in terms of pooled scientific endeavour and data sharing, and whilst protecting commercial confidence, and so on, and we've done this before in Government, so we should be able to do it.

So, can I ask you: I wonder if you could share with the committee anything that, Jess, you might have in terms of that scientific collaboration that's going on. And is one of the things that it's looking at, is it looking at that ability to have comprehensive buy-in from all the operators—dredgers, shipping industry, fishing industry, academia, et cetera—to pool it, alongside what I think is an interesting proposal, some funding from Government or Government agencies to fill the gaps in? Because that could speed us along this path. 

Okay, shall we go to David first, then, just to make the points he wanted to make and then we'll allow Jess just to conclude on this section?

Yes, I was just going to talk about the acquisition of data, and also the cost, just to give you an example: Erebus is a really, really small site. We've got seven platforms and seven turbines. We're 45 km offshore, which means when you go out and collect data, you have to mobilise aeroplanes, so we've been doing aerial surveys once a month for the last two years—aeroplanes going up and counting seabirds and marine mammals for the last two years—but then you have to go out and get survey vessels to look at the site, look at the geophysical, grab samples, all of those kinds of things, and along the cable corridor, and Erebus is—I think we're 0.02 per cent of Welsh marine planning waters, and just to give you an idea, by the time we come to submit our EIA, we'll have spent about £5 million. So—.

But that contribution of itself might be tiny, but it's not insignificant when you pool it alongside other developers and other sectors.

Yes, yes. There's definitely a role for Government there in trying to persuade developers to share non-confidential information.

And/or taking that a level above and making it more about strategic data collection. The majority of the costs that you're seeing in those surveys are mobilisation and demobilisation. So, if you can expand the area to a broader collective interest, rather than just being an individual project, it's actually far more economical and efficient, but it will, as Dave says, need that Welsh Government or governmental direction lead and probably investment to support that.

To loop back to Huw's question: we acknowledge that there's an interface with other sectors, and CSAG actually works to bring in a number of other stakeholders to the table. We focus predominantly at the moment on ENGOs, but I do feel there's a potential evolution of CSAG that looks at the wider stakeholders to bring them to the table. The challenge is at the moment budget; so, the science and evidence advisory group is working through Welsh Government with the ORJIP programme, the offshore renewable joint industry partnership, and that is looking at the data that is available and trying to pinpoint how that data can be best utilised, and where those gaps are. The fundamental area is these offshore renewables, so it's not looking at dredging, it's not looking at fishing; it's not necessarily pulling together those other interfaces. I think when you start to do that, you introduce quite a significant level of complication, which undoubtedly needs to be addressed and understood, but to ask a sector that's relatively nascent in its foundations and experience to fund that and champion it I think is quite a big ask. There's obviously going to be some sensitivity around the data that sits within each individual company as well, so there's definitely a role to be taken to pull all of that together, but it has to be a real, strategic leadership role, and not something that I think we can champion—. We can champion it as a sector, but we can't take that leadership. We've got enough—as Dave alluded to—costs and time delays that we're already facing, and we need this innovation to be able to accelerate. Something like that, that burden, sitting with us could be quite significant.

11:15

Excellent. Okay, thank you. I wasn't sure whether Joyce wanted to come in on this line of questioning before we move on.

Yes, I just thought it wraps it all up, really, doesn't it? You talked about different elements coming together, and the one place that they could all come together is the strategic marine development plan, and sit in one place. Would you find that useful?

I'm nodding, Joyce. As a developer coming to the locality, I think any kind of data or information that's been pre-collected that can help you make your decisions—. As I say, we looked at between 15 and 30 criteria and did a lot of work around choosing the site of least constraint. If any of that work has been done upfront, that would help industry for sure, and also help nature conservation at the same time. 

I was. I possibly misinterpreted that. I thought we were talking about another policy, potentially, to support this, rather than—. Yes, I think if it was a mapped plan that gave you crystal clear areas to go to, fundamentally it would be very beneficial, and it would drive costs down for the project, which ultimately drives costs down for consumers, at the end of the day. So, there's definitely a strategic advantage in pursuing something along those lines, but I think we need to be cognisant of the fact that we've got a pretty supportive policy basis in Wales. The difficulty is how that is then enacted on the ground, and is delivered, as Dave said earlier. Fundamentally, it's the decade for delivery, and bringing in a new plan or policy to support that is going to take a little bit of time.

Excellent. Okay, thank you very much for that. We move on, then—we've got about eight or nine minutes left, so we move on to Delyth. 

Diolch. Moving on to a different area, for anyone who's not directly involved in marine development, it can be something of a case of out of sight, out of mind, if people don't know that much about it. How do you think, or what do you think can be done, to encourage more of a link with local communities, firstly in terms of local supply chains and getting that economic benefit, but also in terms of public buy-in and public ability to see what's happening offshore, then, or in marine development, as being something that is part of the community, and which they have a stake in?

Yes—relevant and beneficial, I suppose, isn't it? David, do you want to take this?

It's a really good question. Shall I go? I guess first and foremost, in terms of the things that we've been doing locally around the future generations, we've got a STEM schools programme, so whilst I love talking to politicians, it was fantastic to go to the local schools recently, and talk to a class in real life. I had to drag myself away after an hour and their hands were still going up. I just talked to them about floating offshore wind in Wales and the jobs that that could create, and they could be excited about staying in the locality rather than moving away. So, I think we've been focusing our limited time on outreach around schools and STEM and skill development, and all those kinds of things. Because there's the potential for a real skills gap, and this does link to supply chain. There is about 10 GW of offshore wind deployed at the moment. The Climate Change Committee said, to get to net zero, we're going to need 100 GW of offshore wind. That is staggering, and there are 26,000 people working in offshore wind at the moment—we're going to need 70,000 by 2026, just to deliver the current programme. So, as a real job creation opportunity, it is absolutely significant, and if I think locally here, a lot of energy transition is going to be really important as well. The office is in Pembroke Dock; I live in Milford Haven. We've got energy terminals here, oil and gas terminals—Joyce will know. The future for them will be very uncertain in a net-zero world.

So, I think there's lots of work to do around supply chain, around skills. We're meeting with Pembrokeshire College about how they could bring floating wind into the curriculum as they design it now, and also introducing Pembrokeshire College to Coleg Llandrillo, who run RWE's apprenticeship scheme. So, there is loads to do. I think city region deals have got a role to play in this as well, with regional skills partnerships. I think that's really important. As I say, our focus has been, at community level, to go into the schools, and STEM. And just a point of interest, actually: schools don't have any time and they don't have any budget, so you have to deliver the national curriculum, essentially. You have to design whatever it is you're doing and go into the schools and help deliver the national curriculum. So, there's lots to do around that.

We've done quite a few rounds of public consultation now on project Erebus, obviously. We're over the horizon, essentially—we're 45 km offshore—but the scale of the technology is absolutely huge. From sea surface to blade tip is 265m. It's staggering. So, whilst we are so far offshore, there still will be an element of—. You will be able to see them on the odd sunny day. So, there is a question around who is the community when your wind farm is that far offshore, for us, and the development of our community benefit fund. Our community benefit fund is going to be aimed at where a landfall happens and where we have temporary impacts on burying the cable. We're not putting pylons up; we're going underground all the way. We will have to build a substation. So, again, our community benefit fund, which will be linked to generation, is going to be linked to where there are impacts, essentially. There is lots of work to do around that. But I have to say that the community's appreciation of climate change and net zero has never been higher. It's never been higher. Talking to farmers, for example, talking about putting cable routes through their fields, and the farmers are like, 'This is the future; we don't want to get in the way of this,' which I don't think would have happened five years ago.

11:20

Jenny wants to raise something before I bring Jess in, and maybe we won't be far off concluding our session, then.

Just very quickly, I'm keen to understand at what point do we need to start thinking of building the green hydrogen conversion facilities. I appreciate you haven't yet got a contract, but were you to get it, at what point would we need to be thinking along those lines?

Yes, that's a really good question, Jenny. For our two projects, we have grid agreements, so we'll be going to the national grid. So, the whole hydrogen piece is not really something we're considering for our first two projects, but I know RWE, with the Pembroke low-carbon centre here, are. I think there's a real future with floating wind because of the scale, working with hydrogen. But for our first two projects, it's not something that we're looking at. But appreciating it's going to play a key role in decarbonising, particularly our heavy industry in south Wales.

Yes, okay. Thanks, David. So, the last word, then, to Jess. Jess, did you get that?

Sorry, my connection dropped off then.

Okay. Well, I was offering you the last word on all of this, just to respond to Jenny and to bring the session to an end.

Thank you very much—much appreciated. Just to reference the—. A quick one on the hydrogen opportunity. So, we're working with the South Wales Industrial Cluster to look at the decarbonisation of big industry, and I think there is momentum there. There are a number of projects that are looking at it, and I think some further support for that. The attention is there. It will be very useful, I think, as a potential alternative to the grid constraints that we're likely to see, although we have welcomed the Welsh Government's assessment of grid and the recommendations from the Deputy Minister in terms of taking that forward. Fundamentally, that is going to be key to delivering flow from the Celtic sea.

Just to loop back to the local engagement question that was raised, I think we touched on supply chain there, but ultimately ports, I think, are going to be quite a key area for it, and infrastructure investment there enabling the supply chain is going to be fundamental, to give that diversification opportunity to the businesses that we've got here. Those businesses undoubtedly have children who are in school, so targeting them with STEM, as Dave said, is very useful. The parent company to Marine Energy Wales is actually called Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum and we run something called the coastal curriculum in support of our developers; we've pulled all of our developer information together and have compiled a series of marine renewable information packs that are targeting school children. So, it's a very useful way of getting into the local community. It's predominantly Pembrokeshire focused at the moment, but I do understand that we have managed to get some of the modules into the Welsh baccalaureate. So, it is spreading a little further, and I think, as Dave said, going into a classroom and talking about these things really, really does pique interest in kids. I've got an onshore windfarm on a farm that I grew up on and we've taken school kids around there as part of Marine Energy Wales to say, 'This is what a turbine looks like and these are the jobs that go with it', and when you pique that interest and they take it home, it really does drive home just how much of an opportunity it is to the local area.234

One other thing that we're working on as Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum is something called social licensing, so looking to get community buy-in from an early stage, and I think that really works very well in support of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, looking at how you take society forward and engage them to get involved with the licensing process from an early stage, and there's a real opportunity there that we should seize. I think we need to be reticent—not reticent, cautious—of the fact that it may introduce complexity to early-stage projects that need to get off the ground sooner. But where you've got a pipeline coming through and you're building awareness, that's fundamental. For marine renewables, it's a little bit more difficult again, because quite a lot of the deployments that we talk about are going to be invisible. So, within the question, it was sort of hinted at that they're out of sight and out of mind, and that really is key. If you look to the Nova project that's planned for Bardsey sound, so the blue energy island intention there, their main lead picture is, 'You won't see it; it won't do anything', so there's a challenge to overcome there, but actually having it there and generating clean electricity without being able to see anything is absolutely fabulous. Floating offshore wind would be a sufficient distance away that maybe that would be an advantage as well. I'm conscious of time; I'll stop.

11:25

Sorry. I wasn't doing that to you, Jess, I was doing it to Llyr; I was trying to—. It's really quick. I know that there's no time to ask you about this now, but, could you, with the Chair's agreement and the committee's agreement, send us more information, please, about that project that you're talking about, that work to look to engage the community? Because it's something I think that I'd really like to know more about, but I know that there's no time to ask you about it now.

There we are. I'm sure you would. Yes. Okay, can I, therefore, thank you so much, David and Jess, for the evidence you've given us? It reminds us of how much work there is potentially that needs to be done, and, certainly, our initial work today on the wider marine agenda is opening up in front of us, I think, into probably a much bigger piece of work eventually, over the coming months and years, I suppose, during this Senedd. So, thank you, both. You will, as always, be sent a draft transcript to check that it's correct and in order and reflects exactly what you've been telling us. So, with that, again, diolch yn fawr. Thank you. We'll postpone the meeting again now until 11:40, just to allow the next panel to be set up in readiness for our next evidence session. Diolch yn fawr.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:28 ac 11:40.

The meeting adjourned between 11:28 ac 11:40.

11:40
4. Rheoli'r amgylchedd morol - sesiwn dystiolaeth 3: cynllunio morol ac Ardaloedd Morol Gwarchodedig
4. Marine environment management - evidence session 3: marine planning and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

Croeso nôl i'r pwyllgor, a'r pedwaredd eitem ar ein hagenda yw clywed y trydydd sesiwn dystiolaeth fel rhan o'n gwaith ni'n edrych ar yr amgylchedd morol, ac, yn benodol yn y sesiwn yma, cynllunio morol ac ardaloedd morol gwarchodedig. 

Dwi'n falch iawn o groesawu ein tystion ni ar gyfer yr awr nesaf, sef Claire Stephenson, sy'n uwch-gynllunydd cadwraeth gyda RSPB Cymru, Clare Trotman, sy'n bennaeth Cadwraeth Cymru dros dro gyda Chymdeithas Cadwraeth Forol, ac Emily Williams, sy'n gyd-gadeirydd gweithgor morol Cyswllt Amgylchedd Cymru. Croeso i'r tair ohonoch chi. Mi awn ni'n syth i mewn i gwestiynau ac mi gychwynnom ni gyda Huw Irranca-Davies.

Welcome back to the committee, and the fourth item on our agenda is to hear the third evidence session as part of our work looking at the marine environment, and, specifically in this session, marine planning and MPAs.

I'm very pleased to welcome our witnesses for the next hour, namely Claire Stephenson, senior conservation planner with RSPB Cymru, Clare Trotman, acting head of Conservation Wales with the Marine Conservation Society, and Emily Williams, co-chair of the marine working group with Wales Environment Link. I welcome the three of you to the meeting. We'll go straight into questions and we'll start with Huw Irranca-Davies.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, everybody. Can I start by asking what might seem a strange but obvious question, which is: what is your view on why we need marine planning, spatial planning? And what would be your ambitions for marine planning in Welsh waters? Now, I don't know who would want to start on this. I suspect you've had a discussion together already. Claire, go ahead.

Hi. First of all, thanks for having me here today. I think the reason we're so vociferous about the need for marine planning is we can see the issue we've had elsewhere in the UK, but also this unprecedented need—and it is an unprecedented need—for marine renewables in our seas. And the lack of spatial planning on where they're going, and the forward planning and forward thinking and the relevant development control policies that need to be attached to that, is a missing tier in the current system. 

In terrestrial, we've obviously got 'Future Wales', which sets out the broad approach and policy approach and the future road for planning in Wales. And the national marine plan does that, but, in tandem with that, in the terrestrial system, we have the spatial context; we have the local development plans with the detailed context in there and the spatial and holistic nature of it, and we also have the 'Planning Policy Wales' document, which looks at setting all of those high-level policies in detail so that we can attribute weight when assessing individual applications. And, at the moment, what we're seeing is that those detailed analysis policies are not in that system at present, because we're not looking at it in a spatial manner.

Thanks for that. We'll go to Clare—Clare's got her hand up as well. Could I ask you also to deal with the question, Clare, of what is a marine plan and subsequent tiers underneath it of spatial planning—what's the purpose of it? Is it to enable sustainable development or to enable conservation or what?

Yes. Good question, Huw—a loaded question, and a few parts to that answer. So, basically, marine spatial planning is a way of bringing together users of our seas and our coastal environment, looking at the ways in which we want to manage our seas now and in the future. It's underpinned by a robust evidence base and allows for future evidence gathering. It seeks to try to understand how best we use our marine resources and where existing activities have happened and where we want future activities to happen.

And I think that Claire's hit the nail on the head there a little bit in the sense that, really, in order to achieve sustainable management of natural resources in our seas, the plan has to be spatial; it needs to consider where activities are appropriate and where they're not appropriate. And I think we've made great strides in marine planning in Wales. We've got a functioning stakeholder reference group that's been operating since 2014, bringing together all those experts around the table. They've co-produced a plan, in my opinion, but I think the next big step for us now is really to try to make this plan spatial and more meaningful through providing that spatial specificity.

Diolch. Just to add to that, I think marine spatial planning isn't just essential from a sustainability conservation viewpoint; it also provides certainty to developers. There are a plethora of different sectors who undertake activities in the marine environment—fisheries, aquaculture, marine wind, marine tidal, recreational uses as well. It's about making sure that there is space for everybody, and that there's also space for wildlife and marine habitats as well. 

11:45

Thank you, Chair. Chair, I know that Janet wanted to come in, I think, on this as well.

Yes, thanks, Chairman. Good morning, everybody. I think, as I outlined during panel 2, you've been jointly calling for a cross-sector statutory spatial plan that addresses the cumulative impacts of all these marine developments. And, further to earlier appearances in front of Senedd committees, I suppose my question is: how engaging are you finding the Welsh Government and the Minister? Do you feel that you're being listened to, or are we knocking on a bit of a closed door here? If such a plan is forthcoming, if a spatial plan is forthcoming, is there a way of squaring this work with the required amendment to the environment Act to include conservation of the offshore marine waters of Wales?

I'll do my best. So, the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 at the moment only applies to the inshore area of the marine environment. And that's really not by design; that's because conservation for the offshore waters in Wales was devolved after the environment Act was written. So, we believe that would be quite a simple thing to fix, to make sure that the environment Act applies to the offshore waters. 

The marine plan currently does apply to the offshore waters itself. It's products under the environment Act, so, for example, the products that NRW produce, like the 'State of Natural Resources' report, the area statements, things like that, which, if the environment Act was amended, those reports, those evidence bases that NRW are compiling, they would have to also include the offshore area. And we think that's vitally important, given the huge amount of interest that there is in developing renewables in particular in the offshore area. So, I think they are definitely interlinked, and addressing the environment Act would enable more of the outputs from the environment Act to look at things that are of relevance to marine planning and support everything that we're trying to achieve here. 

Sorry, before the others come in, we did hear from Natural Resources Wales, of course; they were reminding us that it isn't that there's no provision for beyond the 12 nautical miles. There are systems and things in place if there are issues or developments to be dealt with. So, they were a bit more relaxed about it, I think, than what we're hearing from you. Of course, in the back of their minds as well, I suppose, there is that resource implication of extending their remit. So, I'm just wondering whether you want to respond to that as well. Yes, Clare, and maybe you can—. I don't want to—

Yes, I'll respond to that. I absolutely recognise the resource issue. I know that there are difficulties with delivering statutory duties in NRW at the moment. But I think, with a little bit of sense of urgency here, just to add to Emily's point, at the moment, the products of the environment Act—so that's the 'State of Natural Resources' report, area statements and natural resource policy, all the things that will help Wales to move and achieve sustainable management of natural resources—don't apply to offshore. So, we think there's a real gap there. And, as Emily was saying, we know that there is going to be greater interest—we know there's more interest in marine renewable energy offshore, future fisheries policy, from the joint fishery statement outputs, is going to include future fishery management plans that will be inshore and offshore, and I think, yes, there's a resource issue there, but that shouldn't be a reason to not do something. 

Yes, okay. No, that's a clear message. Emily wants to come back in and I'll give Claire Stephenson a chance as well, if you wish to add anything, and then we'll go back to Huw. So, Emily. 

Thank you. I just wanted to pick up on the resource issue, because I think that is a wider issue, beyond just the environment Act extension discussion. I think that's also an issue in general around marine planing and marine development planning. Taking NRW as an example, the amount of work that NRW have to do in order to support all of this sectoral growth in the marine environment is enormous. We do talk a lot about the impact on the regulatory side of NRW, making sure that they have enough capacity to deal with the marine licensing side, those sorts of things, but we are also seeing an impact on the advisory side in NRW. So, for example, the same people in NRW that might be involved in discussions around marine protected areas or species conservation are also having to input into discussions around these new sectors and these new developments. So, I think the capacity resource issue, particularly for NRW, is a really important point. 

11:50

Okay. Before I come to Claire Stephenson, Joyce has indicated, and Janet now has indicated, and then we'll come to you, Claire. So, Joyce first. 

Just on the marine development plan, it's very focused on certain elements of activity that have been described. But one of the new activities that are increasing is the fact that people are holidaying more frequently in the UK, and particularly in Wales, particularly the part of Wales that I cover, which is most anyway. So, the question here is: within that spatial plan, should we not have an emphasis that's not there at the moment in cleaning up and electrifying those small boats, the jet skis, and all those other things that are clearly focused on when we talk about land use of diesel vehicles? And everybody's racing—maybe not—to get electric cars and patting themselves on the back, but at the same time, we're completely ignoring the activities on the waterways that people enjoy. There's no mention. So, do you think that those things should be included in that spatial plan, and also, added to that, the considerate use of those activities? Because we've seen some really bad reports at the moment about scaring away the wildlife, seals and such like, and dolphins and other things. 

I'll try and answer a couple of those points, Joyce. In terms of the role of marine planning in moving polluting activities and decarbonisaiton—I guess that's the question there—there are climate change policies within the plan, and there's an overarching objective there too. I wonder if particular things like decarbonisation of the Welsh fishing fleet, and also novel technologies for aquaculture production, which is climate smart as well, are better placed for the fisheries management plans that will come out of the joint fisheries statement. I think there's going to be a lot of emphasis that we would like to see within those management plans on decarbonisation here.

But I think, absolutely, on your second point with regards to, I guess, disturbance activities, really, at the moment, the plan's not spatial, and it's also not regional; it's an all-Wales plan. There's an argument there that could be made for regional plans that will actually look more closely at activities such as recreational activities that we know cause disturbance. There's possibly a need for that. There's also, I know, a voluntary code of conduct around disturbance that's been developed with lots of different organisations, including NRW, at the moment, but it's voluntary. Does that need to become statutory? So, there's a few things there, possible solutions, that would be great to explore further. 

I want to try and get back to the thrust of my question, but I suppose now I'll have to declare an interest, because, yes, I do have a boat. And I'm just really keen—. My question was, in particular, about the marine spatial planning, that working with several non-governmental organisations, the ones included here today, there are huge concerns. As was mentioned during the earlier panel, it's go, go, go; they just don't want any delays on any of these massive big projects. Well, for me, I'm like, 'Oh, hold on a minute', because once they're there, the damage is already done. So, my question, actually, is more about the role of NRW. It's not the first time that it's been described as they're the advisory body, they're the ones doing this, and then yet, on the other hand, they're the regulatory body. So, what do our panel of witnesses feel? Is there not a conflict of interest in playing poacher and gamekeeper?

11:55

I promised I'd come back to Claire Stephenson, so I don't know whether you're happy to respond to that. 

Yes. Having spent 20-odd years working with NRW as a consultant, I'd say that, actually, they are pretty good at delineating what their responsibilities are in both contexts. I do however think that they are extremely pushed in terms of trying to deliver both strands of that work. I completely agree; we need that spatial context, and we need it quickly. Coming back to your question on why it's not being done, and why it's not being delivered as quickly, I think it comes to resources—NRW's resources, Welsh Government resources, everybody's resources. What we're seeing is that the level of marine renewables we're being asked to look at is such an unprecedented level, and it's at such haste that we need to be able to deliver this to meet our net-zero targets, that it's a very daunting prospect to try and bring all of that together in the short time frame to deliver a strategic plan. 

My final point on this, Chair, is that you're talking billions. These are big companies; we're not talking pennies here. So, why can't Welsh Government actually find some way whereby—? I know we want to keep it delineated, as we've mentioned, but surely, with the struggle for resources within NRW, Welsh Government should be far more concerned about all this infrastructure going in. How do we solve this? And my original point, the question: do you feel that you're being listened to by the Welsh Government?

Thank you. Just a couple of points in relation to that. I think it's important to highlight that the marine planning is undertaken in a different team, different department, to the renewable energy strategy in Welsh Government. So, with regards to the extent to which Welsh Government are listening to the need to do marine planning and marine development, I think they are. I think we need to see a better join-up between the departments developing the ambitions for renewable development and the department working on the marine planning side. 

In relation to how they can take this forward and potential solutions to achieve marine development planning in Wales, the marine plan is up for review in November next year, which is an opportunity for the Welsh Government to look at where we are. Since the marine plan was published a few years ago, so much has changed in terms of the sectoral interests and the ambitions for growth in the marine environment in Wales. So, that's an opportunity for them to take a stock take and decide how they want to go forward. Having something like an independent review that looked at how marine development planning could be taken in Wales is something that could happen in the run-up to that review next November, and that might help to provide some of the solutions for Welsh Government, and also address some of the issues that NRW are facing as well. 

Thank you for that. That's an interesting point. Hands are going up now. Clare Trotman, then Claire Stephenson, and then we'll move on and come back to Huw. 

Diolch. Just another quick point on that. You asked about whether we feel that we're being listened to by Government. I think it's worth reflecting on the fact that the first time that the plan was published, the intention was to develop strategic resource areas, but they were very high level and just for a few types of industry, and they weren't going to be taking into consideration environmental constraints. And that was a red line for us, really, that that was not how integrated marine planning should progress. And, in fairness to Welsh Government, they did actually go back to the drawing board on strategic resource areas to think about how they could best deliver these, and not just for a few types of activity, but for several, and consider better the constraint mapping. So, to give that particular team in Welsh Government their due, that was thought and considered and taken into account in that consultation process on the marine plan. My concern is that now that they've gone back to the drawing board and are thinking about how to develop strategic resource areas, there's a risk that they're not going to keep pace with the amount of renewable energy considerations and plans that are coming through. So, we need to address that as well. 

12:00

I'd just like to come back to the point about the lack of evidence and the lack of resources, and how we can help, our industry can help, in terms of delivering that as well. In terms of terrestrial planning, when you do a local development plan, developers are asked to put forward what areas they'd like to develop in, what the context for, what the need for that development is, and the environmental impact, so it can feed into a strategic environmental assessment, so, we know whether or not those developments in principle are sound. That requires developers to provide evidence, and that evidence can be utilised in that manner. So, it's something that developers would need to do to provide evidence as to where they're going. It might help in terms of that resource, delivering an additional type of evidence into the context of a development plan. 

Thank you, Chair. I want to take you back to the issues of the granulation under the marine planning system, but before I do, we don't need loads of big answers on this, but are you all agreed that we need to see a significant uplift in the budget for NRW to deliver their full range of competences, both as advisory body, but also as an enforcement and regulatory body, in the budget, not just this year, but with continuity of funding for the next period of the sixth Senedd? You can just nod if you want to. 

Okay. Thank you very much. To take on Janet's question, Chair, as well, this question of the difficulty, the Chinese walls between being an advisory and a regulatory body, is something familiar to Natural England and so on and so forth. It isn't a difficulty when the resource is put in. When it is a challenge is when people are pulled every which way and when and are asked to do five different roles. And it's a challenge for Government, I know, but if we're serious about this stuff, we have to do it. 

Let me bring you back to that marine planning issue. At the risk of throwing heaps of jargon and stuff out there, we have in place the Welsh national marine plan, the WNMP, below that we have the sustainable management of marine natural resources project, focusing albeit on certain sectors—there probably is an argument there for it to be enlarged—we have sector locational guidance being developed underneath that, we have, as you referred to, the strategic resource areas, and then we have the marine planning stakeholder reference group working to pull all this together. What's wrong? Why have you described it as 'not fit for purpose'? If you had this independent review, then what would you be asking to be changed? Have a go at that. 

I agree. These are all really useful documents that are forming part of our existing system, but what we have to realise is that that existing system is set up to deal with the last five years of growth in our marine renewables, and not the future growth and that unprecedented step up that we're dealing with. These are guidance documents; these don't have the necessary statutory weight attributed. They are, in some instances, siloed; they're looking at individual sectors. What we have to remember is each sector has its own requirements, and often, those are overlapped. So, the impacts of a tidal stream project—where that is located may be completely different from where an offshore wind or a floating offshore wind development is located, but the impact of it is a combined and in-combination cumulative effect. And that is not happening when we're looking at individual technologies in silos. 

These documents that you've mentioned—that awful acronym, the SMMNR project, the sector locational guidance, the strategic resource area—they're all extremely useful evidence bases, and they all serve a purpose. But what they need to do is be brought together in that spatial and holistic manner, so we can look at the cumulative and in-combination effects of all of these different technologies we're looking at putting in the water, on top of already the dredging, the fisheries, the navigational channels and shipping, and then also looking at where they make landfall so we don't end up in a position where we can't make the cable landfall, because we've already got a cumulative impact from a development that's in the wrong location. And I think it's that holistic spatial context that's missing. It's pulling all of this together. I'm not dismissing the work that's been done; I think the work that's been done is phenomenal. We just need to step it up and pull it together. 

12:05

So, before we go to the others, at the moment, what tends to be happening is, even with the structures that have been put in place, it's essentially focused very much on specific sectors, which are the big sectors at the moment, and we understand that, and there's a big drive behind them with the renewables, tidal energy and so on. It's not all-encompassing, as originally the marine planning was set up to look at, and it doesn't have that breadth of stakeholder engagement, and, in the previous evidence sessions, we've touched on the lack of data. This is a mammoth task. So, tell us, Claire, Emily, how we do we do this? What are the stepping stones to improve what we currently have to have a holistic system that takes into account cumulative development and that doesn't stymie the sustainable exploitation of the resources out there in the seas? 

I might defer a little bit to Claire Stephenson on the marine development plan, because I think that's one of the solutions that we've identified, as Wales Environment Link. But I did want to come in and talk about—. You asked about why it is not fit for purpose and what needs to be improved. I think one thing that we've always shied away from as a stakeholder reference group, and I know Welsh Government aren't keen on, but it's the elephant in the room, really, is environmental limits. The plan, as it stands right now, with the policies that it has within it, is very supportive of all activities, quite rightly, because there are historic activities, there are new things that we want to see in Welsh seas, but it is a 'yes' to everything. There's no prioritisation there, and I think there's a risk really—we think that there are no limits to what we can do in our seas, when actually there are, and there will be a tipping point. And I expect, unfortunately, it will be our marine biodiversity that is a victim and is the unfortunate thing that we end up sacrificing, if we're not careful. So, that is something that, I think, we really need to have a real, clear think about. The only thing that— 

I'll leave the other Claire to talk about the marine development plan, but certainly a better understanding of what the cumulative impacts are of all the things that we want to see in our seas, how we do this best spatially, and what do we then say can't and can happen, where is it appropriate to have things and where is it not appropriate. At the moment, we're not doing that. So, I think that's the difficulty here. 

Okay. Well, maybe I can go back to the other Claire, and, in so doing, say that the energy developers in front of us—one energy developer plus the overall sector body—agreed with the point that we put to them that what they want to see is net biodiversity gain, they want to see the protection of the most sensitive sites, but they don't want things held up and they don't want the reinvention of the wheel. So, Claire Stephenson, practically what are you seeking? 

Practically what we're seeking is those difficult decisions that Clare Trotman was talking about, those difficult decisions where we may have to make a decision on whether it's a renewables project or we protect a specific area. Those decisions are currently not being made in a context of a strategic development plan with statutory weight. So, we're asking decision makers to base those decisions on something that isn't based on a spatial plan, that hasn't been assessed through a strategic environmental assessment on an individual basis. We don't know, if we keep working on individual cases, what those cumulative impacts are going to be across the whole of Wales. We're talking about species that will not stay nicely in one location, and we can say, 'That is the impact on that'. We're talking about birds and migratory species that use all of our coastline and all of our waters, and across the UK and into Europe. It's that in-combination effect, and if we can turn around and say, 'Right, floating offshore wind developers, where are are you looking at going? Where do you want your leases? Where are you working with the Crown Estate to look at putting your development?', and we can say to them, 'Okay, that is slap bang right in our most sensitive location. We can't do there. Where is the compromise for you?' It's actually looking at that compromise and seeing if that compromise works. It may be that it does, and we need that compromise to happen, and it might have a knock-on environmental effect, but it's giving everybody the right tools and the right framework in which to make those informed decisions. We cannot keep making them based on small bits of guidance here and there, and different types of documents. We need one holistic plan that looks at the context to be able to make those difficult decisions. We need to look at the cumulative impact and how that's assessed, how net biodiversity has a marine net benefit. If we are going to put that in the environment, we need to make certain that those are in the right locations as well. It's that holistic approach that needs to happen.

12:10

No, no. It's all very good stuff. It's really valuable stuff for us as a committee. I know that Emily wants to come in. I'll just let Delyth in first of all, and maybe you can respond to Delyth's point and the wider point that we are discussing. Delyth.  

Diolch. What you are saying, Claire, and what so many of you are saying in this session, is so powerful and really emotive. So much of what we are talking about today, I feel, if members of the public were more aware of this, it would be not just good in terms of making people aware, but they would want to help ensure that the right thing happens. Whose role do you think it would be to increase public awareness about the technical things, such as the spatial plan and the really technical things that we are talking about, and to be that bridge with the public, with interest groups, but not just the people who are in the know and who read up on these things, but just people who, if they listened to what you just said now, Claire, would just think instinctively, 'Okay, yes, we need to do something about this'? Whose role do you think that can be? Who needs to work together to increase public awareness about this?  

I think we all do. I think that it's no one organisation, but I think that there are other organisations that we can bring in to that. The Royal Town Planning Institute—that's a resource that planners across the UK use, in terms of trying to get public support for terrestrial planning and trying to engage the public that way. So, there are other organisations that we can look at to bring in.

But, I think that the key organisations are already active in this sector, and all working together to try and get that message out there is going to be useful. We have got an education arm that goes out and tries to deliver in terms of that. But, it's getting the right message across as well. Trying to engage terrestrially, having spent years doing that, it is really hard to engage the public.  

Oh, yes. Forgive me, I'm not—. I know that you are already trying very hard to do this, and I know that this is not, by any means, only the case with marine. As you have just been saying, public awareness of just how planning works generally is a hurdle. But, if there's anything concrete—I don't mean that as a pun—or if there's anything specific that you'd like us, as a committee, to be looking into, that would be really interesting. 

A possible recommendation, Delyth, is that we have—. Ahead of the last consultation on the marine plan in Wales, the Welsh Government did actually do drop-in sessions regionally. I think that they did five altogether, spread across the coast, from north Wales right down to south Wales. Maybe it's the case that they do these sessions not just when there's a consultation, and maybe there's a role for the Government there to do things outside of consultation, just to increase public awareness of some of this stuff.

I will second what Claire says about our organisations already being involved. Through our membership, we try to get people engaged in this kind of thing. But, possibly, there is an additional role for the Government if they have that resource to do so.

Okay, thank you. I'm going to let Emily come in now because she has been very patient, and then we do have to move on, I'm afraid.

I was just going to comment on something that Huw said about this being a mammoth challenge. That's absolutely right. The Welsh marine environment is larger than the entire land mass of Wales. If you think about the habitats and species that we have on land in Wales, and then think about that in the marine environment, which has been studied for far less time than the terrestrial environment, and yet we want to put a lot of new novel technologies into that environment that we don't know the impact of. That is a huge challenge that we do need to address.

I think, in terms of practical solutions, the marine development plan is the practical solution, and a stepping stone to get to that would be to have an independent review that looks at how that can be achieved and brings in experts to advise the Welsh Government and give them recommendations ahead of their review next November. And then, I think the other practical solution is to look at the evidence, the capacity and capability to get marine evidence in Wales. The Welsh Government, I think, has got about five people working on marine and fisheries evidence and science in the Welsh Government itself; that's not just about supporting marine planning, that's also about supporting marine protected areas, marine conservation and fisheries. So, I think, looking at the capability for marine evidence in Wales would also really enable this to be taken forward. 

12:15

It was just following on, really. We know that in November, Baroness Brown of Cambridge said that a thoughtful approach to sea bed spatial planning was required and required now. So, I don't want to rehearse—it's just how we can go about making sure that the Minister and the Welsh Government take this seriously and provide the necessary resources to do this.

One of the areas that the Welsh Government are really interested in at the moment—and I know that you're going to be talking about this with the next panel—is blue carbon. The marine environment provides a huge carbon sink in terms of the coastal habitats, but also the sea bed, the sea itself and the wildlife all stores carbon there, and I think that that, perhaps, is an opportunity to link up between the interests in that with marine planning, because the marine development plan could look at blue carbon stores, for example, in the marine environment and make sure that we're not impacting those blue carbon stores by putting activities in the wrong place. If we can capture some of the interest around blue carbon and climate change or facilitate that through marine development planning, I think there'd be a lot of interest in this conversation.

Just to follow on from Emily's point, really, I think that's an excellent idea, and I think there are already hooks in the marine plan to do that. We have policies on climate change and an overarching objective there. We're doing strategic resource area mapping right now—why not think strategically about mapping our blue carbon stores? We could see it as an additional sector, if you like, and consider how we manage that accordingly.

Thank you, Chair. You've all focused on quite helpfully suggesting that there should be an independent review to help that review of marine planning. One of the things that we've had written submissions on away from a review is to actually have a follow-up workshop session, similar to the ones that have been done previously on marine planning, to get stakeholders' views on what can be improved. Is that still your view? This is a fairly straightforward question, so we don't need long answers: would you still have that ask of Welsh Government—that they convene a stakeholder workshop to review how marine planning is going? 'Yes', 'yes' and 'yes'. Okay, that's great.

In which case, can I just turn to the issue of what will help us in this mammoth task? In some of the written submissions, and what you've said today as well, this strategic oversight, as well as the granulation, requires real assessment of the capacity for development within areas. You've talked about the interesting concept of limits, which takes me back to my years of involvement as a student and a lecturer on sustainable development, and of siting developments away from the most ecologically sensitive areas, and so on and so forth. All of this implies mammoth data, which we don't have, and that's come up in the last two sessions. So, have you got any suggestions, please, going forward, not just from an NGO perspective, not just from an environmental body perspective, about how we can actually put that data together to do this effective strategic overview, and not do it on a piecemeal, project-by-project basis? And the reason I say this is, in 2008, we launched the marine science project in the UK. What the hell has happened to that, because that was designed to break down the barriers between sharing data? So, how do we solve this problem of data to enable this greater oversight of marine planning? Emily.

12:20

Thank you. Marine data does exist. Developers collect a huge amount of marine data when they are developing projects. A lot of that is often cited as being 'commercially sensitive'. I don't know the solution to that, but I think it would be worth the Welsh Government investigating what it could do to encourage developers to share more of that data, which they could then utilise in marine planning.

Huw, I think you're right. There is this massive data gap, and to fill it in a traditional manner through the way we do it terrestrially would take time that we don't have. And I think, touching on Emily's point there, there is, we know, a vast amount of data collected that is considered commercially sensitive and therefore not released. I think there is a way of trying to force that a bit more into the public domain through a development plan process, by asking them to give their evidence and to give their reasoning behind it and releasing that for scrutiny. And if that's an interim measure that we can start using as we're looking in the next five to 10 years for deployment, that would be a starting point, whilst at the same time investing in filling those evidence gaps with NRW and whoever we need to, whatever consultants, or whoever needs to fill those gaps getting that up to speed, but I don't think we can wait. We don't have the luxury of time to wait. We're already seeing developers come to us, looking at projects that aren't even on Crown Estate's radar for round 5, and they're already looking at collecting data, because of the lead-in time for these processes. So, I'm already being asked about—. We're looking at stuff that's going in the water in eight to 10 years' time now; we cannot wait to fill those evidence gaps to get this in place. We really need an interim measure to do that and I think that one way of doing that is focusing developers' minds as to where they want to go, looking at fisheries and where they need to be. We're going to be competing for space, and we need as much evidence as possible. And I think the traditional terrestrial way of doing that, for a local development plan, is the only way we can do it, but by upscaling it.

Look, you may actually have some partners and allies in arguing for this, because certainly the energy companies themselves made strong representations on the need to break down these commercial barriers, which was the purpose of the 2008 piece of work, which was dusted off in 2020 as well, and I think we do need to follow that up. But there was also an ask for that to be supplemented by Welsh Government, that this could not be done on its own, that that there needed to be contributions. Clare Trotman.

Just a quick point really, just to say, adding to that, Huw, that there is a Wales marine evidence report that exists. It may need updating—I expect it probably will—but that's a good starting point for how we try to fill some of these evidence gaps. I think some of this comes down to the 'M' word: money. We need money to do evidence. Unfortunately, it is quite expensive in the marine environment, but I think if we're serious about this and using our seas more then this should come with that. I know that the Deputy Minister for Climate Change did a deep dive into marine renewable energy recently and has published the outputs of that. One of the things he talks about is finance, which is great in terms of attracting investment, but actually, can we extend that thought on finance to supporting marine evidence?

Sorry. Just a very quick point. One of the sectors that we need to take into account in marine planning is fisheries, and many of you will be very familiar that over the years we've talked a lot about the need to monitor fisheries more through inshore vessel monitoring systems, but also remote electronic monitoring. That is more urgent than ever if they're going to be taken into account in terms of space in the marine environment, and the Welsh Government is overdue in introducing vessel monitoring systems for fisheries. So, that would be one evidence solution for that particular sector in relation to marine planning.

12:25

Thank you very much, and it's a really intelligent approach to using all possible uses of the marine environment then to actually help us develop that data that we need.

Okay, if I could just turn this on its head a little bit here and ask you—. Because normally the challenge that's thrown to the environmental sector is, 'You're getting in the way of marine development and sustainable exploitation', let me turn this another way. When we talk about marine planning, spatial planning, and so on, can any of you identify any examples, any experience you have, of where the lack of good marine planning, spatial planning, granulation, has actually hindered sustainable exploitation in the marine environment? Claire Stephenson.

I can't on a Welsh basis, but I can certainly from conversations I've had with my English counterparts for the RSPB in terms of the issues we've had with the east coast of England, where they've hit a moratorium on development for offshore wind because cables are making landform. So, it's crossed too many marine SACs and SPAs, protected areas, they now can no longer develop, hence why Celtic Seas is now round 5, because they can't overcome the issues there. That is lack of foresight and lack of cross-departmental working from marine to terrestrial planning in terms of how they're making that connection as well. I think we look at the North sea and we're already having conversations about strategic compensation because of losses, even though, up in Scotland, we're looking at offshore wind sectoral plans. So, they technically should know what the context is in which those decisions are being made. Even when they're in there, those spatial plans for individual industries are not working.

So, if we're not looking at it holistically, we're going to end up in a mess, and we then won't be able to—. We won't meet our targets for net zero and decarbonisation of our energy industry, and that needs to happen, as much as protecting our nature has to happen as well. It shouldn't be offshore renewables versus ecology and nature; it should be a holistic approach. We don't want to end up at an inquiry battling developers; we want to work in tandem with them to get these in the water, because the greater impact of climate change is also affecting our nature. If we had a spatial plan, some of those arguments would dissipate. 

Thank you. Yes, the North sea is the best example where the significant impacts on sea beds in the North sea now mean that developers are having to spend thousands, probably more than thousands of pounds compensating for that loss. We need to make sure that that doesn't happen in Wales. Projects at the moment are coming forward with the location that they think is the right location for that project, and considering the environmental impacts quite far down the line. What that means is that those developers are spending huge sums of money developing their project, only to find out quite far down the line that they have environmental issues. What a marine development plan or a spatial marine plan would do would be to do environmental assessments at the plan level. That provides more certainty to developers. They would still need to the plan-level environmental assessment, but it enables the environmental impacts to be looked at at an earlier stage, which could help developers by preventing them from getting into that situation where they realise, after a lot of time and input developing their project, that it's just not in a suitable location.

Okay, but I wonder—. Look, sorry, I just want to play devil's advocate here for a moment. In an ideal world, we would have perfect data, holistic marine planning, granulation down to the local area, interface with terrestrial and marine as well—we'd have all of that. We haven't got it, and it's not likely to happen in the next 12 months. So, meanwhile, energy companies are very taken with the Scottish approach of put something in the water, small scale, try it, assess the environmental impact, if it doesn't work, pull it out, move on, try again. They like that that approach now is something that, if you like, Wales is looking at as well. Now, what's your view on that? Is there a place for that whilst we wait for this perfect scenario of well-rounded planning, perfect data?

12:30

If I jump in on that one, obviously we've got projects we can look to that have looked at that adaptive management approach, where it's a trial and we'll see how it goes, and we've got the relevant phasing in to make certain that the relevant stocks can happen. What happens is, when you look at multiple types of those developments going in with multiple unknown impacts for multiple locations, it soon becomes an issue as to which development is causing that impact, and that cumulative effect, when you don't know the technology and therefore you don't know the impact. If you're putting more than one of those in the water, where does the responsibility lie if you see an impact change? That in-combination effect of multiple types of new, novel technology in the water with various different adaptive management plans in place for them is going to be problematic for larger scale developers that want to do larger projects. Because you could have an in-combination or cumulative impact from lots of smaller ones that would prevent a larger one with tried and tested and known impacts from coming forward, and I think that's the problem with that approach.

But, Claire, is that an argument for not doing this approach at all or for doing this approach, but very carefully, very well-monitored, with the ability to monitor individual site applications before you move on to putting another machine on the ground, on the sea bed, and so on?