Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith

Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee

11/05/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas Dirprwyo ar ran Jenny Rathbone
Substitute for Jenny Rathbone
Delyth Jewell
Heledd Fychan Dirprwyo ar ran Llyr Gruffydd
Substitute for Llyr Gruffydd
Huw Irranca-Davies
Janet Finch-Saunders
Jenny Rathbone
Joyce Watson
Llyr Gruffydd Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Aaron Hill Cydffederasiwn Cludwyr Teithwyr Cymru
Confederation of Passenger Transport Cymru
Andrew Morgan Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Welsh Local Government Association
Chris Ashley Cymdeithas Cludiant Ffyrdd
Road Haulage Association
Christine Boston Sustrans Cymru
Sustrans Cymru
David Bithell Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Welsh Local Government Association
Joshua James Living Streets
Living Streets
Keith Hanson Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Welsh Local Government Association
Lis Burnett Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Welsh Local Government Association
Peter Rogers Y Sefydliad Acwsteg
Institute of Acoustics
Rosie Pitt Y Sefydliad Acwsteg
Institute of Acoustics
Scott Pearson Cymdeithas Coetsus a Bysiau Cymru
Coach and Bus Association Cymru
Stephen Turner Y Sefydliad Acwsteg
Institute of Acoustics

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
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 09:32.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:32. 

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

Bore da, a chroeso i chi i gyd i gyfarfod Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Croeso i Aelodau i'r cyfarfod. Mae yna ymddiheuriadau wedi cael eu derbyn gan Jenny Rathbone, ac mi fydd Carolyn Thomas yn dirprwyo ar ei rhan hi ar gyfer ail ran y cyfarfod heddiw. Dwi innau hefyd angen ymddiheuro—byddaf i'n gorfod gadael amser cinio, ond mi fydd Heledd Fychan yn dirprwyo ar fy rhan i yr adeg honno. Mae hwn, wrth gwrs, yn gyfarfod dwyieithog, ac mae yna gyfieithu ar y pryd o'r Gymraeg i'r Saesneg ar gael. Felly, os ŷch chi angen ei ddefnyddio fe, dwi'n deall bod y cyfarwyddyd wedi cael ei roi. Dim ond i'ch atgoffa chi, felly, fod y cyfieithu yn cymryd ychydig yn hirach, felly, ar ôl i chi orffen eich cyfraniad, jest oedi am eiliad cyn mynd ymlaen i wneud pwynt arall, fel bod cyfle i'r cyfieithu gadw i fyny. Gaf i eich atgoffa chi hefyd nad oes angen i chi weithredu'ch meicroffonau? Mae hynny'n cael ei wneud ar eich rhan chi. A jest i ofyn i Aelodau, yn benodol—oes gan unrhyw Aelod unrhyw fuddiannau i'w datgan? Na. Ocê. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Good morning, and welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee at Senedd Cymru, the Welsh Parliament. Welcome to Members to this meeting. Apologies have been received from Jenny Rathbone, and Carolyn Thomas will be substituting on her behalf for the second part of today's meeting. I also have to apologise—I'll need to leave at lunchtime, but Heledd Fychan will be substituting on my behalf at that point. This, of course, is a bilingual meeting, and there is simultaneous translation from Welsh to English available. So, if you do need to avail yourselves of that service, I understand that an introduction to that service has been provided. Just to remind you that there may be a slight delay before the interpretation coming to an end and returning to full floor sound. I'll also remind you that you don't need to operate your own microphones. That will be done on your behalf. And just to ask Members, specifically—does any Member have any declarations of interest to make? I see that there are none. Okay. Thank you very much.

Penodi Cadeirydd dros dro
Appointment of temporary Chair

Mae angen inni hefyd, fel roeddwn i'n sôn, gan nad ydw i yma ar gyfer ail ran y cyfarfod heddiw, benodi Cadeirydd dros dro. Gaf i ofyn felly a fyddai Aelodau yn fodlon i Huw Irranca-Davies gael ei benodi yn gadeirydd dros dro ar gyfer ail hanner y cyfarfod? Ie, pawb yn hapus â hynny. Grêt. Diolch yn fawr iawn. A dwi'n meddwl ei bod hi werth jest egluro hefyd, â mod i'n wynebu problemau technegol, yna dwi'n siŵr y bydd Huw yn gallu camu i'r adwy os ydw i'n diflannu oddi ar eich sgriniau chi, neu beth bynnag sy'n gallu digwydd wrth ddefnyddio'r dechnoleg yma. Dyna ni. Grêt. Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi i gyd.

We also, as I mentioned, as I'm not here for the second part of today's meeting, need to appoint a temporary Chair. May I ask therefore whether Members would be content for Huw Irranca-Davies to be appointed as temporary chair for the second part of today's meeting? I see that everyone is content with that. Great. Thank you very much. And I do believe that it is just worth explaining that, if I have any technical issues today, I'm sure that Huw will be able to step into the breach if I disappear from your screens, or whatever else could happen as we use the technology today. There we are. Excellent. Thank you very much to you all.

Penodwyd Huw Irranca-Davies yn Gadeirydd dros dro ar gyfer ail ran y cyfarfod.

Huw Irranca-Davies was appointed temporary Chair for the second half of the meeting.

2. Bil yr Amgylchedd (Ansawdd Aer a Seinweddau) (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 4
2. The Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill - evidence session 4

Iawn, ymlaen â ni, felly, at yr ail eitem, sef, wrth gwrs, parhau â'n gwaith ni o dderbyn tystiolaeth a chraffu ar Fil yr Amgylchedd (Ansawdd Aer a Seinweddau) (Cymru). Ac yn ymuno â ni y bore yma, mae yna dri pherson sydd yn mynd i roi tystiolaeth i ni. Croeso cynnes, felly, i Chris Ashley, sy'n arweinydd polisi, yr amgylchedd a cherbydau gyda'r Gymdeithas Cludo ar y Ffyrdd; Christine Boston, sy'n gyfarwyddwr Sustrans Cymru; a Joshua James, sy'n rheolwr materion cyhoeddus gyda Living Streets. Croeso cynnes i'r tri ohonoch chi. Mi awn ni iddi'n syth, felly, ac mi wnaf i ofyn cwestiwn i gychwyn, cwestiwn digon cyffredinol, a dweud y gwir: ydy'r Bil, fel y mae e wedi ei ddrafftio ar hyn o bryd, yn eich barn chi, yn ddigon uchelgeisiol i arwain at welliannau sylweddol yn ansawdd aer a seinweddau Cymru? Ac os nad yw e, efallai y gallwch chi esbonio pam. Pwy sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf?

Right, we'll move on to the second item, which is the continuation of our evidence gathering on and scrutiny of the Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill. And joining us today, we have three individuals who are going to give evidence to us. A very warm welcome, therefore, to Chris Ashley, who's policy lead, environment and vehicles with the Road Haulage Association; Christine Boston, who's director of Sustrans Cymru; and Joshua James, who's the public affairs manager at Living Streets. A very warm welcome to the three of you. We'll go straight to questions, therefore, and I'll ask the opening question, a general question, if truth to be told: is the Bill as it's currently drafted sufficiently ambitious to lead to significant improvement in the air quality and soundscapes in Wales? And if it isn't sufficiently ambitious, could you explain why? Who wants to go first?

09:35

Ie, Christine—ocê, diolch yn fawr.

Yes, Christine—okay, thank you very much.

Diolch. So, in our view, we think the Bill needs to be more ambitious, given the scale of the problem. It's quite a major issue that needs to be tackled, and we know that transport is a major contributor to poor air quality. It's the largest source of nitrogen oxides in Wales, and road traffic is a major source of carbon emissions as well. 

For us in particular we're disappointed that there isn't a greater focus on active travel as part of the solution. We think there are some opportunities to build that into the Act. And the other thing is we would like it to be better aligned to World Health Organization guidance. They have quite stringent international targets and the Bill doesn't quite align with those at the moment, so we'd like to see that.

Okay. And a few of those issues, obviously, we'll be picking up directly on as we pick up on these issues. Any further comments from Josh or Chris? Josh.

First of all, I would agree with what Christine Boston has said. In some parts of the Bill there is clear ambition, and we welcome the wider range of powers—for instance, things on trunk road charging et cetera. But, particularly in terms of air quality targets, we don't think there's enough ambition stated to deal with the—. Well, we're dealing with a climate emergency, we're dealing with an air quality emergency, and we feel like it could go further. 

Yes, good morning, everybody. So, there's no dispute from the Road Haulage Association on what's here in terms of the air quality and its ambition. We agree broadly with the spirit of what we're trying to achieve here. No-one's disagreeing. Everyone agrees with the need to improve the environment. We do think, though, a different approach is needed, and we'll probably come on to that later in this session. We have particular concern about the needs of small businesses, and how they are supported through any transition to invest in the environment. Issues about the air quality—we have no issue about the air quality targets per se, although we do think they are going to need to be staged in order to make this achievable. We do have concerns, though, about the use of clean air zones, but we'll probably cover that later on in this session.

Indeed. Okay, that's a great overview from the three of you. Thank you for that, and, as you say, Chris, we will be picking up on some of these discrete issues as we proceed. So, Huw, I'll hand over to you.

Thank you, Chair; good morning, everybody. I wonder—. I'm going to turn to the issues of air quality targets in a moment and dwell on them for a little while and get into some of the detail. But, Chair, I didn't mention at the start, because I'm never quite sure to what extent we need to declare it—so, I'm chair of the active travel group and I'm chair also of the air quality cross-party group that's done so much work, both of them. But, actually, there are several members on our committee who are also members of that.

And all of that is already a matter public record, but there's no harm—

Indeed. And the reason I just wanted to lay that out is because I've got a question for both Christine and Joshua. You may have seen the evidence sessions last week—. Before I go on to air quality targets, you may have seen the evidence sessions last week where I asked the witnesses whether they had a view on whether they'd want to see strengthening of some of the unfinished business of the active travel duties, for example, a duty to promote on all public bodies incorporated within this, on the basis—I won't rehearse the whole argument, but on the basis—that there is a legal argument to be settled on whether it would fall within the scope of this, the purpose of this Bill and its connected purposes. Do you have a view from Sustrans and Living Streets as to whether you'd want to see that incorporated within this Bill as it goes through? Or do you think it's unnecessary? Let me go to Joshua first, there, if I can. 

Yes, absolutely. From our perspective, it's directly connected. We know that the answer to improving air quality, from the various studies from around Europe and here in the UK and in Wales—they suggest that the best way to improve our air quality is modal shift away from private vehicles. Private vehicles make up the greatest contributor to air pollution, and reducing that through modal shift to active travel is possibly the best solution. So, it is directly connected to the aim of this Bill. As Christine said earlier, we would like to see more focus on active travel. It is the solution to air pollution and to cleaner air. So, yes—in answer to your question, Huw, yes.

09:40

Yes, I support that too. I think there needs to be greater awareness of the public health impacts of car use and particular encouragement to give people the confidence to get out of the car, especially for short journeys. We know that the active travel Act could be strengthened in that way, and so if this is an opportunity to do that and to create a more robust legislative framework that allows for promotion, then we certainly support that. 

Okay. Thank you both. Chris, I haven't left you out; I'll come back to you in a moment on air quality targets, and, if you want to add to anything you've just heard, please feel free there. But I wonder if you have, Josh and Christine, anything that your people could share with the committee on that, and particularly on the issue of whether it falls within the scope of this Bill as well, because that's the practical obstacle, the paramount obstacle. Let me turn, then, to air quality. Thank you for those answers. Let me turn to air quality. Again, for Sustrans and Living Streets, other than PM2.5, the Bill doesn't require Welsh Government to set targets for other pollutants or to prescribe the pollutants for which targets should be set. Could I have your views on this and also on the three-year timescale for setting the PM2.5 target? Who'd like to go first? Christine. 

I can certainly go first. This is a very serious and urgent problem. We know that between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths a day are caused by the effects of air pollution—they're Public Health Wales figures—and those deaths are preventable. So, Ministers should be able—. Well, they should be setting ambitious targets for all pollutants, and the targets ought to be in line with World Health Organization guidelines, and, as a matter of urgency, three years is too long to wait to do that. So, yes. We know that it will be a challenge for authorities to meet those targets, but they need to be set as a matter of urgency, and we need to start developing plans so that people can breathe clean air. 

Thanks, Christine. I'll come to Josh, and then I'll come to you, Chris, as well. Josh.   

Yes, absolutely. Particulate matter is important, but there are other classes of particulate matter that have a huge impact on public health. Diesel particulate matter is one—so, diesel particulate matter, more than 90 per cent of which is less than 1 in diameter, compared to the 2.5, so that's a whole new class—and that is some of the most dangerous in terms of its impact on public health. Since 2010, in the number of private vehicles that have been sold in the UK, diesel powered vehicles outstripped petrol for the first time, and diesel vehicles produce around 22 times more particulate matter and four times more nitrogen oxide than petrol vehicles. So, we are facing, in some senses, a worsening situation, and it will be important for us, in order to have the right solutions to the challenges we face, to know and have targets for each individual particulate matter—so, diesel particulate matter PM10, which, although is not seen as dangerous in the long term as particulate matter 2.5, does contribute to worsening conditions and respiratory conditions. So, having targets for all of these groups, classes, of particulate matter will be important in making sure that we have the right policy solutions as well. 

Thanks very much. Chris, I'm going to come to you now and give you the floor on the questions I asked before, if you want to touch on them as well, but particularly on this issue of targets. And I wonder as well, Chris, if you'd touch on some of the evidence that you've given in writing from the Road Haulage Association about the consideration of economic well-being when setting targets. Okay, over to you.

09:45

Thank you very much. Look, as I said in my opening remarks, everybody agrees that we need to improve the environment, so it’s not a case of quibbling the 'what'; it’s the 'how we do this'. I notice, my fellow colleagues on the panel, they cite concerns with car usage. I have to say we wouldn’t offer comment on that, because our interest is in commercial vehicles, predominantly heavy goods vehicles, coaches and vans. And I think there are two broad points I’d want to say: yes, everybody refers to the World Health Organization targets. I think it is very important to say, and it’s something I put in my submission, that the WHO have said that getting pollution levels down to meet their very stringent targets will take time; it does need a staged approach, and that, to us, seems eminently sensible. If we’ve got a staged approach with interim targets, be it on PM2.5, other particulate matters or indeed other pollutants, that gives a framework that we can work with then to develop the standards needed, the engine and vehicle standards needed, to invest, and phase in, in time. So, that’s my first broad point: a staged approach is needed.

In terms of the economic well-being point, we have a very significant concern—and this predominantly relates to our experience in England, I should stress—that—. So, the needs of small businesses, in particular, who we predominantly represent, are overlooked. This point about economic well-being: there seems to be a lack of understanding as to how businesses acquire new vehicles. They are phased in, basically. Going into sort of accountancy terms, you buy an asset—in this case, a vehicle—it will be depreciated over time. Once it comes to the end of its useful life, it’s then sold on; it will have a residual value. The problem we’ve had, and this relates to proposals for clean air zones, is clean air zones are a very blunt instrument, and it devalues the assets prematurely, and, if you’re a small business, that really matters—and, again, we may come onto this when we look at trunk road charging, but what we’ve found with the clean air zone experience is that not only does it devalue the asset, but it also creates shortages and it creates price inflation. And if you’re a small business on minimal margins—in haulage, it's typically 2 per cent—you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. And we just say this because small businesses provide an essential economic function. They supply essential services, goods, to the people. Somehow, we need to think better and cleverly as to how we support businesses through this process, and, as I say, we do think that a different way is possible, which we can come onto.

Thank you, Chris. Chris, I wonder if I can just ask you one question that I'll put to the others as well there, which is whether you have a view, whether the Road Haulage Association has a view, on whether the WHO guidance that you referred to should explicitly be set out on the face of the Bill. Do you have a view on that, Chris? Even if it’s a phased approach to get to it and so on.

Well, my immediate thought is that the Bill shouldn’t be too prescriptive, in order to allow flexibility, to give legislative flexibility to accommodate what is a very complex economy that we have to cater for. So, I think it depends how the Bill will be worded. As I say, we have no issue about reference to the WHO targets. The issue that I think is missing is the caveat that the WHO put in, which is a staged approach with interim targets is necessary and, perhaps if that is reflected in the Bill, we would welcome that.

Okay, that’s interesting. Christine and Joshua, the same question about WHO targets. Does it need specific referral on the face of the Bill? Christine?

Yes, I think it does. I think that the Bill should reflect the international standards and be clear that that’s what we have to work towards. If it isn’t explicit, I think there’s a risk that Ministers are more cautious, and we believe that this Bill has to be as ambitious as possible and that the WHO guidelines should be the foundation of the target-setting process and therefore ought to be set out explicitly in the Bill.

09:50

Yes, I am. I think the WHO standards are widely accepted as what all countries should be aiming for, and not putting that in the actual legislative text of the Bill I think misses a trick. This is an Act to improve our environment and to improve our air quality. To not mention the global standard as part of the target-setting process is one of the main problems we have in terms of the ambition of the Bill. So, in doing so, we think that would solve many problems—it would restate Wales's ambition to provide cleaner air for its people.

So, if Ministers were to argue back to you, 'Well, look, we can refer to the WHO guidelines in our own guidance'—words on record and so on—what would your response be to that?

That's a good point, but what we would say is that this is a Bill to improve air quality, and it's not just a Bill to make targets to measure air quality—it's a Bill to try and improve our air quality. And so, to do that, we need to be reflecting and have due regard at all times, especially in terms of when we're setting our targets, to what the global community and the most eminent scientists are saying in terms of what those standards should be.

Okay, thank you. Chair, are we doing okay on time? A couple of other questions? How are we doing?

Yes, Chris wants to come in on this and then we can move on to policy. Yes, Chris.

Well, I just want to state on record that we would support the second approach that the Member just articulated there. I think we have to be very careful not to be too prescriptive in legislation, but to make reference to public statements made by Ministers I think is perfectly acceptable. My concern is to say that, if you nail something down in legislation, you don't give yourself that flexibility to deal with a real-world economy, basically.

Okay, thank you. Okay, I'm going to rattle through a couple of others so that we can get on to other areas, but could I ask you for your views—let's start with Christine and Josh—on the power that Ministers are suggesting that they can revoke or lower targets. You probably saw the evidence sessions last week—Ministers would argue that there is a good reason sometimes to revoke targets, for example, when you find that those targets are no longer of any use, frankly, and the science has moved on, or to lower them because you actually want other targets higher. What are your views on the powers to revoke or lower targets, and how you—even if they're acceptable, then, how you make safeguards against them being misused by some less-than-beneficent Minister in the future? Who'd like to take that? Josh.

Thank you. We would hope that that power is not needed. There are already provisions in the Bill for statements to be made as to why targets have not been met and if the science changes, the targets change, then that is a primary example of why you would not be meeting the target that exists currently. This should not be a detraction from our ambition to get cleaner air. Many countries have targets that they are not yet meeting. The target itself should not change just because enough progress has not been made—that is not a good enough excuse to change a target. So, we wouldn't want to see the revocation of targets, we wouldn't want to see the amendment of targets on a regular basis, because it's unlikely that the science will change that frequently that that would be needed. What we would expect though is that, should those circumstances arise, there'd be a statement made on why the target has not been met or why the target might be different in future. 

Okay. Christine, I don't know if you've got anything to add to that, but I'm going to play devil's advocate in asking you if you've got any further response, which is to say that the Minister would say, with some fair justification, that you don't bolt the nth degree of targets on a Bill in reasonable anticipation that, at some point, based on history with this, you might actually have a target that is wrong and you've got it in primary legislation. So, go on, Christine, persuade the Minister that—. You may have a different view from Josh; I don't know.

09:55

No, a fairly similar view to Josh. We agree that decisions should be made in line with the science. You can't go far wrong with that. In terms of the Bill being too prescriptive, we certainly don't want it to be too vague, and, ultimately, if targets are set in line with international guidance, which is going to change in line with the data, then you can't go far wrong with that, and that should be the basis. Ultimately, we want a Bill that gives people the right to breathe clean air.

But you could simply put a reference on the face of the Bill to WHO guidance and then put the ability to revoke as well, because you'd be changing it with reference to WHO guidance.

We don't think that they should have the ability to revoke; we want them to set some clear and ambitious targets and work towards that.

Okay, listen, that's fine. Chair, time is going on here, but can I just ask a quick 'yes' or 'no' on this question? Do you feel that there should be consultation prior to setting targets set as a requirement on this Bill? It's just a 'yes' or 'no'. Chris. Yes. Josh. Should there be consultation set on the Bill in the setting of targets?

It depends. If the targets are being set in line with international standards, there wouldn't be a need to consult. So, I think that's where the Bill has to be very clear.

Okay. There's something about, 'We got three different answers.' No, no, two different answers then. Finally, just asking you on monitoring, current arrangements for monitoring and reporting air quality data, have you got any views on any gaps? What changes are needed on monitoring and data collection to support the ambition that you express for the Bill?

Okay. So, at the moment, I think we're probably all agreed that the current process of monitoring both national and local air pollution is not adequate, and it gives a false picture of the air pollution challenges. So, in terms of the reporting, we think that the requirements need to be strengthened. They need to align with Welsh Government's reporting cycle to the Senedd. And we think that, alongside an annual review, there ought to be agreement about timescales for compliance.

That's great. You don't all need to answer on this, but any other views? Josh. And then Chris.

Just very quickly, what I would say is that data is going to be the most powerful thing that we have in tackling these problems, and, as with many areas of public life, we sometimes don't have all the data we would like to. So, yes, we would agree with increasing monitoring. We know that air quality standards can change quite a lot in a short period of time, so we feel like it would be necessary in order for the legislation and the powers that are introduced to be effective to have better data and more monitoring.

I'm all for having better quality data and better monitoring arrangements. My ask is that it is then presented in a way that the layperson can understand, because our experience—I particularly refer to the UK-AIR website—is that you look at it and you think there isn't a problem. Everything's 'green' on a typical day. But, clearly, other sources will show that there are hotspots. So, therefore, I think there just needs to be a better way of interpreting this data and making it understandable to the layperson, so that, when measures are put in place to improve air quality, people can actually understand why, and that there is a real evidence base behind this.

Yes, diolch yn fawr iawn, Huw. A lot of good stuff there—thank you, all. Delyth, over to you.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Bore da, bawb.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, everyone.

I wanted to ask you first how effective you think the local air quality management regime is. Do you think that these proposals, as they are in the Bill, are going to lead to the—. Well, firstly, do you think that they'll lead to improvements, but do you think that they'll lead to the necessary improvements? Whoever wants to go first. You're all smiling, but no-one wants to go first. [Laughter.] Well, I'm going to pick on you in that case; I'm going to pick on Josh, because Josh was smiling the broadest. [Laughter.]

10:00

Thank you very much, Delyth. Local air quality management targets—we don't have a clear view, at Living Streets, on that. What we would say is that we are going to need as many tools as possible in the legislation to enable us to meet targets and to improve our air quality. So, maybe changing the topic slightly, but what we would say is that things like trunk road charging—and although the Welsh Government already has the power to introduce clean air zones, and that's not within this Bill—we would strongly support that as well. What we think though, is that any revenue that is raised by these should be ring-fenced for active travel for modal shift towards schemes, and this could be a way of supporting local government to fund lots of initiatives locally that could help air quality. So, we feel that that's necessary. Sorry that it's not an actual direct answer to your question, but— 

No need to apologise, no need to apologise at all. That's really helpful, and, actually, the trunk road—that's going to be something that we're going to come back to later, so that's really helpful for you to set that out early as well. Thank you for that. Chris or Christine, do either of you want to add anything to this? It's absolutely fine if not, because we can move on. I don't want to kind of—. Yes, okay, Chris, you'd like to. 

I think I just want to make the point—the issue for us is about effective consultation, so that policy makers get a very clear understanding of the wide range of evidence from different stakeholders. And, in one sense, how do you legislate for that? You can put the framework in place. It's then a question of the quality of that consultation, and, then, understanding some of the challenges and difficulties that we face in a diverse society, if I may say so, and I want to include businesses and the needs of businesses here. 

So, I said in our submission that we have no issue in terms of what's set out in the Bill; it's about the quality of that consultation. Well, first of all—it's two points—there's a definite need to consult, and then, secondly, it's the quality of that consultation that then takes place, so that policy makers have as rich a picture as possible in order to make decisions.  

Okay, thanks, Chris. Christine, if you want to add anything, you're welcome to, but don't—. Okay. 

Yes. Just to build on colleagues' points, really. I think one of the important things is that local authorities need to be able to have the appropriate levers, and, importantly, the financial support to deliver the change. There are going to be some big changes required to enable them to meet the targets, and local authorities need to have that support to achieve compliance. 

Thank you, all, very much for that. The next thing I wanted to ask you about—. Well, Chris, you were talking earlier about how things need to be presented in a way that a layperson would understand. As a committee, we're really aware that a lot of what we talk about—not just on this issue, but this is always a challenge with policy making and with any kind of legislation—a lot of what we're talking about is very technical. I was going to ask you about whether you think that more needs to be done to promote greater awareness of the dangers of air pollution, as well as what can be done to limit, to take on those challenges. Do you think that the Bill should be more prescriptive about this, in terms of what Welsh Ministers should be doing to kind of promote that greater awareness, so that people don't feel like it's something that's being done to them, but that they're part of this and that they understand, and feel empowered, almost?

I think there are two points. First of all, on the principle and promoting awareness, yes, absolutely, education is key here, and we have no problem about that. Obviously, we know, as a sector, we chuck out pollutants, but that's not to say that we're not doing anything about it—we are. And I'll come on to that. So, we have no problem at all about promoting awareness. I think, in terms of approach, I go back to the points made a few minutes ago. We would not favour legislation, simply. I think the most effective way to cater for the flexible, dynamic and complex economy that we live in is for the Bill to say that Ministers have a duty to promote, but then that the detail of what they're promoting is then set out in guidance, and that guidance can be amended as and when circumstances change.

10:05

Thank you for that, Chris. Christine or Josh, did either of you—? Sorry, Josh, do you prefer 'Josh' or 'Joshua'?

Either. Either is absolutely fine.

So, firstly, yes, we made it clear in our submission, and also on the Healthy Air Cymru submission that we supported that Welsh Government should run targeted informational campaigns on the environmental and health impacts of air pollution. We know that, as we said before, active travel and behaviour change are one of the key solutions to improving our air quality. We can't do that without an educated public. So, some of the things that we have seen are that, where people are more aware of air quality and air pollution, they do make the decision to walk more. And if we're going to promote healthy behaviours, then, really, we should be informing our public about it.

In response to some of the other things that Chris has raised, because he's raised some very good points around economy, what I would like to stress is that Wales has a very high rate of chronic respiratory disease, and there is a huge economic impact to that. So, I suppose, playing devil's advocate here in response to Chris's point, whilst we need to balance, obviously, flexible legislation, we also need to make it clear that improving our air quality will have huge economic benefits and that we need bold action to do that.

Thank you for that. Christine, was there anything that you wanted to add?

Yes. Just to say that we think it's important that there's public awareness about air pollution, that people understand how their own behaviour contributes to it, and also how they can change their behaviour to make a positive difference. It links to Huw's question earlier about active travel promotion. We very much think that there's an opportunity to promote active travel, and in particular for short journeys. So, yes, we would want, as far as possible, to be able to build that in.

Thank you, all. I think that this has been very much touched on in Huw's line of questioning, and as Huw had said at the start, he chairs the cross-party group on active travel. That group has suggested that the duty to promote awareness of air pollution should be extended across the public service. Is that something that you agree with? And, are there particular bodies—? Is there anything that you'd like to add as well as what you said earlier in response to Huw on that? No, you're happy.

No, I don't think there's anything in particular to add on that, just that we need all bodies to understand and promote, and do all that they can within their own spheres of influence. I really don't think that there's enough of that. So, yes, it would made a big difference.

Diolch, Delyth. Okay, we have about half an hour left. There are a few other areas that we wish to cover, so I'll pass the baton now on to Joyce, who's going to take us on to another subject. 

Good morning, all. I'm going to go on to the trunk road charging schemes, and whether you agree that Ministers should have expanded powers to create charging schemes for trunk roads, or this particular purpose of tackling air pollution. Now, I know that there are mixed views on the panel about this, but I want to go to Chris of the Road Haulage Association and ask directly: are your concerns about how the scheme would be designed and implemented an objection to the implementation, rather than the principle of the power to create?

Sorry, if I understand your question: are we objecting to the principle of it—?

Well, it is both, simply because we believe that a different approach is possible. Clean air zones—and I made these points a little earlier—it's a very, very blunt instrument, and we have different standards of vehicle emissions, from Euro 1 to Euro 6 at the moment, and Euro 7 is being proposed, and, in due course, we look forward to seeing the introduction of zero-emission vehicles on our roads. And, can I just say that our industry is very engaged in that debate to make that happen? The problem is that, when you base regulations on the Euro emission standards, it just can't cater for nuance, basically, because there will be some, what we would say, 'legitimate older vehicles', for example, mobile cranes, heavy haulage, that have life spans of 30-plus years that get hit by these schemes, and in a small-margin industry, such as haulage, or in coaches, that matters. 

If I can go—. So, I'll come on to the difference in a minute, because I just want to stress about the principle of the issue, it's a blunt instrument. Just to probe into how a clean air zone might be designed, there are different levers that you need to apply in order to construct a clean air zone, and the clean air zone levers, basically, are the standard you set and the area that you put it to. Now, the space, from our experience in England, where, you'll probably be aware that there's been opposition to clean air zones in Manchester and then latterly in London, with ultra-low emission zone expansion, which is kind of a sister policy. In very simple terms, if you've got a pollution hotspot, say, covering a couple of streets, you can set the highest possible level of standard—Euro 6—in order to drive down pollution in the quickest possible time. In that situation, the area has to be very, very small, otherwise—. That's one approach. Or, if you're looking for a more measured approach to reduce pollution that culminates the needs of everybody, if you want to have a wider area of clean air zone, that's possible, but the standard must be slightly lower—possibly Euro 5 in this case.

Now, the reason why I'm going into this detail is because if you do what Manchester has done and what the ULEZ is doing, and put the highest possible target—Euro 6—and the widest possible area, you create a shortage. You create a shortage of vehicles, because—and this is the experience—the market for the required vehicles, there's a lack of supply, and then you get market dynamics that take over. A shortage creates price inflation, but also a regulation such as CAZ sends off a signal to the market to say, 'We don't want older vehicles of any type', and so, the asset value then collapses. Now, I'll give you some figures based on our analysis of the heavy goods vehicles market and how powers affected that. Since 2013, we estimate that hauliers invested in an additional £2.2 billion to get the latest lorries in place, and that's a reflection of the price inflation, yet, they saw £1.2 billion wiped off their asset values of the older vehicles, and that created significant financial issues for our hauliers, and particularly for your smaller members.

Also, there's an issue about the impact on the second-hand market for small businesses. A lot of small businesses—your one-man-bands, your sole traders—they will look to acquire their vehicles not brand new, but from the second-hand market. Well, if you've created a shortage in the required vehicles, it takes time then for the second-hand market to develop in those vehicles, and, again, that will hit your small trader. So, that's been the real impact that we've observed and that I'm happy to present to you today about clean air zones in England. I do put in my submission that we're very pleased that Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, actually listened to that feedback, and you're probably aware that Greater Manchester is now looking to amend its clean air zone proposals. We understand that the latest is that it's going to be a much smaller clean air zone, and I'm afraid that just reflects the needs of business, and small businesses in particular, to ensure that they continue to thrive.

My final point is just the different approach. Rather than go down this rabbit hole of creating a clean air zone framework, what we would say is, actually, use what available state funds there are to invest in the vehicle standards and in the research and development, to improve the vehicle standards. And when you do that, so that the new standards are continuously introduced, you will see pollution levels fall from vehicles. And we can supply you with the charts, particularly in relation to nitrogen oxide pollution, where, from about 2007, when we've had the succession of Euro 3, Euro 4 and Euro 5 standards, nitrogen oxide pollution from HGVs has plummeted. We did some detailed analysis, and actually, from 2013, when the Euro 6 standard was introduced, nitrogen oxide pollution from HGVs had fallen by over 75 per cent in that time. So, to us, what that model shows is that you invest in the vehicle standards, you then allow businesses to introduce these new vehicles through natural replacement cycles—that's a very sustainable way of achieving reductions in pollution—and that would be a very acceptable, we would say sustainable, way of achieving the pollution reductions that we want to see.

10:15

Thank you for all of that, and, yes, we would be interested in you sending us anything that you feel will help us make the right decision. So, in terms of all that you've said, and as a committee making a recommendation, because that's what we will do, in a nutshell, what, in your opinion, should be amended to address those concerns in the Bill?

Well, my own view is that the proposal to introduce a clean air zone across the trunk network should be dropped—that is the position of the RHA—and instead, to invest available public funding in vehicle standards and research and development to continue the driving down of pollution levels that we want to see.

I am going to bring everybody in; I'm just trying to stick with road haulage at the moment, so don't think I'm ignoring you, Josh. Also, you mentioned that there could be a knock-on effect to the drivers' hours and the cost that goes with that. Is there anything more that you want to add?

Well, that relates to the 20 mph policy. It's simply to make the point that, if we extend journey times, then that does have a knock-on effect on drivers' hours, which are very strictly enforced. So, look, this is not a particularly insurmountable issue. We understand that the 20 mph speed limit has its role, particularly on roads that are appropriate, such as residential streets; we do have concerns if they are put on through routes. But, to make the broader point that if you, as I say, implement 20 mph speed limits, it does lengthen the driving time, so drivers ultimately would then have to pull over when that time is up, and, in that case, then, we're looking for more in order to accommodate that need.

I'm just going to raise this and then I'll be moving on to the other witnesses. I've driven around Cardiff and other cities without a 20 mph limit; you'd be lucky to make 20 mph at certain times of the day. So, I'd like to see the evidence that backs up the 20 mph increased journey time, if you have it, and I mean that quite genuinely. So, if you've got it evidence and you feel that you can give that to us, then it would be very welcome.

Sure. I'm happy to take that away.

There we are. I was going to say, we won't discuss it now, because it's not in—

Exactly. But I am coming on now to Living Streets and your views that I know you're dying to express. Here's your opportunity.

Thank you very much, Joyce. Yes, first of all, in response to 20 mph, we know that it reduces vehicle emissions; we've seen the data for that. And, across all the studies that exist, the impact on journey times for most people for most people is negligible, it’s small. I take the point that, for those who are career drivers, that might be different, but that’s not the everyday person, and we should be prioritising children, people, older people, when they’re in the communities where they live, work, play and access local services, and that should be the priority, not road users.

In terms of your other questions, Joyce, I’ve got lots to say in terms of trunk road charging, the use of clean air zones and ultra-low emission zones. We think they’re all important tools in helping us achieve the targets that we need to achieve. They shouldn’t be just used arbitrarily, but there will be times when these will make sensible policy decisions, and so, to have the power to introduce these we think is a very sensible and important part of the legislation. What we would say and what we’ve said in our submission is that we think that funds should be ring-fenced for active travel and public transport infrastructure—any funds that are raised—and that’s because we’ve seen the challenges already in terms of capital and revenue for spending on these projects. It’s been a challenge, and, in terms of the introduction and research and development of lower emission vehicles, it’s important to remember that all vehicles create particulate matter. Nitrous dioxide is just one of those categories of particulate matter. Research by the Tyndall Centre found that, even if all new cars were ultra-low emission vehicles by 2035, we’d still need a 58 per cent reduction in car mileage between 2016 and 2035 to meet current UK recommendations. So, that kind of reinforces the answer that the only solution that will have a huge impact is reducing the number of people using private vehicles to make their journeys, to increase the number of active travel programmes and the number of people active travelling. Because even electrification won’t eliminate particulate matter and air pollution in our air, and it’s important to remember that, because electric vehicles still produce fine particulate matter from brake, tyre and road surface wear. Actually, all of those collectively now exceed the emissions solely just from diesel and petrol.

10:20

Yes. I just wanted to say that, as a former director of the Community Transport Association in Wales representing a range of small community organisations running fleets of vehicles, I do understand the challenges of vehicle replacement, and that needs to be worked through for those organisations. But it’s important to remember that this is about tackling a public health issue, and Sustrans’s interest is moving people from private vehicle use for short journeys in particular and moving them onto active modes or onto public transport. And it’s important, I think, to recognise that the journeys we’re talking about are—. Fifty per cent of all journeys are between 1 and 2 miles and 75 per cent are less than 5 miles. Those journeys are easy to change and that’s what we want to focus on. The goal for the Welsh Government is modal shift for private journeys, and what that would mean in terms of 20 mph and congestion is space on the road for those who need it.

The final question to Chris, because I meant to ask it earlier on and anyway he’s got his hand up to say something. But we’ve been told that, if you create small zones that you drive the traffic into—. So, you’ve got a hotspot, you create a zone, all that happens, we’ve had evidence—and I don’t know whether you’ve got anything that you can add to that evidence in writing—that it just displaces it and causes the next hotspot somewhere else.

Yes, I’m happy to state that on record, because that is based on the experience reported to us by our members. Of course, I don’t think—. Well, we can supply this evidence if you will, but I think just conceptually working through the model it would say that it’s natural for people to take avoidance measures if they can't comply with a clean air zone. And so, yes, we would be concerned and flag that as a concern, bearing in mind that I think that's a human nature point and how do we cater for this? I just go back to this point: why go down this rabbit hole when, actually, there is an alternative approach that we can adopt, which is equally, in our view, valid—providing investment in research and development to drive down the pollution levels from these vehicles. We would say that that's a very sensible point. 

But the reason I just put my hand up, if I may, is I think we just have to be very careful about really pursuing an anti-mobility agenda. Yes, of course, we understand health impacts from particulate matter and nitrogen oxide, for example, but there are also mental health and mental well-being effects by being able to get beyond our everyday boundaries, as it were, to experience travel and to experience new places. And so, there's an element to health here, which is not just about pollution, it's about the mental health and well-being of the public, and I think that's just as important to be factoring in. 

10:25

Thank you, Joyce. Thank you for that. Okay, we've got about a quarter of an hour left in our allocated time. So, Janet, I'm going to ask you now to lead on another subject area for us. 

Thank you, Chair. Do you agree that introducing a monetary range within which fixed penalties for idling can be issued is the right approach? And, should the existing penalty charge simply be increased?

Yes. Absolutely. We would agree with increasing the fixed penalty charge. We strongly welcome the amendments to the Environment Act 2021 that are included in the legislation to make stationary idling an offence under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Every minute, an idling car produces enough exhaust emissions to fill 150 balloons with harmful chemicals, including cyanide, nitrous oxide and particulate matter 2.5. We know that, where vehicles are idle is often where people live, work and play. So, this is often around schools, and so, really, we need to stop this social behaviour, and we need to start making it socially unacceptable to leave your car running in communities, because, at the moment, that is the case. People don't see it as—for want of better words—an anti-social behaviour. And, I think, cracking down on it and penalising it will make people realise that, actually, what you're doing is putting a lot of harmful chemicals and particulate matter into the air where young people, children and people live.   

Okay. Thank you for that. Because of the Welsh Government's new decision on the roads, for instance, the Chair will be aware, we have roundabouts on the A55 that were going to be removed to save a lot of the queuing going into the villages coming off those. And, on Friday of last week, I was very late back to my office, because there were lots of people coming in for the bank holiday weekend, and I was queued for 23 minutes, and I was thinking—. But you know how they move up—. Now and again, I kept turning my engine off, because I thought, 'This is so wrong'. So, I suppose, really, my question is: have you undertaken any work to see how the roads policy of the Welsh Government will actually be detrimental, in terms of some areas where those solutions were needed to stop cars from queuing and therefore idling and giving off lots of toxic fumes?

We are scrutinising the Bill. It's a valid question and I'll invite responses, but we're scrutinising the Bill and not the roads review, so maybe briefly, because we have 10 minutes left, and I know there are a few other things that we need to go after.  

I've only just come in, with all respect. These are the first questions I'm asking.  

And I'm coming back to you as soon—. I'm allowing you to ask a question that has nothing to do with the Bill, so if you want to go on now, you can, or I'm inviting people just to briefly respond to that and then come back to you. That was my plan.

So, Josh, and I think we need to hear from Chris about this as well. Josh, first. 

First of all, you're right that the number of people waiting in traffic has an impact on pollution, and my argument would be that—and in our submission from Living Streets—the only way to improve that is to reduce the number of cars on the road. I would reiterate what Christine said earlier, which is that the majority of journeys that are taken in vehicles are actually under 5 miles, and many of them under 2 miles or 1 mile. Those are journeys that could be made often, not all the time, but very, very often using other means of transport. So, we would argue that the best way to solve that problem is to reduce the number of cars on the road.

10:30

Yes, again, no objection to the principle of anti-idling measures. Again, it's how you do it, because clearly an issue we have is the scope of the legislation, because for those vehicles that don't automatically stop when they are queuing in traffic, how that can be enforced, going forward.

Okay, I take the point about the ask of fewer cars on the road. As I've said, our interest is not in cars, it's about actually ensuring that you have the free flow of goods as efficiently as possible, basically. So, taking congestion off our roads, basically, helps our members in terms of ensuring that pollution levels are as low as they can be given the technology that we have. So, I think our ask would be that where there are congestion hotspots, for example, through poor junction design or, as has already been mentioned about roundabouts, possibly roundabouts proving to be counter-productive, you put measures in place to improve that traffic flow, and that will certainly help in terms of reducing pollution levels from commercial vehicles.

Thank you. And then the explanatory memorandum suggests it will be a matter for local authorities to determine what charge to issue, depending on the circumstances of each offence. Do you agree with this, or should a more consistent national approach be taken?

Yes, great, thanks. In terms of penalties and enforcement, we agree with having a higher level of penalty and increasing the level of enforcement. I think it is important to say, though, that there's unlikely to be 100 per cent compliance, and even if there were widespread compliance, there'd still be emissions, because people would have driven to and from the location. One of the things we mentioned in our response was about alternative ways to reduce emissions at hotspots like schools. This week, we've launched School Streets in a street in Penarth, and the difference is absolutely incredible, and there are wider benefits than just air quality. We've got improved air quality around the school impacting the most vulnerable, but also a positive benefit on the soundscape as well, which, hopefully, we'll still have time to come to. That's just about restricting traffic at specified times.

That was going to be my next question. Would you mind, Christine, just elaborating on this particular pilot you've just done?

In terms of anything in particular, or both the air quality and the soundscapes?

Yes, because we know now—. Round here, it's 20 mph outside schools, and a lot of the headteachers now are saying, 'Don't come and idle—.' You used to see five or six cars with parents dropping children off and idling their engines at the same time. But what have you done specifically with this School Streets?

There has been a local traffic order that restricts traffic for that street at school drop-off and pick-up times, so it's residents only at those times, and there are wardens making sure that it's residents only driving in. The impact that that has is cleaner air around the school at the times when the children are there and safer streets, so the children can leave school, be physical and active in that space very safely. It has a positive impact in that families are more likely to walk, cycle and scoot to school. It ensures clean air for residents and families in that space, and also, it was very noticeable the reduction in noise pollution as well, that there is no more idling traffic noise, engines running. Instead, you've got positive well-being benefits from hearing the birds singing in the trees and enjoying the silence around it until the children come out, which again, is a pleasant sound, isn’t it, to hear the children enjoying themselves.

10:35

Yes, and I think we all picked up a lot of that during COVID, with fewer cars on the road, with more about nature. And the residents didn’t mind—you didn’t have any opposition?

There’s been—. This is one of the very important parts of success, that there has to be very strong community engagement. Our teams go out onto the street, they make sure there are lots of opportunities to talk with the residents about what it is that they need, and in doing that, we’re able to bring the community along with us. And I don’t think there is anybody that disagrees how lovely it is to see the children being able to enjoy that safe space and being active on their way to and from school.

Thank you, Christine. I know Josh has indicated and Chris has indicated; I’m also aware that we have four minutes left. So, do you want to briefly respond to that, and maybe make any additional comments around the soundscape elements of the Bill as well, if you have anything to say? Josh first.

Yes, so very, very quickly, because I don’t want to take up too much time. In response to Janet’s points there, I think in terms of giving local government the flexibility to amend penalty charges and to use them with common sense is the right way forward, combined with what we would hope to see in the future: pavement parking being penalised, and vehicle idling being penalised. It’s going to be a lot of extra work for—. Whether it’s parking and traffic enforcement officers, or whichever officers are required to do it, it’s going to be a lot of extra work, so being able to raise funds will be important to sustain those measures, and penalising.

And also, we just very, very—. I just want to put on record how strongly we welcome measures to tackle vehicle idling, because it is one of those issues and we think that it is something that should be used with common sense. So, this is—as you pointed out, Janet—to tackle people who may be idling outside of schools, where the vehicle is stationary—effectively, parked—and still pumping out noxious fumes, as opposed to people waiting in traffic, which I think is probably a different circumstance.

So, I just want to make two quick points. First, should the fines be set at a national or local level? We would say national, because if you have a plethora of local fines, that can be very burdensome for local businesses to administer, and that’s just additional costs for a small business.

Just on the soundscape issue, I just wanted to make the point that actually, as we move over to zero-emission vehicles, they will be quiet. They will become a lot quieter and, in fact, we’ll perhaps have a new problem emerging, in that they’re too quiet and people can’t hear them when they’re out on the road. So, I think what I would say is that on those overall points about soundscaping, we have no particular issue. We know that vehicles will become quieter and quieter over time; just be aware that pure, zero-emission, battery-electric vehicles in particular are very quiet, and actually, whether we need to put some sort of noise awareness on them, for to the public to be aware.

Thank you, all. Okay, Christine, did you have anything specifically around soundscapes, very, very briefly? I know you’ve touched on it. Was there anything else that you wanted to say specifically? And then we will have to draw the meeting to a conclusion, I’m afraid.

Just that we’re very pleased that it’s included in the Bill, because we know that there are negative health impacts from noise pollution, and that noise and air pollution are very closely linked. So, yes, we’re pleased to see it in the Bill.

If I can, I just wanted to make one final point about the use of funds from any road-user charging schemes: we think that they should be invested into active travel—reserved for that—and into public transport to help shift people from the car and onto more sustainable modes. In particular, in terms of active travel, there’s a real challenge because there’s a lack of revenue funding, and that’s what’s needed to change behaviour, so there’s a real opportunity here to provide that.

10:40

Excellent. There we are, okay. And, Chris, I think you might want to add something as well in that context, or are you happy? Sorry, I thought you raised your hand.

No, okay. Well, with that, then, can I thank the three of you for your evidence this morning? Very, very useful stuff. Good to hear different perspectives, different views on some of this. It all contributes valuably to our consideration of the Bill. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

We will now break as a committee. Whilst our witnesses leave, could I ask Members just to remain for a moment, just for a quick discussion in private session? But thank you all, and we’ll reconvene for 10:50. Thank you.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:40 a 10:53.

The meeting adjourned between 10:40 and 10:53.

10:50
3. Bil yr Amgylchedd (Ansawdd Aer a Seinweddau) (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 5
3. The Environment (Air Quality and Soundscapes) (Wales) Bill - evidence session 5

Good morning; bore da. Croeso nôl i'r sesiwn hon.

Good morning. Welcome back to this session.

Welcome back to this session of the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee. I've taken over for the rest of our sessions today now as an interim Chair, as Llyr has had to leave us. So, I'll try and ensure good continuity, but do bear with me a little if I slip up now and then.

A good welcome particularly to our new set of guests who have joined us this morning. We're very much looking forward to this session this morning, particularly—[Inaudible.]—this Bill, which I think for most committee members is something that is relatively new to us, although we've been learning a significant amount over the last few weeks.

So, we have with us Stephen Turner, the immediate past president of the Institute of Acoustics; Peter Rogers, chair of the Institute of Acoustics parliamentary and public liaison group; and Rosie Pitt, chair of the Institute of Acoustics Welsh branch as well. You're all very welcome indeed, and we're looking forward to finding out a lot from you this morning.

So, to get straight under way, let me open with a couple of broad, but important, questions. First of all, could I ask you whether you think the Bill, as currently drafted, is sufficiently ambitious to lead to significant improvements in Wales's soundscapes—and you can touch on air quality as well if you want—and if not, why not? Who'd like to start us off?

So, I do think it's ambitious enough. I think it's a facilitator to getting soundscapes as a thing that is included in everything else, but the broader details of it will be included in other guidance documents that are already drafted and should be published soon.

10:55

Thank you, Rosie. Peter and Stephen, do you want to add anything to that in terms of levels of ambition?

If I may just say, I think, initially, supporting the ambition, I think, it is excellent; it's really good to see that ambition. But it's really about the clarity, and that detail has to really come through from the strategy.

Yes, I would support that, yes. The Bill, I think, is the facilitator, as Rosie said. The devil will be in the detail in the strategy, and I think that's where the ambition can be placed as well.

Okay. We'll get into some of the detail of that and what should be on the face of the Bill and what should be following in guidance and regulations as well, as we go through this session. Could I ask whether you were involved, any of you, in the development of these proposals? Were you aware of any engagement undertaken by Welsh Government to develop the soundscape provisions in this Bill, because they weren't in the White Paper consultation? Rosie.

I wasn't involved in the development, no, but we had quite a lot of engagement with Welsh Government, and they were keen to arrange discussions with the Institute of Acoustics, and specifically the Welsh branch, so I feel like we've been well engaged with on that front.

Yes, we had some initial discussions, which is good to have that contact with us as the institute, and that's appreciated.

Yes. The noise policy official in the Welsh Government is a member of our institute, so he has established a sort of informal liaison with various people, depending on the topics, and certainly, I've had discussions with him and informal contact as, firstly, it's emerged as part of this Bill, and then how it's developed.

That's great. That's really good to hear. And it's worth flagging that, in pretty much all of our evidence sessions with witnesses over the last couple of weeks, there has been broad welcome of the fact that soundscapes are appearing within it. But you've touched on the aspects of the detail, so we'll get into some of that now. I'm going to pass over to my colleague, Joyce, who's going to take us on to a specific area. Joyce.

I'm going to take you on to the awareness and knowledge part of it. Do you think that, generally speaking, there is sufficient understanding of the term 'soundscape' amongst both the stakeholders and the public? And is there a need, in your opinion, for a definition to be included on the face of the Bill, because the Minister has said it would be more appropriate to define that in policies rather than in legislation? Do you agree with that?

I'll just jump in on the soundscapes and the awareness of the stakeholders and general public. I think, currently, not quite. We're getting there, but it's an emerging subject, so I wouldn't expect everybody to know exactly what it is yet, but no, we're certainly not all the way there with everyone knowing what that is getting at.

I'll continue, yes. I think the explanatory memo is the right place to pick that up, perhaps, but yes, I don't think it's been clearly defined, but that doesn't necessarily mean that there is a singular definition at this point in time. I think there is a recognition that that can be done, but it doesn't necessarily need to be on the face of the Bill, in case things evolve.

Yes, it's difficult. Perhaps, going back a bit, where this Bill is really good is it's getting us to think about soundscapes, but then, as you've alluded to, what do we mean by it? Historically, and as you can see from the grey hair, I've been doing this sort of thing for a long time, our focus has mainly been dealing with bad sound, i.e. noise. But what do we mean by 'soundscape'? Well, we're all in a soundscape at the moment, and we're all in our different individual rooms, and they all have a soundscape. So, I think there is a case for not putting the definition on the face of the Bill, for the reason I think the Welsh Minister said—that it takes a long time to change it if, all of a sudden, the definition moves on a bit. But, using the explanatory memorandum, perhaps, to do some basic description about how people might think about sound, and then use any guidance documents, to track how the international community is defining soundscape. I think the Welsh Minister referenced that as well. And there is this formal international standard definition, which is an excellent starting point. 

So, yes, I think there needs to be more explanation of it, so that it's absolutely clear what is being meant, but not on the face of the Bill, because, obviously, if it does change, then it will be more awkward to change it from a practical point of view. 

11:00

Thank you, all. You did say in your written evidence that there was concern about local authorities having the necessary experience and also, knowledge to review the soundscape assessment. Do you want to expand on that, please?

I'll just jump in first on that one again; I think that came mostly from me. So, I work quite closely with councils across Wales in my day-to-day job, dealing with their environmental health departments covering noise. And there are already gaps in different councils on how much knowledge they have on the subject. So, introducing a new topic would be something that would—. They would just need to be provided with the resources and the training to make sure that they know how to implement it and undertake the consultation with people such as myself. So, that would need to be addressed as part of it.

But I would just say that I'm in full support of soundscapes, and I do think that that needs to be something that comes forward, but everyone needs to know what it is and how we're going to implement it, especially local authorities, considering what cost impact that might have on their specific departments. 

Perhaps to add to that, then, my experience has been quite direct, actually, recently, speaking to local authorities about another matter that I'm involved with. And I asked them about soundscapes, and how they felt about it. And, overwhelmingly, there's a concern. There's a concern around resources and there's concern about the specifics of what would be needed and required of them. So, I think, with training and with support, that will address that, but I think it's absolutely essential that that's provided. 

Okay. Did any of them talk about sharing those resources? You have 22 local authorities—do we need 22 experts, or is it possible that we could share those amongst authorities? Was that expressed?

Yes. I think part of it was, where they had the expertise, it was around having something additional to consider on their agenda. But also, when they didn't have the expertise, it was understanding how they would access that, and I think that would be—. One of our points is around a special advisory group relating to soundscape, and I think that would be helpful.

Okay, which was my next question, because the Minister has said that that is her intention—to establish an advisory panel on soundscapes—and, obviously, you've just said, Peter, that you're in favour of it. Is everybody else in favour of it?

Yes, I think that would be a good idea. It's been a long-worn phrase mainly in England about noise being the cinderella pollutant; the one that people tend to forget about and overlook. I think having a bespoke soundscape advisory panel, with the remit to look at how we deal with soundscape, tackle it, address it, improve it and so on, would help get it up the agenda. So, I think having such a panel would be good. 

I know the Welsh Minister talked about having a sort of informal relationship with people like the Institute of Acoustics, but, I think, that doesn't have to stop if you have an advisory panel; I think it just all enhances it. So, I think there's a profile issue here, and, I think, if you had a soundscapes advisory panel, then everybody involved in dealing with the soundscape, including the population, would know that it's an issue that the Welsh Government takes seriously. 

Thank you very much for that. I wonder, before we go on to Delyth to take us into another area, could I just ask: beyond the traditional approach of dealing with noise pollution, and on the positive aspect of looking at soundscapes, and quality of soundscapes, is there anywhere internationally that we should be looking at for best practice on this, or are we right at the forefront now of thinking of embedding this within legislation?

11:05

That's one for you, Peter, I think.

So, I think it's fair to say that, in terms of embedding it in legislation, you are at the forefront, but I think the reality is that the evidence base is more than ready for that. There's a fantastic report by the United Nations Environment Programme, which is the Frontiers 2022 report, and it identifies noise pollution as one of, effectively, the overlooked areas alongside wildfires and the shift of nature's response to climate change. So, actually, it flags that now is the appropriate time for that, and from the point of view of the institute, the evidence base is growing, because of the transition from what traditionally is understood to be more of a creative area. Soundscape started its life as a composition, musical thing, and it's moved through ecology, and now science has caught up, and we now have a very robust evidence base that is becoming useful in terms of practice. So, I would say that it's the right time for this.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, everyone. I wanted to ask you about the national soundscape strategy. And can I say that it's a real pleasure to have you giving evidence to us on this aspect of the Bill? We really appreciate you taking the time and for what you've already sent us. You've said in written evidence that more clarity may be needed on the scope of this soundscape strategy. Could you please expand on the concerns that you have about this and whether there's anything specific in terms of any specific amendment that you think could be on the face of the Bill that would address that, or whether it should be changes in guidance, please?

I'll take that one. I like the way the Bill is building on what has been done for the last 10 or 15 years. And I'll declare a bit of an interest in this: for 15 years, I advised DEFRA, and one of the things I did there was help implement the environmental noise regulations, which, of course, also apply to Wales, and that's the noise mapping and action planning. So, clearly, when we were in the EU, our regulations specified certain sources—we looked at roads, railways, aviation and also industry—but not all of them. And I like the way the intent is, 'Let's look at all roads. Why just restrict them to some?' So, I think the strategy could clarify that scope. But then, there was this reference about 'other major forms of airborne noise in Wales'. And again, I apologise that I keep referring to England, but we describe that as 'neighbourhood noise'—so, construction noise, noise from windfarms. Is that in this? Is that the intent? I don't think you need to alter the face of the Bill, because it is very nicely written and quite open. The strategy is where the definition needs to be, so that the practitioners, like Rosie and the environmental health officers, know what they've got to deal with, because, as you all know, there is a vast range of noise sources. Whether it drifts as far as neighbour noise, i.e. what comes through the wall of your next-door neighbour or from their garden, again, it's a decision to be made. It might be a step too far for this particular initiative, but that's where I think there needs to be the clarity on it.

Thank you very much, that's very clear. Rosie or Peter, did you want to add anything? It's absolutely fine if not, but I don't want to rattle on if you wanted to add anything as well.

No. Personally, I think Stephen well covered that.

Just a very small point, really, and that is that I think it's the difference between thinking about noise and noise pollution, and sound and soundscape and sound quality, because sound changes how we feel, for the better or for the worse. What's very well developed is the evidence base around noise pollution and health effects and, indeed, well-being, and the level of impact. What's less developed is the positive impact of sound. We know that, generally, anthropological sound—man-made sound—is not a good thing for us, generally, and that natural sound is generally better. So, if you think about that palette of tools that now is available, it shouldn't be constrained, I think, with a particular type of sound, but it's much more about the context and the place and the locality, and how important that is when you're trying to think about sustainability, the four Ps: the people, the place, the planet and prosperity. For those places to work, soundscape has to be integrated as part of the solution. So, I think it's just understanding that there are two sides of this balancing act, as it were, and this is actually a very important part of the equation—that's the other thing. So, all sources of noise and sound should be considered.

11:10

Thank you, Peter. That's really useful, actually, because I know that, if I go for a walk, hearing bird song is something that immediately lifts my mood. We talk so often—we talked so often during the pandemic and during lockdowns—about the importance of green space and being able to see nature; you should be able to hear nature as well, because that's so fundamental for well-being, isn't it? Thank you, that's really useful for you to add that.

I've got a few quite specific questions about the timescales of the strategy and the consultation requirements, so which bodies would have to have regard to the strategy, which bodies would need to be consulted. In terms of the timescale, as set out, do you think that that's appropriate, please? And as it stands, the Bill has a duty on local authorities and a number of other relevant public authorities in Wales to have regard to the national soundscape strategy. I know that that has a particular legal meaning, but what are your views on that, please? Do you think that that is the right balance? So, that as well as the time frame—do you think that it's right at the moment, or it needs to be amended, please? 

Is that the time frame of five years for renewing the strategy?

Yes, I think that sounds like a suitable—. Because it will be a fairly fast-changing topic, especially in the first few years that we're dealing with it, but you don't want to make it too short, because obviously there's a cost implication of renewing it all the time. So, I think five years is about right.

Thank you very much for that. And in terms of—. Well, do you think that—? Well, what are your views—I don't want to actually ask you a leading question—what are your views on the fact that at the moment the Bill says that there is a duty for local authorities to have regard to the strategy? Do you think that that is strong enough, and do you think that there should be other public authorities—? In terms of the ones named, do you think that that's right? Do you think that there are others that haven't been named that should have regard, that should be included as well?

I certainly think local authorities should be key in it, but, based on the particular resources of some of the local authorities, then I wouldn't necessarily say that all of them have to—'a regard' is probably the right phrasing for that.

Okay. Thank you very much. Stephen, did you want to come in on this as well?

Well, I'll pull up what Rosie said, and then perhaps talk about the 'have regard' point a bit further. If you think about people who generate noise, arguably, everybody, and especially an 'authority', in quotes, who generates noise, must have regard to it; I'm thinking about the rail industry, the people around the highways. Those sorts of bodies should— must—have regard to it because they are one of the generators of noise, as well as the regulators, as Rosie said, the local authorities and so on. So, I think, in terms of the generic scope, it's probably right. I confess I don't know enough about Welsh structures, so I can't really comment in detail, but I'd certainly make sure the noise-makers, or the major noise-makers, are part of it and I think—. I don't think you have huge airports in Wales, but the airport authority probably ought to as well, if Cardiff Airport expands again.

The 'have regard to' is a slightly different thing; you're right that it's got a legal connotation, but in what way do they have regard to it, and what outcome is being achieved? I think that's where, again, I think there needs to be clarity in the strategy. You say you've got to have regard to it; well, that could be rather glib, to say, 'I have regard to that. That's okay; I'll move on again.' What do they actually have to do? I think then there needs to be some sort of objective, outcome objective, built into the strategy. Now, I'd caution against thinking, 'Oh, in that case, we'll put a noise limit in.' For reasons that it are probably far too long to go into now, that doesn't work, and, again, I'm borrowing from England, but, in fact, the aviation sector, which covers all of us, uses the phrase about limiting adverse effects or avoiding significant adverse effects. Now, using that language allows, then, when research comes along, for change. 'Oh, hang on a minute, we're having a much greater adverse effect than we thought'—you don't actually have to change the strategy, you just change the threshold where you start reacting to it, because of the evidence. It gives you flexibility. I think that's what I couldn't see at the moment, because, obviously, I haven't seen the strategy. You've got to have an outcome. What am I supposed to achieve, as a local authority, when having regard to it? So, that would be my suggestion.

11:15

Thank you, Stephen. Can I ask you—? Well, I'll Peter first, actually, and then I'll come back to Stephen, because Peter's put his hand up. And it was building on an earlier point that you made, Peter, when you were talking about that this shouldn't just be combating the adverse effects of noise pollution; it's also about making sure that people can be—I don't like the word 'exposed' in a positive way, but—people can be, in a good way, exposed to pleasant sounds like birdsong. Do you think that that should be made more concrete in terms of the wording? As well as what your general reflections would have been on the earlier question, please.

So, I won't add on the time frames and so forth. I think that's covered; I agree. I'll focus all of the effort on this, because I think it's really important. So, we have a very tangible understanding as to how to tackle negative outcomes of sound—less so in terms of what we want as outcomes for the positives. But we do now understand what makes us healthier and happier and so we can start there, and this is where the science just becomes more helpful. So, as yet undefined in terms of adverse impact—the opposite of that—sound that's actually pleasing to the ear is called 'euphonic'. So, it's a Greek word; it's 'pleasing to the ear'. It's very helpful just to have an alternative to 'noise', the corollary. So, I would say that, actually, another helpful thing to think about is restoration, and if you're creating something, a sustainable future, a place that is supportive, it's actually got to be regenerative. So, the outcome, to be regenerative, is actually taking the idea of sustainability a step further to say, 'We don't want it just to be sufficient not to harm, but we would really like, as an outcome, something to be so much more helpful that it will actually regenerate the situation.' So, this is where sound can be helpful in terms of intervention. So, if you're putting barriers in, if you're doing things that are dealing with noise control, things we understand well, you can then apply the engineering knowledge we have and use green infrastructure, for example, to give biodiversity a chance to then improve biodiversity net gain, which then has the benefit of bringing natural sound into the environment, so you end up with a regenerative environment. So not only do you protect the places that need to be protected, but then you add the benefit of improving the soundscape. Does that make sense?

Yes, certainly it does. And Chair, I think that Joyce may want to come in on this point.

Well, that's exactly the point I was just going to make. As somebody who wakes up in the morning and is lucky enough that all my neighbours, because I live in a terrace, have got trees, I go out with a cup of tea and listen to the birds, and I list them, because I do those things. But I've also noticed, walking around—I'm a very keen bird watcher, everybody knows that—that sound, pleasant sound, lifts your mood straight away. So, my question is: when we're developing, going forward, the policies that surround this, should we at all times be thinking about the positive that you've just mentioned, Peter, in everything that we do? And if we look at building more houses, which is a key plan for everybody, I've always been concerned about the removal of large hedgerows being replaced by a couple of trees. It doesn't quite balance things out, in my mind. So, there's a real opportunity here, I think, to redress the imbalances that currently exist, particularly in planning, house planning, where people go in and clear the ground, regardless, before they start building anything. So, is it an opportunity to redress some of that devastating impact of what we do and change the way we do it?

11:20

I'm aware that I am speaking a bit too much at the moment, but I will just pick up the point, if I may. Absolutely, yes. This is what's wonderful about including soundscape in the Bill, in that it's giving the opportunity for the best current-state knowledge to be implemented now, exactly when we need it to be. If this is delayed, then this damage and harm will continue, so the opportunity really is now to use the best knowledge that we have available and that we can inject directly into local solutions, which is very important, because, of course, context is everything. How you perceive those birds in the morning or your environment is your own experience of that, and, as you say, you can instantly feel less stressed. And this is the great thing about it—if you get it right, then it's only a positive point. What has to be balanced, though, of course, is things like vibrancy, in the fact that we need to have a range of things going on, which some people will perceive to be noisy and unwanted. So, it is a complex thing, so this is why the specialist advisory group has been suggested, because to take science that is emerging as we are seeing it now and then implement it directly at the front line, to have that benefit, requires nimbleness that I don't think we've had before, and I think this is a great opportunity from that perspective. 

Just a quick point, and it's something I can say, because I've had no personal involvement in this at all, but one of the challenges as acousticians that we have is that we get involved in developments far too late. With a housing development, we're often presented with a design and a layout and they say, 'Well, what interspatials do we need to make this work?' And picking up the point that Peter Rogers was saying, if the acoustician got in there early enough, the whole point about, 'Do you really need to dig up all these trees?', because the trees are good for birds and good for soundscape—. Rosie, I'm sure, would support this, that, if she got more involved in projects earlier on, that, again, would help. As I said, we have this struggle throughout the country, that we always seem to come in far too late, and we are presented with almost a fait accompli, and it's that classic thing, 'Well, how do you get to the end result?' 'Well, I wouldn't start from here.' If we got more involved in it early on then the broad soundscape issues could come in and then roll through to good acoustic design of the properties and so on. So, that would be a plea I would make on behalf of the profession. 

Thank you so much, and, by the way, I love that idea of the word 'euphonic'—what a wonderful word. Thank you for sharing that with us as well. 

My final question is about how the strategy on soundscapes—. The fact that it is being presented together with the air quality strategy, and what your opinion is on that. The proposals about the soundscape strategy, they quite closely mirror the strategy relating to air quality. Do you think that that works? And also, if I could ask you, finally: are there any either international examples or examples closer to home where these two approaches have been taken together, and have they been effective, please—or are there lessons that should be learned from that?

Shall I pick up on that one? My concern with—. I think it's great, the opportunity of the air pollution approach and soundscape coming into it—opportunistic, well done. But, actually, the dynamics of how we react to and the health effects from poor air quality, and the well-being potential and the health effects of poor sound—they diverge very quickly. I think, again, this point that I made earlier about noise has been seen as a cinderella pollutant—if there was a separate strategy on soundscapes and all that entails, I think it would have more of an impact. So, I would support that.

In terms of the relationship, you can understand it. Road traffic is the obvious example, where those who happen to live on busy roads get noise and they get air pollution. But there are synergies, and, in fact, DEFRA did some research about 20 years ago looking at synergies and conflicts, and I believe that the Welsh Government updated that a few years ago. Sometimes, measures to reduce noise will also reduce air pollution; sometimes they will work against each other.

So, for road traffic, I can see why putting the two together would work. I think it gets a bit less obvious as you look at other sources. But, because of the dynamics of how we as people are affected by noise and sound and how we are affected by poor air quality, I would advocate keeping it separate. And again, it keeps the profile up, because there's a discrete soundscape strategy. 

11:25

Thank you, Stephen. Was there anything that anyone else wanted to add to that? Peter.

A quick point. In the previous session you had, session four, Chris Ashley from RHA made a point around electric vehicles, and that low speed would lead to low noise et cetera and inferred, I think, that it wasn't going to be an issue in the future. I just wanted to correct the situation, which is that, at low speed, that is true, in the sense that there's no engine noise. But the reality is, as speed increases, then you reach a point where the noise that's generated from the tyre on the surface then dominates. So, actually, that won't change. So, just to clear up the understanding. Therefore, it is around managing the opportunity for lower noise levels at lower speeds, and of course this link with air pollution there is very interesting. We're not suggesting that it is not there, but I think that it's just that the strategies to cater for all noise, all sound, would have to have the freedom to not be fully constrained by air quality.

Yes, just to pick up on Peter's point. Even at those speeds, electric vehicles are not necessarily going to be quiet. Because of the concerns about blind and partially sighted people not hearing the vehicles coming, there is, in the depths of some regulation, the need to make AVAS—I've forgotten what the initials stand for now, but it's basically added sound, and there are people researching what is the best sound. So, there will be sound coming from an electric vehicle when it's at low speed to warn partially sighted and blind people that they're around. But, yes, the simple one is the motorway. If you're within half a mile of a motorway, it will sound the same with electric vehicles as with the current fleet, because it's all tyre noise. 

Thank you, Delyth. We've touched a little bit on planning, but we're going to delve a lot deeper now. Janet, over to you now. 

Thank you, Chair. In your written evidence, you suggest that some developers are wary of the proposed approach to sound and noise assessment. Could you expand on this? Also, are developers' concerns directly related to the Bill provisions or to the possible policy content of any national strategy? 

So, I'll jump in on that one. So, that's been my experience with some of the clients that I deal with, that they've heard about soundscape is coming out in the Bill and in the policy, and they're just a bit nervous, having read through everything that they have seen so far. They don't really understand it, and they're worried that there'll be cost implications for them, in terms of more detailed assessments and, potentially, additional mitigation that they would need to include.

But I wouldn't say that that's a concern about pushing on with the Bill or the guidance. Because, actually, that's our job, as the consultant, to pave the way for them and make it clear what the guidance is and what the Bill is for. So, yes, I think that it's fine. It just has been something that has been raised with me a few times.  

Thank you. The Royal Town Planning Institute has suggested that the role of the natural environment in addressing both air quality and soundscapes is not sufficiently reflected in the Bill or the explanatory memorandum. What are your views?

11:30

I'm not terribly sure exactly what they were driving at. When I saw this question emerge I had a look at their evidence. There has been a bit of a mood, and some people claim, that trees and shrubbery and that are good for attenuating sound. If you actually stood with a sound-level meter one side of a set of trees and the other side of a set of trees and—[Inaudible.]—you wouldn't actually measure a lot of difference. So, there is a sort of—. People advocating that trees are good for reducing sound, there is a touch of a psychological thing, I think; there's a bit of 'out of sight, out of mind'. So, in terms of the physical level, there's probably not a lot of difference, but people find that if they can't see the source it doesn't seem to be quite as bad. But that's really just a germ of a feeling, rather than anything particularly scientific, so I'm personally struggling a little bit to understand exactly where they're coming from on this. I don't know if my colleagues can help. 

I would generously interpret that, I think, to say that I think there is an understanding—and there is evidence supporting that there is an acoustic argument for greening, that's supportive of it. It's marginal, but it's definitely there. So, whether you're talking about soft ground—so, how ground is planted, if you think about agriculture, that can change how sound travels over distance—or, indeed, you're talking about margins of trees and how dense and how thick and how broad the leaves are, things like that, these can change things, and, if we're thinking about how we are greening our areas, towns, cities, it's relevant. So, I do understand it from that perspective. I think we just need to make sure that this is a science-based exercise and we are able to help provide the evidence base for that. In fact, we, from the parliamentary side of things, are trying to provide a couple of pages of helpful notes on these sorts of things just so that you have a central place to refer to. So, we're happy to make that sort of thing available when appropriate. 

Thanks, Janet. Are you content with that? It seems to me this, more than anything, stresses the need for that advisory group to work through some of this detail and both the evidence base that's needed, but also to engage with some of those concerns that have been raised about to what extent the natural environment, indeed, can play a part, but the other factors as well that can be used to mitigate challenges within the soundscape. Let us go on, then— 

Just a very brief point, if I may, and it's just really important to the understanding of this whole topic, and that is that there are the acoustic factors that affect what goes on, which we are very happy with, but there are the non-acoustic factors, i.e., maybe what you've had for breakfast this morning or the film you watched last night, because, quite often, sound can become a proxy for lots of other things. So, I just wanted to recognise that the science steers us in a direction but, of course, we do have to consider that there is how it looks, for example, with the barriers—the tree barriers et cetera. It looks quieter, therefore there potentially is an effect, and we're not diminishing that, but it's just, when we're trying to unpick it in terms of the science, we start to identify that there's a general understanding, but there is then the evidential side of things, and I think this is where it would be very helpful to take everybody with us. 

I'm familiar, from a very different area that I used to be involved with, with the concept of perceptual carrying capacity, which can vary from individual to individual. So, my idea of how many people are welcome on a mountain when I'm walking is zero; for other people, they'd be happy with more. I suspect there's a similar aspect here about what your own perceptual carrying capacity is in terms of noise, types of noise, background that's welcome, background that's intrusive and so on. Crikey, how are we going to unravel all of this? Well, we'll rely on you as experts, I think. Let's go on to a final section of questioning, now, which Joyce is going to take us into, please. 

Right. I'm unmuted now. Going back to the Bill, and you have said that section 22(2), which provides that the national soundscape strategy, and I quote,

'must include policies for assessing and reducing...noise pollution.'

You seem to have issues with that. Do you want to explain it?

11:35

This is me, I'm afraid, and it's long experience of giving expert evidence about proposals and being cross-examined by barristers, with apologies if there are any barristers on the committee. But, when you comes to a particular case, my experience is they leave no stone unturned in order to find wins for their side. Having the phrase 'reducing levels of noise pollution' on the face of the Bill could be interpreted as meaning the Welsh Government doesn't ever want noise to increase anywhere ever again for anyone. Of course, in reality, that can't work at the moment with our technological capabilities and developments and so on. So, I think it is—'dangerous' is probably too strong a word, but it could have unintended consequences if you had on the face of the Bill that you want to reduce noise levels. Of course, we do want to reduce noise levels, but, having it there in black and white, I could imagine beings saying, 'Well, Mr Turner, you're raising the noise level of this property by 2 dB, but Welsh Government says they want to reduce noise levels, therefore, you can't go ahead and do this.' So, we suggested in our written evidence perhaps some alternative wording to then use the strategy to explain what is actually intended. We talk about effective management, because that allows for a little bit of nuance in terms of what is actually applied in a particular situation.

The other element of this is the risk of noise being treated in isolation, i.e., 'We will reduce levels at any cost, regardless.' Now, reference was made to the pandemic and how delightful it was to be able to hear the birds. But the economic impact of the lockdown was huge, and I think it's important in managing noise that you take proper account of the social and economic benefits of the noise-making activity as well as assessing the noise pollution, assessing the soundscape benefits of it and so on. It's that context point that, on the face of the Bill, if you just had 'reduce levels' there, is lost, but, if you had slightly different language on the face of the Bill, the strategy then could cover all these points and that point I made earlier about and then also including the objective for regulators and so on on what do they have to achieve in having regard to it.

I would definitely agree with everything that Stephen said there. My side concern on it would be, because I deal with environmental health departments often, if a development were looking like it might pollute, then they would potentially feel obliged to recommend refusal of a development, whether it's got a good soundscape or not, if they're trying to reduce pollution levels. So, that would be a big concern for me.

Okay. You also say that the national soundscape strategy could include targets relating to reducing overall exposure to noise. Is that something that you'd like to see explicitly provided for in the Bill, and, if you would, are you aware of any existing targets relating to tackling noise pollution?

Again, I think it doesn't necessarily have to be on the face of the Bill, but you could include the words 'include targets'. We don't yet have it in England, although I think you've heard reference made that we were privileged to give evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, and one of the things that we were advocating as an institute to them is there ought to be a strategy in England that includes targets about the overall impact of noise. It will be easier to do from transportation sources, because the noise mapping gives you the data. There would be numbers of people exposed to a certain level—trying to see that always reduce from what's probably quite a high level, I would guess. Or you could translate that into the numbers of people likely to be highly annoyed, or you could take it even one stage further and use the information from the World Health Organization to look at, actually, the direct health effects in what are called disability-adjusted life years, and get those reduced. Or the further step again: what that cost is of that noise impact. But that, then, would give you the drive to reduce noise levels—which I think I can see the Welsh Government has been wanting to occur—but not having the words ‘reduce levels’ on the face of the Bill. So, it’s another way of achieving what I think is your objective.

11:40

You briefly mentioned, then, Stephen, some data. Is there enough data already to allow the development, and therefore the monitoring of targets? In other words, if we don’t know what it is, how do we measure it?

What there is in Wales—and we also have in England—is the result of the noise mapping. And as I touched on earlier, this comes out of the environmental noise regulations that require certain roads to be mapped every five years and hence the five-year timescale feels about right, again—going back to that previous point. And that gives you, in essence, the noise levels outside people’s properties and so on. If that is expanded through this Bill into mapping all roads—and I think the technology is increasing so that that can happen relatively straightforwardly—you then have the data about the noise levels. You can associate that with population to get numbers of people, and so on.

Now, as I think the Welsh Minister pointed out, it doesn’t tell you what people experience in their homes, because obviously, people might have different forms of sound insulation—they might have single glazing, double glazing, or whatever—but it gives you an indication of the levels outside their property, which could be then used to try and reduce this. Because obviously, if you reduce noise levels outside, by definition, you'd reduce levels inside regardless of what the sound insulation is.

So, that’s where the data would come from, and the regular five-yearly updating of those noise maps from road traffic, from railways and any aviation sources that you could have, it tackles transportation noise and we might as well—we've got to start somewhere, so let’s start there.

Yes. I think it’s picking up on the fact that, if you can measure it, then there’s a good chance that you can do something about it and you can do it in a meaningful way. But bearing in mind where we’ve started from, in terms of acoustics, we’ve often been dealing with the consequences of the industrial revolution, and we’re still really in that phase. So, we’re very good at tackling the worst examples, and have done for a long time, and transportation is an example of that. So, noise mapping has evolved to effectively quantify something that does need to be tackled, but essentially, is a symptom of a bygone time. Things will evolve and that’s great, but it would be great also to remember that, if we are going to tackle noise pollution properly, then, we’ve got to consider all of those other sources beyond transportation, and also consider the opportunity that that then presents, once you’ve measured it and demonstrated that you have, for example, protected certain areas, then you can move into the soundscape approach, in terms of how you can improve things—the quality of those environments.

So, the two go hand in hand, and I would just endorse the fact that acoustics is here to help us quantify the sound elements, which we can do, but, of course, we then have to move through and implement the outcomes, to get the outcomes we want, using things like the noise control measures, but also soundscape approach. So, if that’s helpful.

Really fascinating. We’ve covered all the substantive areas I think that we need to, but before we finish, can I just check with my committee colleagues: is there anything you want to ask further, investigate further, or are you happy, before we leave our guests go? Delyth.

Sorry to the engineers; I always unmute myself and forget you’re going to do it. Forgive me, I’m sorry.

It’s building on the earlier questions that Joyce had asked you near the beginning of the session in terms of raising people’s awareness. This is such a wonderful opportunity to bring this to people’s attention. The word ‘soundscapes’ on the face of the Bill is not the most—. People are probably not going to understand what that means. Building on what you've said already to Joyce, are there particular ways that you think that, not just promoting awareness, but ways in which the public themselves could be brought on board with this so that they see that it's not just something that is going to be telling people that you can and can't do this or that, but actually, as we've been talking throughout the session, that this is a real opportunity to improve our quality of life?

11:45

If I could start. The great thing about soundscape is that it is the perception of the sound of our environment by people. So, everybody has a clue as to what it is. You all have already shared some of your own examples, but, in acoustics, often, we've been talking about strange things like decibels and parameters that nobody, really, in the public can get their heads around. And this is an opportunity to completely change that and make it to a point where it's intuitive. People understand that natural sound is a good thing and if they've got evidence that helps them understand how they can feel better—.

The other thing is that sound connects us, so, within communities, if you're building communities that work and where people aren't isolated, as they age—and we're ageing and thinking about planning to age well—this becomes an underpinning thing, which, conceptually, is straightforward. People understand noise in their minds, but they don't have, and never have had, the vocabulary, really, to understand euphony on the other end of the scale and the fact that these things are important to their health and well-being. We know when we walk onto a beach that, physiologically you actually change your heart rate to coincide with the waves and your breathing, so, everything changes because—. And what's quite worrying is that we now spend over 90 per cent of our time inside, as humans, and we are all also moving into a more densely populated situation. So, if you're thinking about sustainability, this is a great chance to actually make it mean something tangible and embed it in our thinking of how we design future communities. 

On the back of Delyth's question, I'm just going to offer the opportunity to Stephen and then Rosie of any final comments, either in response to Delyth's question or anything else you think that we might have missed or you think is important. Stephen.

Following up on that, as I touched on earlier when speaking, I think you need to take everybody from the position of reminding them that anywhere they are, around them, there is a soundscape—it's what they can hear—and they then react to it depending on what's causing it, how they feel and all the rest of it. I think there's got to be a bit of a narrative to take them through and then you get to the point and say, 'Well, historically, we've really focused on the bad stuff and trying to make it less bad. We've now got an opportunity, and we realise it's good to try and enhance the good stuff and protect what we already have that's good as well', which we haven't really touched on, but, of course, that obviously, can be part of the strategy as well. So, I'd be prepared to have a few pages or a few slides taking people through the stages and starting from where they are, 'I'm a person standing here—what I can hear'.

For my final point, I'd just reinforce and be clear about the objectives so that those having regard to them know what they are trying to achieve—it isn't simply about a noise limit. And also, remember that the things that generate noise/sound have a social and economic benefit and we need to take that properly into account as well.

Yes. I think, in terms of people's understanding of it, what I found helpful was likening it to landscapes. Everyone understands what a landscape is and you don't want to have a skyscraper in the countryside; people get that and it's the same with noise then—there are certain things that you want in certain places. 

And I think, a final point from me is that I want to drive home the element of it supporting a vibrant city soundscape as well as keeping the natural environment, because I think the quiet areas, the countryside, are quite well protected by existing guidelines anyway, but there are certain things that are very limited in what you might want to do in a city. I think just a quick example is that, in Cardiff, there are teams in the council that have been trying for years to get an outside entertainment area, but they keep getting blocked by noise, because it doesn't meet certain noise limits. So, I think if a soundscape plan were put in there, then there would be a nice space where we could put things on and provide enjoyment and benefit the economy—all sorts of positive outcomes like that.

11:50

Excellent. Thank you very much indeed. We have run out of time now, but I just want to thank our three witnesses for their evidence today. It really has been illuminating. If there is anything else that the three of you want to send to us, subsequent to this discussion, please do get in touch with our clerks. We'll provide the transcript as per normal, so just check that for accuracy afterwards in case we've misquoted you or mis-attributed you or anything, although we don't do that normally, I've got to say. But thank you very much. We hope you'll all keep involved, and that the profession will keep involved, with the development of this legislation as it goes through. And it's good to hear from you, by the way, that, if we do take this through, in a good shape, onto the statute book, we will, once again in Wales, be leading the way, so that's good to hear. Let's try and do it right. Thank you all very much. We'll let you go, now, to everything in your busy days.

Could I just say to my committee colleagues that we will return at 12:15? So, we have a short break now for lunch. We'll return at 12:15 for a quick pre-meet before we go into public at 12:20 on the subject of the sustainability of Welsh bus services. So, I'll see you all back here shortly. Thank you very much. I'll just check that we've gone into private in case anybody needs to have a word with me or anything.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:51 ac 12:28.

The meeting adjourned between 11:51 and 12:28.

12:25
4. Cynaliadwyedd Gwasanaethau Bysiau Cymru - sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda gweithredwyr bysiau
4. Sustainability of Welsh Bus Services - evidence session with bus operators

Wel, croeso nôl, pawb. Welcome back to this afternoon's session of our committee. We've had two evidence sessions this morning on a different area, but, this afternoon, we are focusing very much on sustainability of Welsh bus services. And we begin this afternoon with an evidence session with bus operators, and we've got about an hour of time with Scott Pearson, the chair of the Coach and Bus Association Cymru and Aaron Hill, director of the Confederation of Passenger Transport Cymru, as well. You're both very welcome indeed. We're looking forward to this session this afternoon. So, later on, we'll be taking other evidence from local government and service users as well.

But if we can begin, please, with Delyth; if you want to open this session up for us. 

Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Prynhawn da i'r ddau ohonoch chi. 

Thank you very much, Chair. And good afternoon to both of you. 

By the way, I'll be leaving the session part way through, so it won't be because of anything that you've said if you see me turn my camera off. So, I just wanted to apologise to you in advance that I'll be leaving before the end. 

I wanted to ask you about what you think the current condition of Welsh local bus services is at the moment, and talk us through some of the pressures that are on the delivery of services at the moment, and maybe feeding that in to why bus passenger numbers are in decline, or have been in decline.

12:30

I'm happy to respond first to that one, Delyth. Thanks for that question. I suppose the starting point here is there's been a long-term decline in passenger numbers in the bus industry since the 1980s, with only really two exceptions to that in the last 40 or so years. The first was after the deregulation of bus services, there was a small increase then, and we saw a slightly more sustained increase after the introduction of concessionary passes in the mid 2000s. But if you take the 10 years prior to the pandemic, between 2009 and 2019, we saw a drop of 22 per cent from 130 million passenger journeys in Wales to 101 million.

Now, there's a huge range of factors affecting that—an increase in affordable finance for cars, for example, wider road policy, congestion, lots going on there—but the predominant factor in that is service reduction. Now, there's a nuance in that service reduction because that has largely been driven by a reduction in Government support. So, over the period I referred to, the reduction in supported miles—those run through tendered contracts—has gone down by more than 50 per cent, whereas the commercial mileage run by operators in Wales has increased by about 5 or 6 per cent in the same period.

So, we already faced a challenge pre COVID. COVID has come along and blown a hole in everything. So, we all know what the impact of that was on public services across the board. We were in a position of hardly anybody being on the bus throughout the pandemic. But we've then also seen the slowest recovery from that pandemic in terms of passenger numbers across the UK. So, again, lots of factors there. We know that we had the tightest lockdown restrictions and the slowest opening. We've also seen much more in terms of public sector working from home—we're hosting this meeting virtually today.

So, there is lots going on that is driving that reduction in passenger numbers, and meaning that the industry has to adapt to a new world. But that recovery is still slow. So, currently, we're at around 80 per cent of pre-COVID passenger numbers, but the concessionary recovery in particular in Wales has been poor, so we've not seen concessionary passengers come back in huge numbers. I think there's real variation across the piece, but 50 to 60 per cent in some areas, so a huge drop off there. Traditionally, Wales has also been the most reliant part of the UK on those concessionary journeys to sustain the industry and to make it commercially viable.

Now, at the same time, over the last three years, we've seen costs for bus operators increase by more than 25 per cent, largely driven by increasing staff and fuel costs. And all of this has tipped what was a finely balanced commercial model off kilter, and means that many services aren't commercially viable anymore. So, the funding that's been provided by Government over recent years—the bus emergency scheme funding, you'll all be familiar with it—has been hugely important in sustaining those services, hugely valued by the industry and the industry's enormously grateful for that support from Welsh Government, but we're not out of the woods yet, and that recovery still hasn't got us to a position where we would be out of the woods were that funding to come to an end tomorrow. Now, if that funding ended tomorrow and we returned to a commercial-only network, we'd likely see around 20 per cent of services cut in Wales. That hides huge regional variations, it hides huge nuance, particularly in rural areas—that might be the viability of the whole operator, we might see bus services withdrawn from whole communities; it's not just about 15 to 20 per cent across the board.

It also hides the complexity of frequency changes and service amendments that would be needed to sustain commerciality in some places. So, to give an example, in one part of Wales, we've been working through this, it's estimated that only 20 per cent of services in that region would remain untouched, because, as well as those cuts, there would also be the changes to frequency and the amendments you would see. So, it's a really difficult position we find ourselves in. There's no straightforward route out of this, and we all share the vision and aspirations around this table of growing the bus industry, moving people towards more sustainable transport and realising the benefits of that. But the starting point is much more difficult today than it was pre pandemic.

Thank you for that. The BES funding is something that the committee is going to come back to in detail in the session, certainly. Scott, is there anything that you would add to that? And if I can also ask a supplementary question to that to you, is there anything in addition to Government support or complementing any Government support that you think could be done to try to bring about changes in people's habits so that people want to go on the bus more so that we learn from, maybe, other parts of the UK, like London, or other parts of the world where it is more of a social norm for everyone to get the bus to work—for that to be more of a norm? Do you think that that is just Government support, or do you think that there are other behavioural things that could be used to bring that about, please?

12:35

Thank you. I think I'll start off with a bit of a more positive view on passenger numbers. We're starting to see growth across Wales now, and it's something that's happened over the past four to six months, because we've had reasonable stability in networks, so customers are relying on these services and can see that they are being reliable. The factor affecting that is, now, with BES about to collapse, effectively, we're going to see a potential change in networks. That's one thing that customers across the world will rely on, 'My bus is reliable. I know it's going to come. I'm going to get it', and that's one of the things that modal shift is shown to work, if that's there. If we remove funding just now, from BES, then we're going to lose that reliability, we're going to lose some services, and potentially, we'll lose customers forever after COVID; they're coming back—. The concessions are a big concern, simply because, there needs to be a piece of work done on this, on why they're not coming back. They are coming back to the coach business; so they're going back onto coaches across the UK, but they're not coming back onto buses, and they're on the coach a lot longer than they're on a bus. So, I would be welcoming a piece of work on this to find out why. 

You asked a question about, 'What can be done?'. Well, I think we all recognise that reform is required post the Transport Act 1985, and the regulations of 1986—that's a given, I think. And I think that we have to look at not just funding over the next three to four months, or panic measures about, 'How can we sustain buses?' but we're looking at five or ten years of a proper plan on services. My concern about that now is that, if we're starting to see growth, and we pull the rug from under us, those passengers will leave and our starting position will be a lot lower, given whatever we do to reform the system beyond 31 March next year.

So, I think reform is required, and I think we have to take some examples, from across Europe especially, on how it's done. So, there are a lot of models out there of public, public and private  and private only that do work, but it comes across as being the network is so important. What is it that people require it to do? What do they want it for? How do we get that person out of his car and into bus? How can we do a reallocation of road space? How can we get local authorities on side? The car is not king anymore; we can't sustain it much longer as it is. So, all these things have to be brought into the forum. Let's get them talked about; let's not hide behind corners of a room saying, 'This is bad, and that's bad'. Let's openly say what it is: 'We can't afford to continue using cars, in city centres especially'.

I can give examples of Newport in my own operation: we're now at 44 electric vehicles, and where I'm seeing growth is on the services that have the electric vehicles. So, there's clearly a mandatory thing from the customers making that choice of coming across to an environmental choice, to electric vehicles. So, we should be using that information and data, which we're happy to provide as an industry—you see that in Cardiff and Newport—to show that working.

But, I don't think there's one solution to do it all, unfortunately, Delyth; I think it will be a very vast amount of different angles to do it. It will require public support; it will require private support as well. We can do this together, and this partnership working has to be the way forward. Why should Government be facing big, massive bills for supporting the bus industry when we could come to the table with a variety of solutions and money, as well? And especially in the electric part of this as well. There's a lot of money out there in the power side of things that is looking to help us do this kind of work.

So, I think there's a whole plethora of different issues there that we can take on board, but there is a better way, absolutely. Please don't pull the rug from under us just now when we're seeing some growth in passenger levels now, or else you're going to have a bigger mountain to climb going forward. I hope that answers your question.

Thank you very much, Delyth. You covered a lot of ground, the two of you there, in your opening remarks. Sorry—it was remiss of me not to welcome Heledd Fychan and Carolyn Thomas to our committee this afternoon. Carolyn, you'd like to come in on this.

12:40

Can I just get clarification on that figure, the percentage figure of concessionary fares that have not come back? So, is it 50 to 60 per cent that have not come back, or 40 per cent that have not come back?

So, it varies across Wales, but 50 to 60 per cent have come back. And that's an average figure and there will be variations. So, some are telling me that it's closer to three quarters that have returned, but, across the piece, we're looking at 50 to 60 per cent have returned.

Okay. And regarding routes that are commercially viable, on top of the bus emergency scheme grant, they also receive the bus services support grant and money towards fuel, don't they? So, if you remove that as well, then would they be commercially viable at all?

Thank you. And, Scott, for you, the question—to move these people with concessionary passes, to get them back on—. I've also heard that they are moving to private bus companies, so, they're still booking trips, and coach trips are growing so much, do you think that the non-returning concessionary fare payers could be something to do with confidence, maybe, or reliability? Because, if you book a trip, you know when that bus is going to turn up, where it's going, how long it'll take, and it will definitely bring you back home in time. So, do you think that, post COVID, it's that confidence of coming back on to buses?

I think, post COVID, definitely. We had politicians saying, 'Don't go on public transport'. We understand why. We need the same politicians to say, 'Do you know what, we support bus, get back on it', and I've set out publicly a challenge to Mark to do that—to get out there and show support for public transport. Because people will follow what you say and, clearly, they have done.

And finally, on that. Do you think it would be worth while now doing a campaign before the BES support ends at the end of July—do a campaign now to get those concessionary fare passengers back on to public transport, rather than wait till the end of July?

My fear is that if we do a campaign now and then July comes and we start to cut services, politically, that would be an absolute nightmare, and operationally, that would be causing more complaints: 'You're promoting this and you've just now cut my bus service'. So, I think there's a combination of two things at the same time. It requires a campaign—absolutely, Do we require funding to 31 March to get us there and give you time to then do something different and reform? Absolutely.

Thanks, Carolyn. Very helpful indeed there. Could I just ask you, can you let us into the trade secrets here? How are the discussions going with Welsh Government, specifically on the bus emergency scheme funding? Is it, as you described, Scott, that that is now 'dead in the water', it is going to go on a date, as described, or is there talk around any phasing or any other funding that's been talked about, or any possibilities? Because you've describe this, Scott, as a potentially very bright future, as long as we can get through this current impasse where the cliff edge of funding appears right in front of us. So, how are the discussions going, what can you tell us?

The transparency and openness of officials is very good now. We're having very constant discussions with them about what's required. I think their challenge is the amount of funding available to them, and the quantum is basically unspent moneys on the concessionary fares budget, because of the lack of travellers there. I think that that's not going to be enough to get us through to 31 March. I think that that's been recognised by the officials, and the Deputy Minister, to be fair, but I think restrictive-wise—and it's something I've been saying publicly—across the whole Government, and especially the Cabinet, they should look at their portfolios and look at the effect that bus services going would do to their own portfolio and say, 'No, let's support bus'. I think Ministers must prioritise protecting vital bus services, or else we'll not have that going forward, beyond this period of—[Inaudible.]—some growth. Some growth being maintained is ultimately going to benefit the public funding, because you'll require less, as more services become viable. So, I think we have to find some way, and I don't know what that is internally, but some way of maintaining all the services that we have just now to 31 March, to give officials time to reform.

12:45

Anything you want to add to that? I wonder if you want to touch—and I'll come back to you, Scott—on what the Minister has described as the transitional period, the fact that he's found some money to extend this period, so that we can have those discussions, and so on. As Scott has described, there's still a gap there, but Aaron, what's your take on it?

I would agree with that, and I think the situation as of today is that there’s really strong partnership working with officials. We’re meeting daily and with the Deputy Minister, who’s having a weekly call with the industry, and I think there is genuine partnership working to try and find a way through this. The operators have identified the routes that won’t stack up commercially after the end of the bus emergency scheme, they’ve shared that information on the costs of sustaining that with Transport for Wales and with officials and local authorities, and the sums are being done behind the scenes as we speak, to kind of work out what the bill would be to sustain the current network.

I think, as Scott says, the reality is that any funding that’s available is not likely to be enough. But we’re not talking about hundreds of millions of pounds here, and I think the sad reality of the impact of that in terms of potential job losses, in terms of—. And when we talk about job losses, we’re talking about people who won’t return to the industry. If they find other jobs, they’re not going to come back and be a bus driver again in six or 12 months, should we resolve the situation then. Is it worth throwing that out for what could be £5 million or £10 million, perhaps a little bit more? And I think that’s the consideration we need to see, not just from the Deputy Minister, who I think has said there’s a really strong commitment to buses, but from across the Cabinet table, and the impact that that has, as Scott says, on wider services.

The other thing I’d say here is that pace is really, really key. We really have to put a bit of fire under the Government to get things moving quickly. If services are to be cut, there are legal requirements for the industry to deregister routes and register new routes; there are legal requirements in terms of potential redundancy consultations should jobs be put at risk, and we’re in a position where those things need to start kicking off in the next few weeks, and uncertainty will breed those things happening, perhaps unnecessarily if funding is found. So, the industry needs certainty as soon as we can possibly have it from the Deputy Minister and from officials. I think that’s where we’re falling out at the moment—it’s getting that pace and getting that movement happening as quickly as we can. There are still lots of unknowns, and we’re all working in the dark a little bit as to what the final solution might be.

Scott, just back to you for any further comments you want to add, but Aaron has just thrown a figure at us, quite helpfully, of £5 million to £10 million. Is that in the ballpark?

I think that—[Inaudible.]—guesses here, but you're not far away from that, on top of the £20 million underspend on the mandatory concessionary fare scheme, if that's what it is. That's the sad part of this. Do you really want to throw away an industry for the sake of £8 million to £10 million? One of my own bugbears is that we're chucking an immense amount of money at rail. I understand that rail has a different dynamic, a different cost base, but we're protecting that hand over fist. For the sake of another £10 million to get us to 31 March next year, or whatever that may be—. If it is £28 million in total, it's not a big quantum of funding given comparisons to what you have in rail, given that 76 per cent of the public who travel choose bus, and 24 per cent choose rail. So, effectively, we're going to affect a higher percentage of people because of not supporting bus services.

Okay, brilliant. Look, what I'm going to do is, we're going to come back and delve into some of those related issues in a moment, but I'm going to go on to Carolyn now. Now, Carolyn, you had your hand up anyway, so please go ahead with whatever you wanted to pick up on in that last line of questioning, but take us also into the other areas that you wanted to as well. 

Okay, it was just regarding the underspend in concessionary fares, and I wondered if that is something that is being looked at to fill this gap in funding.

Yes, they have. They're openly stating that fact, that there is an underspend, but they've not quite got a handle yet on what that is yet. But that has been there, and I think they've already said that that would be used to protect the bus services. So, 'yes' on that fact. 

And when you're saying 31 March, you mean until the next financial year 31 March, rather than ending 24 July.

Simply to give officials time to reform properly and not just give us another knee-jerk reaction in a very short space of time. 

That's significant. I think I can speak quite well on this one because of Newport Transport. We've got 30 buses that go out every day to take learner travellers to school. There's a difference there between those who can achieve a season ticket and those who can't. Those who can't achieve a season ticket are the commercial passengers, and the numbers don't stack up to continue these vehicles.

12:50

Okay. There have been talks about how many schoolchildren use the commercial vehicles. We call them 'commercial' even though they're not commercially viable—you know, the public transport. But it's all mixed, isn't it? It's interrelated together, whether it's private operators, et cetera. We need those to deliver school children and the learner travel Measure.

We do, indeed, but don't think that just protecting learner travel is going to be the caveat to solving all of the problems. Sorry, but it's just not; I've heard that said before, sorry—

No, no. I get that. I understand totally. It's so interwoven. So, we have already touched on the current set of discussions within the Welsh Government on the bus emergency scheme. So, it sounds like it's ongoing at the moment—the conversation—which is really good, and the fact that the draft budget initially included £28 million, but four weeks later it was in doubt. So, when and where were you aware of this change?

They came to us at the beginning of February to say that all budgets were being looked at, and that was when the process then started to remove funding, or funding was not being secured beyond 31 March 2023. Subsequently, through February and into March, there was a recognition that they had to do something to extend, to allow themselves time to consider all of these avenues. And then, that £28 million was used to get us to 24 July 2023. So, our gap now is 24 July 2023 to 31 March 2024.

Okay. And the BES grant was brought in, I think, because it was COVID recovery funding, wasn't it, which is now not there from the UK Government to the Welsh Government. But there is that bus services support grant funding as well, which is quite significant. Is that £150 million, or something like that? Do you know how much that is?

It's £25 million for BSSG, and it was cut by 27 per cent in 2014 and hasn't received any indexation increases since then. So, it's not £150 million. It's £25 million.

It's £25 million. Okay. Do you also still get the fuel allowance as well?

No. BSSG replaced the bus service operators grant. BSOG was the fuel allowance. That was replaced back in 2012-13 by BSSG, and based on mileage, not on fuel usage.

Carolyn, do you mind? We might return to some of these matters subsequently. It made sense to go ahead there—to leap ahead to your questions—but I wonder if we can just go slightly backwards, because I think that we can delve into these in some more detail in a moment. Janet, I wonder if we can come to you for the questions around the pressures around the sheer volume of transport-related issues.

Yes. Thank you, Chair. The leadership of the Welsh Local Government Association has written to the First Minister outlining the impact of what it describes as the

'sheer volume of transport related issues'.

Do you agree with this analysis, and if so, could you give details of how the sheer volume is impacting on the sustainability and recovery of bus services? I would just also add that we know that lots of the legislation that comes through the Welsh Government does have implications in terms of resources for local authorities. So, there will be the pressure from the enforcement side of things as well. But, yes, I just wondered what you thought about the sheer volume of transport-related issues.

Yes, I'm happy to come in first on that. It's really difficult for local government colleagues at the moment. Our local government colleagues are key, really, to that network planning and strategic transport role that they have. Budgets have been stretched over a number of years, and an enormous amount of capacity and expertise has been lost.

We find ourselves in the unenviable position today of having to work through some of the issues that we have already described, at pace, while also trying to deliver that policy change that you just described, Janet. I think that we challenge ourselves in Wales quite a lot on the delivery gap between policy and outcome, and the capacity of local authorities to deliver under that pressure is absolutely one of the reasons that we often don't get that right.

When it comes to the wider policy issues, the overwhelming sense that I have had from the industry on things like the 20 mph decision, the roads review, upcoming proposals around clean air and congestion charges, is that the industry needs to feel more involved in the consultation and decision-making process. I think that bus and coach can often be forgotten. So, while some of these policy decisions have aspirational aims to get people onto public transport, our vehicles use the same roads as cars and the same infrastructure, and buses and coach need to be a key consideration within that.

Speaking to Cardiff Bus a few weeks ago, they were talking about the difficulty at the moment of planning their service changes whilst also trying to plan for the number of huge events that will be taking place in Cardiff this summer, which mean they have to re-divert their rates. Are they going to have a decision on 20 mph roll-out for September? They don’t know. And when I talked about legal requirements, deregistration, registration of changes, all of those sorts of things, that plays in, and there are timescales that bus operators have to legally abide by to make the sorts of changes that are required here.

So, the pressure on local government is huge, but it also then plays out in the industry as well, and we just need—. It’s not a call on Government to not do those things; those things are important, and I don’t think they will be huge—. I mean, there will be some contention around some of those decisions, but we’re not going to have a huge falling out on those, but the volume of them at the same time creates an enormous amount of pressure and complication.

12:55

Thank you. And also, will the new governance system for public transport be effective, particularly considering the role of Transport for Wales and corporate joint committees?

So, I’ll let Scott talk a little bit more about the corporate joint committees, because he’s probably got a bit more experience at a local level. I think when it comes to Transport for Wales, we’re seeing Transport for Wales kind of emerging into the bus space in a much bigger way, particularly over the last few weeks as we plan for the post-BES world. And I think what we need is greater clarity over what that role exactly is. Transport for Wales has grown as an organisation. It’s recruited a growing number of people from local authorities with bus expertise, and the relationships at times, I think, with local government have been strained. And I think Transport for Wales would acknowledge that and would acknowledge that they’ve got work to do with bus operators and with the industry to talk about and make clearer what their role is. I suppose the worry is, TfW are the vision of Welsh Government, so TfW will have an even greater role in future with franchising and all that stuff going on, but we’re kind of sleepwalking into that position at the moment. There’s no absolute clarity and absolute communication of where they are playing the role. So, they’re plugging gaps in local authority capacity with some of the BES stuff, but we need more certainty around that. And at a local level, some of that tension has played out in operators feeling as if they’re almost mediating between local government and Transport for Wales. So I’ve had a number of operators say, 'It's not my role to be a mediator between these two kind of governmental bodies. I'm here to deliver bus services, and I want to play that role, but I'm increasingly having to step into that space.' So, I think, yes, a bit more clarity around the role, a bit more certainty about where that’s heading would be welcomed.

Really good responses there, Aaron, because we’ve got first-hand experience here in Aberconwy, where they took a really important bus route out, and so it was the bus operators, Welsh Government and Transport for Wales, and the local authority, and all that succeeded. I had the bus operators wanting to work with Transport for Wales, Transport for Wales wanting to work—. Bus operators wanted to work with local government and Welsh Government. In the end, it’s a mess; we’ve still not got our service back, and it’s been purely down to a lack of response from Transport for Wales, just not getting engaged, even though they are one of the partners.

So, how effective do you believe that Transport for Wales is going to be, given its increasing role in transport, its increasing role in governance, its increasing role in planning, and its increasing role in delivering? I haven’t got that much confidence, when this was a relatively very small scheme. But tell me I’m wrong, please.

I think the counter to that would be: it’s a relatively young organisation that is still kind of finding its feet, and that’s where some of that uncertainty about its role comes from. I think there is real value; Scott talked at the start about almost the need for an overall vision and strategy here for kind of where we’re headed in a post-COVID world.

There’s a real opportunity for a national body to set the tone and to set that policy direction and provide us with a framework to work within, and I don’t think there will be any huge resistance to that, but what we can’t lose within that is then local accountability and local expertise and knowledge, which local authorities have, so we have to get the interaction between those two organisations right.

Scott, did you want to come in on this? And, Carolyn, just to forewarn you, as I think you’d indicated previously you wanted to come in. But, Scott, anything you want to add at this moment?

Please. I’m known for being a TfW basher because they're not ready for it yet, and I'm being public—I'm very honest, unfortunately, to my detriment sometimes. Are TfW ready for bus now? No. Have they got a lot to learn? Yes. Can they? Yes, but not in 12 months, and not in two years. They can do it. It took Transport Scotland nearly nine years to get to where they are now and then it became a very big monster to control, but I think that you have to get clear policy. There's not clear policy on what 'bus' is just now, or what you want from bus. There's this anomaly that says, 'The networks are not right or this is not right or that's not right.' Well, come and show us then, talk to us, we'll help you do it. We have the expertise in our industry. And I can say this as a Newport Transport managing director: Cardiff Bus and Newport Bus, by default, you own, so sweat the asset, ask us questions; we won't charge you £1,000 a day, unless you want to pay that—I'm quite happy to take it.

But, no, we have to—. Where to start from? We're starting from the wrong position. We're trying to fix this with one switch across Wales. It won't happen in bus; it's far too complex. It can't happen in local or national government—again, this is far too complex. Start off regionally, build your CJCs properly, give them power and the funding to do so, get the expertise built up through there. Have TfW as an overarching control body, if you like, that can learn as it goes along, but you have to do it regionally, and then ask the regions to produce a regional transport plan. That will then feed into the rest of Wales. You're trying to do something here—. There doesn't appear to be a plan; it's about, 'We need to change the networks; we need to sort this, we need to sort that', but where's the plan? Where can I refer to that says, 'Yes, I'm on that stage here, I can do this next'? And we're so willing to be a part of all that, as an industry, and to use our expertise to help Transport for Wales and Government and local authorities, but we're not quite there yet, and I think the CJCs are absolutely the right place to start—not the knee-jerk, 'What can we do now?', and change it in a couple of months' time.

13:00

Okay, thank you. Following a decade of austerity, we've lost a lot of technical transport officers within local government, so do you believe that transport—? They just seem to be circulating between Transport for Wales and local authorities and going over to other sectors. So, do you think that the shortage of expertise in the pool of officers is an issue? So, you can't increase Transport for Wales expertise without taking from local authorities, but those local authority officers are still needed to deliver local transport and also to deliver through local authorities and the CJCs as well.

And also, the BSSG is divided up between regions—so, north Wales and other regions—and then again between each local authority, based on a formula, because each local authority area is different, as well as the fact that each region is different. So, each area gets different amounts of funding. So, do you believe, Scott, because you mentioned it—? You said that transport should be managed in regions, because of that local knowledge, but do you think that's still doable because local authority areas are very diverse in their own right as well? So, I remember, in Flintshire, there were 450 contracts—bus and taxi contracts—and 350 were school contracts. Wrexham is very different; Wrexham is based around the city of Wrexham, and Denbigh, Denbighshire is very different again.

So, I just want your view really on having that expertise, whether it's deliverable through CJCs, et cetera. Thank you.

I think the education piece is there. We've got to build to go forward. So, you have what you have just now, but why can't we then start to bring people in and train them on the industry sector, purely on bus? And, as has happened previously in Scotland, in both directions, we've had Transport Scotland and people come out to work in the industry and people in the industry work in Transport Scotland, to share that knowledge set across the piece, to have a mutual understanding. And that worked many years ago and I was party to that. I worked for Transport Scotland on secondment from Stagecoach many, many years ago, to do exactly that. So, the skillset is not there, but you have still got some skillset there to build on with the regional aspect of the industry. So, I think, yes, you can still do it. It's a hard one. It's a difficult one to do, but I just think we have to start someplace, and you'll not start it doing it nationally—you'll have to do it regionally. The local areas—. If I take you back, pre 2000s, to Scotland, when they had the same situation there before they had the regional transport partnerships: up in Scotland, they had the same problem, and they went regional and through the RTPs, and that worked very well. It gave Transport Scotland time to build up the skillsets to what they have just now, and the RTPs now work closely with Transport Scotland. I'm not saying it's perfect. It's a massive organisation that's very costly and takes in road, rail, ferry—the whole lot—now. But the vision was still the same as what Transport for Wales's vision was. I was an advocate, many years ago, of asking for this kind of organisation in Wales as a starting point. It's just that what we expect from that organisation immediately, I think, is flawed.

13:05

Thank you very much. In which case, if we could move on to another section, then, Heledd, I think you're going to take us into modal shift.

I am. Good afternoon, both. You've covered much of what I was going to ask, actually, in terms of—. I think, Scott, you mentioned in terms of reform, and you've highlighted in terms of the withdrawal and what it might mean in terms of the modal shift targets. You've also warned us what it would mean in terms of the delivery of the Welsh Government's bus reform legislation. I just wonder, really, whether there are any other points you'd like us to take into account in terms of the modal shift and so on, or things beyond extending bus funding, which obviously you've outlined very clearly to us. Are there other things that you think we can and should be doing as a matter of urgency, because it seems like we are discussing the future of bus services for many of our communities, and we know the devastating impact that would have?

It varies across Wales in different areas. You've got rural and urban areas; the south, mid and west, and north, as you know, how Wales is set up. So, you've got different challenges in different areas. I think, from a modal shift point of view, we have to look at congestion in our cities. We have to stop car being king. I think that's happening across the UK and Scotland in various areas, to varying degrees. We have to look at road reallocation. We have to look at planning, going forward. The planners have the control of all these areas going forward, so we need to be involved in that kind of aspect to make sure that we think about bus before we plan a road or a scheme or an estate, not afterwards and think, 'Oh, okay, how do we get a bus in there?' That's fundamental going forward. And I can see TfW being that controlling guide point of all of this, when they get to that stage, and that's how it happens up in Transport Scotland.

But I think that we have to think about the congestion issue. We have the M4 and the Burns system going forward just now. They are looking at different things in the south-east of Wales. For me, I want to see delivery quicker, but we can't do that delivery quicker if all the Ministers are all panicking about budgets all the time and where money is coming from. It's quite frustrating for you, I'm sure, as for everybody else. But I think the biggest risk to us going forward is continually  increasing congestion. On a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we're seeing a massive increase in congestion, even pre-pandemic levels, which is worrying. So, clearly, they're opting to work from home on a Monday and Friday and going to work on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The A470 is rammed on these days. The M4 is rammed on these days. My worry is that if we lose bus services, you'll then force people, who've got no choice, to go and buy a diesel-guzzling car, a cheap car, and then your whole environmental targets go, your Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 goes out the window. So, I think to achieve modal shift, we've got to start by protecting what we have, and then very clearly have a plan, a regional transport plan—to go back to this—about how you attack all these issues. I think that's the way forward.

Yes, I would agree with all that Scott said there. We did a piece on modal shift earlier in the year, which the committee has heard about previously. That set out that we need to, I think, increase patronage levels by 148 per cent to reach current modal shift targets, and, actually, on the current policy basis, we would only get about 34 per cent of the way there. So, a lot of what Scott described makes up that mix, and that policy package we need, to kind of reach that bigger target.

And I think that the really important thing, in terms of the impact of what's happening now on modal shift, is that every decision on network changes today will have an impact in the future. Firstly, in terms of drivers, fleet and our ability to kind of grow into the future if we lose any of those as a result of any cuts, but also, for every person that's not able to catch a bus because of those service changes after 24 July, there's a decision to make. And our polling, which we've just commissioned and haven't published yet, shows that about 40 per cent of people in Wales would choose to use a car if their bus service is no longer available, and that just completely undoes what we're trying to achieve on modal shift, and, as we talked about earlier, gets people out of the habit of catching a bus. And that habit forming, that behavioural change, is a really important part of that policy package we need towards modal shift.

Now, just to share one kind of anecdote: we don't get, I don't get much public correspondence in my role as a trade body, but I've had three or four people get in touch in the last week directly to talk about the impact on their lives of potential bus service changes. One person talked about no longer being able to get to their job, because the only route to their job is likely to be one of the routes that will be cut, were there service changes post BES. We're talking about real-life impacts here as well. It's easy to talk about long-term aspirational targets. It's easy to talk about the impact on the climate, and the impact on jobs, but these are real-life decisions—people potentially choosing not to be able to get to work anymore. And once those decisions are made, it's very hard to get them back on a bus, and to re-establish a network that has the confidence of those people who've lost services in the past.

13:10

Thank you, Aaron. I think that's really powerful, and I certainly echo that in terms of my own casework. I represent South Wales Central with varying degrees of car ownership. An area like Glyncoch has the highest percentage, I think, in terms of non-car ownership. So, it's not a matter that they have alternative means of transport either, and perhaps that gets lost sometimes, that human impact of there not being a bus. So, I thank you for reflecting on that. 

In terms of your message, then, I don't want to put words into your mouth, but in terms of that modal shift, I think I'm hearing, and please correct me if I'm wrong, a very clear warning to us as a committee, therefore, that even what we have now is at risk if this doesn't continue, and that we need a plan to ensure that that modal shift happens, and that every announcement is joined up. Is that a fair summary of where we're at, in your view?