Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith
Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee20/09/2023
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Delyth Jewell AS|
|Huw Irranca-Davies AS|
|Janet Finch-Saunders AS|
|Jenny Rathbone AS|
|Joyce Watson AS|
|Llyr Gruffydd AS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Dr David Clubb||Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru|
|National Infrastructure Commission for Wales|
|Dr Roisin Willmott||Y Sefydliad Cynllunio Trefol Brenhinol yng Nghymru|
|Royal Town Planning Institute Cymru|
|James Davies||Cymorth Cynllunio Cymru|
|Planning Aid Wales|
|Lisa Phillips||Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru|
|Natural Resources Wales|
|Rhian Jardine||Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru|
|Natural Resources Wales|
|Steve Brooks||Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru|
|National Infrastructure Commission for Wales|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Elizabeth Wilkinson||Ail Glerc|
|Katie Wyatt||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Lukas Evans Santos||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Marc Wyn Jones||Clerc|
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 yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:31.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:31.
Bore da, a chroeso i bawb i gyfarfod Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Croeso i Aelodau. Mae hwn, wrth gwrs, yn gyfarfod sy'n cael ei gynnal mewn fformat hybrid. Bydd rhai yn ymuno â ni yn rhithiol, fel y mae Delyth Jewell, wrth gwrs, aelod o'r pwyllgor, yn ei wneud bore yma—croeso. Mae eitemau cyhoeddus y cyfarfod yma'n cael eu darlledu'n fyw ar Senedd.tv ac mi fydd yna gofnod o'r trafodion yn cael eu cyhoeddi, fel, wrth gwrs, sydd yn digwydd fel arfer. Mae'r cyfarfod yn ddwyieithog, felly mae yna gyfieithu ar gael o'r Gymraeg i'r Saesneg hefyd i unrhyw rai sydd angen hynny. A gaf i ar y cychwyn hefyd ofyn a oes gan unrhyw aelod unrhyw fuddiannau i'w datgan? Jenny.
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. This, of course, is a meeting that's being held in a hybrid format. Some will be joining us virtually, as Delyth Jewell, of course, a Member of the committee, is doing—welcome. The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and there will be a record of proceedings published as is customary, of course. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation is available from Welsh to English for anybody who may need it. May I ask at the beginning whether any Members have any declarations of interest to make? Jenny.
My partner is an adviser to Bute Energy.
Dyna ni. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
There we go. Thank you very much.
Yr ail eitem, felly, yw parhau â chlywed tystiolaeth ar Fil Seilwaith (Cymru), ac, ar gyfer y panel cyntaf y bore yma, rŷn ni'n croesawu cynrychiolwyr o Gyfoeth Naturiol Cymru ac o Gomisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru. Felly, fe wnaf i estyn croeso i Lisa Phillips, sy'n uwch-gynghorwr arbenigol yn y tîm dulliau rheoleiddio dŵr, tir, bioamrywiaeth a'r môr gyda Chyfoeth Naturiol Cymru; hefyd, Rhian Jardine, sy'n bennaeth cynllunio datblygu a gwasanaethau morol gyda Chyfoeth Naturiol Cymru; ac yma gyda ni yn yr ystafell mae Dr David Clubb, sy'n gadeirydd Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru, a Steve Brooks, sydd yn aelod o Gomisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru. Croeso i'r pedwar ohonoch chi. Mae gennym ni awr wedi'i chlustnodi. Fydd dim gofyn i bob un ohonoch chi ateb pob cwestiwn. Yn amlwg, byddwn ni'n awyddus i glywed persbectif o'r ddau gorff, ond os ydych chi yn teimlo bod rhywbeth gyda chi i'w ychwanegu, wrth gwrs, codwch eich llaw, neu beth bynnag, ac fe wnaf i eich galw chi i mewn.
Ond mi wnaf i symud yn syth i gwestiynau, os caf i, ac mi wnaf i gychwyn drwy ofyn a allwch chi, efallai, jest amlinellu yn fras i ni sut y mae eich sefydliad chi wedi ymwneud â datblygiad y Bil yma, ac a ydych chi'n teimlo bod ymgynghori gan y Llywodraeth wedi bod yn ddigonol yn y broses o dynnu'r Bil at ei gilydd. Efallai gallaf i gychwyn efo Dr Clubb.
The second item, therefore, is to continue to take evidence on the Infrastructure (Wales) Bill, and, for this first panel this morning, we welcome members from Natural Resources Wales and the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales. May I extend a warm welcome to Lisa Phillips, who's senior specialist adviser in the water, land, biodiversity and marine regulatory approaches team with Natural Resources Wales; Rhian Jardine, who's head of development planning, advisory and marine services, at Natural Resources Wales; and joining us in the room we have Dr David Clubb, who's chair of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, and Steve Brooks, who's a member of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales. A very warm welcome to the four of you. We have an hour earmarked for the session. Not all of you will have to answer every question. Clearly, we will be eager to hear the perspective of both bodies, but if you do feel that you have anything to add, please raise your hand and I will call you.
But I'll move straight to questions, if I may, and I'll start by asking if you could, perhaps, outline briefly how your organisations have been involved in the development of this Bill, and whether you feel that consultation by the Welsh Government has been sufficient in the process of drawing up the Bill. Perhaps I could start with Dr Clubb.
Rydyn ni'n teimlo, fel comisiwn, fod angen cael rhywbeth fel hyn sy'n clymu lot o bethau gwahanol gyda'i gilydd i helpu cymunedau, helpu datblygwyr, helpu'r awdurdodau sy'n rheoli'r broses, i wneud y broses yn gyflymach ac yn fwy clir. A dwi'n teimlo, allan o bob sylw rŷn ni wedi clywed, fod pawb yn cytuno efo hwn. Felly, mae yna reswm i wneud e, mae'r amser yn dda i wneud e, ac mae pawb yn cefnogi'r syniad. Felly, yn bendant mae'n werth gwneud, ac, wrth gwrs, mae lot o gwestiynau am y Ddeddf ac ydy hi'n gwneud yn bendant beth ni angen gwneud, achos rŷn ni'n gweld y pen draw, yr hirdymor, a dyna lle mae'r cwestiynau.
We feel, as a commission, that there is a need for something like this, that ties many different things together, to help communities, to help developers, to help the authorities that manage the process, to make the process a speedier one and a clearer one. And I feel that, out of every comment that we've heard, everybody agrees on this. So, there is a reason to do this, the time is good to do this, and everybody, really, supports the idea. So, certainly it's worth doing, and, of course, there are many questions regarding the Act and whether it will do exactly what we want it to do, because we are looking, ultimately, at the long term, and that's where the questions lie.
Ac ŷch chi, fel comisiwn, wedi cael cyfle i fod yn rhan o'r broses yma mewn rhyw ffordd cyn nawr?
And have you, as a commission, had an opportunity to be part of this process in any way before now?
Dwi'n teimlo ein bod ni wedi cael cysylltiad efo'r Llywodraeth. Does gen i ddim lot o amser—dim ond cwpl o ddyddiau bob mis—i weithio ar y peth, ac rydyn ni'n gwneud llawer o bethau gwahanol. Ond rŷn ni'n croesawu'r cyfle hwn, ac rŷn ni wedi croesawu'r cyfle i ysgrifennu at y pwyllgor yn barod. Ac rŷn ni'n teimlo bod y Llywodraeth yn agored iawn i glywed yr adborth gan bobl sydd â pherthynas â phethau'n ymwneud â seilwaith.
We feel that we have had contact with the Government. I don't have much time—only a few days every month—to work on this, because we're doing a variety of things. But we welcome this opportunity, and we've welcomed the opportunity to write to the committee previously. We feel that the Government is very open to hearing the feedback from people who are involved with infrastructure.
Ocê, diolch yn fawr. A beth am Gyfoeth Naturiol Cymru? Ydych chi'n teimlo eich bod chi wedi cael chwarae rhan ystyrlon yn natblygiad y Bil hyd yn hyn?
Okay, thank you. And what about Natural Resources Wales? Do you feel that you've been able to play a meaningful part in the development of the Bill to date?
Ydyn, rŷn ni'n teimlo ein bod ni wedi bod yn chwarae rhan ystyrlon. Fel rhan o'r broses—
Yes, we do feel that we have been playing a considerable part. As part of the process—
—we did originally respond to the White Paper in the summer of 2018, and met with Welsh Government officials at that point. We were then re-approached in early 2022 for our views on developing an approach especially in relation to the deemed marine licences. Since that point, we've had sufficient, although possibly sporadic at times, contact with Welsh Government, but this has increased recently, and we welcome that approach, really. It's enabled us to understand and inform the process, both from our statutory consultee role, but also as the marine licensing authority, which we undertake on behalf of Welsh Ministers. So, we wish to continue to work with the Welsh Government in that way to support the development of a fit-for-purpose process, really.
Ocê. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Un peth sydd wedi dod trwyddo yn glir o ran tystiolaeth inni ei derbyn yw'r angen gan nifer am eglurder wrth inni gael y transition yma o'r trefniadau presennol i'r gyfundrefn newydd. Ydych chi'n teimlo ei bod hwnna yn ddigon clir ar hyn o bryd, ac, os nad yw e, beth ydych chi'n teimlo sydd angen i'r Llywodraeth ei wneud i roi'r eglurder yna i bobl wrth inni symud o beth sydd gyda ni nawr i beth, wrth gwrs, sydd yn mynd i fod pan fydd y Bil yn cael ei weithredu yn llawn? Dwi ddim yn gwybod os oes rhywun—Rhian, ydych chi eisiau mynd yn gyntaf?
Okay. Thank you very much. One thing that has come through clearly in terms of the evidence that we've received is the need that many have expressed for clarity on this transition from the current arrangements to the new system. Do you feel that is sufficiently clear at the moment, and, if not, what do you feel that the Government needs to do to provide that clarity for people as we move from what we currently have to what, of course, is going to be in place when the Bill is fully implemented? I don't know whether, Rhian, you want to go first.
The need for clarity is essential in the transitional arrangements. Both the current and proposed processes will involve quite a significant pre-application phase, and Natural Resources Wales currently has people, developers, coming to us two years in advance of submitting an application. So, we need to make sure that any transitional arrangements consider that pre-application time period to ensure that developers have time to prepare, don't undertake abortive work, or don't find that they need to do additional work just before they are due to submit their application. A successful transition, in our view, would also probably require detailed guidance, potentially training, and very clear communications well in advance of the legislation coming into force, really.
And is that a view that you share, as a commission? Yes.
If I can perhaps just add, because I think there is a general anxiety—obviously, with the framework legislation, some of the detail comes at a later stage, which will obviously create anxiety amongst stakeholders. I think, particularly because there are parts of this Bill that, as yet, the implications aren't fully understood, I think that just adds to a general anxiety around the kind of transition period. So, I think it would be useful, just to kind of help organisations understand how this is coming in, for the Government to actually lay that down. Obviously, there is a conversation about how they do that, but I think something where external organisations can actually see what that process is going to be would give them confidence.
Ie. Ocê. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Yes. Okay. Thank you very much.
Janet, we'll come to you.
Thank you. Good morning. The Minister has argued the balance is right between what's on the face of the Bill—I'm trying to look here—and what's left to subordinate legislation, because it allows for necessary flexibility. Do you agree with that assessment, and, if not, how do you think the right balance could be achieved?
It's a difficult balance to strike, in fairness, and I don't think that we will end up, probably, with perfection from any single point of view. We held an event on Monday, where we obtained feedback from a lot of different stakeholders from the infrastructure sector, and there were definitely some things where the participants felt that the face of the Bill needed to have more certainty. So, for example, timescale was raised a number of times as an issue where, if you have 52 weeks, everybody said, 'Great, that seems reasonable, but why isn't that locked in?' And there felt like there were ways that that could be extended or amended, which all provides additional uncertainty to developers, community groups and anybody else associated with it. There was also a feeling, I think, and I'm quite happy to go into this in a bit more detail, about the fees and the resource. So, at the moment, probably, the fees are insufficient to allow proper functioning of the scrutiny, the regulatory and the process to do with planning of large infrastructure projects, and this was felt by all participants, really. So, developers felt it. Developers were sanguine about paying considerably more for the process if they got a good service, and they feel at the moment they're paying for a service that is inadequately resourced and doesn't provide them with what they do. So, coming back to your question, ideas about trying to lock in, increased fees, dealing with issues around resource that gave certainty, that were going to be difficult to amend in the future, that would have been welcomed, I think, and I can see the rationale behind that. Steve, is there anything else that you want to pick up on?
Just perhaps the point about engagement, and perhaps we might come on to this later, but there might be an opportunity to put a bit more detail about what some of the 'musts' should be for developers on the face of the Bill. There are examples with the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013, where that's been done previously in legislation. But I think that from the feedback that we've had and our reading of the Bill, I think the big one really is timetables, because that is so fundamental, I think, to the whole process, and the line that is, 'This will be covered in the regs.' Again, it's that confidence point; I think that doesn't help.
Okay. We'll be drilling down specifically into timescales later on. Lisa, you wanted to come in. You'll be unmuted. There we are.
So, from NRW's perspective, we consider there really does need to be a balance between the detail being included on the face of the Bill and allowing for the flexibility that the detail coming along in subordinate legislation and guidance provides. We consider this is a novel and rapidly changing area, with both the potential for innovation in the projects that are coming forward and as we learn new things about the process. So, we do support the framework nature of the Bill for these reasons. However, in our comments, this really does make it challenging to fully evaluate and understand the potential implications for NRW and other stakeholders at this stage, but we think, similarly, that this can be mitigated by ongoing engagement with all the relevant stakeholders, including NRW. And we've had assurances from the Welsh Government that it's their intention to continue to do so in the development of both the subordinate legislation and the guidance.
Okay. Thank you.
NRW, you say in your paper:
'The framework nature of the Bill does make it challenging to review and understand the full implications to NRW’s statutory functions.'
Could you expand on that, please? [Interruption.] Oh, sorry.
Apologies. I think the easiest way to expand on that is via an example. I think costs and fees have come up already in the session. So, we can see and very strongly welcome the ability that the legislation allows to set fees, but, at the moment, because we haven't yet seen the statutory instrument that would set out those fees, we can't yet be sure that those fees will be beneficial or help NRW to fully recover its service. However, we have had that assurance from the Minister.
Okay. There we are. Thank you. Joyce.
Just keeping on that same theme, and it's questions around the status and hierarchy of the planning policies. We've had expressions where there is concern about that hierarchy and the provisions for infrastructure policy statements in the Bill. You've already started mentioning concerns around that. And what people are asking of us, in terms of having some clarity, is: what is going to take precedence? Is it going to be the infrastructure policy statement, or is it going to be the marine plan, for example? So, any additional statements that you have to make—and I think these are genuine concerns—would be welcome in helping us.
Dr Clubb, first of all?
I think Steve—
Or Steve, yes; sorry.
There is, I think, confusion as to what exactly that means and what 'precedence' means as well. I think there's one view that what you could have is a national development framework and a marine plan, which was essentially primarily the source of policy principles, and that the infrastructure policy statements would then supplement that where there were gaps—so, if there was perhaps a new technology that had developed that wasn't covered in the NDF, and then, subsequently, the NDF would include that at its next refresh. That's one view. I think a second view is that, actually, it might be helpful to have a suite of infrastructure policy statements, which, if you like, are the go-to place where the Government lays out what its principal policies are, across the breadth of issues. I'm agnostic as to which one the Government goes with, but I think the objective has to be having real clarity about what is actually Welsh Government's policy in any given area, so, whether it's communities, whether it's developers, they're able to go and know with confidence, 'Okay, that's what the intent of the policy is.' I think one of the big problems with the system at the moment is that lack of clarity and lack of confidence, in terms of, if you're a developer or even if you are a community, when you're going through, you're not always quite clear specifically what the policy might be and how that policy might be used. So, infrastructure policy statements might be a way to resolve that by making it quite clear what the principal policy is. But, essentially, whatever regime they choose, I think it's just having something where there's almost like a one-stop shop for finding out what exactly the policy is. And at the moment, that appears to be unclear, and I'm not sure how it's defined in the legislation makes that clear either.
Is the national development framework and the marine plan sufficiently detailed to fulfil that role, because it's very, very high level?
Yes. I think the problem with the national development framework is that—. There's a question—. From a policy perspective, I suppose, there's a question of what's the ultimate policy vision, where is the overall direction that the Government might be trying to go in a certain area, what's the overall approach, and then what are the priorities within it. Some of that might be listed within the national development framework, but I would always see the national development framework as being a bit more of an action plan, in a sense of it's a bit more into the detail of where pre-assessed areas might be for wind, rather than what the Government's overall vision and policy and approach might be for wind energy. So, it does feel like there is something lacking there. And I think, quite often, communities, developers and others have to almost do a forensic view and try and piece together what this might all mean and what the ultimate policy principle might be. So, in answer, I don't think it does quite what we might need it to do.
And what's NRW's take on this? Rhian.
I think that, in the same way as the infrastructure commission have made the point, there might well be a role for these statements, especially with innovative technologies and novel technologies coming forward that haven't been previously assessed or considered by practitioners in the planning system. We didn't actually comment on this. We don't object, in principle, to them actually being provided for.
I suppose my understanding is that the Minister for Climate Change has currently said that she can't see that there's a role at the moment, that she's not planning on any IPSs at the moment. But I think, in terms of NRW's perspective, though, the NDF and the Wales marine plan have been subject to environmental assessment through the seascape character assessment and habitats regulations assessment process, so we would be keen to make sure that the policy statements would also be rigorously considered in relation to the environment.
And I think the other issue is around what takes precedence and the timing of the reviews and updates to the NDF and marine plan. So, you can see that there could be some kind of timescale issues in relation to what is actually current, and that's the clarity point I think that Steve was referring to.
Yes. Okay. Diolch yn fawr. Joyce.
The Minister said in evidence that she's not aware of any policy gaps and that currently no infrastructure policy statements are planned. But yet, last week, Kelvin MacDonald, a former planning inspector, said that there appeared to be some gaps, and he cited ports and radioactive waste geological disposals as an example of those gaps. Do you believe that there are gaps in planning policy for significant infrastructure, and are there others that you can identify?
[Inaudible.]—probably more on detail on this than I am, but what I would say is that, if we want to sit back and take a look at the principle of how a planning system can function in the most effective way—and timeliness was something that Rhian brought up about policy statements—for me, it feels as though a national development framework that tries to lock in all of the different policies within it is probably not sufficiently flexible. My preference might be to have something that was more of a framework without having the detail of any of those policies, and then to have a suite of separate policy statements that were very clear on each of the sectors—so, where there was a gap identified, like ports or radioactivity, you slot it in there. That can be updated as needed, and then your primary planning framework remains reasonably static, updated infrequently, and the policy statements can be updated as frequently as necessary. So, I think there is something there about the efficiency of the process that might be looked at.
From our perspective at the moment, we don't feel that there are any gaps that we would want to highlight in terms of the policy. But we do feel that probably there would need to be a review in terms of identifying those policy gaps. I’m sorry, I just dropped out of the—. I lost connection for a moment, so I didn’t follow everything.
That's fine, that's okay. Joyce, you can carry on. If you want to come back on anything, Rhian, you can do so.
This is to David Clubb particularly, this question. You say in your paper that the Bill presents a real opportunity to ensure the well-being of future generations Act is applied in that decision making, and that the current planning decisions are more heavily weighted towards economic well-being, at the detriment of social, environmental and cultural well-being. Do you want to expand on that?
Certainly we feel that the well-being of future generations Act effectively feels like the glue that brings together a lot of different policy approaches and legislation within the Welsh Government, and it feels like it should sit somewhere within the legislation. I don’t know whether the lawyers would take that view, because obviously it’s there to do a specific function, but it feels as though there’s potentially an opportunity missed there, and similarly with things like a long-term vision for infrastructure, bringing in different references to the travel policy, 'Llwybr Newydd'. With regard to the letter—that was a joint letter sent with us and the well-being of future generations commissioner—they carried out a section 20 review of how the Welsh Government was implementing the well-being of future generations Act, and they found that there was an implementation gap. They feel that there seems to be a prioritisation of economic outcomes rather than the others. It’s not for me to be able to provide examples. I don’t have any examples to provide, but I think what it does suggest is that there’s an opportunity to try and redress perhaps some of those perceptions about infrastructure development in Wales, and to emphasise the need for involvement—so, some of the ways of working to come in there as well. Some of this has already been addressed, about engagement with community, but yes, the integration of this, which is a large piece of legislation, with something that is totemic to sustainability within Wales feels as though it’s a good opportunity.
I might just add that what's interesting has been the review—I was going to say 'recent review', but it's probably about three or four years ago now—of WelTAG, the major transport appraisal tool. Traditionally, I think, again, that has been weighted towards economic indicators above environmental and social, and a lot of work has been going on to revise WelLTAG so it brings in more of those kinds of social and environmental considerations. I think we’re just dealing historically with the fact that it’s been easier to measure some things, like what might it mean for traditional GDP, or travel times or things like that, which are easier to measure. I think there’s still work to do to measure what perhaps some people might describe as the softer indicators—things around quality of life and perhaps some of the less measurable impacts on the natural environment.
Thank you. I don't want to prolong this section. Just very, very briefly, we've spoken about the infrastructure policy statements, but of course the Bill as drafted doesn't give the Senedd a role in scrutinising, adopting or approving those. Is that a good thing or not? I don't want to—. You can give me a one-word answer if you wish, or you may not wish to answer.
I don't know. We need to move really quickly, and I think that's one of the reasons why. Although the consultation on the Bill perhaps could have been better, I don't think the Bill should be delayed to go for another round of consultation. I think on things like developing infrastructure policy statements we need to move swiftly, but that shouldn't be at the expense of including stakeholders in how they're formed, because they could potentially be key. So I think there is a conversation about how, alongside the Bill, or the Act, that kind of engagement is structured.
Okay, fine. We won't pursue that, but it is, I think, an important concern for us as politicians. Jenny.
I've got a couple of questions for NRW about the resource implications. You've reasonably assumed in your paper that you'll be a specified public authority and that, therefore, you should be able to secure full cost recovery for any functions or services that you are required to undertake. Could you just elaborate a bit on that and any discussions you've had with the Welsh Government about your ability to set your own charging regime without it being deemed to be a money-making operation? Because we obviously want to make progress on all these developments. I don't know who wants to go first, whether it's Rhian or Lisa.
I'm happy to start. We obviously warmly welcome the potential for fees to be established in relation to input for all the stages of the process, from pre-application through to post-decision. The Welsh Government's statement of policy intent was that we should be able to recover costs for any input required. We feel that it's essential for statutory consultees, including NRW, that we are fully resourced to ensure that the process can be supported through all the phases of the process in an effective and timely way.
Our expectation is that we will be included as one of those specified parties, and we haven't been told anything different to that. That is my understanding. We consider the ability for consultees to set their own charging regimes, subject to ministerial agreement, of course, to be the most appropriate mechanism for securing that full cost recovery, including the ability to review and, if necessary, update annually, including the ability to charge an hourly rate. It's not a money-making opportunity; it's really just to recover costs.
I think it's also really important to note that, as a statutory consultee currently, we are very focused on grant-in-aid funding that statutory consultee role, whereas as a marine licensing authority we do charge fees. I think it's also important to note that we have to maintain specialist skills across a wide variety of areas in order to be able to advise and participate fully in the process. I think, at the moment, in the context of NRW's statutory consultee role, which is GIA funded, we're already seeing an increase in terms of developments of national significance for both terrestrial and marine regimes. So, ensuring that we are on a firmer footing in terms of being adequately resourced is really important for us.
I suppose the other point is around the marine impact report. This legislation will mean that we will lose out on our marine licensing fees. So, we'd no longer be the determining authority, but we still anticipate that we'll need to be putting an adequate resource into supporting the process. I'm not sure whether you, Lisa, would want to come in and support me on this in relation to the marine impact report, or if you've got any further supplementary points.
To add and agree with everything that Rhian has said so far, this genuinely is not a money-making exercise; it is regarding covering NRW's costs and maintaining an efficient and effective service. Particularly in the context of our regulatory function, our marine licensing function, we would previously, as Rhian said, have brought in an hourly-rate fee for these kinds of project, which we would no longer be receiving. And whilst we wouldn't be doing exactly the same role as we do currently, we'd expect to still have a significant input into the process, which we'd need to ensure is fully cost recovered as well, just so that we can ensure that we maintain the service at an effective level.
The marine impact report is the area where, it seems to me, there's some complexity. Because on the one hand you say in your paper that some marine impact reports will be as relevant for project A as for projects B and C in the same area of the sea, but then there may be specific concerns around an individual project that pose more complex analysis. So, I just wonder what conversations you've had so far with the Government on how we ensure that you're properly resourced to give timely responses without it draining resources from all the other things that you do.
We have been in discussion with the Welsh Government from early 2022, looking at our views on the approach to marine impact reports and the dealing of marine licensing. We still have, to be fair, a long way to go in a complicated area. This will be very new, and we're continuing discussions with the Welsh Government. Those discussions are increasing, to ensure that, on the marine impact report, the scope of that is appropriate, the content of that is appropriate, and that NRW is appropriately resourced to do that. These discussions are ongoing at the moment, and we haven't reached a resolution on the perfect marine impact report, but that will continue, and we've had assurances that that will most definitely be continuing. And that reflects, as Rhian stated at the beginning, the uptick in engagement that we've had with Welsh Government officials at this stage.
David, you wanted to come in briefly.
Yes, it was on, again, the fees issue, because this was something that's been highlighted multiple times, and I wanted to have the opportunity to get in. The feedback, pretty much across the board, is that the current level of fees to produce that public service is insufficient. Developers are happy to pay more. I'll make the point that, probably, to hit net zero by a timescale that's meaningful for us, we will look at least a 400 per cent increase in renewable energy and a 400 per cent increase, therefore, is likely in grid.
What we're seeing now is a reported big increase in applications of significant infrastructure to PEDW and to local authorities. It's the very start of that increase, and my fear is that if the funding issue is not resolved, we will have an exacerbation of the current issues, which are, broadly speaking, around local authorities struggling to get sufficient resource. When they bring in their own resource and skill them up, they're poached as soon as they're any good by the private sector, where they can earn considerably more, and then you're either buying in that private sector back at a greater cost for the public sector, or you lose the capacity. The current arrangement of a planning performance agreement, where a developer will try to pay to secure a guaranteed service, because there's not sufficient resource within that public body, just basically means that one project will be prioritised over the other, so an already squeezed resource will just massively exacerbate the issue for others. So, I would really want to emphasise that fees and the viability of a public planning system are crucial with this.
There's also something about how the fees are divvied up. PEDW, for example, will often rely on local authorities to do a lot of the grunt work on producing local planning assessments or whatever, but, often, those fees that are then passed on from PEDW to local authorities will be insufficient for that time. So, you can see that issues at one part of the planning system cascade down into all of the others. I think that, at the moment, the fees are insufficient and developers are not getting a good service. In principle, if you up the fees, particularly with a view to the long term, to ensuring some sort of career path for planners in Wales, that would give developers increased confidence, and you'd have better outcomes.
And no doubt we'll hear more about that in our next session as well, more specifically from the sector. Janet.
Thank you. Can I just ask, what's PEDW?
Planning and Environment Decisions Wales. It's for any large infrastructure—
Yes, thank you. Last week, the local planning authorities told us they were concerned about the impact the enforcement requirements of the Bill would have on them, and mainly talked about lack of skills. Because I pointed out that we need 120 planners, I think, in Wales as we stand. So, there were resources and the lack of the skills, and it's other departments—legal departments and so on. So, NRW, Lisa or Rhian, do you have any concerns about the enforcement requirements in the marine area? You mentioned that you're still thrashing out with the Welsh Government; do you actually feel that you are moving more towards what you believe you need, or is there a bit of a stalemate situation?
So, to take the first question: for the deemed marine licence, we understand that NRW would still have a role as the discharging authority, as we do now, and our current fees and processes would apply to that discharge of conditions phase.
For the enforcement side, currently, Welsh Ministers are the enforcing authorities for marine licences, and we'd expect that—. Well, that will continue for deemed marine licences, so we can't really comment on the resourcing for the enforcement, or give any views on the enforcement for deemed marine licences; we defer to them.
In terms of ongoing discussions on the marine impact report and potential stalemate, we're not at stalemate. Yes, we are still continuing to have productive discussions with the Welsh Government, and here we're talking about a more detailed approach that we hope to see in the subordinate legislation. So, we're hoping to help shape a marine impact report that really works for NRW, but more importantly, works for the infrastructure of Wales.
Okay, thank you. And you say—
I think we're going to have to move on to the next section now—
—because time is against this, but I think you're leading us into that as well, Janet.
So, respondents to our consultation generally support the infrastructure categories included in the Bill, although some have commented that energy storage and hydrogen projects could also be included. I suppose I was quite surprised that they weren't. What are your views on the categories and thresholds included in the Bill?
Shall we start with the commission?
I think that it's legitimate to want to talk about hydrogen energy storage, and there will doubtless be others, so I think capture as many of the different potential infrastructure sectors as possible whilst allowing flexibility through the subordinate legislation to incorporate others.
And NRW? Rhian?
We would agree with that: it's the flexibility that's needed.
Thank you. Huw.
Thank you. Just following up on Janet's question, I'll try and bring my questions just into one question. Issues have been raised with us over the clarity of definitions, of what is an SIP. Issues have been raised over the discretion available to Ministers—the word 'flexibility' was just mentioned there. We understand the need for some flexibility on this, but when you give the Executive great flexibility, there's a worry that they get to choose what's an SIP and what isn't, even if there is strong opinion out there that actually, whether it's hydrogen or whatever—. It may be that each one of these falls below the megawatt status, but as a Wales-wide or even an UK-wide issue, but let's say Wales-wide, there is significant feeling that justifies it being part of an SIP and so on, not because it's novel technology, but the application and the locations might be novel, and so on; and also the thresholds. So, without asking all of you to answer, I'm just asking whether, to save time, any of you have anything significant you want to add. Steve.
I think I can understand why flexibility is a good thing in the Bill and exactly why the Government absolutely need it, and would support a big part of the rationale. I think there is a job to do, though, to explain why certain bits of the Bill might need that flexibility. So, it might not be that you put on the face of the Bill the nth degree of detail, but I think from what we saw with our event on Monday, one observation I had is that when somebody asks the question of, 'Why is that line saying, "Essentially, we will put this into regs or a policy statement"?', and they hear the answer, they're quite satisfied with it, and they go, 'Right, I get that.' But that isn't anywhere obviously on the face of the Bill, so I think given that it has a job to do to help organisations understand why they're being flexible in certain areas, and it could be because the technology is emerging and they don't quite want to perhaps articulate a threshold at this point, I think it's helpful to have that kind of, if you like, somewhere on the record, so that organisations know where it's a case of, 'Future detail will come', and where it's a case of 'Actually, it's a gap; it's a genuine gap.'
It might be helpful if Ministers, when they come in front of us, could provide some examples, or actually lay that down in writing somewhere during the process of this Bill, to give examples of how they would reach decisions and where they would put that clarity. Sorry, David.
Yes, just to come in there. There was an interesting example given to us of an unintended consequence of having an approach that enabled, let's say, political discretion for you to define things as 'nationally significant infrastructure'. So, in Australia, apparently—maybe this was a state or Australia-wide—there was great flexibility, and what happened in that instance was that developers found that this process was very opportune for them. They spent a lot of time and money lobbying and thereby put infrastructure projects that weren’t really nationally significant through a process that was designed for something else because it got them to their objective quicker. I’m not suggesting that that could be an outcome here because I do think that there’s a need for people to be able to, for example, parcel together a number of different schemes that, individually, might not be nationally significant, to produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts. But that, as an unintended consequence, I think, was quite an interesting example.
That's really helpful, David, thank you very much. Can I just come to NRW for any thoughts they have on this? So, not just the discretion of the Minister, but definitions and thresholds as well, and maybe how this plays out in the marine environment as well.
I think, from our perspective, on the threshold point, our concern was really around the ambiguity in relation to what was on the face of the Bill and thinking that it would be better if there were some metrics in there in terms of thresholds. But I think there’s also the direction that Ministers can actually decide when something isn’t an SIP as well, and that could probably be very welcome. So, I think it was just around clarity, especially in relation to significant environmental effect and the wording in relation to that, in relation to harbours; that was something that we’d certainly flagged in our response.
There we are, thank you very much; diolch yn fawr. Janet, we move on to time frames.
The committee has received mixed views on the 52-week statutory time frame for deciding applications. Some respondents were concerned it could slow down decisions on smaller projects, whilst others said it wasn't long enough for more complex projects, and this is to everybody really: what are your views on how the time frame is set out in the Bill?
So, we touched on this briefly earlier, but it's an opportunity now just to elaborate.
The impression we get is that that is about right, if it doesn't extend. So, the whole point is that, if you have a system that works, you shouldn't really then feel the need to extend it. We were told about examples in England where they have a similar process with a very defined timeline, and, sometimes, they say the developers are begging to extend that timeline and they say, 'No, that's the process, you're locked in', and it will deliver an outcome, and people respect and acknowledge that there's going to be an outcome at the end of it. That's perhaps not what the developer would want, but nonetheless it produces something. So, I think the more clarity and the more that you can lock in that time frame upfront, the better.
And would NRW concur? Rhian?
Up to a point. I think the pre-application consultation phase is really critical in being able to achieve that 52-week time frame. I think that it might prove challenging for some really complex projects, but it does mean that you then have to invest time upfront in trying to do that pre-application phase properly. That would be our view, really.
Thank you. Jenny—. Yes, sorry.
I was just going to add: almost regardless of what the timetable is, there are some kind of general principles as to what makes a good timetable and I think that that predictability, the nature of it, in that that is the timetable if that is the timetable—. There are some core things, I think, where flexibility isn't helpful and that's one of them.
Clearly, there are always unforeseen circumstances, and—[Inaudible.]—is the obvious one, but there might be others. But equally, it seems to me that a developer wants certainty that their application isn't going to be kicked into the long grass because it's politically inconvenient. So, we did hear last week from our experts that, where there had been delays in the Secretary of State making a decision within the three-month period in England, they were obliged to come to Parliament to explain why there was a delay. So, is this some—? We haven't got that in the Bill at the moment. Is this something you think would be useful to ensure certainty—a framework that's not so rigid that a disastrous new piece of information couldn't be taken into account?
Yes. So, I think if one of the characteristics of a good framework is predictability, I think another one is transparency. So, if you are going to say, 'Well, actually, we are going to make it slightly more flexible', so there might be the ability for a Minister, perhaps, to delay it, I think having a mechanism where that decision is transparent would be very useful, not just for developers in terms of their confidence in what that process is, but also for communities who might feel, 'Actually, it feels like the application has gone into a black hole, I don't know where it is. How do we keep tabs on it if we're not monitoring this place or don't have a PR agency helping us?' So, I think there is something there about the transparency element of it that that idea brings.
Okay, but at the moment it's really clear in the Planning Act 2008 that it's six months to do the inquiry, three months to write the report and three months for the ministerial decision. So, where do any of you sit on this? Is this something on which we should have an expectation that, under all normal circumstances, these things will proceed at that pace?
Personally I think so.
Yes, and the experience from running these projects in England seems to be that most parties are broadly satisfied with that—to Rhian's point—as long as the pre-application process is really well understood and there's sufficient guidance. And again, part of that would be resource and ensuring that there's sufficient ability within the public sector to provide guidance, so that developers don't go down the wrong direction and then have to revisit everything.
Okay. Thank you.
Yes, there we are. Okay, thank you. So, we'll come on to Delyth, then, and thank you for your patience, Delyth.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Bore da, bawb. When it comes to examination and decisions, we've had some mixed feedback on the provisions in the Bill that would allow for either the examining authority or Welsh Ministers to make decisions. People who have given us the feedback that Welsh Ministers should be the decision maker on every application have emphasised that that would bring political accountability, particularly maybe for some developments that would be more controversial, whereas those who've said that the examining authority should be deciding say it would mean that the less complicated cases would be decided more quickly. Where would you fall in this area? Do you recognise that tension? Do you think that there should be a hard and fast rule, or do you think that the flexibility is a necessity because so many different factors will be at play?
Yes, we recognise that there is a trade-off there. If you look at the UK example, when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, he set up the planning regime so that it was independent of politics and, as soon as the coalition came in, they said, 'Well, there's no democratic accountability', and they got rid of that. I don't think that there's an ideal. I do think that having flexibility in the system allows for certain controversies, perhaps, to be taken out of issues.
One of the things that we see consistently with long-term infrastructure is that the 20 or 30-year view is not sufficiently taken into account, and so politics can often play a role in that. So, I'm fairly relaxed about the idea of a regulatory authority taking that decision. Equally, there's a role, clearly, for Ministers. From our perspective, I think that that allows sufficient flexibility, and I don't take a particularly strong view on either outcome.
From NRW's perspective, we echo David's comments there in terms of the flexibility and ensuring that, as you stated, Delyth, the more complex applications reasonably sit with Ministers and the less complex and lower risk sit with the regulator or the examining authority. That seems to allow that flexibility and would also potentially help timescales as, for those lower projects, there would be one fewer step for the process to go through.
Thank you for that. Okay, well, one of the other tensions that is in this Bill—
Mae fe am rôl cymunedau ac os bydd llais cymunedau yn gallu cael ei gryfhau rhywsut neu os, efallai, nid dyna ydy pwrpas y Mesur hwn. Ar gyfer Dr Clubb yn arbennig, yn eich papur gyda chomisiynydd cenedlaethau'r dyfodol, roeddech chi wedi sôn am—. Roeddech chi wedi galw am gryfhau rôl cymunedau drwy'r Bil. Ydych chi'n meddwl bod y Mesur yn gwneud digon? Sut ydych chi'n meddwl y gallai fe gael ei gryfhau os dyw e ddim?
It's about the role of communities and whether the voice of communities can be strengthened somehow, or perhaps that's not the purpose of this Bill. For Dr Clubb in particular, in your paper with the future generations commissioner, you mentioned—. You called for the role of communities in the process to be strengthened through the Bill. Do you think the Bill is doing enough? How do you think it could be strengthened if not?
Rydym ni eisiau gweld llais cryf yn dod o gymunedau mewn datblygiadau seilwaith. Dydw i ddim yn siŵr yn bersonol mai wyneb y Ddeddf yw'r lle cywir neu os rŷn ni'n mynd i weld lot mwy o'r pethau'n dod trwy'r secondary legislation. Y peth yw, rŷn ni jest eisiau bod yn glir dyw'r Ddeddf seilwaith ddim am ddim ond y datblygwyr. Wrth gwrs, mae angen cael llais cryf o'r cymunedau, a gobeithio y bydd cael y broses hon yn helpu cymunedau i ddeall ac yn eu galluogi nhw i roi sylw a barn tu mewn i'r broses. Ond does gen i ddim barn os mai wyneb y Ddeddf yw'r lle cywir i'w gael e.
We want to see a strong voice from communities in infrastructure developments. I don't know personally whether the face of the Bill is the right place for that or whether we're going to see many of the things emanating through secondary legislation. The thing is that we want to be clear that the infrastructure Bill isn't just about the developers. Of course, we need a strong voice from communities, and hopefully this process will help that so that communities understand, and it will then empower them to make their views known through the process. But I don't have a view in terms of whether the face of the Bill is the right place for that to happen.
Ocê. Diolch am hynna—.
Okay. Thank you for that—.
By the way, if any other witnesses wanted to come in—. Yes, forgive me, Chair.
The Chair wants to come in as well. That's fine. No problem.
Gaf i jest ofyn, sut ŷn ni'n gallu sicrhau bod y cymunedau yn rhan o drafod hwn yn ddigon cynnar yn y broses? Achos, naw gwaith mas o 10, rŷn ni fel gwleidyddion yn derbyn cynrychiolaeth gan y gymuned pan fydd hi'n rhy hwyr, i bob pwrpas. A phan fyddwn ni'n sôn am yr NDF a policy statements, lle mae llais y gymuned yn y lefel yna yn mynd i fod mor, mor bwysig, ond, wrth gwrs, erbyn bod y cais yn cael ei rhoi mewn, os ydy'r polisi cenedlaethol yn dweud bod angen y math hwn o isadeiledd, wel, mae'n rhy hwyr.
May I just ask, then, how we can ensure that the communities are part of discussing this early enough in the process? Because, nine times out of 10, we as politicians accept representations from the community when it's too late, in all purposes. And when we talk about the NDF and policy statements, the voice of the community at that level is going to be so important, but, of course, by the time the application has been submitted, if the national policy says that this sort of infrastructure is required, well, it's too late.
Wel, efallai ei fod e'n gallu canolbwyntio ar hynny yn y pre-application, felly'r guidance am y pre-application. Dydw i ddim yn gwybod os yw Steve—.
Well, maybe it could be focused on in the pre-application, so the guidance on the pre-application. I don't know whether Steve—.
Yes, I think the pre-application stage is key and making sure that effective and proper engagement with communities and the general public takes place then. We heard a reluctance for the Bill to be too prescriptive on what engagement should look like. I think there's a hesitancy that that might push a straitjacketed one size that fits all, which might not be appropriate for different schemes and different communities, but I still think that there is scope for the Bill to say, as part of the process, 'Developers must give due attention to statutory guidance on engagement,' and then for the Government to issue some good statutory guidance on what they expect to see in terms of engagement. It wouldn't be detailed and prescriptive, but I'm reminded of the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013, where the section on the development of active travel maps talks about the need to make those maps available and to engage the public. In the first iteration of the active travel Act design guidance, that was mainly infrastructure content. When it was refreshed in about 2017 or 2018, it had a lot more detail on what good engagement looks like, and you saw the engagement from local authorities with communities on those active travel maps vastly improved. It went from the back of the village hall for half an hour on a wet Thursday to actual proactive conversations. So, I think we can get to that. I think we should aim to get to that. I don't think the face of the Bill is necessarily the mechanism to get to that, but I think statutory guidance on what good engagement looks like would be.
Ocê, diolch yn fawr. Sori, yn ôl i ti, Delyth.
Okay, thank you very much. Sorry, back to you, Delyth.
Diolch. Thank you for that. On that point precisely, do you think that there is a risk that those more engaged groups will be further empowered by this, and yet the people who are not engaged, who don't have a very strong voice in the community, who don't know how these processes work, might actually lose out because the number of opportunities that they might have to interact with these different processes will be minimised, because they're centralised into one system?
Possibly. I think it's always a risk in any community. There will always be individuals who, perhaps—. You'll see it in the casework that you get. You might have local residents who perhaps professionally have an expertise or have the social connections to be able to bring in resource in order to challenge this decision. I think that the guidance needs to understand that, but I don't think the guidance is necessarily the way to solve that. That's the nature of the social capital that you might have or might not have in that community. I think perhaps one of the principles would be, if you are engaging with a community where you know it might not necessarily have that social capital, how have you gone about truly engaging them? And you may then have, perhaps, used more participatory methods, rather than an online survey, or relatively technical documents in the engagement process.
Thank you. I'm very aware that we've got five minutes left, Chair, so is it best if I move on to the final couple of questions?
Yes, please. There we are. Great.
Yes, okay. Diolch. Finally, a number of stakeholders have highlighted the potential impact on developers who have cross-border projects, and how the different regimes will be interacting. Do you agree that that could be an issue, and do you have any suggestions on how that could be addressed, please? And I know that Lisa was nodding her head; I don't know if you want to go first, Lisa.
I think the cross-border scenario is already very complex, and I think there are multiple cross-border scenarios here. We've got the energy thresholds and where it goes up into the Planning Act 2008. We've got the terrestrial border with England, and then we've also got the inshore, offshore border within Wales. So, this legislation, as far as we understand, does not apply to the Welsh offshore marine area beyond 12 nautical miles. So, there are a lot of complications, so it is a genuine concern.
It already is a concern and a problem in the existing system, and, for these areas, there are different consenting pathways that one project would have to go, with different authorities, and this already exists now. But, given the different devolved competencies, there's little likely that we can see that you could legislate on or produce legislation here to have a unified system. However, I think guidance and communications are absolutely going to be critical here, to ensure that all the parties understand the requirements of the different processes, and ensure that all of the relevant regulators are involved as early, or at the right time, in the process.
I don't know if anyone else in the room wanted to come in.
I would say 'yes' to the first part of Delyth's questions. On the second part, I think, again, this might be an argument where flexibility is needed. This place is going to have the luxury of revising legislation in a year or two if it's not quite got it right on the cross-border issue. I think, clearly, a lot of what we've heard is that it is very complicated. A lot of people will answer Delyth's second point with, 'We don't quite know.' So, I think, for me, that's a kind of indication that there's a risk here that, potentially, we could put something into the Bill that might actually be unworkable. So, I think, not for me, perhaps, but for the committee, there's a question of what kind of flexibility is needed where you strike that right balance.
Okay, thank you. And we'll move on to the last question. Delyth.
Okay. In the dying moments of this session, do you have any specific comments, please, on the provisions in the Bill that relate to compulsory purchase?
NRW, would you like to, if you have any comments—?
No, we don't, actually, on this matter.
We don't have any comments in relation to compulsory purchase.
And there's head-shaking here as well.
No, it wasn't one of the—. In the consultation day we had on Monday, it's interesting that it wasn't one of the kind of hot topics that was discussed.
Okay, excellent. Well, that's the end of the questions. We have 90 seconds left, so, in the interest of making best use of our time, is there anything that we've omitted that you wish to add? David, and then, I'll offer the same opportunity to NRW.
Yes, very briefly on efficiency. So, we already know resource is an issue. I'd be really keen to ensure that the process is as efficient as possible. Examples were given of different planning regimes where principal areas of disagreement are outlined very early in the process, so you can just focus your resource on those issues. And one attendee yesterday, or Monday, sorry, dreamed about a world, like in Scotland, where appeals were dealt with with written representation rather than in person. So, anything that can cut away people travelling to places, and providing a week-long thing or whatever, and just doing it with paper, if it works elsewhere, I think due regard should be brought in to having it in this process as well.
Okay. NRW, any final thoughts you wish to leave us with? Rhian.
No, nothing further from us, thank you.
There we are.
Wel, diolch yn fawr iawn i'r pedwar ohonoch chi. Rŷn ni'n gwerthfawrogi'n fawr y ffaith eich bod chi wedi rhoi amser i fod gyda ni y bore yma. Rŷch chi wedi cyfeirio cwpwl o weithiau—mae'r comisiwn wedi cyfeirio—at y sesiwn gynhalioch chi ddydd Llun. Os oes yna unrhyw beth yn dod o hwnnw yn ysgrifenedig, neu rywbeth y byddech chi'n gallu bwydo i mewn—. Achos dwi yn ymwybodol bod yna lawer o randdeiliaid wedi cyfrannu'n sylweddol i'r drafodaeth, felly os oes unrhyw beth rŷch chi'n teimlo, yn ychwanegol i'r hyn rŷch chi wedi ei rannu gyda ni nawr, a fyddai'n cyfoethogi'n ystyriaeth ni o gwmpas y Bil, byddem ni'n gwerthfawrogi petai modd ei rannu e gyda ni. Ond, gyda hynny, diolch o galon i chi.
Ac mi wnaiff y pwyllgor nawr dorri am 10 munud. Felly, os gwnaiff yr Aelodau fod yn ôl yr ystafell ychydig funudau cyn 10:40, fel ein bod ni'n gallu cychwyn ar y dot. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Well, thank you very much to the four of you. We very much appreciate the fact that you've given of your time to join us this morning. You have referred a few times—the commission has referred—to the session that you held on Monday. If anything should emanate from that in written form, perhaps you could feed that into this work, because I am aware that there are a great many stakeholders who've contributed significantly to the process. So, if there's anything, in addition to what you've shared with us today, which would enrich our work on this Bill, we would appreciate it if you could share that with us. With those few words, thank you very much to you.
The committee will now break for 10 minutes. So, if Members could return to the room a few minutes before 10:40, we'll be able to start on the dot. Thank you very much.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:30 a 10:41.
The meeting adjourned between 10:30 and 10:41.
Croeso nôl i Bwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Rŷn ni'n symud ymlaen nawr at ein sesiwn nesaf ni ar gyfer craffu ar Fil Seilwaith (Cymru). Yn ymuno â ni ar gyfer y sesiwn yma mae James Davies, sy'n brif swyddog gweithredol gyda Cymorth Cynllunio Cymru, a Dr Roisin Willmott, sy'n gyfarwyddwr gyda'r Sefydliad Cynllunio Trefol Brenhinol yng Nghymru—neu RTPI Cymru fel rŷn ni i gyd yn ei alw fe. Mi wnawn ni symud yn syth at gwestiynau, os ydy hynny'n iawn gyda chi, ac mi wnaf i ofyn i ddechrau, fel y gwnes i yn y sesiwn flaenorol, efallai y gallwch chi ddweud wrthym ni ychydig ynglŷn â sut ŷch chi wedi ymwneud â datblygiad y Bil hyd yma, os ydych chi wedi ymwneud ag e o gwbl, ac ydych chi'n teimlo, efallai, fod unrhyw ymgynghori sydd wedi digwydd cyn i ni gyrraedd y pwynt yma wedi bod yn ddigonol ac yn ystyrlon, o'ch safbwynt chi? Roisin, wyt ti eisiau mynd yn gyntaf?
Welcome back to the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. We move on now to our next session on the scrutiny of the Infrastructure (Wales) Bill. Joining us for this session are James Davies, who is the chief executive officer of Planning Aid Wales, and Dr Roisin Willmott, who is the director of the Royal Town Planning Institute in Wales, or RTPI Cymru, as we all call it. We'll move straight into questions, if that's okay with you, and I'll ask to start, as I did in the previous session, perhaps you could briefly set out your involvement in the development of the Bill up until now, if you have been involved at all, and whether you feel any consultation that's happened before we've reached this point has been sufficient and meaningful, from your perspective? Roisin, do you want to go first?
Okay. Good morning. Thank you very much for the opportunity to come today. We have responded to the consultations that Welsh Government held, and also responded to you in writing. We do think that Welsh Government is listening on this and is keen to have a Bill that is workable and that provides the process to address this. We also—and I think you heard in the previous session with the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, NICW—held a joint even on Monday, where we had a number of stakeholders. Welsh Government were there as well, listening, and I think very much in listening mode as well, to hear what people are saying about the Bill.
And is that your view as well, James?
Absolutely. Planning Aid Wales hasn't been involved up until this stage. That's primarily because we don't get involved in legislation, policy, or development positions, as such; we're here to just focus on whether community involvement can happen in those stages.
And that will very much be part of our deliberations over the next hour, I know. Okay. Diolch yn fawr. We have had evidence about the need for clarity in the transition period, from the existing arrangements right through to, obviously, the new regime. How do you feel about what that might look like at the minute? Is there anything that could be done to provide that greater clarity that I'm sure many in the sector will be looking for?
I'm not sure there is clarity on that—I'm not aware of anything that's been set out. So, I think that would be helpful so that people know, with the developments of national significance system, what will happen to that—will that fall off a cliff; how long have we got; when will the Bill become an Act; when will processes be set up; what is the timescale for setting up; will there be a lag after the Act comes in for then Planning and Environment Decisions Wales to be set up—it's obviously set up—to be able to take on this work? How will developers transition? So, if a developer is developing an application for a project, when does it submit? Does it need to get in just before the Act or a year afterwards, or afterwards? So, I think some clarity on that would be helpful, and that's helpful for communities. We talk about clarity for developers; it's also clarity for communities and the public bodies that are involved as well.
Yes, greater clarity on the transition arrangements, the legislation itself—all aspects of the planning system—would be welcome for members of the public. But it is challenging, having worked at that interface between planning and the public. Planners are there to do an enormous amount of work on all aspects of their responsibilities, and trying to get that awareness amongst the public is really challenging. We need systematic awareness raising and education on the nature and role of planning more broadly anyway.
Of course, the nature of the Bill is that it's a framework Bill, and that allows for greater flexibility, or at least that's what the Minister tells us, and there is a balance that needs to be struck, isn't there, between allowing for that flexibility but, at the same time, giving some sort of clarity and certainty to the different stakeholders involved. Is it possible to say whether the Bill strikes that balance correctly, do you think, or do you feel that more needs to be done to illustrate maybe where that balance lies?
I think the RTPI would be happy with the balance that is there now. It is the next stage, really, of the regulation—that's where you see whether the flexibility is there or not. But in terms of the Bill and a framework Bill, yes, we're happy with the balance.
I'd agree, but secondary stages, of course, are all subject to the detail.
The devil is in the detail always, isn't it? Diolch yn fawr. We'll move on to Delyth, who's just being unmuted.
Good morning. I wanted to ask you about community involvement—this is something that has come up throughout the evidence that we've been getting so far—and whether the balance is right, whether this Bill is the correct vehicle to strengthen community involvement, and, if it is, whether it's doing that. The Minister has told us that the process to make it easier for the public to engage with the system will be a good thing in strengthening community involvement, because the number of consents will be rolled into one. And something that has come up a lot in our evidence is that that might—. No, I'm not going to lead my question, actually. What do you think? Do you agree with the Minister on that?
James to start.
Thank you. Consolidation and simplification is always welcome. Particularly within this infrastructure arena, there are so many different regimes and consents, and so on. So, we welcome that, although some may argue that it reduces the number of opportunities for participation. I think Planning Aid Wales would probably recommend the approach that's been taken in terms of bringing things together. Unfortunately, there are no metrics in the planning system to measure the scope, the reach or the quality of involvement. And until this happens, it's difficult for us to say with certainty where it will go.
Does the Bill have a role in ensuring that that sort of metrics and qualitative stuff is—? Not that it's necessarily on the face of the Bill, but that there's something there that ensures that this is captured.
I think there's opportunity for future work—maybe not on the face of the Bill as it stands, but certainly within secondary legislation and guidance.
Roisin, anything to add?
Yes, absolutely, and engagement is all part of the future generations Act as well. So, it really needs to be embedded within that and achieving that. And although many of the project promoters might not be caught by the Act directly, there are the decision makers and the stakeholders that would have a view from that Act looking at projects. I'd hope that developers take that on board when they develop their projects, in that people scrutinising their schemes will be taken in by the Act so they should think of that. And I think there is the scope, obviously, for detailed guidance and support for developers on good practice on how to do it, support in how to engage communities, which communities are you engaging with, et cetera—have you set the parameters widely. It depends on the infrastructure project. It might be a very focused localised scheme, and yet it might cover a huge geographic area. So, are you reaching out to the right communities, as well. Guidance on all of that and good practice would be welcomed.
Thank you for that. On the point that James made that I stopped myself making when I was asking the question, about those groups of people who will possibly miss out because there will be fewer points of interaction with the process, do you both think that, as Roisin was just setting out there, guidance would be the best place for there to be wider support given to try to improve the levels of engagement of the general public with these processes? Or do you think that that's just beyond the scope of what this legislation would be trying to do?
I think in terms of the primary legislation, possibly so, but I would also be hesitant about relying purely on guidance, because inevitably, we've got to get a balance here between requiring something to happen and just recommending or suggesting that it happens. Because, of course, there will be good practices out there from larger scale developers, normally, who've got the resources to be able to deliver meaningful community engagement, but we've got to capture across the board, so I would probably go for the middle ground if there's secondary legislation, if it's possible.
Could I just add on that about bringing consenting regimes together? I'd hope that that makes it more straightforward and clearer for the public to engage and for communities to engage, because then they can see how it all fits together. Sometimes, if you look at one of the consenting regimes in isolation, the whole project doesn't stack up and you don't understand what's going on, and that might go for professionals as well—it helps when you see the whole thing together.
Thank you, both. Picking up on something that you've touched on, the pre-application consultation requirements that are set out in the Bill, do you think that they are adequate to engage communities and individuals—so, community groups but also those individuals who will not be keyed into to any of the local pressure groups or interested groups, but just someone who lives near a potential development? Do you think that that specific provision is effective? Do you think that there's a way in which that could be strengthened?
Yes. At the moment, more details are required on the face of the Bill. I recognise that it's fairly early stages. There is the presence of a pre-application scheme, which is welcome, although much will be subject to the suggested timings of how and when the pre-application should occur. At the moment, we do have what I think is a fairly world-leading pre-application process within other parts of the planning system, but that has challenges, and some of those challenges relate to the timing—you know, the developers are required to submit 28 days before submitting an application. No meaningful change is being made to applications as a result of community consultation, and that is putting people off—that sort of perpetuates this cycle of distrust.
I think that could improve things, but we've also got to be mindful of consultation fatigue and continuously doing these types of things. There is some good practice out there in terms of being early within the development cycle—that is really the best time to do engagement, when developers have got the time themselves to do it, but that might be more difficult to require in the legislation. So, it's a challenge.
Thank you. Finally from me on this, last week we had evidence from Kelvin MacDonald, who is a former examining inspector, and he was drawing on how lessons could be learned from the Planning Act 2008, because that gives provision for an inspector to make the decision about whether the material that's been submitted is comprehensive enough to allow for a meaningful examination to take place. He suggested that there should be similar provisions in the Bill here. Do you agree with that? Do you have any views on that?
I would agree.
Yes. I can see a logic in it, because it would be the inspector that would be—. You know, do they have confidence that they've got all the information there to address all the questions that they might have from that experience. So, yes.
Of course, Planning Aid Wales would welcome more information and guidance, particularly in respect of the consideration and level of quality of engagement undertaken, which is not currently within the remit or within the system.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Delyth. Thank you. We'll move on to Huw.
Thank you, Chair. James, can I just tease out what you said about the—? You mentioned in your evidence the frustrations felt by communities, but isn't the hard reality here that if you have a development, whichever way you define it, that is nationally significant and it fits within the policy framework, it has a propensity built into it to move forward? It's not a presumption in favour, but certainly, if it fits within the policy framework of those desirable projects that the Welsh Government and the net-zero aims and so on want to see, then it goes ahead. And then we tell communities we're going to do a pre-consultation and so on. I have seen good practice where there have been adjustments made to proposals under the current regime in that. But we've got a difficult conundrum here, haven't we, because you're saying to a local community, 'Something that we set in stone five years ago is now coming forward with an individual application, we've got a pre-consultation on it, tell us your views, but—.' So, how do we deal with that within what's coming forward? Give me the best practice. Give me what we should put in guidance.
Thank you for that. Really, you've hit the nail on the head. Don't get me wrong, trying to engage on legislation like this—. We've tried to do some work ourselves on this Bill, and it's enormously challenging. However, there are policy statements out there, there is a national development plan, there are local development plans that set this framework, and, for us, the solution is not necessarily on the face of this Bill, it's a systemic front-loading of engagement. There's nothing more frustrating for a community than to say, 'Well, the principle of this development was already established five years ago.' More often, it's more recent than that, but it's so disconcerting. We can't say yes or no, this thing should or should not be allowed; it's about the detail. Don't get me wrong, there's great value in the detail as well, but that's one of the common frustrations we encounter. So, it's difficult in terms of this Bill, but, generally, systemically, I think there's room for improvement in front-loading engagement.
Okay. Well, any further thoughts you have on how we can front-load that and get that quality of engagement early on would be really good, subsequent, perhaps in writing. Can I just ask, are there any lessons we can learn from England on this at all in what they've done with their DNS process and their nationally significant infrastructure projects processes, good or bad, about community engagement?
Shall I come in now, because I'm the director lead for the RTPI for Planning Aid England as well? We offer a service to developers of NSIP projects, because we are completely independent of any of the decision makers or the project promoters in our Planning Aid England service, the same as in Planning Aid Wales. We offer a service that has been taken up by some infrastructure companies where we will go in and work with the parish councils in England that are affected by the scheme and do a variety of things, depending on the needs, explaining the process. We don't advocate for them at all, but we tell them what the issues are, we discuss them, we give one-to-one workshops, et cetera. The developer pays for this, but we are completely independent, so we do not support the scheme or criticise the scheme, it is purely about the process, and we provide that holding hand for the communities through that process. That's been supported, the communities have really appreciated it in the projects that we have. They've been big projects, they've been nuclear projects that we've been involved with. The developer has liked it, and the Planning Inspectorate have liked it as well, because then they've got a large community that knows how to engage in the system and understands the system as well. So, that has worked very positively, and it costs the developers to employ us as well to do that.
That's really interesting. Many of these will be projects of significant scale, and developers will constantly say, 'We've still got to protect our margins' and so on. Can I just bounce that to James? Because that's fascinating. It's not necessarily to the RTPI. But do you think there's a role for putting more obligations on at the cost of the developer to have an intermediary who can engage with the community? We're not talking about at the time that a policy statement is put in place, or the equivalent of it; we're talking about at the point this arrives on the doorstep, that they have somebody to explain exactly that thing—'Look, this is actually part of a framework where there is as good as a presumption that this will proceed, but that doesn't mean you don't have any say on this.' So, do you think, from Planning Aid's perspective—
Thank you very much. You've just described the majority of the work that we do for local planning authorities, registered social landlords and town councils in the production of place plans as well. So, yes, Planning Aid Wales and, I'm sure, other organisations like the Design Commission for Wales, are here to support and assist wherever we can. If I could just come back to the question about the DNS process, I reviewed the Planning Act 2008. There are three sections, section 47 through 49, and they highlight a duty to consult the local community, a duty to publicise and a duty to take account of responses. For me, that wording feels a bit stronger than what we've currently got in this Bill, although there's room for improvement on that, I'd suggest, as well—but I'm not here to scrutinise that, though.
That's really interesting. Just finally, then, on this community consultation and the powers that are within the Bill for the Welsh Ministers to make significant additional provision within secondary legislation. Doesn't this make it harder for people to understand and engage with the process as a whole?
People don't engage with the legislative process, so that's why we're here, to advocate for them, and we will continue to do so through secondary legislation. That said, there is some work that we can do, and we are doing now. Planning Aid Wales is holding a forum with public representatives from across Wales and we will be be reporting to planning division of Welsh Government our findings in November.
That's across the planning system as well. Until you've got something happening in the plot next to your house, or just down the road, it's very difficult to engage with communities. When you talk about even a local development plan, I mean, some do, and some are better at getting involved with that, but really it's quite difficult for communities to understand, 'What does that number of houses mean, and will it affect me, and how will it affect me?' So, it's quite difficult.
Of course, it is possible. It is possible at every level, but that's a resourcing question, and at the moment there aren't resources within Welsh Government, within local planning authorities or within Planning Aid Wales to do the full job justice.
Delyth wants to pick up on this as well.
Forgive me, as I know that we have already rehearsed this, and your views are quite clear, and you have been nuanced in this, but I just wanted to play devil's advocate for a moment. I appreciate the point that you're making about how secondary legislation will perhaps give more of an opportunity to thrash this out in detail, but do you think that, on the other hand, if something were on the face of the Bill, that would give it that extra status? And because of all of these difficulties that Roisin—well, both of you—have just been setting out, that people don't tend to get involved, because people just aren't empowered, people don't know about how processes work, that we might need a dramatic change as would be symbolised by having something on the face of the primary legislation.
I would love to see a duty to involve or a duty to engage, but I'm not sure—I haven't taken legal advice on that—how feasible that is.
If there were a duty to engage, that's an interesting departure, but then it's a duty to engage with whom? Because as you rightly say, most people have more sense than to spend their whole time, as I famously do, reading things like LDP plans and so on. But that engagement with citizens as opposed to organisations, public bodies and so on is quite interesting. There is an evolving field within things such as citizens' assemblies. We're talking about nationally significant developments here. Either they are locationally very specific and impactful or right across Wales they are going to be impactful, in which case, if it's not Mrs Jones of Brynmenyn Terrace, shouldn't there be something that is wider citizen engagement on the things that are so important—not only zero carbon, but wider? At least then there is a citizen's voice within this process, not just agencies.
Would you like to volunteer for Planning Aid Wales? [Laughter.] I think that would be very helpful. Absolutely. Citizen panels, citizen representatives, it might be a bridging process. Because, obviously, there's over 3 million people in Wales, it's really difficult to engage everyone and get that sort of—. But having some sort of tiered representative group or body that's made up of people who are not necessarily political or involved in delivery, but just local representatives in the general sense, I think that would be a great idea.
Ocê. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Okay. Thank you very much.
Okay, we'll move on, then, to Janet.
Thank you. This is to the RTPI. You highlight in your paper that Planning and Environment Decisions Wales, PEDW, will have all costs reimbursed, but that local planning authorities will only have costs associated with local impact reports reimbursed, and no other costs, such as preparing for and attending inquiries. Could you expand on this point, please?
I don't have the specific—. We don't have specific figures for this, but we know, and I think it's been well rehearsed at this committee and other Senedd committees as well, about the resourcing of local planning authorities, and other public bodies as well, that need to engage in this process, and they really are at the edge of financial viability for running those departments. So, then, when you get big schemes coming in, where do they have the resource for doing that? So, there is a real need to balance the fees that come in to give the local planning authorities—and if they have other resourcing needs outside the planning authority, so ecologists, highways, et cetera, that that is properly funded. And we do need to look at where the public sector needs to pay for supporting these processes and services and where the developer needs to fund in. And we heard before, as well, that the development industry is willing to pay for additional, if they get the service that they are paying for.
Having attended one or two planning hearings and inspections and things, it has always galled me, particularly in housing developments, where the developer turns up, probably with the best barrister in the country, and then anyone fighting the other side, be it elected Members, be it knowledgeable members of the community—. We had it with a public path that was closed off, and, oh, gee, you know, it was galling to see the expense that some of the agencies had gone to, and could afford. The members of the public just had to rely on us, with no actual legal expertise or planning expertise as such. Even now, I've raised questions in the last 12 years I've been here, and I do think that there should be a more even balance. So, in big infrastructure projects like this, much bigger than 150 houses, say—you know, we've got a lot going on off the north Wales coast and we want nuclear, as well, on Wylfa; those are big schemes—how can we bring that balance more into reality?
Well, there's two parts in response to that. Firstly, there's the public sector, the local planning authorities that will have a statutory duty to respond to the process as well. So, we need to make sure that they are geared up and resourced appropriately through the fees, if not through other mechanisms as well, so that they can do a good service to their local community overall and effectively engage in the process. But then, there is the community group side of things as well, because they can offer, and they do offer, a very good resource to that scheme. They might have local knowledge. I was at an event yesterday on the Aarhus convention, where they can have a lot of local knowledge that can really input into the project in a positive way as well—or point out negativities that perhaps hadn't been considered, hadn't been picked up on in surveys, et cetera. So, that's a resource in itself that needs to be brought to the table and supported.
Because local authorities are very stretched, and have been for a number of years, I've actually witnessed first-hand where a local authority has been almost supporting the big development and trying to get on with it because there's a community benefit tied to that actual scheme. And they're going, 'Oh, that's all money, you know, a few hundred thousand, coming into our, you know, sort of area.' And again, I feel that's quite wrong. I think there has to be that balance. I think the citizen's voice is equally as important as the developer's.
And we'll be hearing from the developers next week, so obviously they'll be able to tell us what they bring to the table in terms of resource as well.
Could I just say, there is a perception issue? You've just highlighted it there, that if the local authority, for example, gets funding in through a planning performance agreement or another mechanism to support that application, they should, and they are independent of that. It just means that they have then got the resource to administer and process that application. Whether they're the decision maker or, in part, you know, a DNS process of that. There is a huge perception issue—
This was more than perception.
There we are. Okay. We'll be coming back to you in a moment, Janet, but Jenny first.
I want to just focus on how Planning Aid Wales is going to use the resources it has for effective engagement in these strategic infrastructure projects, because in your written evidence, you've highlighted how people throw everything in. So, notwithstanding all the hot air going on at the other end of the M4 about whether we can afford to defer measures to combat a climate emergency, how do you get people to focus on the merits, or otherwise, of a particular significant infrastructure project? So, things like, that you mention, the conflict between the climate emergency and the nature emergency—the solar farms on the Gwent levels were discussed in that respect—or whether a particular wind turbine needs to be put on the north side of the hill rather than the south side of the hill. These seemed relevant. How are you going to use the resources you have to get people to focus on things that are material to the subject under discussion?
There is an imbalance in terms of the weight and the power of consultants and technical experts, barristers and so on, and that is not present amongst communities. That is an enormous challenge. It has galled me for years and years that we can't provide that support, that level of technical support. We rely on volunteers as part of our process. Our Welsh Government funding has been set at £121,500 for the past decade, for which we provide a set of services, which includes a planning advice helpline and education and awareness raising. That will probably be where our focus is, however, we've also made many recommendations to Welsh Government on how processes can be improved, but it's resource restricted.
But if the examining authority is going to be conducting these matters, they may decide that they don't want an adversarial process—get rid of the barristers' job creation—and that they'll want to listen to the communities with specific issues around project X, which they can then put to the developers and say, 'Well, what consideration have you given to that, and why have you come down on one side rather than the other?'
Great, if that happens.
So, do you think that the Bill provides that framework for—?
I don't think it prevents it, that would probably be—. But I'm not sure how specific it is in that regard.
Okay. People always need more money, but at the end of the day, resources are very tight. There is no more money. So, is this framework, as far as you understand it, going to enable you to support the communities to have a more meaningful say on things that they can affect?
Our funding isn't directly tied in to responding to infrastructure issues. We are here to help any aspect of the planning system—
Yes, okay, but we're not dealing with them today.
—and, yes, funding is always limited, but engagement and involvement are always the first to fall under tight budget pressures. So, until they're prioritised, it's difficult. But with regard to your question about the Bill, again, I would say that there's nothing there to prevent it, but it could probably go a bit further.
Okay, so does something need to be strengthened in the obligations around the pre-application process?
Thank you. Back to you, Janet.
Thank you. Very interesting questions there. You say in your paper that while the number of enforcement cases is expected to be low, you're concerned about the technical and resourcing requirements should LPAs be required to carry out enforcement. Could you expand on this point?
Yes. The statement we make about enforcement cases being expected to be low, that's come from the explanatory memorandum, that's not our analysis. So, that's from the information attached to the Bill. This will probably come in the regulations, again, about having detail. It's pointless having any legal decision-making system unless you've got an enforcement—
Exactly right. And, of course, for me, it's always—it's made me rather interested that you have NRW, who issue marine licences, and then they are the enforcement body. I've always found that, you know, at odds. I've put loads of questions in over the years, saying, 'How many enforcement—?', and you see very little, very few enforcement cases.
Well, information in the explanatory memorandum comes from the developments of national significance that we have in Wales, as I understand it. So, that is the data that—. So, the experience at the moment through the DNS system is that there aren't many enforcement cases. Of course, you have that system in the town and country planning system, where local planning authorities are the decision makers, and yet they're the enforcement bodies as well.
Don't get me going on that. So many times that—[Interruption.] No, I'll just raise—[Interruption.] If I can just make the point that the enforcement doesn't happen any more. Certainly, you know, they haven't got the resources now, the local authorities, to carry out enforcement—
Yes, and that's the point—the resource point.
—and that's a big worry, even in small schemes.
Okay, thank you. Back to Jenny again.
Precisely on this point of enforcement—because we don't have enforcement measures, there's no point having any legislation. So, Cardiff and Newport councils are arguing that it's not clear who's going to take the decision on enforcement in these significant infrastructure projects. What do you think, RTPI? I mean, is it clear enough as far as you're concerned, given that we're not talking about some local housing development, we're talking about a significant infrastructure development?
No, and there's probably a reason for that, because it probably depends on what needs enforcing. You know, who is the competent authority to do that? Because is it something to do with the marine licence or is it a pollution issue? I'm trying to think. So, where does that fall? That would be one thing. I think detailed regulation would be the best place for that—and perhaps, because of the framework, it isn't the right place to put the detail of who will be the enforcer at this stage.
Although we certainly need to change the mood music, don't we? Because there are lots of examples of people blatantly ignoring planning regulations.
Ffos-y-fran, you know—is it the local authority or is it the Welsh Government who should be wielding the stick? And so, what do you think needs to go in the legislation to make this clear? Because there are clearly cost implications once you start enforcing against people who will use the law to try and defer any decision.
Yes. I'm not going to comment on Ffos-y-fran, because I think that's—[Interruption.] Well, I don't know the detail of it. But also, I'm not sure it's done under the town and country—I'm not sure under which legislation the approvals are.
That's where it can get really messy, as well—is it sat with UK legislation et cetera? So, that's complex. But turning to this Bill, yes, I think there needs to be something there that says that enforcement will happen, but you need the detailed regulations, as I said, because of the complexity about who could enforce, who is the right body—is it NRW, is it someone else?
So, there needs to be more clarity, either in supplementary regulation or in the Bill?
There we are. Okay, thank you very much. Right, we'll move on now, then—Joyce.
I'm going to ask about the status and hierarchy of planning policies, because this is going to be I think where lots of issues could or couldn't arise, and you sort of touched on it in your previous answer—which policy takes precedence. And a lot of people are concerned about that, which policy does take precedence. We've had comments that say that if it's unclear which policy is taking precedence, then are they going to be subject to any public consultation, if the overarching policy is the infrastructure policy statement?
I think there are infrastructure policy statements mentioned in the Bill. I don't think it's the intention to have a suite of infrastructure planning statements. And actually, as the RTPI, we wouldn't support that, because we already have a lot of policy in Wales, and good policy as well. So, we have the national development framework, 'Future Wales', as our spatial strategy. Yes, there can be improvements, there can always be improvements to strategy, so we have that—. We also have 'Planning Policy Wales', which is a very strong planning policy, and they sit together. They do different things, but sit together. What we're missing is the regional, strategic development plans, and investment in those is required. And that might help some of the large projects that we're talking about as well, to get down to more granular detail, but still at a reasonable spatial scale, if you like. And, of course, there are local development plans. So, there is quite a clear hierarchy.
We also have—not planning policy, but other Government policies that then support these documents, so, perhaps, sectoral ones. 'Llwybr Newydd' is a good example, and where that has—. Because it's a relatively new policy as well, an updated policy, it provides strength to 'Future Wales'. So, they work together very well. So, that's good on transport infrastructure, but perhaps on the energy infrastructure, we don't have that so much. But the policy statements I think are something that we could use if there's a new technology, whatever that might be—then you could bring something in on that. I'm thinking that it's a generic title—I mean, I don't know, but I'm assuming it's a generic title—so there would be a mechanism already in place for consulting and adopting whichever policy comes out.
If I could interject, if you don't mind? You're saying that 'Llwybr Newydd', for example, is great in terms of filling that space around transport, but you're not saying that we need infrastructure policy statements on those to fill those gaps. You feel that more strategic documents would be sufficient.
I think if you have a whole suite of infrastructure policy statements, you're creating a whole new level of policy need that needs to be serviced, that needs to be kept up to date. The ones that are under the 2008 Act aren't up to date. And actually, they aren't policy in themselves, they've just pulled policy together from different parts.
But then you say that there is a need for something to fill some of those voids, such as what 'Llwybr Newydd' has done in relation to transport.
Yes, perhaps energy—that could come in more and provide more detail of what we want. We do have 'Energy Wales: A Low Carbon Transition', but that was 2012, was it?
Because is there not a risk that we end up arguing whether we need this infrastructure, as opposed to deliberating the merits of the planning application itself? I mean, that's the evidence that we've previously—
Yes, absolutely, yes, but we need—
You know, 80 per cent sometimes of the energy is spent on, 'Do we really need this', as opposed to looking at the proposal on its own merits.
Absolutely. So, 'Llwybr Newydd' and 'Future Wales' et cetera, and other Welsh Government strategies and policies, provide that evidence, so you can move on. We do have 'A Low Carbon Wales', so we know we need renewable energy, but perhaps the detailed, more up-to-date policy can work.
Okay. Sorry, Joyce.
You started talking about policy gaps—energy you cited; we've had others cite ports and radioactive waste geological disposal as other examples. Moving on, do you think that there are gaps in planning policy for significant infrastructure? And you did say energy, I accept that. And having said that, what would you say to us, to advise the Minister?
There is strong energy policy, if you look at 'Planning Policy Wales', about what it's trying to achieve in terms of renewable energy et cetera—that is there. It's the kind of sectoral side of it, of perhaps, 'Where? 'Which energy?', so speaking from an energy perspective, rather than from a planning perspective. I think that's where that one is needed. In terms of gaps, there might be some technology that I'm not aware of, or none of us might be aware of, that's been developing. Hydrogen is often spoken about. At the event we held with the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales on Monday, we asked about whether there were any development types that weren't currently included. There was a general feeling that most things were in there. Hydrogen—it depends whether it's transmission of hydrogen, if you call it that, or electricity, which would be covered, whether hydrogen generation plants are in there, but if they're generating electricity they are. There was a general feeling that everything was covered in terms of the Bill.
I think there's a whole debate about what we need, and setting out what we need would perhaps benefit the NSIP process and remove some of the debate about the need and the speeding up of that examination. You're nodding your head, so you obviously agree with it. What is it you feel that in this process could be amended or added to make that possible?
I think in the Bill we wouldn't look to see any changes at all, and as I said, 'Planning Policy Wales' and 'Future Wales' give figures and the ambition to convert, certainly on energy generation, to the low carbon Wales, so there is that shift of moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. And maybe there just needs to be a stronger strategy, a more updated low carbon Wales strategy, which is outside the Bill, really. But that would provide that evidence, I believe.
We've also heard from Anglesey or Ynys Môn council, and they, in their evidence paper, question where the strategic development plans currently under development will sit in this hierarchy, because they're in the making but they haven't arrived. I suppose that's a good way of saying it. What's your understanding of the implications of the Bill for SDPs?
They will be part of the development plan in Wales, as set out by the Planning (Wales) Act 2015, so you will have 'Future Wales', the national development framework, the strategic development plans, and then local development plans with those. There is the opportunity for place plans, but they're not part of the legislation. That provides much more community level, which feed into local development plans.
So, the strategic development plans I think would provide a very good framework that is cross local authority border as well, which is very important for many of these projects, and provide that evidence of the spatial location for some of these projects, because I think that's one of the arguments that's come up with some of the projects, such as the Gwent levels: right project, wrong place. Not my words, but that's the words that have come out. So, perhaps the strategic development plans can tease those kinds of issues out as well.
Okay. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Right, we'll come back to you, Janet.
Thank you, Chair. The committee received mixed views on the 52-week statutory time frame for deciding applications. Some respondents were concerned it could slow down decisions on smaller projects, and others said it wasn't long enough for more complex projects. What are your views on how the time frame is set out in this Bill?
I think different projects will take different times, depending on their complexity, their location, and I think you need to have flexibility in the Bill. So, 52 weeks, I think that's a reasonable time. If you start being too prescriptive, then you could run into problems, depending on the specific projects with that.
I think just giving too much detail on timings, if you're breaking down each stage and giving timings, that gives more opportunity to foster public distrust when those timings aren't met. So, there's a balance to be made in terms of how much detail is to be given.
And it's been suggested to the committee that the Minister should make a statement to the Senedd on each occasion that they intend to extend the deadline for determining an application, as is the case in England. Do you agree with this?
I think that would help, certainly, communities, and it makes it more transparent. It also makes it accountable to the developers as well, who might not be in agreement, but certainly to communities, to let them know, keep them updated, and there is a public record then of what is happening.
So, we also received suggestions that there should be—thank you, by the way—statutory time frames for each stage of the process, as in the Planning Act 2008, including for validating applications. What are your views on this?
Yes. It does—. Although within the caveat that James has already given, that perhaps too tight a timescale, if it slips, then it can be problematic. There might be genuine resource issues, there might be a pandemic—hopefully not again—but there might be genuine reasons for needing slippage on those. So, you have to be careful about combining it, tying it down too much, if you like. But, yes.
Okay. Thank you.
Okay. We have just about 10 minutes left and we have about four or five other questions that we'd like to cover, so Members and our guests might be mindful of that as we proceed. Diolch.
Okay. If we look at the role of the examining authority, developers want clarity, but some respondents are concerned that the discretion that the examining authority has to decide whether they should examine an application by written procedure in some cases or a hearing or an inquiry creates uncertainty; others welcome the flexibility. What are your views?
I think flexibility is needed because it depends on the project. It might be a national infrastructure project, but it might be quite a straightforward one, so do you need a big inquiry where everyone turns up? But, of course, transparency with communities.
That being the point. The flexibility is needed; it is needed because of the complexity of all of these issues that are being dealt with, and there is no problem with that. I don't imagine the public have much of a problem unless it's not made clear why that happened. There are so many opportunities at different levels to just ensure that decisions are made clear, not just issuing statutory-type notices, but just a clear, concise explanation of what this was.
An easy-read version.
Okay. Under what circumstances might you be able to dispatch an application by written procedure, given that we're talking about significant infrastructure projects, ergo they're bigger than just a small matter going on in a village?
I'm not sure I've got that expertise, sorry.
Okay. I don't know if you'd be able to write to us, because that's one I'm struggling with.
Okay. So, equally, we received mixed feedback on the provisions in the Bill that allow either the examining authority or the Minister to make the decision, and there are differing views on that. Some people want the Welsh Ministers to make the decision as it's clear they have the political accountability; you can vote them out if you don't like their decisions. But the examining authority tend to be civil servants, who look at the evidence as presented. What are your views?
Flexibility, again, I would say. Definitely.
That is a difficult one, thank you. Again, I'd probably come back to that there is a need for flexibility, there is a need for accountability, but there is also a need for looking at pure evidence in terms of making this decision. It's just got to be clear: it's got to be clear why and how and what the rationale was.
Okay. Roisin, Anglesey council are arguing that they should be allowed to resist the powers to allow the examining authority to make a decision. If they don't like it, they want the power to say, 'We don't like that. These are the reasons why.' What's your view, with all your breadth of knowledge of planning?
Well, it's a test, isn't it?
I mean, is this one we should consider seriously or just say, 'Well, everybody has to conform to this structure'?
I think I'd need some time to think about that, if you don't mind.
Can I write in?
Yes, by all means.
Yes. But what about an LPA's right to raise an objection? You know, a—.
Yes, they could raise—. I suppose they'd put in an objection to the Minister. Is that the idea? You could do that. I suppose that would be a kind of call-in in some ways—a new form of call-in, maybe.
Okay, fine. That's okay. We'll move on then. Janet.
Yes. Do you have any specific comments on the provisions in the Bill relating to compulsory purchase?
No, other than—. Again, compulsory purchase has come up in many of your inquiries before and other committees as well, and it's about that skill and knowledge and confidence of using compulsory purchase. So, for the Bill itself, no, and there are logical times to use compulsory purchase, it can be very helpful; it's just that support for actually using it and implementing it.
Okay, there we are. The final question from Huw, then.
Thank you, Chair. Do you have any other thoughts you want to share with us on significant infrastructure categories? Maybe I can probe a little bit on the issue of both hydrogen and energy storage, neither of which may be on any grand scale in a particular locality and some of which may not be novel applications of technology, but situationally, locally, could be novel, if, for example, you have some of these in residential areas et cetera. So, what are your thoughts on the categories? Are they appropriate? Do you think there should be some more in there? And how do you deal with things like hydrogen and energy storage? If not within this, how do you deal with it?
I'm not an expert on either. On hydrogen though, this is where actually the infrastructure Bill could come into its own because of having the different consenting regimes together. So, because of the nature of hydrogen, you would then be able to consider the explosive nature of it and where you site it as appropriate alongside your development consents et cetera. So, putting everything together would help. Maybe there are mechanisms for controlling it—I hope there are—but it's outside my expertise.
On battery storage, it does seem benign, but there has been a case in Northern Ireland where the Northern Ireland Executive got into difficulty because there's something to do with the technology that actually it's not just storage, there's an element of generation in there. So, there was a legal definition about battery storage that, actually, it's not just storage, there is electricity generation in it. So, that might need looking at.
Okay, thank you. And I note your comments that this is not a technology area you're expert in, but what I was pushing at was this issue of where there are things that don't, in terms of megawatt capacity, fall within national—. It's not like a nuclear power plant or this, that or the other. But the application of new technologies seems to me to be screaming out for something of national guidance around how those technologies are deployed, and, both in battery storage and in hydrogen, we don't have those at the moment. They're not included currently within this. There are arguments for and against. And from a plan-made perspective, this is exactly where communities then go, 'Whoa, what's this stuff? Where's this come from?'
Part of the difficulty is, you will always have edge cases, you will always have new—. Hydrogen at the moment, yes, perhaps that should be included, but I'm going to predict that communities would not like a potential hydrogen bomb next to their, you know—. Or that might be a genuine fear or concern that is raised without understanding what the technology is. So, yes, you can only go so far. Maybe a suis generis sort of—.
I think there is something there already by which the Minister can determine, 'Yes, that will be a SIP, rather than a Town and Country Planning Act.'
Yes, there is, and currently, under the current situation, they can be called in, of course, because there are other significant considerations that make it 'significant'. [Laughter.]
Whatever that means. [Laughter.]
Yes. We won't start trying to define 'significant', which is a whole other question.
Ocê. Wel, diolch yn fawr iawn. Dŷn ni wedi dod i ddiwedd y sesiwn, felly a gaf i ddiolch i Roisin ac i James am y dystiolaeth rŷch chi wedi rhannu gyda ni, yn werthfawr iawn fel arfer? Ac rŷn ni'n gwerthfawrogi'n fawr iawn eich hamser chi. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Diolch.
Okay. Thank you very much. We've come to the end of the session, so may I thank Roisin and James for the evidence you've shared with us, very valuable as usual? And we appreciate your time. Thank you very much. Thank you.
Mi wnaiff y pwyllgor symud ymlaen, felly, at yr eitem nesaf, sef papurau i’w nodi. Mae yna 10 papur yn ein pecyn ni. Dwi’n gwybod efallai y bydd rhai pwyntiau angen eu codi nes ymlaen yn y sesiwn breifat ar un neu ddau ohonyn nhw, ond oes rhywun angen codi rhywbeth, neu wnawn ni jest eu nodi nhw gyda’i gilydd? Ie, mi wnawn ni nodi’r papurau, felly. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
The committee will then move on to the next item, item 4, papers to note. There are 10 papers in our pack. I know perhaps that some points will be raised in the private session on one or two of them, but does anyone want to raise anything now, or shall we note them together? We'll note the papers, therefore. Thank you very much.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Ac felly ymlaen at y pumed eitem, ac, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix), dwi'n cynnig bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu cwrdd yn breifat am weddill y cyfarfod, os yw Aelodau yn fodlon. Ydy Aelodau'n fodlon? Ie, pawb yn hapus. Dyna ni. Diolch yn fawr. Mi wnawn ni symud i sesiwn breifat, ac oedi am eiliad tan i'r darlledu ddod i ben.
And therefore on to the fifth item, and, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix), I propose that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of the meeting, if Members are content. Are Members content? Yes, everybody is happy. There we are. Thank you very much. We'll move therefore into private session, and wait a while for the broadcast to come to an end.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:41.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:41.