Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith

Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee

22/05/2024

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas
Delyth Jewell
Janet Finch-Saunders
Joyce Watson
Julie Morgan
Llyr Gruffydd Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Carwyn Morris Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Merthyr Tudful
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
Claire Bennett Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
David Cross Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Merthyr Tudful
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
Ellis Cooper Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Merthyr Tudful
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
Geraint Morgan Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Merthyr Tudful
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
Geraint Thomas Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Merthyr Tudful
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
Huw Irranca-Davies Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Newid Hinsawdd a Materion Gwledig
Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs
Jonathan Oates Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Judith Jones Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Merthyr Tudful
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Chloe Corbyn Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Lorna Scurlock Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Lukas Evans Santos Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:29.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:29.

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

Bore da i chi i gyd. Croeso cynnes i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith yma yn Senedd Cymru. Mae hwn yn gyfarfod sydd yn cael ei gynnal mewn fformat hybrid. Wedi dweud hynny, mae pawb yn yr ystafell, felly dwi ddim yn meddwl bydd angen ymhelaethu. Ond ar wahân i unrhyw addasiadau yn ymwneud â chynnal y trafodion yn y fformat hwnnw, mae holl ofynion eraill y Rheolau Sefydlog, wrth gwrs, yn aros yn eu lle.

Mi fydd eitemau cyhoeddus y cyfarfod yma yn cael eu darlledu yn fyw ar Senedd.tv, ac mi fydd yna Gofnod o'r Trafodion yn cael ei gyhoeddi yn ôl yr arfer. Mae'n gyfarfod dwyieithog, felly mae yna gyfieithu ar gael o'r Gymraeg i'r Saesneg. Oes gan unrhyw un unrhyw fuddiannau i'w datgan cyn inni gychwyn? 

Good morning. A warm welcome to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee here at the Senedd. This is a hybrid meeting. Having said that, everyone is actually in the room, so I don't think we will need to expand on that. But aside from any adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in that format, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place.

The public items will be broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. It's a bilingual meeting, so simultaneous interpretation is available from Welsh to English. Do Members have any declarations of interest?

09:30

The translation isn't working. Okay. We will pause a moment, just to make sure that the technology is—. I was just asking whether there were any declarations of interest.

Na, dim byd. Ocê. Diolch yn fawr.

No, nothing. Okay. Thank you very much.

Is yours working?

O, wel, er mwyn gwirio os yw'r offer cyfieithu yn gweithio—. Dyna ni. Pawb yn hapus. Ocê. Roeddwn i jest eisiau holi os oedd gan unrhyw un unrhyw fuddiannau i'w datgan cyn inni fwrw iddi. Na. Ocê. Iawn.

Oh, well, so just to check that everything is working—. Is that working for everyone? Yes, it is. I just wanted to ask if anyone had any declarations of interest, before we move on. No. Okay.

2. Craffu ar Newid Hinsawdd gydag Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Newid Hinsawdd a Materion Gwledig
2. Climate Change scrutiny with the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs

Wel, symudwn ni ymlaen at yr eitem nesaf ar yr agenda, sef craffu ar waith Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Newid Hinsawdd a Materion Gwledig, ond yn benodol mewn perthynas â'r cynnydd sydd wedi cael ei wneud o ran cyflawni ymrwymiadau newid hinsawdd. Dwi eisiau estyn croeso cynnes i Huw Irranca-Davies, Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Newid Hinsawdd a Materion Gwledig, sy'n gyn-Aelod, tan yn ddiweddar iawn, o'r pwyllgor yma. Mi fydd hi'n brofiad gwahanol eich cael chi ar yr ochr yna, ond rŷn ni'n edrych ymlaen, yn amlwg, fel pwyllgor, i graffu ar eich gwaith chi yn gyffredinol, ac yn enwedig yn y sesiwn y bore yma. Yn ymuno â'r Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet mae Claire Bennett, sy'n gyfarwyddwr cynaliadwyedd amgylcheddol gyda'r Llywodraeth; a John Oates, sy'n bennaeth twf glân gyda Llywodraeth Cymru. Croeso i'r tri ohonoch chi. Mae gennym ni awr a chwarter, felly fe awn ni'n syth i gwestiynau, ac fe wnaf i ofyn i Janet Finch-Saunders i gychwyn.

Well, we will therefore move on to our next item on the agenda, which is scrutinising the work of the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, but specifically in relation to the progress made towards Wales's climate change commitments. I want to extend a very warm welcome to Huw Irranca-Davies, the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, who was, until very recently, a member of this committee. It will be a different experience to have you on that side of the table, but we look forward as a committee to scrutinising your work in general, and particularly in this morning's session. Joining the Cabinet Secretary we have Claire Bennett, director of environmental sustainability with the Welsh Government; and John Oates, head of clean growth with the Welsh Government. Welcome to all three of you. We have an hour and a quarter. We will move immediately to questions, and I'll invite Janet Finch-Saunders to kick off. 

Diolch, Chair. Good morning, Minister. So, what are your priorities now in your new role as the Cabinet Secretary for climate change? What do you hope to achieve and how do your priorities differ to our previous Minister?

Thank you for that question, Janet. The priorities of Government remain exactly the same. We have to deliver on the carbon budgets that we've set out, on the ambition that we've set out as well, and keep on working together across Government to achieve that. But the priorities within portfolios have changed slightly. I have specific responsibility for emissions within the agricultural sector, within land use, within the waste sectors as well. I also have responsibility for ensuring climate resilience in nature, agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture, forestry, food security, and water quality supply. But within other areas, on the basis that we stick to our guns, that we embed carbon reduction in emissions and the net-zero pathway right across Government in every single department, then all those other Cabinet colleagues that I have, every single one of them in their areas, will need to deliver on their responsibility within carbon budgets and the net-zero pathway as well, also delivering, I have to say, not purely on—. Often that seems like quite a hard-line message, 'This is the hard graft that we have to do', and there is a degree of hard graft here. If what we've achieved so far has been challenging, what comes beyond that is going to be a step change in challenging, and we look to working with your committee to help us with direction and ambition within that. But it is also to do with creating those opportunities that flow from it. So, when we talk about things such as green growth opportunities and green jobs, it's making that real, but whether it's in the energy sector or the housing sector, or the land use and management sector, it's actually driving that forward as well, so every single Cabinet member has responsibility for it.

The other thing I would say very clearly in the first appearance that I have in front of this committee is: it is not Government on its own—it genuinely isn't. When I was sitting on that side of the table, I was always very clear on this. There is a wider ask for all partners out there, including local government, but also wider stakeholders, wider civic society, and individuals—individual consumers, individual citizens—to say, 'We have to step up and make our own choices as well.' That's going to be a challenge.

Thank you. It's fair to say, over the past three years, and it's also fair to say that the portfolio has been split a little, but it was always felt that it was a mammoth portfolio. I know the Minister herself acknowledged that there are so many facets to this portfolio. Do you think that the current set-up as we have it now, that a lot of those targets, aims and ambitions that have previously been set—you have every confidence that the goals we're moving towards you'll achieve by the date and the time that we need it?

09:35

I can say with the—. First of all, on the ambitions and the targets, both within the second carbon budget but also moving on to No. 3 and then beyond, we've always taken this approach, and it probably chimes with Lord Stern's original words about taking the decisions early, moving ahead early, but then you might need to ratchet up as well. This is not walking up the slow slopes of a mountain and then it gets easy, this is a big mountain ahead of us, where we are trying to do the right thing for this generation and for future generations.

So, on that basis, regardless of the ministerial shape and structure—that in some ways doesn't matter. What binds us together is that we have a collective and individual responsibility to deliver on our carbon budgets and get on with that. So, I've already been having discussions with individual Ministers. I'm looking forward, actually, over the next few weeks and months, to sitting down individually with each Cabinet Secretary and saying, 'Right, how do you in transport, how do you in housing, how do you in local government actually help us all deliver on it?' And, yes, I'm under no misapprehensions about the scale of the challenge, and that's why I'm glad that I'm in front of this committee very early on, but I'm also, in a sense, appealing to the committee to help me reinforce the scale of the challenge that we have and how we need to call on everybody—everything we do on that Senedd floor, but also outside in wider society—to make it happen.

And also, by the way, I have to say, call on the UK Government. I know, when I was sitting on that side, we often used to talk about the balance between reserved and non-reserved functions, but we do this as a UK. But some of the significant levers are there at a UK level. So, again, I think it's that appeal for constructive working. If we're all signed up to this, genuinely and seriously, then I'm looking forward to that engagement with the UK Ministers as well to say, 'Right, how we do this now and how are we all going to step up to it?' 

Before we come to Carolyn, can I just ask, then, when you sit down with your colleagues in Cabinet, you don't have any carrots or sticks, do you? You can't twist their arms. If they say, 'Well, no, actually we're going to take our time to do this', what can you do?

We do have a number of carrots and sticks. One is the commitment of the First Minister. I'm familiar with this as a former Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs Minister as well. If you have the commitment of the Prime Minister and if you, as we did at the time—Julie will remember this; when we had a climate change department at that time, it was a new innovation, and we've had it recently as well—are given that imperative right from the top that says, 'We have to do this. There is no stepping back', that becomes important for me, then, when I sit down. But actually, to be honest, Chair, it's also the fact that this has been driven—. There was a right moment in time when we had that, if you like, super ministry, where we said—partly in response, by the way, to the calls of the Youth Parliament as well, we declared a nature emergency, a climate change emergency, 'We should have a Minister that drives this.' That was right for the time; now we have to say that that is now embedded in Government. We have carbon budgets to deliver, we have net-zero pathways to make real, we have to ratchet up as we go along as well. Having that lead from the top, from the First Minister, is good.

We're in discussions about how we might put the mechanisms—it bores people outside, but how we put the mechanisms internally to drive that as well. But the biggest driver of all is our statutory commitment to actually achieve these. But you have to make that real. And we do—I would say, Chair, and I would say, Janet—see, sometimes, disconcerting signals from other Governments within the UK who seem to be stepping back from those commitments. Our commitment is very, very clear, but we cannot do it alone, Janet; we cannot. This is a bigger ask of everybody. 

Well, my question was: how are you going to work across portfolios to make sure you achieve these targets? Do you feel like you might be taking a lead role, then—it sounds like it today—to hold their feet to the fire as well to make sure that they continue with these ambitions? And what mechanisms would you have in place to ensure that net-zero ambitions are met? When you meet, is there a line there when you're discussing things: 'How are you achieving these targets? Where are you up to?' Is that something that happens?

To be clear, we've already got some good mechanisms in place right here, right now, so we don't have to reinvent or create new mechanisms. So, for example, at a director level, we have a director-level climate change portfolio board. The director general of that is Tracey Burke, who I meet with regularly. She chairs that group. It meets approximately every two months. It, if you like, holds the ring on where are they on the ambition that we have, what are they achieving, are the right policies in place, are the right strategic decisions being taken, made, as well, bringing forward recommendations within each portfolio area from the leads of those departments. So, that’s already happening. That doesn’t change. There's a lot of work going on, an immense amount of work, as I’ve seen, since I’ve come in on this side of the table now, on decarbonisation and climate resilience activity.

It is cross-portfolio work; it is collaborative. So, I don’t want to give the impression that I am somehow the ringmaster here. It isn’t—. Every single Cabinet Secretary has this obligation and commitment to deliver, but what I can add to the piece is actually not only within my own portfolio, within farming, land management et cetera, afforestation, and all of that, aquaculture, but I can also seek to add my shoulder to them to encourage, explore opportunities that we can go further. Later in the summer, we will be turning our attention to where we go next with the next carbon budget, and I’ll be coming back to you, I’m sure, and saying, ‘What ideas do we have? Here are some thoughts we have. What do you feel about it? Will you add your—?’ So, it’s not that I hold the ring on this, but I certainly have a role now in working with other Cabinet Secretaries to drive this forward, but there’s a lot of work already in place.

One of the things, Carolyn, that we are looking at internally is, within the new structure that we’ve talked about, is there something else we now have to put in place. But we haven’t come to a decision on that, and what I know from previous experience is let’s not just set up another committee. It’s something to do with building on what we’ve got already, and then saying, ‘Right, how do we keep on driving this forward, second carbon budget, options for third carbon budget and so on?’

09:40

The only real driver will be knowledge and the ability to translate that knowledge into action.

And I’ll be doing a talk later on about construction. So, how confident are you that those people who need to deliver have the skills and the experience to deliver it, whether that’s on-farm training about new methods—and I know we’ve done a lot of that work—but also, right through all those sectors, how you teach your children, how you deliver what needs delivering, with the knowledge, or if you haven’t got it, the ability to acquire that knowledge? Because, without it, we won’t be going very far very fast.

It’s a really good point, and it’s a genuine challenge across all the sectors and across all of society, and there is good work going on. If you look at what we’ve done, for example—. We might touch on this later, but what we’ve done—. One of the areas within our devolved control and remit is social housing. We don’t have all the levers over what we can do on energy efficiency at a UK level and so on, but we do have that. So, the knowledge and expertise that we’ve developed within the sector, for example, with the optimised refit programme, is significant, and we look forward now to how we can apply that to the private sector as well. But we don’t hold things like the standards on energy efficiency across the UK. So, in that area, we can do stuff. In what we do in taking forward things such as—. In this preparatory phase that we’ve announced for the sustainable farming scheme, part of that has to be grounding out how do we deliver the expertise, so that we can do things like carbon sequestration, not simply with afforestation and woodland creation, but actually with things such as soil, peat, et cetera et cetera. Now, we’re doing an enormous amount of that in Wales. We need to take that further. But your point is valid, because this cannot be in one or two or three areas; it has to be across every single field. That’s where the net zero pathway really helps us, because, sector by sector, in that granular dissection of the interventions we need to make and the skills and the capacity to do it in local government, et cetera, et cetera, in our public estates, all of those need to be moving forward as one.

That also helps with a word of reassurance, I have to say, because we often hear—I hear it within my own area—'Well, you're asking,' for example, 'farming to carry a heck of a lot.' No, no, no: what we're asking is farming to carry alongside local government, alongside private home owners, alongside everybody. And there's a real issue of building the capacity and the knowledge and the data. There is also the issue, I have to say, fundamentally, of developing that cultural change, that we bring people with us. If the two imperatives—. It's easy to fall into the silo of saying this is all to do with net zero and climate transition, climate justice. It isn't only that; it's also social justice. So, on that basis, part of the capacity building we have to do is to bring people with us and show them both why we're doing it and why it's an imperative for them to come with us on this journey—to come with us, not to be told what to do. And that applies in every one of those sectors: getting local government to come with us, getting the farming sector to come with us. Schools and education is a massive piece as well.

09:45

We'll come on to some—[Inaudible.]—a moment. Carolyn, and then, after Carolyn, I'll come on to Julie.

Okay. I was going to ask you a question about working in partnership with local government. Funding is quite restricted, isn't it, as well, and they're achieving a lot for their buck with building social housing and the recycling, which is under your remit. We need that funding. When I looked at the report, the UK Climate Change Committee seems to be concentrating quite a lot on carbon capture, the big industries, the big hitters, the big winners. But we've done a lot in Wales regarding all those things you mentioned, working with partners—ecology, carbon sequestration—but they don't seem to be in their targets the same, so I just wondered how they married up, really, because we're achieving a lot more in other areas, I feel, than they are, but we need the funding to continue. So, how would you address that?

Local government and wider, working with farmers and other organisations, such as the wildlife trusts, and public organisations as well.

We start from the base that we're not going to suddenly find buckets of new and additional money. It isn't—. But we also start from the basis that this isn't new, we've been on this pathway, working on this with a shared objective, for quite some time. So, some of the innovations we'll do will be specific new tranches of funding. So when we, for example, in my area, bring forward, after the engagement that we're now going to do in the months ahead in the preparatory phase, the final outcome of the sustainable farming scheme, and we bring people with us on it, then we will realign the funding that's available there to actually make sure that we're delivering not only a future of sustainable farming, with livelihoods and businesses that work and the type of farming with the social value that we've talked about, delivering the type of farm we want, but also farming that is good for the environment, good for climate change, but also delivers resilience for farmers.

I was listening to the radio on the way in here. A report has just come out today saying that the extreme weather that has just been demonstrated shows that climate change is making it four times more likely now that we will have those extreme weather events. In that case, we cannot carry on farming as normal, but we won't have a new pot of money. What we have to do is use the pot of money that we have to realign with those imperatives. And that is good for farming, and that's part of this cultural and social transition as well, to explain—. As part of social justice in farming and land management, it is saying to people, 'We cannot continue as we are. We're going to give you better resilience by realigning the way you can farm better against the extreme wet weather we have.'

The same applies across what we're doing in local government. It won't be all big batch; there is funding for specific pathways. So, if you look, for example, at what we're putting in at the moment into public organisations, to their estates, that includes funding that goes into local government to help them, as it does with hospitals and so on. So, there will be individual tranches of specific funding, but, moreover, like across the Cabinet, it's how we embed it in our way of working. So, the decisions that local government makes in the way that it does its waste collections, the way that it does—something you've been very involved with—the edges and the meadows and so on and so forth, all of those things, making them mainstream, building resilience, that is where we need to be.

Diolch. Just to say, Huw, I was really pleased to hear you mention private housing earlier on. Obviously, that's not your specific responsibility, I know, but I do think that one of the keys is private housing. But what I wanted to ask you is about the data, because, obviously, one of the ways that we can see how progress is being made or not being made is by the data. The data for the emissions—overall, I think, it's gone up 7 per cent, and in most sectors it's gone up. So, how are you responding to that and could you tell us why you think that's happening?

09:50

Yes, indeed. My predecessor in this post mentioned that we would reasonably anticipate a bounce-back factor after the pandemic, where there was not simply a 'back to what was before', but, in some ways, the economy bouncing back, like a springboard. I think that's possibly part of it, but we are analysing that. We're not surprised.

But the real danger in this—and we see it in other administrations through the UK—is if you have—. Data is good, data is really good, and we've got an extensive way that we're mapping how we're delivering on our commitments and putting information out there in the public domain. Some of them are statutory requirements—so, carbon budgeting and so on. But the annual one can be misleading, because there is volatility out there as well, year from year—what the economy is doing, what prices are doing; a range of things can affect one year's data. What we're very committed to doing is achieving those carbon budgets on that period of the carbon budget, but also looking within that at what additional data we can put out that is useful—useful for the public, useful for stakeholders, but also useful, I have to say, for decision makers—without being blown away by one year. And the reason I say that is that what we do know is that the 2021 data, with a 35 per cent reduction in emissions against the baseline, is consistent with our statutory target to achieve a 37 per cent reduction over the current carbon budget up to 2025. So, the one year is important to note and interesting to note and so on, but, actually, it's the overall trajectory, are we on line to hit that carbon budget, and not to be blown away, off track, not to have the unintended consequence of reacting to one-year figures and going, 'Oh, we need to readjust everything.'

So, you're saying that 7 per cent is a pessimistic view, if you took it by itself.

If you took it alone and in isolation and said, 'We have to adjust everything on the back of that'—. What we do need is to have cognisance of that, take it into account, and say, 'Right, what do we learn from that? Are we still on the right track to achieve our second carbon budget? Does that one year tell us anything significantly different about our policies in each sector?'

We're analysing it. We do think a significant part of this is to do that bounce-back from the pandemic, undoubtedly, and consumer behaviour in bouncing back from the pandemic as well, and the way that the economy has behaved in that bounce-back from the pandemic. But, we're looking for other things within it as well. But, for us, we also look at the year before, the year after and the trend over this five-year budget period as well, and also a recognition that, regardless of one-year figures, we've got to do more.

It's very hard to look too far ahead, but what we still are wedded to is the idea that we will deliver—as we did with our first carbon budget, we will deliver that second carbon budget and our net-zero pathway policies to deliver that. Now, at the moment, we would say that we are on trend to deliver it, but I'm not going to say—. I think it's a frank realisation, coming into this role, that, if a Minister stands here in front of you and says, 'I can guarantee it', yes, check them on the way out in case they've lifted the family silver or something as well, because there might be an element of overconfidence. But what I can say is that we are currently anticipating that we will deliver the second carbon budget. We have the right policies in place to do it, but I'm not going to say it until we're over that finishing line. And I think that's a frank appraisal: not until we're over the finishing line. We also have, of course, this time lag, so the figures that we're working on at the moment are 2021. So, we'll always have this slight time lag. But we're confident that we're doing the right things to hit the second carbon budget.

Thank you. So, given the impact that you've talked about of reserved areas on Wales and its ability to meet its net-zero targets, how will you ensure effective inter-ministerial and inter-official working arrangements? I'm a great believer that there have to be good relationships between UK Government and Welsh Government at ministerial level. I've never been too confident, in this area, that those discussions—. Now, in your other life, you must have made contacts over the years, do you see yourself having a good relationship with ministerial colleagues in the UK Government?

09:55

'Yes', is the answer to that last question, very directly. You'd expect this from me, as somebody who spent 15 years as a Member of Parliament—and we've got another person here who spent a long number of years as a Member of the UK Parliament—recognising in that the necessity. I'll say this to you, Cadeirydd, at the moment, within the constitutional structure that we currently have, it's an absolute imperative— 

—that we have good inter-governmental and inter-official working as well. And there are good examples, but there are also failures. I would also say this as a former Minister at a UK level as well, that the UK is at its very best when it is open and engaging and respectful. And I say that not in a flippant way—

—but in a way that says, when Ministers sit down, they have real, thorough, deep, meaningful engagement, where the—

And they stick to—yes, that is an important point. I'm so glad you raised that. The reason that's so important is there are really good examples of official-level engagement on a range of things. One of those, for example, is the ETS. There's really good work on that behind the scenes and really good work with Ministers. But the fundamental part of the mechanism—and I'm a bit of an anorak for this, as the former Chair of LJC as well—I have a great deal of belief in the structures that are set up for inter-ministerial working. It cannot be done on—and excuse me for a moment, but it's the right phrase to use—the old boys' network of good relationships. Sometimes that can work, but frankly it's not a good place for Government.

You actually need that machinery to work. 

So, one of the things that we have that we could use is the climate change inter-ministerial group. That has an immense amount of potential. I'm looking forward, I think we're meeting on 4 June, it's in the diary. I'm hoping it will go ahead. The reason is, I've already had the experience as a Cabinet Secretary in this role of having one inter-ministerial cancelled at the last minute. This is not good. But, this one, let's hope that it goes ahead. But, it is part of the answer, because when I said that some of the levers that this committee has looked at before are not within our control, in that case, that IMG is exactly where you should be sitting down and saying, 'So, we can do this in Wales, we can collaborate with you on this, we can actually lift further.'

Let me give one example on that. I could say to that climate change Minister—. We've just signed off on the deposit-return scheme four-nations approach. We were glad to do it, because we finally got a commitment across the four nations, but it's everything except glass. We've made clear in parallel to that our commitment in Wales to continue to explore ways in which we can take glass forward. Why, Janet? Because, of all of those materials within the DRS scheme, building on what we've already done within recycling and waste and so on, the one that hits zero carbon, not just for Wales, but for the UK, is glass re-use. Not recycling, not taking it up to 1,500 degrees, with all the carbon intensity of that and then turning it into new things, recycling—that's part of it—but it's actually re-use. The same thing is done in 50-plus other countries, in Canada, Australia, America, near European countries, former eastern bloc countries, and so on, showing us the way to do it. Yet, at the moment, that isn't on the agenda for the UK right here right now. So, we are working through that. Very good relationships with the Minister on the ETRA side of things, but actually we need the climate change inter-ministerial group to factor that in and say, 'Let's go for it.'

Now, on that IMG, it hasn't met yet, it's going to meet on 4 June, we are keen to share experiences and learning. The group has given us the opportunity to emphasise how the UK Government needs to step up to the mark as well, in things like energy efficiency standards across private sector housing. It's one they can really help us with. 

It's all four. All four sitting down together. And with that ability that it's not—. They way it should work is that it's not lead by the UK Minister and the agenda set, but that it's genuinely, 'Let's all share what we can bring to the game here.' But, but, but, but, in some areas, there has been, based on my predecessor's experience, unfortunately, a lack of openness around that. Because the IMG should be the place that resolves issues of difficulty as well.

So, when we had, for example, the UK Government's unilateral decision on 20 September, I think it was, the announcements on stepping back from areas of climate change commitments—which was highly criticised externally, including by the Climate Change Committee, but also by wider stakeholders—there was no engagement on that, and yet the inter-ministerial group that I've just referred to had met six days before that announcement. So, 'yes' to mature inter-ministerial working, 'yes' to openness and transparency, in which case, that should have been on the agenda of that meeting, to get agreement on a way forward, because we are not in this on our own. We are hugely reliant on what the UK brings to the table, as they are reliant on what we bring to the table.

And just on the DRS, if they were to say to us, if this or a future Labour Government were to say, 'Wales, just like on the plastic bag levy, should be the one'—because we're at a different part, we're more advanced on the recycling waste trajectory—'let them be the pilot nation', we could do that. We could get on with that now, but it needs that UK engagement to say, 'yes', and not to use the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 as an obstacle, saying, 'You can't.' 

10:00

Okay. I'll come back to you, Janet. I'm just conscious that we've gone half an hour now— 

—and we're way behind in terms of how we much we want to try and cover, if we can. So, did you want to ask another question, Janet?

Oh, sorry. Yes, just a quick one. Given that Wales is currently off track in its emissions reduction progress, will you be adapting your approach to be more in line with the pathway recommended by the Climate Change Committee?

It's interesting the way you phrase your question, because what I would say straight back to you is, because there was an increase in emissions as we came out of the COVID pandemic, that's not the same as to say that we're not on track. So, the 2021 data, just to reprise, with a 35 per cent reduction in emissions against the baseline, is actually consistent with our statutory target to achieve that 37 per cent reduction over the current carbon budget to 2025. However, what I would say as well is the pathway to net zero has got to be delivered within the Welsh context.

We have really good engagement with the Climate Change Committee. We're going to be meeting with them very shortly—I'm looking forward to that. We will be discussing how we go to the next stages as well. But we do need to have, and they understand this as well—. The engagement is actually what works on a granular basis in Wales, recognising where we are on certain pathways, recognising where certain sectors are, and how we then adapt their advice to fit a Welsh model, and not, by the way, to step back from what we're trying to do, but to actually say, 'Well, sometimes, our knowledge on the ground of how we can do these things, where we are on certain areas, adds to what the Climate Change Committee is actually saying.' So, we welcome their advice very much, we engage with them thoroughly. We also welcome where they're sometimes critical, because it forces us to have to respond. But the input of the CCC is crucial to our decision making—it has been and will be going forward.

I think they're coming in July; the chief executive is coming to Wales—the Climate Change Committee chair and the chief executive. I'm looking forward to meeting them. They're also going to be publishing advice very soon on setting the fourth carbon budget. It seems a bit odd the way that we do this, that we have a slight lag in data. We're in the midst of doing the second one and delivering on it and we're looking—. I'm encouraged by where we are on the second carbon budget. The third one will be even more challenging. But the Climate Change Committee will also now be discussing with us how we deal with the fourth carbon budget, and this does go back to Stern's original advice, which is, 'Act early, act decisively', which is our challenge as parliamentarians.

Of course. I was going to ask you whether we're going to meet the second carbon budget, but you've made it clear that you're encouraged by it, but you can't guarantee, let alone asking you to share your thoughts about whether we'll reach the third. And now you've mentioned the fourth as well, so we could get ahead ourselves there. But what I will ask is whether you have any plans to publish the monitoring, reporting and verification system data, because that would allow, obviously, for more transparency and effective scrutiny of how Government policies actually have an impact or contribute towards meeting emissions reduction targets. Is that something you'd be willing to consider?

I've had a good discussion with my officials coming into this role anew there. We're very keen to get as much transparency as we can into this, but to come back to the earlier point that was made, to get the transparency that is good for not just accountability, but also for decision making, without leading us to false assumptions or false decision making that takes us down a different track.

As you know, Chair, we've got a raft of things that we now publish that go well beyond only the monitoring, reporting and verification system data, the MRV data. We are obliged through legislation now to publish an assessment, to produce an assessment, against our target budgets every five years. Much of our discussion is focused on are we on track with that. We have the indicators tracking the general progress towards our targets and budgets on an annual basis. We have a monitoring and reporting system that looks in more depth at individual policies within the plan in Wales. We have the independent progress reports from the Climate Change Committee, which can be challenging as well, and of course we have scrutiny from you.

But on the MRV, in 2022, my predecessor published the final statement for carbon budget 1. It was supported by the publication of the MRV for that period. Now, we are continuing to develop and improve this MRV system to track delivery of carbon budget 2. We continue to share and publicise our annual emissions information. We are interested in how we take this forward, but just in defence, whilst an MRV can be very useful in giving a macro overview, there are real, tangible limitations both in the development of them—the data, the right data, the timeliness, et cetera, et cetera—and the conclusions that can be drawn, and we have seen this in other administrations, how you can be knocked off track by an individual, 'Here it is.' Well, that means you’re doing things wrong. Whereas we’ve actually got a raft of measures that we can be held to account on, and that are publicly accountable, and for you as a Senedd committee. But I think they’re more comprehensive. But the MRV is an important part of it.

10:05

But it's a 'no', then, in terms of sharing it. [Laughter.] Albeit given that there are other things out there that you feel are more appropriate and more amenable to giving us the longer game picture, really.

Yes, but it's a caveated 'no' for good reasons, because I think, as our colleagues in Scotland have also seen, it's not only the interpretation of an individual data set from an MRV on an annual basis. I have to say as well it's also the resource implications of focusing on that rather than delivery. Now, we've chosen to focus on delivery, but we still have that raft of other ways that we can be analysed on: are we doing the right things? So, yes, it's a caveated, reasoned response to say why we don't do it on an annualised, out there, everything goes. 

Yes, the CCC highlights the lack of an overarching strategy for emissions reduction in the agricultural and land use sector, but also—and I've met with Lord Deben on their report—I know there was huge concern about the marine sector, and the ability for the marine sector to be more widely explored in terms of carbon emissions. Do you have any plans to develop a strategy that will see the ramping up of the importance of the marine sector, and also the agricultural and other land use?

Those criticisms are justified. Joyce Watson has fought this battle for many years. The 10 per cent planting of trees on land; if you actually look at carbon sequestration in terms of seagrass and all the elements that the marine sector can bring to meeting our carbon-zero targets, there's an under-emphasis on it. How will you address that?

Yes, and that's to do with those sector-specific policies and interventions that actually drive it forward, as opposed to an overarching strategy. There is a longer term discussion, I think, that the committee might want to come back to in future. At the moment, our workload is cut out by actually delivering some of those things within the marine sector, within seagrass. We are putting funding towards many interventions within that area to test and prove and then move on.

Yes, it's the, 'Where's the money? Where's the money?' 

We need to get away from test-prove, and then test-prove, and test-prove, and test-prove it, ad infinitum. If we can test and prove that something works, then it's a question for all of us. Coming back to the earlier question of how we then embed it in the way that we do marine, embed it in the way that we do farming, and so on, we have taken—. You mentioned both land use and—. Sorry.

There is a wider discussion that might be, perhaps, not even for me, but for a future Cabinet Secretary in this role, to talk about beyond the sustainable farming scheme, beyond the interventions we're currently doing on woodland creation, which stand separately, by the way, from SFS, beyond our ambitions on afforestation, both commercial and other, to what else we should be looking at in terms of land management? So, I'm not talking about forestry management or farming management or whatever, but the overall encompassing land management, terrestrial management, and also on marine as well.

Now, all of this is predicated upon the resources available. We have to pick priorities. It's not the same as saying that we can't do all of this stuff. It is definitely the case, now I'm sitting on this side of the table, of saying we need to make clear choices about what we do and what we prioritise. So, no strategy, but I can say to you, if you look at what we're currently doing within—. We're already putting in not just funds but working through the practice on the ground with things such as low-carbon farming practices. We're not waiting until the SFS to do this; we're already pioneering stuff on things such as grass leys and cover crops, livestock diets, health and breeding. Some of this surfaces occasionally in the public domain. We're doing it and we're working with our agricultural sector, but also with some of our excellent universities in Wales in doing this, and leading the way.

We're also looking at measures to release land whilst still having a strong food production sector. These can be controversial, so on the less productive land, where can you go with tree planting? Because it is, indeed, things such as carbon capture and storage, but it is also to do with what we do with woodland creation, afforestation, in the right places and so on, and heaven knows, we do need to do more on that as well, but it's how you explain and bring people with us. But we're getting on with this already.

Simply to say as well, I've got a—[Interruption.] Oh, sorry, that's very helpful, because coming into this new as well, I should actually bring my colleagues in here. On sea grass specifically, you're probably aware—and I think, in fact, I was on that side of the table when we explored this with the Minister previously—there has been a round-table meeting with the previous Minister. What was vaunted within here is moving away from the short-term funding towards much more multi-annual, which is a possibility, yes. There are ways we can explore this within Government. 

We also have—and some of my first visits out here in my role were the most inspirational visits, to some of the peatland restoration stuff. We are doing groundbreaking stuff within Wales on peatland restoration, and some of this peatland restoration is on-farm peatland restoration. A farmer said to me the other day—. All farmers are very different; they bring different histories. An older farmer said to me, 'I hark back to the days of the postwar Attlee Labour Government', not the NHS, not the housing stuff or whatever, but the Agriculture Act 1947. But I said to him, 'Yes, but that was the one where, based on the knowledge we had at the time and the imperative of food security and nothing else, we actually drained the peat bogs. Now, we're doing it differently.'

But I met on some of those visits, in north Wales particularly around Lake Vyrnwy, four youngsters up there, and there's the jobs aspect—four youngsters working on the ground who, over the last couple of years have done 39,000—39,000—interventions on blocking up these peat drains, and they were showing me the tangible results. But there as well was a local farmer who is now the specialist, the go-to person in doing the heavier work on this, and he is now subbing his work out and expanding his operations so he can do this in Scotland. 

So, when we talk about green jobs, that's what it is. Sorry, I've gone slightly off—. [Laughter.

10:10

We need to make progress now because I'm worried that—. I'm not sure we've got time, Joyce. We've got to move on. 

I don't want an answer now, but I would like an answer. We know that the temperature levels of the sea have increased significantly, and we've got to cool them down. Forty per cent of the land mass in Wales is water. So, without wishing to expand this now, could you let us know what research is available to you to help maintain, where possible, the sea levels, but more importantly those things in the sea, like we've been talking about, to their optimum level to help us? 

I'm very happy to write to you on that, and I'm not sure if I'm still allowed to keep my cap on as the Atlantic salmon champion when I'm a Minister; I don't know. I hope that I am, because one of the things that has been brought home to me is that there is a significant amount we can do on our Welsh waterways in terms of the health of the aquatic environment there, but, actually, it's the warming of the global oceans that is decimating the ability of migratory species to come to our rivers. And it's happening across the world. But those wider implications are significant—coastal flooding, inundation—on house owners, on businesses, on farmland. This is real and it is now. So, I'd be more than happy to write to you with an overview of some of the research we're doing in that sphere.

10:15

I'm concerned also about the HyNet proposal, the carbon capture and underground storage offshore, and the acidification of the waters that that could possibly bring. I don't think that's been looked into enough, so I'll be writing to you about that as well.

Regarding the delay on the SFS, have you done any modelling on the impact of the net-zero ambitions that this might bring, in particular the tree planting and agroforestry targets, and the ability to reduce the emissions from agriculture to meet the second, 2021-25, and third, 2026-30, carbon budgets? Is that something you've considered?

Thank you, Carolyn. The decision—. The announcement that we've made to go into a preparatory phase, to get this absolutely right, so that, when we move ahead, we move ahead together, all in lockstep on this, is an important one. It is a slight delay, but it's not an inordinate delay. And the advantage of doing it is that, if we get it right, and everybody is committed to it, then we've got a greater chance of actually achieving what we're trying to do, with carbon reduction, but also with resilience on farms and so on. We haven't modelled it, we've only made the announcement very recently.

I think what we will be doing, both in terms of taking forward the completion of our carbon budget 2 round, but also in modelling for carbon budget 3—that's when the hill is ahead of us. And I say this to all committee members, because we're all in this together, genuinely: that's when we have to be real about the contribution, then, of all sectors, but including the agricultural sector. SFS is key to that. There are also parts of the agriculture and farming sector outwith the SFS and outwith public funding that we also need to work with, and look at the ways in which we can help them deliver on carbon reduction as well. Because there are some parts of the—. Often, people assume that, well, farming only exists on public subsidy. No. There are parts of farming that require public subsidy, to deliver these wider goods that we are talking about; there are other parts that are entirely outwith. They are also contributing to carbon emissions, and we need to deal with that.

So, I touched on earlier, by the way, some of the work that is already under way—we're not delaying on this—so, some of the work that we're all doing, on carbon reductions, including with the farming unions, but also with environmental wildlife organisations, alternative forms of carbon sequestration, diet, the way we actually deal with animal husbandry, crop leys—all of these sorts of things, they all contribute. But the hard reality is that farming will not be immune from any other sector—industry, local government, everything else, the public sector—in actually helping us step up to the mark as a nation. The upside of it, I have to say, is that we also then deliver better resilience and long-term viability to those farms, not just where the public money goes in, but also from those outside, in giving the assurance to consumers that all of those farms are doing the right thing for the environment, as well as producing good food.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Croeso nôl.

Thank you, Chair. Welcome back.

I want to ask you some questions about human behaviour. So, coming back to the CCC, we are rightly, I think, proud in Wales about our recycling policies, but the CCC have pointed out that the rates have stalled in recent years and that we'll need to do more to reach targets. So, what will you do to address that, please, and particularly in terms of behavioural change? Because I think we're already in a comparably good place in Wales, in terms of people's appetite for and understanding about why we need to recycle—and lots of people are proud about that—but in order to change a gear yet again, how can we get the public on board with that, and particularly maybe with businesses?

What a great question, but let me start by answering on the journey we have come on in Wales already in recent years—with predecessors in this role, going back before Julie James and so on. The mood in Wales has changed significantly. I do remember being that lonely backbencher in Westminster, when Wales was highlighted on the floor of the Commons as being something of—and I say this rather crudely—a basket case in terms of recycling—local authorities, domestic recycling, everything. We couldn't answer it at the time; it was true. And yet, through working with people, working with consumers, showing the importance that it's not just the big-ticket items of net zero and decarbonisation, it's less litter in your communities, it's the quality of the environment. It's the link that we know from international examples that, if you have communities where you have despoliation, particularly disadvantaged communities, and it stays there, then it leads to a fatalism and also sometimes towards anti-social behaviour and so on. These links are shown within the international evidence. But what we've done already has moved the public mindset, local authority mindsets, workplace mindsets to a very different place.

So, the recent innovation that we did in workplace recycling, for me, was really interesting. I've met with colleagues around the table to discuss some of the nitty-gritty of the implementation and the communication around it, but notice how little—compared to what we had when we did domestic recycling—pushback there was. When we did domestic recycling, it was like the world was ending. It was like the plastic bag levy: 'This is going to destroy retailers around the country, the corner shops will no longer exist. They'll have to come out with hands full of nails instead of a bag of nails' and so on. Actually working with people through this is really important and explaining why the benefits are so significant. So, if we are enabled, and if we have a good working relationship that allows us to move to an all-in deposit-return scheme, then we need to be talking about—because they are tangible and real, even now—the jobs that will flow from reuse facilities, actually turning those bottles back onto the shelves and so on. So, working with people is key and explaining it, I think, as well, in terms that, frankly, most members of the public do not sit around like we are, on a committee, talking about net zero-pathways and climate change reduction. What they do say is, 'Where's going to be the job for my youngster? What's my local neighbourhood going to look like?' So, it's explaining it in those terms.

The recycling rates is interesting for us, because we are at a very different part of the trajectory compared to other parts of the UK, and we are proudly now there. That gives us a good platform for going further. So, what we do next with extended producer responsibility, working with local authorities and others, to make sure that we get it right, and we've signed off on a UK approach to that, which is great—. Where we go next on DRS, on top of what we've done—I'm really encouraged by where we've got to, but we should not now stall on this. We should not now say, 'Let's take our foot off the gas and wait for others to catch up'; we should be saying—to come back to Janet's question earlier, on a UK basis—'Allow us to be the ones that can test and prove and show, and then two years later—.' And, genuinely, the nature of the discussion that I've had with the UK Ministers is to say, 'There will be times where you and England or you and Scotland and Northern Ireland will also want to be the ones who pioneer in areas. We'll welcome that, because then we'll learn from it.' But we have developed a track record. We've transformed from that moment, where I sat very vulnerable and exposed as a young green backbencher going, 'Yes, you're right, we're a basket case.' We are now world leading, we're up there in the top group and we can go even further, but bringing people with us, explaining why this is so important.

10:20

Thank you for that. And so in terms of taking this further and making sure that we don't stall, as you say, could you tell us, please, when you're going to set recycling targets for 2030 and beyond that?

Recycling targets for 2030 and beyond, when will we—? I'm looking to my colleagues.

It's gone up 7 per cent for this year, and that will be a challenge in a number of local authorities, and so focusing on that delivery.

Just on recycling, there was an issue with local authorities to deliver this—you know, municipal waste—post COVID, that a lot of the recycling ended up being collected really quickly to deal with it or dealt with in different ways, and I think it's trying to get people back on board again now to catch up with recycling, to make sure that they recycle their food waste, which goes for energy, and to understand—. And I think local authorities need help, because they haven't got the resources. So, is that something that you agree with—you know, we need to help local authorities that don't have the same resources as they had a few years ago, when they were delivering this, to engage with residents to help increase recycling?

Some of it is resources, Carolyn, some of it is actually showing to those who haven't quite got to the target—. Claire was saying that, overall, we've got ones now who are achieving that 70 per cent target and more, so it's actually using the local authority network to say, 'Here, we've shown that this can be done, and how it is done.' We'll keep on working with them. We always keep on looking at the funding that's available for local authorities, but I think it's far deeper than that, it is saying, 'Other authorities are showing that, if they move early and move decisively and work with residents as well to do this, it can be achieved. Don't be shy. Don't be slow. Get to the game.' We have models out there showing it can be done within the existing resource. We're always alive to what resource goes into local government, but you know where we are as well, generally, with budgets.

10:25

Diolch. Another area where the CCC have expressed their views quite strongly is they've praised the policies on transport, on the fact that we, in Wales, are cancelling major road projects and reducing speed limits. Conversely, the Cabinet Secretary for transport now has said that we're going to be pressing ahead with refining 20 mph and we are going to be building new roads. How do you reconcile those two things? Would you consider yourself to be on the side of pursuing the previous ambition? How would you reconcile them?

We can't step back from the previous ambition; that is absolutely right. The question, to come back to the conversation just before this, is how we do this with people. I think that is a genuine thing. For people like me, and I suspect every member of this committee, who are absolutely evangelical about why we need to do this and get on with this, we have to step back and remind ourselves that we've got to bring people with us, otherwise it’ll crash and burn.

The 20 mph one is interesting. I've been a huge advocate of that, including in my previous chairing role in terms of the active travel Act, because it was wider. It wasn't primarily net zero and decarbonisation—it was those safer communities, it was the fatalities and reducing serious injuries, but it's also those types of communities where there are air pollution impacts, to make them more pleasant and so on, to make them places that people like to be in. So, it's right that there's a national listening exercise going on now to look at that and how we can clarify the guidance, help local authorities make the right decisions. But I think that overall ambition of actually saying we want to create communities where those people who don't want to travel out or don't have to travel out can actually have good, lovely communities around them, that they can choose not just to drive, but to walk or to cycle, is the right ambition.

The roads review is an interesting one. Shortly before I came into this post, we'd been having some interesting discussions with the previous Minister, with Lee Waters, who did so much within this brief, on the issue of what we do with one in my area, the Llanharan one. For decades, that has been known as the Llanharan bypass. Within the roads review that was carried out at that time, the idea was that roads aren't off the agenda, but if you're going to take forward roads, it also needs to be done in a way that you can actually decarbonise by lifting traffic off long term, et cetera, et cetera. So, that Llanharan one became a very different project because of really good engagement with the local authority. The reason I flag this is because it's a possible way forward, where you could actually do that link that opens up the strategic regeneration site, but you also put into it, from the word 'go', regular bus services as part of the development of that, and you put into that speed limitations, and you put into that active travel networks as a primary focus of it and so on.

There are different ways to do this, but I think it's right that, in this bringing people with us, the new Cabinet Secretary is looking at it to see how we take forward the lessons that we've learnt from that roads review. I'll be interested as well in sitting down with Ken and discussing this with him and seeing where do we go, but with that overriding imperative that we do still have to deliver, in transport as well as other areas, our decarbonisation ambitions.

Yes, quickly. I absolutely agree with you that we've got to go with people, but certainly on some of the examples that Delyth has raised, the 20 mph for example, in my constituency, I'm having lots of people writing in thinking that we have rowed back on the 20 mph and being very disappointed. When we say we want to go with people, we're thinking maybe of those people who've protested against it. How are we going to keep the faith with those people who thought—? I remember discussing it with two people from the play field, for example, who said the best thing they thought the Government had ever done was to bring in the 20 mph limit. So, I just wondered if you'd had some observations on that.

10:30

Yes, I do, and it is this: in all of these aspects, whether it's the 20 mph, the roads review or the sustainable farming scheme, what we can't do is step back from the focus of this discussion today, which is that we have mountains to climb. There are two things we do in that. One is the technical and the data analysis and the policy interventions that we see. The second and equally important one is to bring people with us on that.

I've also, by the way, had people who've said, 'My road isn't 20 mph, could we, as part of the review, extend it?' But I'm also getting people who are saying—and you've heard this repeated so many times—'We've got a stretch of road that goes from one to another, to another, from 50 mph to 40 mph to 30 mph, can we look at this?' So, I think part of the taking people with us—and, in that respect, I really do welcome what my Cabinet Secretary colleague is doing—is saying, 'Let's go out and see where there's been such a difference in the implementation of this across the country. Let's clarify where the guidance needs to be, but let's keep on focusing on those wider issues.'

I know it's slightly outside of net carbon, in a way, because it wasn't the primary focus of 20 mph, but it's about those safer, liveable communities for everybody, for those who don't have the ability, the wherewithal or the need to travel outside, delivering those communities where they can choose to shop locally, to walk their buggy down the road without fear. I think that's where we need to be, but not, Julie, stepping back from either decarbonisation or our ambitions for creating those lovely, liveable communities. Because not every mum or dad and toddler, not every grandparent in a mobility scooter, not every person will be willy-nilly driving about through their community or getting outside. We've got to recognise that, for some of them, that community is their community. It needs to work for everybody.

Thank you. I'm aware that we're still working our way through different sectors. I know Janet wants to come in on something, as does Carolyn, and I know Joyce has a series of questions as well, and we've got 12 minutes left. So, we just need to be mindful of that when we ask and when we answer. Janet. 

The Climate Change Committee calls the Welsh Government's insufficient progress in the building sector 'striking', and recommends it develops a detailed plan for decarbonising all buildings. What work has been undertaken to deliver this?

And this is an area that we as a committee have taken an interest in as well.

Absolutely. This is real poacher turned gamekeeper. I won't need to remind the committee of the extensive work that's already gone on, particularly within the area that we have real responsibility for within the social housing sector. The optimised refit programme that you've focused on a lot as a committee has really generated a lot of quality information on how we can do it best and most cost-efficiently, but also do the best interventions to actually transform our housing stock.

But, to come back to our earlier question, what we don't have is some of those bigger levers that could really transform, and those include those levers around minimum energy efficiency standards within housing stock—that's a UK imperative. We think we could and we should go further, because that would lift the whole thing, in addition to what lessons we've learnt, because if that's lifted, then we can say to the private housing stock, 'Well, we've got models that we know that work now, we've got the interventions, we've done the ground testing in our reserved area'.

There are other issues that could really help on a UK basis, such as getting on with the delivery of new boilers. There's been a shift back in the data on new boilers. It's a regret in Wales, but it's a regret across the UK, because that could have driven the supply chain and the installers towards getting more energy-efficient boilers as part of our decarbonisation. So, there are some things there that need to be in that piece of working with the UK Government, and them either not stepping back, please, or, alternatively, working with us to explain why they're stepping back and what this does to our overall trajectory within housing. 

But there are other things we can do as well. The Welsh housing quality standard 2023 sets out that long-term pathway for social homes to meet the standards set out in terms of energy performance certificates. This will increase the health and the quality of social homes in Wales, alongside contributing to net zero. The latest iteration of the Warm Homes programme we launched in April. It focuses on assisting and improving the quality of the homes in fuel poverty in the owner-occupied and the private rental sector as well, and it's balancing the objectives of fuel poverty and reducing the climate impacts of housing stock. We're looking to invest £30 million in energy efficiency and low-carbon heating solutions through this scheme in the year ahead, 2024-25.

We've still got the Nest advice there available to everybody in Wales. We're putting over £2 million into the Nest advice for the year ahead—not just for advice, but also it can direct people who are eligible towards the appropriate grants. And in private homes, albeit with the fact that we don't have all the levers here, we have started now evaluating a variety of options for financing retrofit in the owner-occupied and private rental sectors. We're at the initial phases of that, but it's drawing on what we've learnt from the interventions within the optimised refit programme and saying, 'Right, how do we now put the incentives together, and where are the means to do that?' This could incorporate both grant funding and also repayable finance.

It's been one of the most tricky things over the last couple of decades—finding the right model, to come back to that point of bringing people with us, that persuades a home owner or a landlord that it's worth their while getting beyond the short term and investing in the quality for either themselves as an elderly person living in an energy inefficient home and a cold home in the top of the Valleys, or a landlord that goes, 'Well, is it worth my while investing in this—what's the trade-off here?'

So, we're doing a lot, and we are setting out a route-map for the decarbonisation of Welsh homes. We're currently developing it. It builds on the advice received from the decarbonisation and implementation group, and it will set out, then, a strategic direction for residential decarbonisation in Wales, building on the draft heat strategy for Wales. We're hoping to bring that forward in the autumn.

10:35

And we'll be looking forward to seeing some of that as it emerges as well. Thank you. Carolyn.

How achievable are the net-zero targets for the public sector to be achieved by 2030? Do you think you might have to row back on that target?

I'm not going to say that we're going to row back on that—no, darn it. I'm going to say that we're going to stick to that ambition, but I predicate it as well on—. We're doing a lot to drive towards that. We have achieved quite a bit. But we need everybody to step up to the mark on it. We know that some organisations are going to struggle to meet that timescale, but it is a collectively owned ambition, right across the public sector. It is something to do with leadership as well, and that's why I'm not going to step back from the level of ambition. It's signalling, 'This is what we have to do', and then trying to help people come with us.

We do have some fantastic collaboration. For example, through the WLGA's climate strategy panel, we've taken forward things such as the collaborative procurement of electric vehicles, and we will continue to work with them to scale up this type of activity. We've also set up the Welsh Government energy service, providing technical support and advice to the public sector. We've provided a range of funding in forms of, for example, low-interest loans and a grant to help the public sector decarbonise. For example, there's a £20 million low-carbon heat programme for local government, £20 million loan funding through the Wales funding programme, and, shortly to be launched—this is like a 'you hear it here first today'—a £20 million loan fund for higher education and further education organisations as well. And we also—

Can I just cut in? Sorry. It seems that a lot is happening. So, do you think that the targets will be achieved by 2030? You did say you were a bit concerned. Are you going to have to look at changing some of the policies, do you think?

The statutory target is actually 2050. Our ambition and our leadership on this is 2030. So, it's not a statutory target by 2030, but my goodness, we're working hard, collaboratively, to try and achieve this.

Do you think you're going to end up in the High Court being accused, like the UK Government have been, of giving insufficient evidence to produce your carbon budget delivery plan?

First of all, I should say we very much hope not, but we are looking at what's happened in other administrations to see the lessons we might learn from that. But I think the thrust of everything we've discussed today shows how serious we are, and we're not stepping back from any of our commitments, which might be slightly different in different administrations across the UK. I would hope that sends a message to those outside there who are challenging other Governments that we are intensely serious about delivering on our ambitions and our commitments. Maybe that mitigates slightly, but, again, who would come to the assistance of a Cabinet Secretary who said, 'We will never face a legal challenge'? But we are quite interested, and we are trying to interpret what the lessons might be for our net-zero pathways and what we do here in Wales. We find it quite fascinating.

And, sorry, can I just say one other thing on that? I would applaud strongly the fact that we have organisations that can actually take this challenge as well. That is part of what will drive us forward. I just don't want to be facing it myself.

10:40

Okay. I was going to ask you about the carbon budget 3 plan, but you mentioned a carbon budget 4 plan—

—so that has left me a little bit confused with what I'm supposed to be asking you now. [Laughter.]

And I understand the confusion. So, we're actually overlapping. We're constantly looking ahead to the next one and the next one. So, currently, we're going through an analysis that will inform the next plan, which has got to be published before the end of 2026. Prior to this, before the end of 2025, the Senedd has to agree carbon budget 4, taking us up to 2031-35, in regulation. So, to inform this, we'll be having the advice I mentioned earlier on from the Climate Change Committee in early 2025. So, this is a rolling programme, where we deliver on one budget, anticipate what we do on the next, but also plan ahead for the next one. And I think it's part of that—from a layperson's perspective who has always been very interested in this, it's part of that recognition that not only is there no reverse gear on this, there's probably an accelerator that we need to push to actually take some of the measures we do. So, that process of working through each budget is critical, and the advice we receive from CCC on this is going to be very important. 

Can I ask, then, specifically, because I think the Government has said in the past that it expects the delivery plan for carbon budget 3 to include the quantified emissions impact of all policy—? Now, you touched on transparency earlier and how important that is, and that would allow us and others, then, to make direct links between policies and actions and level of emissions targets achieved. So, is that something that you still expect to happen, or can you tell us that it will?

I'm going to turn to my colleague here, having been, I think, eight weeks I've been in the role now. Jon, what can you tell us?

That's what we're working towards. I think what the High Court judgments against the UK Government have clearly set out is that there's not enough detail on how they expect the plans to deliver the ambition. We've got a very, very different statutory basis here. So, when we get our carbon budget 4 advice next year—I'm going to completely baffle you by talking about carbon budget 7 now—it will be drawn from the UK carbon budget 7 advice, which runs from the late 2030s into the early 2040s, actually. And what the UK Government has to do is demonstrate how it will, in its carbon budget 6, which is its extant plan, deliver out to the late 2030s. That's an enormous challenge, given the amount of uncertainties. But they've been challenged on that, and successfully challenged on that. 

Our next carbon budget plan will be published, as the Cabinet Secretary said, in late 2026 and needs to cover on a statutory basis up to the end of 2030. We are keen to put as much transparency in as we possibly can, not just to try to avoid a court case, which we would definitely like to do, but for those points raised earlier about being transparent, about giving the public and the Senedd and committees the opportunity to scrutinise to the best of their ability. What I would say, which we perhaps need to be mindful of, is that if you take all the policies in whatever plan we put together and add them up, you'll not necessarily get to that trajectory that we need to, because that won't necessarily have all the detail of all the business changes that are going to be achieved by businesses without Welsh Government intervention, actually. It won't be detailed in relation to the carbon savings of the UK Government policies, because if they haven't published the data, we don't know what that data is either. So, you'll never be in a position where you can say, 'Well, that adds up to 100. The pathway says 100. We're good.'

But it would illustrate, would it not, what's left for others to achieve. 

10:45

Yes. So, that at least would give us that kind of awareness and would remind people it’s not just Government—so, this is what Government does, and this is what we expect of others.

There’s an enormous amount of work currently being undertaken. We’ve been working on the next plan already for well over 12 months, in the analysis and evidence gathering and trying to understand the pathways that will deliver that carbon budget. That work will continue right up to publication and we will put in as much detail as we possibly can.

Before the end of 2026. So, the last plan was published to coincide with COP in Glasgow. That was late November, I think, of 2021.

And it’s simply to say, in everything we do, this has to be a just transition, and that is right across the piece—everything, from when we talk about farming to steel to everything else. That also means it’s not just what we do in Wales; it’s the engagement at a UK level as well, and it’s also what we do internationally as Wales. That just transition, I know we haven’t focused on it a lot today, but I wouldn’t want to leave this committee without stressing how important that is. This is not a technical exercise; this is people.

It’s much more than that, yes, absolutely. Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, and thank you to your officials as well for your presence here today. We look forward to receiving you again soon, and wish you well in your endeavours as well, and we as a committee stand ready to support you where we feel we can do that, but also to call you out if we feel that you’re falling short. There we are. Diolch yn fawr iawn. [Interruption.] Yes, sorry.

Just on the letter to Joyce about the marine sector, could we have it as committee members as well?

Well, it would be the intention, yes, if there is any correspondence, for it to be circulated through the committee clerk.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. The committee will now break for a good 10 minutes—15, nearly. We’ll reconvene so that we can start at 11 a.m. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:47 a 11:00.

The meeting adjourned between 10:47 and 11:00.

11:00
3. Adfer safleoedd glo brig - sesiwn dystiolaeth 6
3. Restoration of opencast mining sites - evidence session 6

Croeso nôl i chi i Bwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Rŷn ni'n symud at ail ran ein cyfarfod ni y bore yma, sef i barhau i gymryd tystiolaeth mewn perthynas â'r trefniadau i adfer safleoedd glo brig. Mi sydd y sesiwn nesaf yma'n canolbwyntio yn benodol ar safle Ffos-y-frân, ac rŷn ni'n edrych ymlaen i glywed oddi wrth gynrychiolwyr o Gyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Merthyr Tudful. O'n blaenau ni am yr awr a hanner nesaf yma mae Geraint Thomas, arweinydd y cyngor—croeso cynnes aton ni; Ellis Cooper, sy'n brif weithredwr; a hefyd gyda ni mae Judith Jones, sy'n gyfarwyddwr gwasanaethau cymdogaeth; Carwyn Morris, sy'n bennaeth peirianneg; David Cross, sydd yn brif swyddog cynllunio; a Geraint Morgan, sy'n gyfreithiwr. Croeso i'r chwech ohonoch chi. Fel roeddwn i'n dweud, awr a hanner—does dim disgwyl i bob un ohonoch chi ateb pob cwestiwn, ond os ŷch chi eisiau dod i mewn yn benodol ar unrhyw beth pan fo rhywun arall yn siarad, codwch eich llaw ac fe wnaf i eich galw chi i ddod i mewn. Felly, er mwyn cychwyn y sesiwn yma, fe awn ni at Delyth.

Welcome back to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. We're moving to the second half of our meeting, and we will continue to take evidence in relation to the arrangements for the restoration of opencast mining sites. This particular session will focus specifically on the Ffos-y-fran site, and we look forward to hearing from representatives of Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. Joining us for the next hour and a half are Geraint Thomas, leader of the council—a warm welcome to you; Ellis Cooper, the chief executive. Also joining us is Judith Jones, director of neighbourhood services; Carwyn Morris, head of engineering; David Cross, principal planning officer; and Geraint Morgan, who is a solicitor. So, a warm welcome to all six of you. As I said, we have an hour and a half. We don't expect everyone to answer every question, but if you do want to come in on any specific point, just raise your hand and I will call you to speak. So, to kick off, we will go to Delyth.

Thank you so much for coming in this morning. We're very grateful to you for making the time. Could you talk us through, please, what the original restoration plan was for the Ffos-y-fran site and what the original fund estimate was for how much would be needed to restore it?

Thank you very much. To give a bit of a brief history to the whole scheme, I suppose, Ffos-y-fran was phase 3 of the east Merthyr reclamation scheme, a scheme that came about in the late 1980s and started in the early 1990s. I've brought some documentation here that perhaps you wouldn't have seen before, which is the actual first part of the project. So, if I pass a few around to you, you'll see who all the partners were in that at the time, because even Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council wasn't in being—it was the borough council with Mid Glamorgan, the Welsh Development Agency and British Coal.

I've also got a few pages of what the actual area looked like prior to the work starting, because, as you can imagine, Merthyr's industrial history goes back to the 1700s. On the east Merthyr side of the valley, we had the Dowlais ironworks and the Penydarren ironworks that caused dereliction like a bombsite, like a war site. That's the only way to describe it. Some of the tips on there, like the Dowlais great white tip, which you can only see the remnants of there in one of the photographs, was a monster of burnt limestone and other minerals that were being released, I suppose, into all the water courses that flowed into the Nant Morlais and into the River Taff and came all the way down to Cardiff. So, it was a major project that all agencies got involved with to clean up that part of dangerous land in Merthyr Tydfil.

Phase 3, as you can see, was always part of that plan, but, unfortunately, the fly in the ointment was British Coal being privatised in 1996, and then privatisation took over and we went into market forces. From there, the plans were delayed into the 2000s, where Celtic Energy and then Miller Argent got involved in opencasting and land reclamation, and that's where we really are today.

Okay, thank you for that. I know that there are a number of different areas that we'll be wanting to pick up on this, but, for now, I know that Janet wants to come in.

Can we just pick up on the second half of the question, though, about the fund that was originally estimated as being required to restore the site?

Yes, the original planning permission was granted by the National Assembly for Wales back in 2005, and the requirement that was put in place then was that there be a £15 million bond and a £15 million parent company guarantee. In 2011, then, there was an application for a certain amount of coal to be transported by road, and that led to a further appeal, which, again, was dealt with by the National Assembly, and the £15 million bond and the £15 million parent company guarantee remained in place as at that time.

Thank you. What was the agreement between MTCBC and the site operator—oh, good morning, by the way; straight in there—regarding funding for site restoration? Was it the responsibility of the site operator to put funds aside for restoration in addition to the £15 million held in the escrow account? What are the purposes of the funds? Under what circumstances will these be released? I'm looking at everyone now. Don't all speak at once.

11:05

I'll take that one as well. Forgive me if I don't answer all of the questions, and you're going to have to prompt me if I've missed a few of them. The restoration of the site is a matter for the developer. The £15 million that was put aside originally in relation to the bond was money that would go towards the restoration of the site. It was always understood that that £15 million would not necessarily be sufficient to restore the site, but restoration is a matter for the developer to undertake. 

I'm assuming that, in relation to the current situation, you're on about what are the mechanisms in relation to the escrow account.

Yes. The escrow account replaced the bond back in 2015. That was following discussions between the local authority and the then developer, Miller Argent (South Wales). In 2015, Miller Argent sold the mining operation to Blackstone, which has gone through a number of various names since then and is now trading as Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd.

The requirement was that they paid £625,000 per quarter into the escrow account from a certain date. They didn't do that and it ended up that the local authority had to take court action against them in order to ensure that the moneys were paid into the account. Despite having gone to the High Court and it being contested in courts higher than that and Merthyr (South Wales) being unsuccessful in their appeal, they still failed to pay later instalments and the council had to take between five to six sets of action against them in court in order for those payments to be made. Having said that, they have now honoured the agreement and the account does hold the £15 million, which is the requirement, under the escrow account. So, everything has now been paid by the developer.

Sorry. Did you want to come in on this specifically and then we'll come back to Janet?

Yes, is that all right? You were talking about when Miller Argent sold the site in 2015. The year before—I think it was a year and a half before that, in 2014—there was a Welsh Government and, I believe, Coal Authority report that identified that there was a shortfall in the sum of money in the bond and they estimated that a more realistic cost of restoration would be £50 million or more. I think that that report was in place 18 months before the site was sold. Why—and I know that this is more of a political question perhaps, but why—wasn't the opportunity taken at that point to place a surety bond of £50 million when it was sold, please?

If I go first, I wasn't elected at the time—I didn't come in until 2017, so, that was before my time, so, I'll have to leave it to one of the officers to answer that question. 

I think my understanding is, and I'll answer this, that the planning permission was granted in 2005, the original one; it only required the £15 million bond to be put in place and a £15 million parent company guarantee. It wasn't open to anyone then to reopen the discussions as to how much money needed to be set aside in an escrow account or a bond. So, the developer had met its requirement to put the bond in place, it put the parent company guarantee in place, and it met all the requirements that it was obliged to meet.

So, it wouldn't have been possible to—. Legally, it wouldn't have been possible. 

So, in that case, there would need to be a change in legislation to allow for something like that to happen.

Well, I can't actually answer that, because I don't necessarily have the expertise. I think you'd actually need to take advice from your own legal advisers. But it basically goes back to the fact that the site was granted planning permission in 2005, which was nine years before the guidance came out.

11:10

The escrow account is, obviously, a contractual agreement between the local authority and the developer. There are certain requirements within that that actually specify how it can be released or when it will be released. It will only be released if the restoration is in accordance with the restoration strategy, as was approved back in 2007.

Well, the other £15 million was a parent company guarantee.

All I can say in relation to that is, as at 2015, the parent company guarantee was still a parent company of the Miller Argent group and it was actually worth—. The £15 million was there. Since then, obviously, everything has been transferred to Merthyr (South Wales) Limited and the parent company guarantee is only worth what the parent company is actually valued at.

So, somewhere along the line, the £30 million that we all thought it started off with is now down to £15 million.

Well, I can't actually answer that. I mean, a parent company guarantee, as I said, is only worth what a company is worth.

So, can I—? Sorry, before you come in, can I ask, then, you referenced 2015 that it had £15 million—

Is that the latest information that you have, because that's nearly 10 years old?

No. The parent company is now Merthyr Holdings Limited, and, if anyone were to actually access Companies House and look at the accounts, I think the accounts show that there's about £104,880 in that company.

Although that's not the—. Am I right in thinking that they're behind in filing the accounts?

Well, there are a number of companies. They are late in filing the accounts to deal with Merthyr (South Wales) Limited.

It's more grim than I thought, to be honest. So, why, in 2016, did you decline—not you, but why, in 2016, did they decline the offer from the Coal Authority to work with you to assess the escrow account requirements for restoration?

I don't think we can, actually. So, that—. I'm not aware of that. Obviously, those officers who were dealing with it at the time have long gone from the authority. That may have been the case at the time, but that certainly hasn't been carried through in terms of organisational knowledge and understanding. 

Can I just ask a question about that, then, because I think we might be coming back to this point on a few occasions? How is it that, organisationally, you cannot be accountable or answerable for decisions that were made before you were employed? Because, as an organisation or a public body, surely there should be systems in place to ensure continuity of enforcement and decisions, particularly in areas like planning and this area.

I mean, there's the corporate record, I suppose, in terms of what we're dealing with now, and the officers in front of you are the ones who are dealing with it. We've done everything we can in terms of dealing with the situation. Back to the Member's question, obviously, some things are out of the authority's control in terms of corporate law—[Interruption.]

Yes. It was quite a pleasant ring, but, nevertheless, maybe it would be useful to turn it off. Thank you.

Apologies. So, yes. So, we're doing everything we can from an authority perspective, in terms of trying to deal with the situation in front of us. Some of the discussions that happened in the past weren't necessarily recorded. Obviously, that one is not one that we were aware of.

In the Coal Authority's 2016 best practice guidance on restoration liability assessments for surface coal mines, it recommended that such mines should have an annual restoration liability assessment to ensure that liability is fully secured. Have these assessments taken place on an annual basis for Ffos-y-fran? If not, how much has Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council tracked whether restoration funds held by the company were sufficient? It sounds like you've answered some of that already, but—.

Yes. So, we're aware of that document. The short answer is that no, there isn't an assessment in place. The principle of that document, which is to kind of reduce the opportunity for developers to default on their obligation to restore landscapes, and to address various scenarios, like an abandonment—you know, what measures might be put in place—. I think that part of that guidance sets out that, obviously, there's a need to make sure that there are funds in the pot to fully restore the site. In this instance—. Sorry. Well, that, in itself, necessitates the need for experts to come in to qualify that. It also requires an element of co-operation, then, from MSW, Merthyr (South Wales), in order to put that and secure that in place.

The difficulty that we have is that, because permission was granted way before that document came out, back in 2005, it's difficult then to retrospectively get the developer to sign up to a new contract, in a sense, and effectively renegotiate then what might be the restoration costs. So, it's very difficult to do that, and so that's why it's not in place at the moment.  

11:15

Just in your opinion, do you believe that using mining as a way of remediation of a site is a risk?

I think that the short answer is 'yes'. Evident to—

It feels like there's no, I don't know, accountability or tracking and tracing.

I think that if we were looking at new mining sites now, or quarries or anything like that, where you're excavating material for some economic benefit and there's an element of restoration, having some sort of assessment in place to fully set out all of these issues, certainly in abandonment—. That's the position that we're in now. There's a risk of that, and, ultimately, whatever you consider the cost of restoration, what we do know is that we have got £15 million secured, and that's all we can confirm. 

Can I just ask: who is in charge of enforcement—enforcement of making sure that remediation happens, that there's funding in place? So, you have a regional planning service, but then enforcement falls to the local authority, doesn't it? So—.

Yes. So, there's an element of enforcement. As Geraint has mentioned earlier, there's the enforcement to make sure that there are the funds in the escrow, and taking the legal steps on that side of things. But then, on the planning side of things, obviously you've got planning conditions that we can enforce. But there's always the risk of—. I think that it comes under one of the other documents on the agenda later, about the risk of these kinds of mining sites, and that is, even if you go through enforcement, and you may be even successful, if there are no funds in the pot to actually deliver the restoration, it becomes a difficult challenge then to actually deliver that scheme.

It sounds like you've wasted a lot of money going to the High Court to battle for funding, which must the authority lots of money, if you can't get it all back. It seems, really, enforcement's—

In relation to the High Court actions, we did have an order that the developer was to pay the council's costs, and they were obviously costed by a costs draughtsman afterwards.

In relation to the £15 million guarantee element, obviously, you've suggested what you believe the value of the company is, in terms of what is recorded with Companies House. Have you asked the company whether they have money and, if they do, how much they have set aside?

We have certainly asked the company as to what money they have set aside. We, obviously, can only look at the accounts that they've filed in relation to the restoration, and, if you look at the 2021 or the 2022 set of accounts, it actually says that there is a sum of money that they have earmarked towards restoration of that site.

I think that it's about the figure of £74.5 million is what they've put in their accounts as money that they have towards restoration.

So, on the face of it, you would expect that money to be there and ready to be utilised in terms of restoring the site.

We have to accept what is in the accounts, don't we?

Julie wanted to come in, and then we'll come back to you, then, to carry on with your questions. 

Yes. Thank you very much. Carolyn referred to the Coal Authority's best practice guidance. I think that you said that it was difficult to bring that in or to enforce it because 2005 was the permission, and it's difficult to renegotiate with the company. Did you make any efforts to try to renegotiate with the company, and are you able to tell us about those sorts of discussions that you might have had?

11:20

There hasn't really been a mechanism for us to renegotiate the funding towards a restoration. Our position has always been that, under the planning permission, the developer has an obligation to meet the conditions expected of them under that planning permission. The difficulty, as I say, is the enforcement of that and how far you can go and, even in success, whether it would deliver the outcome that you desire. But, unfortunately, there's not really been a—. Because there's not been a new application in to renegotiate those things. They did submit an application in 2023, which was to extend the mining operations for a further three years, in which they indicated that that may bring some additional funds. I don't know if that would top up the £15 million to make the difference of what people are projecting the costs might be, but that would have been perhaps an opportunity to have done that. But, unfortunately, from a planning point of view, that hasn't presented itself.

Have you had any sort of dialogue outside the formal planning applications with the company?

I think the only dialogue, really, we've had is that we've asked for an open book, so that we can understand why they're saying that they don't have the funds to restore the site. But that, as of yet, has not come to us.

Can I just comment as well? Sorry, Chair. At times, obviously, as Geraint has just taken us through, the relationship has been a challenging one with the developer, in us having to take them to court in order for them to pay up what was due in terms of the escrow account. Obviously, then, there's the restricted ability for us to actually renegotiate anything anyway.

Yes. I was just thinking about it and wondering how much work had been able to go on outside those formal procedures between the local authority and the company, which might have resolved some of these issues.

It's in the gift, obviously, of a developer to say that they'll put more money towards the restoration themselves if they've got the funds for it. Obviously, the escrow is to secure that, but it's in the gift of Merthyr (South Wales) to offer that as well.

Thank you. I am puzzled here. So, you basically have said that going back now would be difficult, and you talk about there being no mechanisms for you to open up those discussions, and relationship issues and things like that. Then you say that, in 2023, they submitted an application to continue mining, which we know is not possible now, and that you might have then had some extra funding. I'm concerned about the £15 million that seems to be somewhere in the ether, which would have helped, certainly, towards restoration.

As a local authority—and it's the point that you made, Chair—surely you do, as a corporate body, hold some accountability for how those discussions—. And to the point that my colleague Julie Morgan makes, you know, 'Oh, there aren't the mechanisms there.' But, I'm sorry, this is taxpayers' money we're talking about, and there's the public interest test on something as massive as this. Is it that you've worried, 'It's in the public interest we won't take this forward'? I mean, surely your role is to look after your residents and all those affected by the mine and the fact that there needs to be the restoration of this site. You can't seem to tell us—. Maybe not now, but can you put a paper together explaining to this committee, over the years, how it has been allowed, a situation where now this money's just gone? You don't seem to have any grip, any control over this company, and that worries me.

We can certainly put a paper together to answer some of those questions, but, from my perspective, we are doing everything we can to make sure—

So, from our perspective, we've engaged with the developer continually. There are regular meetings going on with that developer. But we are limited in terms of what we can actually do from a legal perspective to ensure anything that's already—

Well, the planning enforcement is set out. So, we're doing everything we can in terms of making sure that the scheme—. We're working with the developer to provide an alternate scheme, in terms of that's what they're currently trying to do and we're working towards a November date for that, in terms of their view of what an alternate restoration scheme would look like.

Okay. So, given that this is the climate change committee, and we know that the coal mined from Ffos-y-fran was really good stuff—. I was in the Isle of Man at the Tynwald celebrations—sorry, Delyth, we differ on this—last year, and they were absolutely gutted. They said, 'You don't realise what that mine is capable of producing; it's one of the hottest anthracites, it burns quick, very, very clean. Now, we're going to have to import.' Well, I know that train companies and other industries are now importing coal from places like Kazakhstan. Would it not have been better to have got better discussions and a better relationship with them, to allow them the licence to continue mining?

11:25

It's a fair enough question, but it's not relevant to this inquiry, actually. 

I'll come back in. It's Welsh dry steam coal, not anthracite.

I worked on the site from 1994 to 1996 on phase 2, and was brought up in the mining industry most of my life, so I know the geography and the geology of the area. 

The issue is, with Welsh Government planning guidance now, there was no option, really, for us to go any further. I believe—my personal view—if Tata was to continue making steel at Port Talbot, for the climate, for the planet, it would have been better to mine it in Merthyr than from the other side of the world, but we haven't got that choice.

Yes. What is your—? Now, let's see what figure you all come up with. What is your current estimation of the cost to remediate the site?

So, I would say that it's fair to say at the moment there's not a current or accurate estimation of what the cost would be to restore it in accordance with the approved strategy.

Janet, sorry, I think we need to be a bit more respectful here. Thank you.

Thanks, Chair. So, what was approved initially was a strategy for the site. That would set out the objective of, essentially, when the mine first started, all the materials taken out, placed on three overburdens, and then the intention is to put that back into the ground. Within that strategy, there's still a need for additional information to be provided, to set out the final details. So, we have a strategy—an idea of what the landscape would look like at the end—but we don't know, for instance, the balance of material, how much has been taken out and what needs to go back in. We've got a broad understanding, but there's not an accurate figure of that. And then there's also the need to understanding what sort of drainage facilities might need to be put in, and then the cost of the cultivation and any ecological features. So, until that information comes in, it's very difficult to specifically say what those costs will be.

However, in the previous application, when it was submitted for the extension of the mine, it was highlighted at that time that the costs for the restoration were increased. I think it was known already and reported that the estimated cost was about £50 million to £60 million, and that was reported in other documents by the Welsh Government. So, our understanding is that the costs were going to be more than £60 million, and I think at the time it was estimated that it would be somewhere between £75 million and £120 million. And the reason that was very broad was because we simply didn't know the exact costs of how that restoration was going to come out, because we hadn't had that full detail. So, we knew it was going to be more. The worst-case scenario is it would be at least double. However—

However, it was highlighted, I think, by Hugh Towns, at his evidence to the committee before, his view that the site could still be restored for £50 million—obviously, the design for that would differ—and that's something that we've been negotiating with MSW. But I think that the situation we are in is that whatever you consider the calculation for the restoration, whether it's £50 million, £60 million, £70 million, the reality of the situation is that we've only got £15 million, and so the scenario is that, if the site was abandoned, if something happened to the company, what we can be certain of is that we've got £15 million, and that's unfortunately the situation we're in.

Okay. Delyth has been very patient, as has Joyce, and then we'll go on to Carolyn.

Okay. Thank you. I have a few question, please. Could you confirm, please—? So, the current estimate that you were talking about, between £75 million and £125 million, presumably that was produced by an officer in the council, and presumably it was based on data that was provided by the mining company.

11:30

I don't know exactly what details that was based on. My understanding is that it was calculated roughly on a broad estimation of how much material needed to go across into the site. But that's more or less a guesstimate.

Okay, thank you for that. Am I correct in thinking that the council has found it challenging to gain access to the site? So, the data, presumably, would have to be second-hand from the company.

It has been difficult to get information. We have had, more recently, a bit more information now about the schematics of the site. We haven't got all the details about the overburdens or how it would be restored. I think Merthyr (South Wales) are now, rather than focusing on the restoration under the original strategy in terms of completing the whole project, they're more focused now on—. Well, their view is that the £15 million is the restoration fund, so that's where there's a slight difference in interpretation. So, they're now looking at restoring the site under that fund, which, as I say, might be equally acceptable, but it would be quite different to what was originally agreed. 

Certainly. Thank you for that. The reason I was asking about whether it was based on their own data—. Forgive me, I think you had told us earlier that £74.5 million is in their account and it seems to be that that is set aside for restoration. So, that seems startlingly similar to what the estimate is. Of course, there might be—. Some might think that the company would be looking to renegotiate based on maybe a higher figure, to show that it would not be possible for them to possibly restore, because of these inflated costs. So, if you could provide us with a report of any evidence you have about how that figure was costed, that would be really useful, please, so that we could seek to understand a little bit more about that.

But if I might briefly come back to the £15 million, please, is that £15 million now in the hands of the local authority, that you could use that £15 million to make the site safe?

No. The £15 million is held in an escrow account. There are three parties to the escrow. The money is held by the bank, and in order for the money to be drawn down, certain requirements have to be met, and it will need to be signed by the developer and countersigned by the local authority in order for the money to be released. There also needs to be an approved restoration strategy, and certain other conditions will also need to be met. We will need to have passed the draw-down commencement date, et cetera et cetera, before anyone can access that money.

Thank you for that. Was it not the case, when Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd broke their contract when they were mining outside of planning permission, that that would have triggered the release of the funds?

In relation to the mining outside the red-line boundary, or the orange dotted line, whichever you want, mining outside that boundary is more a matter for the Coal Authority. The Coal Authority grant them the licence to extract coal.

Right, okay. So, the £15 million couldn't be used to put drainage pumps in.

No. The £15 million can only be used towards the restoration of the site. 

You've mentioned several times—good morning, everybody—that everything you're doing is according to the planning rules. I accept that, because that's what you're bound by. Have you made any representation to the Welsh Government or any other authority that maybe those planning rules fall short of requirements going forward? If you have, what observations have you made so that this sort of situation doesn't replicate itself elsewhere?

We're in regular discussion with the Welsh Government planning officials in relation to this. I think it's fair to say that the leader has written to Welsh Government officials also, explaining what action we've taken and what action we are able to take. So, I suppose, in that respect, we have set out our limitations. 

But as you'll be aware, Welsh Government can override us on certain issues. So, if they think we should be taking enforcement action and we haven't, it is within their gift to do so, and they haven't, but that's as far as our discussions have gone, really. 

11:35

If I can add as well, Chair, it may be worth outlining that last year, following an engagement I had with John Howells, the director from the climate change, energy and planning directorate in the Welsh Government, we set up a technical working group that included all the regulators—the Coal Authority, Natural Resources Wales, the Government and ourselves. Each of those regulators have their own set of powers and requirements in relation to this site. So, the ongoing problem has been discussed with all those bodies as we've gone through, including the Welsh Government. 

If I can add to that as well, we're talking about the last opencast mine in Wales as far as the law is concerned. There will never be another. We are now talking, really, about legacy events. Things have happened in the past. Perhaps this inquiry should have taken place 25 years ago, and a lot of the wrongs that have been done would have been rights. A lot of operators wouldn't have had the funds to carry out this work, and wouldn't have left us in the mess that we are in. But it's something that we all know in Wales, especially the south Wales Valleys. This has gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years, and it's eventually coming to an end. So, I suppose this is the closing of a legacy for us.

Thank you. Prior to answering this, quite often this is discussed on the floor of the Senedd in the Chamber, and the UK Government gets blamed, and the UK Government say that this is a Welsh Government responsibility and we've had 26 years of devolution. Do you feel that both Governments now should be working together? Do you believe the Welsh Government could be doing more? How do you feel about that? 

That's a political question, so I suppose I'd better take that one. 

I think they've both got to work together. Like I said, this is not new. This is going back for decades, centuries, and we all know how many coal tips are left around Wales. Everybody's got to pull together to get a solution for the future generations of our town and of Wales. You've only just got to look at Merthyr Tydfil. Cyfarthfa retail park is built on top of an iron slag tip, so is the Keir Hardie health park. All around Merthyr, everything is built on tips, and we're not alone. 

Not with the UK Government, only the Welsh Government. 

In its letter to the Welsh Government in October 2023 expressing concerns at MTCBCs preparedness for site closure, the Coal Authority highlighted the urgent need for an incident response team to manage the site’s closure, public safety management and safe restoration under a number of potential scenarios. Has the team been established? 

Yes. That's what I alluded to earlier. A technical working group was set up—

Judith chairs it, so I'll hand over to Judith. 

It's a fairly fixed agenda in terms of the topics that we're discussing. All the regulators will give their updates at that meeting in terms of things that are progressing at Ffos-y-fran, any information sharing, and then any points of action that need taking forward from that point. 

No, they're not. They're circulated amongst the technical team, but I'm not aware that they're published. 

Are there any progressive moves is what I'm trying to establish. Some meetings can take place, but are there any positive actions towards the restoration of the site? How is that moving forward? 

I think the key benefit of that group being set up was information sharing, which up until that point had been challenging, shall I say. As I've mentioned, each of those parties on that group have their own legal responsibilities in terms of enforcement against that site. So, it has certainly helped us get a clear view and everyone singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of the current situation, as we understand, from the developer. In terms of going back to the point that the Coal Authority made in terms of incident response, we've tried to clarify in terms of who would need to do what and the issue of abandonment. Obviously, abandonment is quite a complex issue, and I know we're going to come on to that in a moment. So, in terms of preparedness, it's allowed us to understand who would deal with what aspect of it.

11:40

And, on occasion, the developer itself has participated in those meetings as well.

Just to add to the points that were raised there, some of the concerns that residents have raised—about the water, contamination—we've also been able to address with NRW. When there were concerns about stability, we've been able to discuss that with the Coal Authority, and get their advice. So, that helps feed into our own risk assessment then as to what needs to be done urgently, what things we might need to prepare for in the case of abandonment. The difficulty we've got at the minute is that the developer is still there, so there's nothing for us to necessarily suddenly take over. The site is not abandoned, there's still a presence on site, but we can still have a discussion with MSW about certain things, and make sure that things are put in place.

I think the other important point to note is the fact that the developer is working towards providing a revised restoration strategy, which they are looking to submit in October/November time of this year. We meet with them regularly in relation to that revised restoration scheme. So, there are still matters ongoing with the developer, with the developer stating that they wish to provide a restoration of that site, albeit that it isn't necessarily the one that was approved back in 2007.

We'll come on to the revised restoration in a moment. Given that you've spoken a bit about abandonment, do you want to pick up—? I know both Janet and Delyth want to pursue that.

Thanks. Are you concerned, or are you greatly concerned, that the site operator will abandon the site or declare insolvency? You mentioned figures of around £104,000 in terms of value. So, what measures have you put in place yourselves, as a local authority, for this eventuality?

It's probably worth Geraint going through the complexity of abandonment first, and then we'll come back to your question, if that's okay.

The council is fully aware of the possibility. Obviously, bearing in mind the number of times we had to take action against the developer to pay money into the escrow account, it's something that we are fully aware of. But it has to be said that, at the moment, the developer is still in situ, they are still working, and they haven't declared an insolvency situation. We're also aware of it given the legacy for abandonment of land reclamation schemes across the United Kingdom. So, we're fully aware and alive to the issues of a possible abandonment of the site.

Given the highly complex picture that would evolve should an abandonment of the site occur, the council has stated before that we would expect that there will be a multi-agency and a multilevel political response that would be undertaken in relation to that. That's part of the reason as to why things would be discussed in the technical working group, because all different bodies have their own statutory powers as to how matters can move forward, and it isn't only the local authority that have powers in relation to doing that. As I said, as part of prudent planning, we have gathered risk views from each of the relevant statutory bodies, all of whom attend the technical working group. Specialist input has also been obtained from the council's own internal departments, and one of the purposes of that risk analysis is to ensure that the council is sufficiently informed should there be any abandonment of the mine.

In relation to land ownership, that is a fairly complex situation, and you'll have to bear with me, because I think it actually needs to be said. Should an abandonment occur, then certain responsibilities would fall to the respective landowners. The council is fully aware that there would be issues in relation to fencing off the site to limit any trespass, including areas that would be particularly dangerous within that site. Insolvency itself is quite a complex legal situation, and there are two potential situations in relation to insolvency, one of which is administration, the other is liquidation. Which route is followed will determine what issues will arise.

Should the company be dissolved, any property held by the dissolved company is deemed to be—excuse me for using the Latin phrase—bona vacantia, so would automatically vest in the Crown. Should that occur, the Crown would have the option to disclaim the land, and if the Crown decides to disclaim the property, then it is deemed not to have vested in the Crown. The result of any potential disclaimer is that the disclaimer will operate to terminate the company's rights and liabilities in the property disclaimed, and further potential legal niceties would come into play as to whether the land was deemed to be bona vacantia. If it was deemed to be that, then it would be dealt with by the Treasury solicitor, or if it was held by the Crown, it's dealt with under the doctrine of escheat. And I do apologise, because they are technical terms and they are complicated terms, and, as I said, insolvency is not an easy issue to deal with.

Where either of those cases arise, it's my understanding that the Crown would usually take a risk-averse approach and is unlikely to take possession of the land. Further, within Wales, it's my understanding that the Treasury solicitor is responsible to the Welsh Ministers, who would therefore constitute the Crown for that purpose. The Crown Estate is separate from the Welsh Ministers and is obviously administered by the Crown Estate commissioners, who are regulated under the Crown Estate Act 1961. Therefore, the property of a dissolved company that became bona vacantia would pass to the Welsh Ministers in the first instance, but if the Welsh Ministers disclaim that land, then it would fall under the doctrine of escheat and into the Crown Estate. That's why I'm saying it all depends which way all this goes. Which route any statutory body needs to follow will be dependent upon which way it goes. And it isn't only the local authority, because, as I've just stated there, if it does get dissolved, then the Welsh Government would have decisions to make as well.

11:45

Thank you. Geraint, when you were saying that the company is still in situ, that the company hasn't declared insolvency, it feels like each of those sentences could or should be followed by 'yet'. It just feels like we're on the precipice of something that we're all anticipating will be happening.

Yes. And I think the difficulty with that, Delyth, is none of us actually have a crystal ball, do we? We have to accept they are filing their accounts, they are being shown, at the moment, to be in a technically solvent situation, and that's where we all find ourselves, where we've obviously been putting in place what we would consider would need to be undertaken, should that eventuality arise.

Exactly as Geraint said at the end there, we've got to assume that the developer is going to make good on whatever planning scheme is actually finalised and restores the land, until it's not. And at that point, we've made sure that we have understood who would need to do what in that event of abandonment.

Thank you. In terms of the revised restoration, we'll be coming on to that later, if that's all right. But if the site is abandoned or if the company does declare itself insolvent, you've already set out very extensively—and thank you for that—what role the different bodies would have to undertake, what questions would need to be asked. This question about land ownership seems unbelievably complicated, and so many different layers and so many different bodies having to act together and in good faith. Do you think that there should be a body, whether it's Government or just a body, the Coal Authority, who should have power to intervene and to usurp others? And in an example where—and I know we'll be coming on to the technicalities about what's happening with the site at the moment—a void is filling with water, and we could soon get to a point—we may have already reached the point—where it is not possible to drain that water any more, do you think that a body should have ultimate power to be able to come in and take control and put the drainage pumps back on?