Party Political Views on the Environment – elections 2016
Do you think measures are needed to improve the performance of Natural Resources Wales in fulfilling its duties and responsibilities towards wildlife and the natural environment, and if so, what would these be?
Plaid Cymru attempted to amend the Environment Bill which is currently before the National Assembly in order to give Natural Resources Wales (NRW) a stronger environmental remit, for without such an amendment Wales could be left without an organisation whose primary role is that of championing the environment.
The Government defeated our proposals and as it stands NRW is required to manage Wales’ natural resources in a way that contributes to the achievement of all seven of the recently adopted Wellbeing Goals stipulated by the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. These goals are: A prosperous Wales, a healthier Wales, a resilient Wales, a more equal Wales, a Wales of cohesive communities, a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language and a globally responsible Wales.
This is a very broad remit, placing an all-encompassing responsibility for economic, social, cultural and environmental goals upon NRW. A Plaid Cymru government would ensure that NRW’s priority was the environment. That is not to say it should not contribute to the other goals, of course it should, but its primary objective must be to maintain and enhance a biodiverse natural environment with healthy and functioning ecosystems.
Another pressing concern is that while new duties and responsibilities are bestowed upon NRW, the current Welsh Government is drastically reducing its budgets – a situation that will inevitably lead to capacity problems within the organisation. Plaid Cymru have pressed the Welsh Government several times to ensure that NRW is sufficiently resourced to perform these new duties as well as their current core functions. A Plaid Cymru government would make sure that NRW has the resources to be the environmental champion Wales needs.
The major issue facing Natural Resources Wales are the severe budget cuts it is facing. However, more can be done with less, for example if we shift from thinking about flood defences to flood prevention. We desperately need better upland management including a huge tree-planting programme, and catchment-area flood management. This will enable our countryside to protect us by providing a natural sink for excess rain water, and save millions of pounds in flood defences and clean-up measures. It would also enable an increase in the abundance and diversity of species in these areas of our uplands. There should also be more awareness of existing statutory responsibilities regarding biodiversity and protected or designated areas.
Relevant policy areas:
AGR561 We will encourage Natural Resources Wales to carry out a thorough review of the complicated system of [Countryside] designated areas. In the long term, we will seek the continued expansion of conservation principles to the whole of the countryside.
AGR581 We will ensure that woods are considered as an integral part of Local Development Frameworks. Planning authorities will be required to liaise with Natural Resources Wales and other bodies when dealing with the establishment of new woods and the management of existing ones. The public ownership of woods and plantations that are currently in public ownership, such as those managed by Natural Resources Wales, will be rigorously protected. Public rights of access to such woods and plantations will also be rigorously protected whenever this is compatible with wildlife protection and good management.
UKIP did not reply to our letter.
Natural Resources Wales is only a young institution in its current make up. We would support a timely review of its effectiveness. We are mindful that it lacks the powers and independence from Government of similar bodies in other parts of the United Kingdom and we would seek to address this. Its independence from Government is a key aspect in enabling it to discharge its functions.
This question was not answered specifically. Please read the General Statement provided.
The newly passed Environment (Wales) Bill will see NRW have a number of new duties and responsibilities, the most important of which is to maintain and enhance biodiversity. NRW will have to assist Welsh Ministers in publishing a list of the living organisms and types of habitat which are of principal importance increasing biodiversity in Wales, and will provide an assessment of biodiversity in Wales so that progress with regards to biodiversity can be measured.
However, NRW is likely to see significant cuts to its budget in the future and, with resources already being stretched, there is very real concern that this will result in genuine and lasting harm to the organisation and its ability to fulfil its function effectively. I am concerned that cuts to NRW and the Natural Resources budget will be disproportionate but, given that some cuts are inevitable, it is vital that NRW works closely with third sector groups in order to share knowledge and expertise for mutual benefit.