Concerns over planning commissioner who is also a lobbyist
Questions have been raised about whether it is appropriate that a member of the Welsh Government body which advises on major infrastructure schemes including renewable energy projects should also be working as a lobbyist for a company that has clients in the same sector.
Steve Brooks sits as a commissioner on the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales (NICW) while also being a senior adviser for Cardiff lobbying firm Deryn Consulting.
Nation.Cymru has seen correspondence between information rights activist Jamie Roberts and the Welsh Government’s most senior civil servant, Permanent Secretary Dr Andrew Goodall in which Mr Roberts raises concerns about a possible conflict of interest.
Deryn’s most recent list of clients, as declared to the professional body PRCA, includes renewable energy developers RWE and Wind2. A recent former client is Statkraft, another renewable energy firm.
In September 2023 Mr Brooks, together with the chair of NICW, Dr David Clubb, gave evidence to the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee at a meeting about the Infrastructure (Wales) Bill, which is intended to introduce a simplified process to consent major infrastructure projects in Wales.
It was an opportunity to influence lawmakers. In several instances as he gave evidence, Mr Brooks urged that the interests of developers should be taken into account. The transcript of his evidence on the Senedd’s website shows, for example, that he told the committee: “I think the objective has to be having real clarity about what is actually Welsh Government’s policy in any given area, so, whether it’s communities, whether it’s developers, they’re able to go and know with confidence, ‘Okay, that’s what the intent of the policy is.’ I think one of the big problems with the system at the moment is that lack of clarity and lack of confidence, in terms of, if you’re a developer or even if you are a community, when you’re going through, you’re not always quite clear specifically what the policy might be and how that policy might be used. So, infrastructure policy statements might be a way to resolve that by making it quite clear what the principal policy is. But, essentially, whatever regime they choose, I think it’s just having something where there’s almost like a one-stop shop for finding out what exactly the policy is. And at the moment, that appears to be unclear, and I’m not sure how it’s defined in the legislation makes that clear either.”
In total, Mr Brooks mentioned developers during his evidence four times. Before giving evidence, he did not declare to the committee that he worked as a lobbyist for Deryn, which represents renewable energy developers.
In October 2023 Mr Brooks chaired an NICW event on renewables. In a post on X, formerly Twitter, he wrote: “Thanks to everyone who came to the NICW event on renewables. Really enjoyed chairing a rich discussion touching on skills, planning, tech, public engagement, community ownership, finance and more.”
Responding to concerns expressed by Mr Roberts, Dr Goodall wrote to him stating: “You were concerned there was a potential conflict of interest issue in both the appointment of a particular individual to NICW and the presence of that individual in NICW meetings at which policy areas in relation to clients of a particular organisation were discussed.
“I have consulted the Chair of the Commission, Dr David Clubb, the Commission secretariat and the Welsh Government’s Public Bodies Unit in preparing this response.
“The appointment of six new Commissioners and a Deputy Chair were approved in August 2022. The appointment process had commenced with a public advert, inviting applications, issued in March of that year. There were a number of applications, all of which provided details of employment history and roles with a number of organisations in areas where NICW had an interest.
“The Deputy Minister for Climate Change [Lee Waters] had responsibility for making appointments to NICW. The First Minister was not involved in the process.
“The Deputy Minister for Climate Change approved the job specification for the role, and it was against the criteria set out in the specification that applicants for the post were assessed. There were several appointable candidates whom the Deputy Minister discussed with the Chair of NICW before formal offers of appointment were made to the successful applicants.”
Mr Brooks is a former director in Wales of the sustainable transport charity Sustrans, as is Mr Waters.
Dr Goodall’s letter continued: “The Chair of the Commission is acutely aware of the requirement that members of the Commission should have knowledge of relevant infrastructure sectors, and this can give rise to potential conflicts. The scope for conflicts is therefore managed very carefully by the Chair, as is the requirement Commissioners should remove themselves from discussions or decisions where they have a financial interest, or where their interest might suggest a danger of bias.
“In addition, officials from the NICW secretariat ensure the register of members’ interests is kept up to date and any new interests are recorded at every meeting. The meeting notes and register of interests have now been updated on the NICW and Welsh Government websites.
“I hope this response deals with your concerns regarding the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales.”
In a response to Dr Goodall, Mr Roberts wrote: “The crux of the issue lies in the potential conflict of interest arising from Mr Stephen Brooks’ dual roles with NICW and Deryn Consulting. There remains a need for clarity on whether Mr Brooks disclosed his consultancy role and his clients at Deryn to the Deputy Minister for Climate Change prior to his appointment.
– The specific measures taken to manage Mr. Brooks’ involvement in discussions and decisions that may benefit his clients at Deryn.
– The actual involvement of Mr. Brooks in NICW meetings discussing policy areas directly impacting his clients and whether he recused himself from such discussions.
“The updated register of interests and meeting notes, while necessary, do not provide retrospective transparency regarding these past interactions, nor do they assure that the potential conflict of interest has been effectively managed.
“Therefore, I implore you to conduct a thorough investigation into these specific concerns.
The integrity of the NICW and the public trust in its processes are at stake. An investigation that addresses these concerns explicitly is imperative to uphold the standards expected of public institutions.”
We sought comment from Mr Brooks and the Welsh Government.
Mr Brooks said: “During the appointment process, and following my appointment, I have declared my interests. I am pleased that the Welsh Government has confirmed this to be the case.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson would only say: “All members of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales are required to update the register of interests as and when changes occur. These are recorded and published on the Welsh Government and the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales websites.”
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