Environmental regulation by Welsh Government ‘inadequate’, say MSs
A cross-party report by Senedd Members has strongly criticised the Welsh Government’s attitude towards environmental regulation.
Currently, Wales is the only UK nation which hasn’t established a post-Brexit permanent environmental governance body and is still relying on interim measures – the Interim Environmental Protection Assessor for Wales (IEPAW)).
The Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee says that it would be an “unforgivable failure of this Welsh Government if the new body is not fully operational by the end of its term in office”.
The Committee also says:
* Wales’ interim environmental protection measures are inadequate and, compared to Scotland and England, Wales is missing out. The Committee is calling for the Welsh Government to establish an interim/shadow environmental governance body at the earliest opportunity.
* The Welsh Government has not engaged in discussions with the English and Scottish bodies to learn lessons from the establishment of their respective bodies. This should happen immediately.
* The IEPAW’s appointment will come to an end in a matter of months and there has been no explanation of whether the Minister intends to extend this or not.
* Despite the interim environmental protection regulator (IEPAW) being in place in Wales for two years, it has only submitted one report to the Welsh Government. This is partly because of the regulator’s lack of capacity, and it is still waiting on the Minister for Climate Change to provide money for extra staff despite previous promises.
The report states: “We would have expected, by now, to have seen more by way of outputs from the IEPAW’s work, with only one report having been submitted to the Welsh Ministers. We acknowledge that capacity and resource constraints have been a key contributing factor to delays in reporting. It is regrettable, therefore, that the resource review recommended by this committee took so long to complete.
“We expect the provision of additional drafting support and expertise to help address the backlog of reports during the coming year. Despite the Minister’s commitment to report to us on the findings of the resource review, we have yet to receive this information. We expect the Minister to address this issue. We also expect additional resources to be made available to the IEPAW in a timely manner, including in the form of a Deputy IEPAW.
“We are concerned that, two years into the operation of the interim measures, neither the IEPAW nor the Welsh Government have arrangements in place to monitor the impact of the IEPAW’s work.
“We would expect the IEPAW to have arrangements in place for tracking the implementation of recommendations made to the Welsh Government, for following-up progress where appropriate, and for monitoring the impact of its work on environmental outcomes. In our first report, we sought clarification from the Welsh Government on arrangements for monitoring and evaluating the ongoing effectiveness of the interim measures, including the IEPAW’s role. In its response, the Welsh Government said there were no formal monitoring arrangements in place, although it had been ‘considering options’. We would welcome an update from the Minister on this matter.”
Looking to the future, the report states: “In our first report, we raised concern about the inadequacy of Wales’ interim environmental protection measures. Our evidence session with the Office for Environmental Protection and Environmental Standards Scotland only exacerbated our concern, providing a sharp illustration of what Wales is missing out on. It is clear that the IEPAW, with its narrowly defined role and limited resources, is no comparison to the environmental governance bodies that are in place elsewhere in the UK.
“The IEPAW’s appointment will come to an end in a matter of months. We are deeply disappointed to find ourselves, once again, having to seek clarity on whether the Minister intends to extend it for another year.
“We set out our expectation for a Bill to establish the new body to be brought forward in year three of the Legislative Programme. A year on, nothing has changed. The IEPAW’s appointment will end in February 2024, and there is still no sign of a Bill. Yet again, the Welsh Government has chosen to ignore our call, and those of countless organisations and Welsh citizens, to legislate to address the environmental governance gap.
“It is now seven years since the EU referendum when the environmental sector first raised concerns about an environmental governance gap and five years since the Welsh Government committed to legislate to address that gap. The absence of a Bill in year three of the Legislative Programme means the new body is likely to be at least two years away. It will be an unforgivable failure of this Welsh Government if the new body is not fully operational before the end of its term in office.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said, “We will bring forward legislation during this Senedd term to establish an environmental governance body for Wales.
“The Bill will contain biodiversity targets and nature restoration targets as well as post-EU environmental governance arrangements.
“An Interim Environmental Protection Assessor for Wales (IEPAW) has been established, championing environmental protections and carrying out an important role in reviewing the framework of environmental law.”
The spokesperson added: “Policy development is underway and a White Paper will be published by January. Following a Welsh Government’s review of the IEPAW’s resources earlier this year, work is currently underway to appoint a Deputy IEPAW. Alongside this, additional budget has been made available to the IEPAW to procure external expertise.”
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