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Natural Resources Wales ‘doesn’t have the resources to do its job properly’

17 Sep 2023 5 minute read
Photo Alan Fryer, geograph.org.uk

Martin Shipton

Natural Resources Wales – the nation’s environmental regulator – has admitted that it doesn’t have enough of its own resources to carry out its duties within the expected time period.

A campaign group has drawn attention to two recent occasions when NRW was unable to respond to planning consultations because of “resource issues”.

In November 2022, in a submission to Planning and Environment Decisions Wales (PEDW) relating to a Development of National Significance (DNS) major wind farm energy park application by Bute Energy at Nant Mithil in Powys, an NRW official commented: “We have not reviewed the scoping report in relation to peat, owing to resource issues within NRW. We advise that further information relating to this receptor could be required at a later date if an application proposal is brought forward.”

Peat is regarded as one of the critical aspects to the proposed development.

Then in September 2023, NRW made a submission concerning another energy park DNS, also involving Bute Energy, at Twyn Hywel near Caerphilly, stating: “Please note, we have not been able to provide advice on ornithological matters within the specified timescales, due to resourcing issues. We will endeavour to provide advice under a separate cover as soon as practical.”

Listed birds

There is evidence of species of red and amber listed birds of conservation concern in the area. In its application Bute Energy goes into considerable detail about ornithology and what’s scoped in and out, what is relevant, in its view, and what isn’t.

Jenny Chryss is Chair of RE-think which opposes widespread industrial-scale onshore wind developments such as those proposed by Bute Energy. She said: “It was bad enough to read that a lack of resources meant NRW couldn’t review the section of the Nant Mithil Scoping Report referring to peat. But then, 10 months later, to find that it can’t comment on ornithological issues at Twyn Hywel for the same reason is absolutely shocking. These are classed as DNS applications, and if passed they will change the lives of people and wildlife forever, but they are being treated with complete contempt.

“It’s no secret that NRW has been underfunded for some years. But avoiding harm to peat and bird life are two of the most critical aspects of wind farm developments. There are a number of red list and other threatened bird species in the vicinity of the proposed Twyn Hywel site which must be protected, as must the important peat deposits in Radnor Forest.

“I’m just a lay member of the public who has cast an eye over two of Bute Energy’s proposed developments. In both cases NRW has been found wanting. How many more examples are either slipping through the net or waiting in the wings? If Wales’ environmental regulator, which is also the Welsh Government’s ‘largest sponsored body’, according to its own website, does not have the capacity to fully and robustly scrutinise such major DNS applications as these, in my view it calls into question the validity of the entire system.

“It seems to me that the Welsh Government has wrested control of the planning process for major developments from local authorities, but at the same time it has underfunded its own environmental regulatory body to the extent that it can’t properly fulfill its role as a statutory consultee.”

Unsurprising 

Plaid Cymru climate change spokesperson Delyth Jewell MS said: “This is concerning but, unfortunately, unsurprising. The Welsh Government continues to pile responsibilities onto NRW without providing the necessary funding for them to undertake the extra work. NRW needs to be resourced properly, or we could risk serious and irreparable damage being done to our local landscapes. Their specialist staff must be resourced to carry out necessary Environmental Impact Assessments on infrastructure projects, like the various grid transmission plans.

“Plaid Cymru is absolutely committed to net zero, which is why we must see vital improvements to the grid being made. At present, there are perfectly understandable frustrations amongst local residents when it comes to pylons – communities feel as if this is being done to them, and not for them. And that is why local residents need to benefit from large energy projects and be fully consulted on plans which affect their communities. But the inadequate funding given to NRW is, I fear, leading to vital components of these decisions being left out. We could all be the poorer as a consequence.”

Peter Jordan, NRW’s Planning Development Advice Service Manager responded: “We are committed to supporting the delivery of sustainable development by directing development to the most appropriate locations. In addition, our advice plays a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating action to adapt to climate change; halting biodiversity loss and supporting its recovery; and minimising pollution.

“As part of our role as a statutory consultee in the planning system, we advise on the potential impacts of proposals on Wales’ natural resources and environment in respect of those matters listed in our consultation topic list.

“In the case of Nant Mithil the consultation referred to related to the scope of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Scoping is not an assessment of impact but rather what should be considered in undertaking such an assessment. While we did not have capacity to review the peat proposed scope in detail, we did provide an extensive response to the consultation and highlighted the need for the EIA to assess peat impacts.

“In the case of Twyn Hywel, ornithological advice will be provided to PEDW imminently.

“Last year we received and responded to over 8000 planning consultations. There is pressure on public finances, and we continue to work with others to discuss the service we can offer while ensuring value for money for the communities we serve.”


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
7 months ago

A cynic might interpret under-funding as a loophole for developers to use to carry on regardless…

Richard E
Richard E
7 months ago

NRW is the WDA of the 21st Century.!Too big, too many things to focus on, too remote and too arms length from quality scrutiny. Full Stop 🛑

Peter
Peter
7 months ago

When i was a child my parents had very little and we lived on a small budget, as i grew up i learnt that there are lots of things that i would like to have but if you haven’t got enough money then you need to prioritise, you must take care of the essential things first and if you have enough money left you can then allow yourself the other desirable things. The Welsh government could well do with taking a lesson out of my book. Put money into the most important things first, the NHS, Decent housing, clean safe,water… Read more »

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
7 months ago

Wind farms and pylons are such a blight on the landscape they should be banned. Wind farms for instance are ugly, noisy, they don’t produce any electricity in calmer weather, they are highly polluting in construction and transportation, the blades break regularly and they are only cost effective thanks to massive government subsidy.

Why aren’t we investing in and developing tidal energy? The tide comes in twice every day and we are surrounded by sea. Surely tidal energy with all power lines underground would be a far better solution to global warming.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
7 months ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

A third Menai bridge could incorporate turbines…if we ever get a fresh bunch of Olympians in the Bay…

Jason Bowen
Jason Bowen
7 months ago

They have just told me that they have FREEZED hiring

Arthur
Arthur
6 months ago
Reply to  Jason Bowen

NRW told you this?

Jason Bowen
Jason Bowen
4 months ago
Reply to  Arthur

Yes, I have contacts within. Only replacing essential staff who retire or die

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