Today’s Senedd Roundup: AMs stall on Newport bypass alternatives

Picture by Richardjo53 licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

AMs fail to agree way forward for Newport bypass alternatives

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Calls for the investment earmarked for the Newport bypass to be refocused towards the rapid development of a long-term vision for an integrated transport network, which includes giving priority to addressing congestion around Newport.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to ensure the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales plays a central role in guiding strategic and long-term infrastructure planning.

Back to square one

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) said last week’s decision to scrap the Newport bypass was correct and was a difficult but necessary step in taking action following the climate emergency declaration. What was a surprise is that there were no alternatives on the table.

“Many of us were surprised the Welsh Government didn’t have a plan B ready to go, so we’re having to begin from scratch with the establishment of yet another commission to consider which of the alternatives….should be pursued. The problems for Newport will not go away on their own. People living in Newport….are desperate for a solution to congestion and pollution that too often spills onto their streets when accidents at the Brynglas tunnels mean that traffic is redirected. It can’t be allowed to just get worse.”
– Delyth Jewell AM

Some alternative put forward by Plaid Cymru includes reconsideration of the blue route (upgrading the southern distributor road), using intelligent signing to redirect traffic on or off the existing M4 during heavy traffic, encouraging more freight to be carried by rail and general public transport improvements in south-east Wales.


Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Mongomery) bemoaned the fact 28 alternatives were rejected by the public inquiry. The planning inspector largely agreed with the Welsh Government’s own estimates for carbon emissions and the First Minister ultimately disagreed with his own government’s policy. The bypass would’ve provided the long-term solution that the Plaid Cymru motion described.

“I believe there is much we can do, Llywydd, in terms of car sharing, incentivising that through employers providing space for parking to allow the car sharing to take place from particular locations. New apps are proposed, new technology can help; there is much that can be done. I believe we can incentivise freight to get it off our roads and onto rail, and that happens in Scotland, for example, I believe, quite effectively.”
– John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East)

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) said that to achieve a 43% reduction in carbon emissions from transport – required over the next ten years – there has to be a massive reduction in short trips by car and the only way to do that was by providing a modern, efficient public transport system. Car-dependent transport systems also penalise families on low incomes; 23% of households in Wales don’t own a car.

Diverting focuses away

Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West) – who was in favour of the bypass – said the focus has to remain on Newport. The blue route was a non-starter and high levels of local air pollution were caused by idle traffic stuck in jams on the M4. Moves by Newport Bus to switch to electric vehicles was welcome, but it’ll be some time before the whole fleet was converted.

David Rowlands AM (BXP, South Wales East) called for restricted speed limits to be removed and for measures to be put in place to prevent lane changing before the Brynglas tunnels. Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) made the case for reopening railway lines.

Blue route “trashed” by inspector

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), said the commission established following the scrapping announcement would look at “modest but immediate benefits to the road”. Any recommendations brought forward by the commission will have first dibs on any funding and those solutions must present value for money – and that didn’t include the blue route:

“I have to say…. anybody who has read the report could only conclude that the blue route should not be considered at all. The blue route was absolutely trashed in the inspector’s report, and I really don’t understand how Members who claim to support a climate emergency could support the blue route, or indeed how Members who oppose the spending of £1 billion on the black route could support the spending of £1 billion on the blue route.”
– Economy & Transport Minister Ken Skates

Vote

The motion was defeated by 28 votes to 10 with 22 AMs not voting.

In a rare outcome, even the Welsh Government’s amendments failed to pass after there was a tie, meaning the Deputy Llywydd, Ann Jones (Lab, Vale of Clwyd) – by convention – had to vote against them.

So nothing was agreed. A fitting outcome.

Before you ask, I have no idea why there were so many absentees – but before you huff and puff there may well be a good reason for it.

Picture by meineresterampe from Pixabay

Government working to restrict or ban single-use plastics

It seems plastic waste has been a high priority this week, with this Conservative sponsored debate taking place not long afterthe Environment Committee’s report. Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) also held a short debate on this earlier this year.

The Motion (Final/Amended Version)

The Senedd:

  • Recognises the growing importance that the Welsh public places on reducing plastic waste and also acknowledges that Wales is leading the way in the UK with current recycling rates at 62.7%.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to strengthen supply chains in Wales to prevent the export of “environmental pollution”.
  • Welcomes the Welsh Government’s commitment to reducing single-use plastic bottles in Wales, including the Re-Fill Nation initiative and notes that the Welsh Government is continuing to work with the UK Government on a proposed deposit-return scheme.
  • Recognises that the Welsh Government is committed to restricting the availability of plastic straws and banning drink stirrers and cotton buds in line with the EU’s single-use plastic directive, along with plastic cutlery, plates; expanded polystyrene food and drinks containers, and balloon sticks.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to use its powers to update festival planning and licencing guidelines to eliminate single-use plastics and calls for a ban on plastic food packaging which isn’t recyclable or biodegradable.

A duty to act

Shadow Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) said politicians now had a duty to act on plastic waste given the heightened public opinion against unnecessary plastic use. He said the word “ban” sends shivers down his spine, but we were reaching a tipping point.

Wales had to be more ambitious and despite being ahead of most of the world on recycling, we were behind on plastic waste – with evidence on a recent TV documentary that plastic waste from Rhondda Cynon Taf was being dumped in Malaysia.

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said plastic pollution was one of the planet’s greatest challenges. The recent Environment Committee report raised the issue of microplastics, which were everywhere and a potential challenge to not only wildlife but for human health too.

“I think the Government is sending the right signals, but….think you need to get a move on….I was pleased that a significant number of Members attended the event that I sponsored earlier this year when a deposit-return scheme machine was brought into the Senedd, and we all had a chance to see it in action. I think we were very impressed by how practical and effective it was….”
– David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central)

A global worry

David Rowlands AM (BXP, South Wales East) also raised the matter of little to no progress on deposit-return. Why was Wales able to introduce a charge on single-use plastic bags so quickly, but it’s taking so long to do this? Mandy Jones AM (BXP, North Wales) criticised the inconsiderate behaviour of people who litter on the expectation that other people will clean it up.

Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) said that while plastic waste was a global worry, the local effects were just as bad – citing the amount of plastic picked up from beaches in her constituency. It was also worrying that recycling rates have stalled or have even started to fall in some parts of the country.

“I do think more emphasis should be placed on the manufacturers and producers that use plastic to stop doing so. Why should the public or local authorities – funded by public money – pay for the processing of waste that is produced purely and simply to help producers sell their products?”
– Michelle Brown AM (Ind, North Wales)

No room for complacency

Deputy Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn (Lab, Delyn),  said while Wales has a decent record, the calls from young people, in particular, to deal with the plastic problem meant there was no room for complacency. £6.5million of a circular economy fund will be focused on plastic recycling.

“We’ve all heard about the UK Government plans to ban plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds in England. I can tell Members that here in Wales we are committed to restricting or banning the availability of these products in line with the EU’s single-use plastics directive…. So, we will work with stakeholders and consult on our proposals for restrictions on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds and on a wider range of items such as balloon sticks, cutlery, plates and polystyrene food and drink containers.”
– Deputy Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn

A joint Welsh-UK government consultation on a deposit-return scheme has been launched, though it was important to consider how it would fit with current household recycling.

Vote

The motion was carried by 33 votes to five.

Despite their amendments being accepted and speaking largely in favour of pretty much all that was said, Plaid voted against. I don’t know why. I somehow doubt that they suddenly hate turtles and dolphins and these things usually come down to the precise wording of the amended motion, plus they would probably prefer Wales-only deposit-return schemes and restrictions/bans.

Image by TheDigitalWay from Pixabay

Brexit Party AM says people shouldn’t feel embarassed for being conned

This week’s short debate was led by Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) on the subject of scams and cold-calling.

Scams are becoming more and more sophisticated

Caroline Jones warned that the public was becoming increasingly targeted by more sophisticated scam techniques, including fake adverts, copycat websites and fake investment opportunities. Fraud and computer misuse crimes were now the most common crimes experienced by people, with bank and credit card fraud increasing by 28% over the last year.

An estimated 500,000 people in the UK are on so-called “suckers’ lists” where their stolen information is sold between scammers. She said the best way to deal with the problem was proper public awareness and education, and telling people not to feel ashamed or embarrassed for being conned or lied to.

“We must increase the number of consumer education campaigns in order to inform the public about what constitutes the different types of scam. We must send out a clear message that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to be embarrassed about falling victim to such a crime. You wouldn’t be embarrassed about admitting you were mugged, so why should falling victim to a highly-skilled criminal be treated any differently? Embarrassment is, unfortunately, a major reason why only one in five scams is being reported.”
– Caroline Jones AM

Michelle Brown AM (Ind, North Wales) said prosecutions for scams were “extremely rare” and called on major social media and digital companies to use their data gathering to spot scams and people most vulnerable to falling victim to one.

Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) welcomed Welsh Government support for no-cold-calling zones but wanted to go further and make Wales a no-cold-calling country.

Communities looking out for each other

Deputy Minister without portfolio, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) said scams were often extremely distressing for those affected – many of whom were often in their 80s or 90s. While no-cold-calling zones were one way to deal with it, scams are increasingly happening away from the doorstep.

“I welcome the actions being taken by the national trading standards scams team to train 1 million friends across the UK by 2020, including 50,000 in Wales over the next two years. Think about encouraging people to look out for each other within their communities and recognising the signs that someone might be at risk – that can only be a positive step in the prevention of further crimes.”
– Deputy Minister without portfolio, Jane Hutt

The Welsh Government also funded Tarian (the four Welsh police forces serious crime unit) to tour the country in a bus to educate people about scams and online security.

Picture by Daniel Reche from Pixabay

Government accused of not taking school PE seriously enough

Yesterday, AMs discussed the Health Committee’s damning report on physical activity amongst young people. The Welsh Government’s response has already been criticised by physical activity experts and AMs were no less critical.

A national crisis

Committee Chair, Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West), said we needed to face up to the scale of the crisis. The Committee heard compelling evidence that fundamental motor skills need to be actively taught from an early age, not simply left to natural development.

The Welsh Government rejected or glossed over a number of the inquiry’s recommendations, particularly ensuring motor skills are included in the curriculum and that 120 minutes of PE becomes a statutory requirement.

Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.) said aspirations to live healthy lifestyles need to be grounded in habits and it doesn’t necessarily have to be competitive sports or gender-stereotyped pursuits. The most important thing to do was to listen to pupils.

“….if you’re going to truly engage with girls and young women and kids who live very disadvantaged lives, with carers, with children in rural environments who cannot get back in to play sport at the end of the day, you’ve got to really ask them and really listen to them.”
– Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM

Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) criticised the decision of some schools to cut break times and reduce opportunities for play.

Well-being for the whole family

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) raised her previous proposal for an Inclusive Play Bill, stressing the need for children to spend more time outdoors with play activities fully accessible to all (including disabled children). Family-friendly activities were also important to improve exercise rates not only amongst children but parents too so exercise habits are maintained.

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) cited a programme in Leeds where parents of children who were obese when starting reception are given one-to-one support, resulting in falls in childhood obesity.

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) suggested the Welsh Government were dragging their feet on improving skills amongst teachers by demanding more case studies; the evidence of lack of skills/training was already there. She also said local authorities weren’t investing enough in exercise facilities at schools outside the 21st Century Schools programme.

Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) believes the potential for walking and cycling to and from school wasn’t being properly realised, but there were examples of good practice that the rest of the country can learn from. This includes the development of personal transport plans which involve parents and tell them precisely how their children can get to/from school without using the car.

“….120 minutes a week (of exercise in schools) isn’t ambitious enough….and to reject even guaranteeing that is a major failure on the part of the Government to take this issue seriously enough.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn)

Progress won’t be made by evangelising

Deputy Minister for Culture, Media & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meirionnydd), said the issue shouldn’t be confined to schools or the curriculum and had to be part of a much broader set of measures that are less top-down and target led.

“I believe that there is a misunderstanding here about the nature of the changes to the curriculum…. I’m old enough to have been involved with the National Curriculum back in the 1980s, and I’m very pleased to see that concept disappearing. That’s why we rejected the recommendation for 120 minutes of PE. Because what we want to see happening is the kind of thing that I had the pleasure of seeing in Llansanffraid Glan Conwy….namely the way in which pupils take part in the daily mile on the school grounds….”
– Deputy Minister for Culture, Media & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas

He accepted the scale of the challenge, but it wouldn’t be met by “evangelising by individual”, but by working at a community level.

Touchdown at Cardiff Airport. Picture by Clint Budd (CC BY 2.0)

Westminster Committee backs devolution of APD to Wales

The Welsh Affairs Select Committee has recommended that air passenger duty be devolved to Wales in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland. Competing airports such as Bristol have long argued that devolving the levy would give Cardiff Airport a competitive advantage.

Committee Chair, David Davies MP (Con, Monmouth) said, “I’m not often persuaded by arguments for devolution, but the evidence my Committee heard about the benefits of devolving APD was absolutely convincing. The UK Government needs to recognise these opportunities for Wales and demonstrate its commitment to equity within the devolution system by setting out a plan for devolving APD to Wales by 2021.”

Electoral reforms delayed until Sixth Assembly

The Llywydd announced that plans to increase the number of AMs and/or change the voting system for Senedd elections will be shelved until after 2021. It follows a failure between parties to reach a political agreement on the way forward.

Labour argued that while they’re not opposed to increasing the number of AMs, the policy should be backed by the electorate through a manifesto commitment.

Campaigners for electoral reform and Prof. Laura McAllister – who chaired a review into reforming the Senedd – expressed their disappointment at the decision.

Work continues on establishing a Welsh community bank

As the Senedd’s Economy & Infrastructure Committee begin an inquiry into bank closures, the people behind the Banc Cambria venture revealed to BBC Wales that work on establishing a mutual bank was progressing well.

Board member, Mark Hooper, said the bank aims to offer current accounts, business accounts and mortgages, but will require a banking licence. The First Minister included a community bank in his 2018 leadership manifesto and the Welsh Government have already said they’re working behind the scenes to support developments.

Most over-75s will have to pay for TV licence from next year

The BBC announced that over-75s who aren’t receiving pension credit will have to pay for their TV licences from June 2020. The Conservative-Lib Dem UK coalition government delegated responsibility for funding free licences for the elderly to the BBC, while the Conservatives campaigned to maintain free TV licences at the 2017 UK General Election.

It’s estimated abolishing free licences for most over-75s will save £495million a year.

Mental health patients “needlessly” sent to England

The charity Hafal criticised the routine sending of Welsh mental health patients to England, even though treatment places were available in Wales. Around 300 patients with serious mental health problems or learning disabilities were sent to England in 2018.

The charity said it’s struggled to fill beds at a new unit near Pontardawe despite pressures health boards in south Wales were under to find places for patients.

The Welsh Government told BBC Wales that the number of mental health patients being sent out of the country was falling and it was only happening for patients requiring highly specialised services.

Cardiff to host extreme sport games

Cardiff has been selected to host the annual World Nitro Games in May 2020 at the Principality Stadium. Events include BMX, skating and freestyle motocross.

Deputy Minister for Culture, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meironnydd) said: “Many of the world’s leading action sports athletes will compete in the unique atmosphere of the Principality Stadium, and I’m sure their gravity-defying tricks will provide the tens of thousands of spectators with a breath-taking experience.”

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