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Welsh Government asked Westminster to delay transfer of water powers to Wales

28 May 2023 6 minute read
Llys y Fran reservoir. Photo by Welsh Water

A major row has broken out after it emerged that the Welsh Government asked Westminster five years ago to delay transferring full powers over water to Wales.

Plaid Cymru’s former leader Adam Price believes the move represents a significant failure in governance and has let down Wales.

Water has been an especially emotive issue in Wales for many decades since the drowning of the village of Capel Celyn in the Tryweryn Valley in 1965 to supply water to Liverpool.

Currently the Welsh Government has jurisdiction over Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, but not over Severn Trent Water, which supplies water to parts of mid and north Wales as well as to England, or United Utilities, which also supplies water from Wales to England.

Welsh Water has a licence to take 133 billion litres per year from Elan Valley reservoirs in Powys to supply Severn Trent customers as part of a deal between the two firms.

United Utilities can take 252 million litres a day from Lake Vyrnwy in Powys, which is owned by Severn Trent, and 50 million litres a day from the River Dee.

Full powers

Recently Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts strongly criticised new plans that would see large quantities of water transported from Wales for the benefit of consumers in the south east of England. She called for full powers over water to be devolved to Wales.

However, a disclosure to Mr Price under the Freedom of Information Act has now revealed that in December 2018 the Welsh Government’s Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn wrote to the UK’s then junior Environment Minister Therese Coffey asking her to delay the transfer of full powers over water to Wales – something that had become possible following the passing of the Wales Act 2017 the previous year.

In her letter, Ms Blythyn stated: “I am writing to seek your agreement to postpone the commencement date for the implementation of the water competence alignment provisions in the Wales Act 2017. The Wales Act 2017 contains powers to align legislative and executive competence in relation to water with the geographical boundary of Wales and England.

“The statutory requirements in respect of water companies currently reflect their operational areas so Welsh Ministers are responsible for companies wholly or mainly in Wales and the Secretary of State is responsible for companies wholly or mainly in England. The powers in the Wales Act 2017 enable the functions to be split to reflect a Wales and England split along the border.”

Significant work

Ms Blythyn went on to state that “significant work” was required to map out all of these functions and to determine the policy to apply in the individual areas.

She added: “The approach will need to be developed with minimal impact on customers and the water companies. We had originally agreed to alignment taking place in April 2020. This is proving to be a complex process. The water companies affected will operate across two legislative and regulatory frameworks, and provision for alignment has not been made in the planning for the 2020 – 2025 business plans.

“It involves government, regulators and water companies reviewing and amending a variety of legislation and statutory plans (such as Water Resource Management Plans and Drought Plans) which currently operate on a cross border basis, and resolving a number of complex licencing and regulatory issues, and considering changes to the licence of Welsh Water to enable the one company to operate within two legislative and regulatory frameworks.

“If legislative and executive competence with the geographical boundary of England and Wales takes effect in 2020 the impacts and effects won’t be evident until the next round of business plans as companies have already submitted their business plans and charging proposals for determination by [the industry regulator] Ofwat. Officials and lawyers, the water companies and regulators need to work through the relevant legislative elements to determine when would be the best time for the changes to happen, and how they should be phased in.

“There is a need for transitional/phased approaches so as not to cause unnecessary complications or adverse impacts on customers by requiring the companies to change approach half way through statutory plans. Whilst a significant amount of this work has already been done it has become increasingly challenging to progress this work due to competing priorities such as Storm Emma/ ‘Beast from the East’ earlier this year and the period of dry weather over the summer.

“In addition, key officials are also working on ensuring the water sector is resilient against the challenges of Brexit. We remain committed to delivering the changes; however, we need to make the alignment work for customers, the environment and the companies. I therefore seek your agreement to reschedule the target date for the implementation of the alignment to Spring 2022. This would enable water companies and regulators to plan for this in their next round of business plans and statutory plans, and provide all parties with sufficient time to consider and resolve the complex issues that have emerged.”

Yet a year after Ms Blythyn’s target date of Spring 2022, full water powers have still not been devolved.

Ideological

Previously, when asked about the failure to transfer the powers, First Minister Mark Drakeford has stated: “Since 2019, we have faced a government in Westminster that doesn’t respond to issues on [a] rational basis; it responds to them on the entirely ideological basis that devolution was a mistake and that the work of the Westminster government is to roll it back in the opposite direction wherever it can, and quite certainly never to transfer new powers to Scotland or Wales, even when it was a Conservative government that had made the arrangements that would have allowed that to take place.”

Mr Price said: “The disclosure of this letter shows it was the Welsh Government that called for a delay in transferring the powers. Even now, a year after the deadline it set itself for the transfer, the powers remain at Westminster.

“We deserve a full explanation from the Welsh Government as to why it has not secured the full powers Wales should have over water.

“Wales has been let down by what is a significant failure in governance.”


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Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
10 months ago

That was a bad move or a stupid move which way you ever want to look at it with the water shortages that are coming they will want to build dams for our water for the south east of England where there is always a water shortage but what do you expect from a unionist party because that is what labour is

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
10 months ago

Another foot-in-mouth episode by the Welsh Government. This is reminiscent when then First Minister Carwyn Jones scrapped the Senedd law passed protecting Welsh devolution post-Brexit after PM Theresa May reassured him that Welsh devolution would be respected only to be ousted and replaced by buffoon Boris Johnson whose idiocrisy proceeded to attack & bypass the Senedd. Welsh Labour stands up for Wales, lol. Bends over more like.

Riki
Riki
10 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Haven’t I been saying our politicians are a bit backwards? I’m amazed they even know where the Senedd is, And how to get there.

The Original Mark
The Original Mark
10 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Carwyn Jones is responsible for Wales not having a lot of the powers we should have.

Gareth
Gareth
10 months ago

Unionists to the core, Labour have repeatedly shown that preservation of the union, over the best interests of its voters in Cymru, is at the heart if decision making. Labour voters, now do you get it? This is what they are using you for, to prop up the union, whether it is bad for you or not.

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
10 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

Sounds like it. If it’s true, I can think of no motive for the WG’s decision in 2018 other than to prioritise the union over the country that Welsh Labour professes to govern. This was a positive opportunity to give Cymru autonomy over one of its primary resources, and the offer almost certainly won’t be made again in the near future.

Gary H
Gary H
10 months ago

One word is enough :brad (= treasonous disloyalty)

Gareth
Gareth
10 months ago
Reply to  Gary H

Brad y cyllyll cochion.

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
10 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

Ers can mlynedd!

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
10 months ago

It sounds to me like the Welsh Minister asked, perhaps unwisely – but certainly in good faith, for a postponement so that the transfer of powers could be actioned smoothly. But the Tories took advantage of this to, once again, deny Welsh sovereignty of our own resources. To be fair, when David Cameron was in charge of the Tories (and I am no fan of his) there was more of a respect and communicate culture between the two governments, but under Boris Johnson this was torn up and trampled on. Rishi Sunak has continued with this contempt. I would like… Read more »

Gareth
Gareth
10 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

Maybe we have the answer already, ” I just wouldnt” MP Carolyn Harris deputy leader ” Welsh labour”.

Cymro
Cymro
10 months ago

Iesu grist… It’s like having a government with training wheels. Have some belief in yourself and take some responsibility for goodness sake.

Riki
Riki
10 months ago
Reply to  Cymro

We are Wales mate, haven’t you heard. We can’t do anything unless an Englishman nods his head first. We need their permission for everything. Explain why the Irish are respected and Welsh aren’t.

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
10 months ago

Here in Hay we are in the Herefordshire postal area with a postcode of HR3. No matter that we are in Wales and pay our dues to Powys you cannot get a computer to address us as anything but Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire. Because this law refers to the geographical boundaries of Wales then I can see why they wanted clarification as to when and where water changes nationalities. Is a Severn Trent customer in Wales drinking water from an English reservoir subject to English or Welsh law? As I see it the problem arises at Westminster where the framing of UK… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago

Back on page one I see, the 2 comments removed from the opinion page should be added to this list to be fair…

We could have achieved so much more in the last two decades, such a ‘can’t do’ mentality for so long. It is better to wear the hat, face the facts and do better in the future.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago

In that few years look at the state of our rivers etc are in, and the best they can say is don’t go swimming!

Diolch Mr Price you should be awarded a diamond tipped spade, keep digging…

max wallis
max wallis
10 months ago

The excuse that changes have to be aligned with Ofwat’s 5-year plans means that again the WGovt will miss the 5-yrs from 2025, delaying taking responsibility for Welsh water to 2030!

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
10 months ago
Reply to  max wallis

Perhaps we need a Petition to raise the matter in the Senedd pointing out that we, the people of Cymr want full control over our water and NOW.

CJPh
CJPh
10 months ago

Weak sauce again from the Welsh political elite. Here’s the issue with Adam Price’s position – Westminster’s reticence and refusals are not ideological at all. It’s a single-issue position, shared across all parties in England (as well as Plaids best pals and partners here, Llafur ‘yn erbyn y Cymry’). Price, and most of the factionalists that deposed him in Plaid, are the ones who have a purely ideological view of our potential emancipation and issues such as this. Also, this is his response? “We deserve a full explanation from the Welsh Government as to why it has not secured the… Read more »

Ieaun-iesu
Ieaun-iesu
10 months ago

Cofiwch Dryweryn. Cofiwch yr brad mewn hen, nawr a dyfodol. Cofiwch. Pleidlisio Plaid Cymru i Gymru neu.. edrych ar Gernyw. Dim dyfodol, dim genedl… Dim o fe. #Annibyniaeth

Chris
Chris
10 months ago

The irony of the First Minister lamenting the way UK government operates on ‘ideological’ grounds is not lost on this reader. Blanket ban on new roads anyone? M4 relief road cancelled against his own advisers advice? Blanket 20mph limit, again against the advice given? Yet we’re supposed to believe the First Minister doesn’t operate on ideological grounds?

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