Senedd Sketch: fire and water take centre stage at FMQ’s
Exporting Welsh water and the cladding scandal helped focus minds in this weeks’ First Minister’s Questions (FMQs).
Welsh Conservative Andrew RT Davies kicked off questions from party leaders by speaking about the “pioneers” who call themselves the Welsh Cladiators.
In case some of you misread that as Gladiators, I can assure you that Mr Davies has no intention of fighting to the death for public entertainment.
Welsh Cladiators are a campaign group who say they are dedicated to ending the cladding and fire safety scandal.
Last week, MSs had met with homeowners who were still in “crisis” six years after Grenfell, said Mr Davies.
He was referring to the fire in a London block of flats which claimed 72 lives.
The inquiry into the disaster concluded that the cladding used to cover the exterior walls of the building was responsible for the fire spreading so quickly.
Mr Davies said Welsh Government should, “Adopt the legislation that has been put down in England … to give rights to leaseholders, so that they themselves, can exercise those rights in holding the developers to account.”
Mr Drakeford pointed out that those regulations, “were specifically written for the building safety regime in England. It is not as simple as picking them up and dropping them into the very different Welsh context.”
There are also some disadvantages for leaseholders who find themselves in the English regime, added Mr Drakeford.
“Here in Wales, our intention is that leaseholders should not be required to pay for the remedial action that is required to their buildings.”
The First Minister explained that adopting the same legislation as England would, “expose leaseholders to bills of up to £10,000 and we don’t intend to do that in Wales.”
Whilst fellow Welsh Tory Natasha Asghar MS for South Wales East continued to gaze admiringly at her leader, Mr Davies told Mr Drakeford that he should emulate the Secretary of State for Housing, Michael Gove.
“In Westminster, Michael Gove has been very forthright in saying that if the developers don’t come forward with the proposals and start the remediation work and sign up to the Government agreement, they will be barred from operating in England.
“That is a very powerful stick to bring those developers to the table. Will you take such action here in Wales?”
Would that be the same Mr Gove who a High Court Judge ruled he had acted unlawfully, when his government awarded a Covid contract to a company owned by an associate of former government adviser Dominic Cummings?
Mr Gove is such a class act he was even sacked by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who made history by becoming the first PM to have been officially found of breaking the law.
To be fair to Mr Johnson, I should point out that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was also fined for breach of Covid-19 laws by attending Downing Street and Whitehall parties when he was Chancellor.
In Wales …
Mr Drakeford explained that – unlike England – where leaseholders are required to instigate legal action against a developer, “who they consider is not remediating fire safety defect.
“In Wales it will be the Welsh Government who will take that action on behalf of the leaseholders so that they don’t end up having to foot the bill for doing so.
“Where developers clearly fail to play their part, then we will take action against them, and I would not expect any developer who fails to deliver on those responsibilities to go on working here in Wales.”
Next up was Leader of Plaid Cymru Adam Price MS who said there were reports of plans to increase the level of water currently exported from Wales.
He said: “Welsh water companies are already the biggest exporters in the UK by a long way, and that water is currently traded at a price significantly lower than the price paid by Welsh Water customers, which is amongst the highest in the UK.
“Has the Welsh Government been involved in discussions relating to these plans, and does it agree with us that three tests need to be met in relation to any proposal to expand the export of water from Wales:
“That they do not compromise the security of water supply within Wales now or in the future; that there are no adverse effects on our environment and our communities; and that any proposal must generate economic benefits for the people of Wales that reflect the true value of this very precious resource?”
In his reply, Mr Drakeford said: “The Minister met with the water company concerned yesterday. There is no specific proposal on the table at the moment.”
He added: “Were such a proposal to come forward, then it will have to satisfy the Environment Act requirement here in Wales.
“Decisions will need to be submitted to Welsh Ministers for their involvement and, of course, in doing so, we will make sure that the interests of Welsh residents and Welsh taxpayers are properly safeguarded.”
We shall hold you to that Mr Drakeford.
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