Westminster control of Crown Estate threatens our ability to tackle climate change
Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd
The Crown Estate captures the contradictions of our Union, the inequalities of ownership which underpin it and the vast gulf between climate rhetoric and action.
Devolving its Welsh territorial assets would bring our natural resources and their rents closer to home, align them with Welsh decision-making and priorities, and provide us with the means to use our resources to invest in our green future.
In the recent Senedd election, Plaid Cymru proposed a bold series of measures to modernise Wales’ decision-making, re-equip our economy and bring more powers home to Wales.
One of these included devolving the territorial assets and responsibilities of the Crown Estate in Wales to the Welsh government as has been the case in Scotland since 2017.
With its origins dating back to 1760, the Crown Estate in its modern sense consists of a mixture of property rights including those of the Royal Family, modern acquisitions and rights vested by law.
In effect, the Crown Estate functions as a publicly-owned property business with significant assets in Wales and far-reaching control, including over our seabed, with revenues disappearing into HM Treasury after a twenty five percent cut for the Royal family.
Yet this doesn’t have to be the case. As so often, Westminster only works for the devolved nations when it feels threatened by prospect of their independence and so, after the 2014 Scottish independent referendum, the UK Government agreed to devolve the Crown Estate in Scotland.
This means that the Scottish Government now manages the Crown Estates asset and receives the surplus revenues, cutting out the less than benevolent Treasury whose reputation for honest dealing when it comes to revenues has been severely damaged by its handling of the Miners’ Pension Scheme.
There is no reason why the Crown Estate can be devolved in Scotland but not in Wales. Instead, it is obvious that not only has Labour in Wales failed to fight for equal terms for Wales but their comfortable deference to Westminster threatens our ability to lead on the green revolution.
This is because the Crown Estate has a pivotal role in offshore wind since it has sole rights to lease the seabed to developers, allowing it to determine the siting of renewable energy and storage installations as well as associated infrastructure such as cables.
Such independent powers are absurd given that the Welsh Government possesses large numbers of powers relevant to the administration of the Crown Estate, including the responsibility for renewable energy promotion as well powers of consent of energy projects up to 350 megawatts.
This incongruency has substantial policy and economic ramifications. Firstly, it means that the Wales, already behind on net-zero targets, lacks a critical lever to align decarbonisation with the responsible development of our natural resources such as our offshore wind. Instead, we’re approaching the green transition of our energy system, economy and society with one important hand tied behind our back by Westminster.
Secondly, the Crown Estate’s control over our seabed, let alone large tracts of land, means that Wales could easily lose out on a green goldrush that Scotland is currently benefitting from. Indeed, with some estimating that the UK Government could raise up to nine billion pounds over the next decade alone from the auctioning of seabed plots to windfarm developers, Wales is on the verge of missing out on the green economic rents of its own natural resources.
Plaid Cymru’s position is clear. Wales’ natural resources and the economic rents from their use can only be best utilised and distributed when they are controlled by Wales and its people.
Devolving the Crown Estate in Wales to Wales would not only correct Westminster’s self-serving system of differing devolved settlements but would give real economic and planning firepower to the Welsh government to align our natural resources’ rents with our climate goals.
Given the Treasury’s refusal to lift its restrictive borrowing cap on the Welsh Government, a Welsh Crown Estate would give Wales more financial and long-term means to invest in our net-zero future.
Equally importantly is our relationship with the environment in which we live. Guided by our world-leading constitutional commitment to sustainable development and future generations, only a Welsh Crown Estate can best connect our natural heritage and resources with their sustainable use and protection.
Devolving the Crown Estate to Wales is a critical step all parties in Wales should support to ensure that we can oversee the sustainable, responsible and rewarding use of our natural resources to further our net-zero ambitions. It is the right thing to do for Wales, our environment and our future.