Support our Nation today - please donate here

Why we need a Tryweryn Tax to protect our NHS

03 Sep 2019 7 minute read
Craig Goch Reservoir Dam, Elan Valley. Picture by Adrian Farwell. (CC BY 3.0)

Gareth Ceidiog Hughes

It’s more than 50 years since the drowning of Capel Celyn and our water is still being nicked.

Money that could be spent on the Welsh NHS is filling the pockets of am greedy water companies. We’re not talking about peanuts here either. We’re talking hundreds of millions, probably billions of pounds.

It is legalised theft. It’s not England’s water. It’s ours, and it’s about time we took it back.

Many people are familiar with the story of how the Tyweryn Valley was drowned in the 1960s so Wales’ water could be taken by Liverpool City Corporation. They know about the Welsh-speaking community that inhabited that valley, and how it was callously destroyed. They know about the protests and the fact that pretty much every MP in Wales voted against it. They know about their powerlessness to stop it. It wasn’t the first instance of this happening in Wales, either.

Because these things happened a long time ago some people might be tempted to think that it’s all in the past and we should just forget about it.

But Tryweryn isn’t the past. It is the here and now. That’s why the words Cofiwch Dryweryn (Remember Tryweryn) still resonate. That is what inspired a new generation of young activist to defiantly paint new murals across the nation and even beyond when the original was vandalised. That is why they ignite our passion to this day.

Much of the justifiable anger in the 1960s was about the dearth of rights for Welsh speakers. Many of those rights have now been won, though there is still more to do.

But the economic injustice created by the drowning of Welsh villages has not been addressed at all. It is no better now than it was then.

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

Severn Trent’s water from the Elan Valley reservoirs mostly goes to customers in Birmingham via a 63-mile (102km) aqueduct.

Water from Lake Vyrnwy is mostly used to supply United Utilities customers in Liverpool and Cheshire, but can be pumped to Manchester if needed.

Severn Trent said it paid “for the upkeep of all the assets in Wales and also reimburse the abstraction fees”.

Essentially, they take our water at cost price. This is outrageous. It is a scandal.

Just imagine if I passed a law so I could go into my corner shop and buy everything at cost price; thus, impairing the shopkeeper’s ability to make a living. I don’t think it would be regarded as very fair.

Speak up

It is a gratuitous insult to the people of Wales, and it is making us poorer. It means there is less money for the NHS, less money for schools, for social care, youth services, to repair the annoying pothole down the road, and anything else you can think of.

It is not currently within the power of the Welsh Government to pass a law to address this scandalous economic injustice. It is what’s called a reserved matter for the UK Government.

What the law essentially says is suck it up Welshies; there’s nothing you can do about it.

But it does not have to be this way.

The reason they take our water without paying a fair price is because they believe that we will just lie down and take it; that we are docile. Well, we need to show them that isn’t the case.

Frederick Douglass, an inspirational figure who escaped slavery in the USA and then fought to abolish it, said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Douglass knew a thing or two about standing up to injustice.

Now please don’t think that I am in and way shape or form drawing moral equivalence between what he went through and what happened at Tryweryn. That is categorically not the case. What I am doing is making a general point about power, oppression, and injustice.

Now I am not advocating blows, at least not in the literal sense. However, I am advocating we speak up, and that we take direct action.

The rights Welsh speakers have now weren’t just handed over because the establishment was feeling generous.

They were handed over because not doing so became far more trouble than it was worth. It became more bothersome than actually granting the rights.

For example, we got the Welsh language on our road signs because people kept painting over the monolingual ones.

We got our Welsh language television channel S4C in the 80s because the late former MP Gwynfor Evans threatened to go on hunger strike, which would have kicked up a rather big stink.

These are just a few examples. There are many more.

Scores of our fellow countrymen and women went to prison because of acts of civil disobedience.

Put simply, we made ourselves a huge pain in the neck, and we need to do so again. Unless we put pressure on those responsible, nothing will change.

Although Wales doesn’t currently have the legislative power to levy a Tryweryn Tax, it does have the power over water abstraction licences through Natural Resources Wales. The licences should be cancelled until Wales gets a fair price for its water.

No justification

The reaction to the repeated vandalism of the Tryweryn mural shows us there is a new generation of activists emerging. They have passion. They have energy. They have purpose. Just imagine what they could achieve if they campaigned for a Tryweryn Tax.

We’re in desperate need of a cash boost from a Tryweryn Tax. We cannot afford to have our resources stolen.

No wonder we’re poor as a nation. I’m sick of being told I’m poor by people who are stealing my money.

It probably will not have escaped your attention that public finances in Wales have been under severe strain for a long time.

We need that money for our NHS and to protect the vulnerable in our society.

They say water is the new oil. It is the most important commodity we have. We simply cannot live without it.

Water could do for us what oil did for Norway. The Norwegians are filthy rotten rich. But instead of just a few greedy so-and-so’s hoarding the profit from their oil, a large chunk of the money goes into wise investments, public services and providing a safety net for its people.

Now I have no problem with water being sold to England. In fact, I’m all for it. But it should be at a fair price.

There is absolutely no moral justification for the law as it stands.

The fact that Wales cannot levy a tax so its people can actually profit from its own resources is nothing less than a democratic outrage.

We won’t be in control of our own destiny in Wales until we are in control of our own resources.

That water is ours; not theirs, and it’s time they gave it back.

We want our water back, and we want it now.

Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Simon Gruffydd
Simon Gruffydd
4 years ago

Although I agree that the control and profiting from Welsh water resources by these water companies is wrong and contrary to natural justice, the solution of levying taxes on water distribution is also wrong. Water in Wales belongs to the Welsh nation, each and every one of us. As equal owners in our shared common resources, such as water, we should be receiving cheques in the mail, not bills. Call it economic democracy, or a democratic economy if you wish. The bottom line is sharing the wealth and power, not concentrating it in either private or bureaucratic hands.

Ant Tomlinson
Ant Tomlinson
4 years ago
Reply to  Simon Gruffydd

Well said, many forget that the people of Capel Celyn never paid for their water until a different way of living was forced upon them. Sadly we continue to perpetuate that.

Anthony Coslett
Anthony Coslett
4 years ago

This is an excellent assessment of our situation. Thus far I can recollect no attempt by the water companies to honour those dispossessed to facilitate assuaging the voracious thirst of England’s cities for water and financial gain. Commerce has no conscience only avarice and so the people of Cymru can expect no voluntary fair recompense for the water taken from her hills and valleys. Direct action is the only option left given we are nowhere near as close to Independence as we would hope to be. Specific and determined targeting in order to create disruption and maximum embarrassment is essential… Read more »

Rob Bruce
Rob Bruce
4 years ago

It’s a fair point. As a farmer once told me, we have to put up with the wind and the rain, if there are any benefits to be had from them, then they should come to us. But we also need to be aware of the danger of relying on an extractive model to benefit our economy. What are the opportunities to add value to water exports? Very few, I would imagine. A modern economy must be based on the ingenuity and creativity of its people, not mere exploitation of physical natural resources, and we know Wales is more than… Read more »

Ifan Piggon
Ifan Piggon
4 years ago

Simon gruffydd, if you think selling our water will result in cheques landing on our doormats,dream on. A tax by definition will go into the national coffers and hopefully distributed wisely by the Welsh government.

4 years ago

Da iawn Gareth,dipyn o dan yn y bol ond peidiwch a rhoi dwr arno fo!

Joanne Davies
Joanne Davies
4 years ago

What we need is to end the NHS.

You can pour the entire GDP of the country into the health service and it would never be enough.

Huw Davies
Huw Davies
4 years ago
Reply to  Joanne Davies

Silly comment. Of course you need the NHS. However a large slice of our population needs to learn to care more for the state of their own health, end the cycle of self-abuse and straighten themselves out. That would leave more resource to deal with those ailments that are unavoidable. It seems that health education and more robust preventative initiatives are essential as the common sense that was once assumed to prevail has long since disappeared down the tubes.

Jonathon Gammond
Jonathon Gammond
4 years ago

It is easy to say ‘water’ belongs to the nation, reality is more complicated. Not all water is the same. Rivers don’t care about political boundaries and our three greatest rivers all cross the Wales-England border – people in Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire see these rivers as theirs as much as people in Denbighshire, Wrexham, Powys and Monmouthshire. The idea that they ‘belong’ to anyone in Cardiff or Caernarfon is a nonsense. It is not as if the water is doing a runner over the border, it is just doing what it does naturally. Then there is reservoir water… Read more »

4 years ago

I’m happy to share cross-border river water with our neighbours over the Dyke, but how does that relate to Afon Trweryn or the Vernwy?

Leslie Holland
Leslie Holland
4 years ago

Yes I think England should pay for this water.

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.