Extra time must be used to find alternative to draconian WG water quality proposals

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) says the extra time generated by the Welsh Government’s decision to postpone a decision on water quality regulations must be used to find an alternative to the draconian measures published in draft regulations.

Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths announced on Wednesday 8 April that she was minded to introduce the regulations ‘once the crisis comes to an end’, despite the fact such a decision would go against the advice of official Welsh Government advisors Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and will cost Welsh farmers tens of millions a year.

Speaking following the announcement, FUW president Glyn Roberts said: "The proposed regulation if introduced would mark a betrayal of the principles of evidence-based decision making and proportionality, a betrayal of Welsh farming and - given the experiences in other NVZ areas - a betrayal of Wales' environment."

NRW has advised the Welsh Government against the course of action currently proposed by the Minister, warning that it could have the perverse outcome of making pollution worse. They also highlighted the fact that they may not have sufficient resources to effectively deliver the regulatory inspection regime associated with the regulations, and that the Welsh Government’s Regulatory Impact Assessment - which has not been published - fails to follow the Government’s own guidance, as it fails to present and assess a comprehensive range of options.

"The draft legislation, if introduced, would designate the whole of Wales as an NVZ, an area more than forty times bigger than the current Welsh NVZ area, and eleven times bigger than what was recommended by NRW,” said Mr Roberts.

In April 2018, the Wales Land Management Forum Agri-pollution Sub Group - of which the FUW is a member alongside NRW, Welsh Government and others - submitted a detailed report making 45 recommendations aimed at targeting agricultural pollution based on evidence and ensuring resources were aimed at places where pollution problems had been identified.

"Those recommendations appear to have been ignored, with Welsh Government instead opting to cut-and-paste EU NVZ rules and apply them to the whole of the country - rules which would normally only apply in a tiny fraction of landscapes such as those we have in Wales.

“The minister’s announcement of a delay means the Welsh Government now has time to properly consider the 45 recommendations put forward by the Welsh Land Management Forum, time to reconsider NRW’s advice, and time to produce and publish a comprehensive Regulatory Impact Assessment which complies with its own guidelines by considering a range of options rather than just the most extreme one, and the impacts of these at many levels. 

“Given the severe warnings of NRW and expected crippling costs for Wales’ farming industry that would run into hundreds of millions at a time of extreme uncertainty due to coronavirus and Brexit, this issue warrants a comprehensive assessment. The publication of a ‘mickey mouse’ Regulatory Impact Assessment given such a huge decision would be an insult to the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh public,” he added.