Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma.

When the EU Transition Period ended on 31 December, the role of the EU in overseeing and enforcing our environmental laws also came to an end. Sadly, here in Wales there is no new system ready to take over.

The EU played a critical role in dealing with breaches in environmental law and bringing about important changes. For example, in 2012, RSPB Cymru raised a complaint with the European Commission over our concerns that the governments of the UK were failing to protect seabirds, as required by the EU Birds Directive. This complaint led to talks between the Commission and the UK, which in turn resulted in new marine protected areas for seabirds in all four countries. In Wales, this includes protection for foraging terns off Anglesey, puffins and gannets around the Pembrokeshire Islands, and red-throated divers that spend the winter in Cardigan Bay.

RSPB Cymru has been part of a stakeholder task group to help the Welsh Government develop for the of future environmental governance in Wales. The Environment Minister supported the group’s recommendations that new legislation is needed in Wales to bring core environmental principles  into Welsh law and to establish an independent Commission to oversee the implementation of environmental law in Wales.

The Commission would be able deal with complaints from members of the public regarding any failures by the Welsh Government (or other public bodies) to comply with environmental rules. Unfortunately, however, the Welsh Government has run out of time to bring forward legislation to the current Senedd and it appears inevitable that we face a lengthy delay, or a ‘governance gap’. To avoid being stuck in this gap for too long, we are urging the Welsh Government to commit resources to preparing a draft Bill as fast as possible, and we are asking all Parties to commit to bringing this legislation forward swiftly after the Senedd election.

The Welsh Government is putting interim arrangements in place which will be overseen by an Interim Assessor. At the time of writing, no announcement has been made as to whom this will be, but there is a basic web page. The webpage makes it starkly clear that people cannot raise challenges or complaints that will lead to investigation or put a stop to potential breaches of environmental law (it makes clear that if someone does wish to raise a complaint about a potential breach of the law, they should pursue existing means of redress, such as judicial review, which is costly and limited in scope).  

Instead, under the temporary arrangements, people will be able to raise concerns about functioning of environmental law. The Interim Assessor will compile all information received and present an annual report. They will be able to report to the Senedd and also to advise ministers on emerging issues. We hope – and will continue to ask - that the Welsh Government will take steps to publicise this role once the Assessor is appointed, and to explain what this means for people who have concerns about issues affecting their environment. But the webpage already includes an email address that can be used to raise concerns.

While it is not a bad thing to have a position created to consider issues about the functioning of environmental law, it is clear that it is no substitute for the oversight and enforcement role we need to replace that provided by EU institutions, as recommended by stakeholders and accepted by the Minister.

We will continue to campaign for robust, independent governance to ensure our environment has the protection it deserves.

  • Keep up the pressure on this - it is already apparent that inconveniences to the (Westminster) government in the wake of Brexit - notably the £375million p.a. Wales received from the EU - are being quietly sidelined.  Encourage all parties to include this mattter in their manifestos.