National Policy Statement for Water Resources Infrastructure 2018 - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:33 pm on 11th April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 12:33 pm, 11th April 2019

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the Minister. I listened to his comments with great interest and thank him for the inclusive way in which he presented this document and his arguments to the House. I accept, in general, the logic of his presentation, although it triggers some worrying questions, to which I will return in a moment.

I recognise that the statement applies primarily to England. I am glad to participate, because it has a huge significance to Wales. The whole subject of water resources has been said to be a burning issue in Wales from time to time—it certainly has been a difficult one. The question of the framework within which policy is developed and executed in relation to the transfer of water from Wales to English conurbations certainly comes into the ambit of what we are discussing today.

I hardly need to remind noble Lords of the background to this: our bitter experiences of the previous century, encapsulated in the Tryweryn Valley saga. Briefly, that entailed Liverpool Corporation, after failing to secure either of two sites in north-west England, identifying the Tryweryn Valley near Bala in Gwynedd as a suitable location for its purposes. In Westminster, legislation was driven through against the combined opposition of all but one of Wales’s 36 MPs to flood the village of Capel Celyn and purloin the farms there to create a reservoir. The purpose of that project was to supply and sell industrial water on Merseyside. Liverpool Corporation ran the whole project to make money for itself and refused to pay a reasonable extraction charge for water it secured from the Tryweryn reservoir. This was a massive political hot potato. That experience colours all our considerations in Wales of issues relating to the supply of water to English conurbations.

I say this by way of context to the debate. As the Minister referred to in his opening comments, it was widely reported earlier this year that demand for water, particularly for south-east England, is likely to increase massively over the next two decades. Clearly, where possible, it makes good sense to reduce leakages, to encourage self-limitation on water use, to develop techniques such as desalination, to recycle where appropriate and to mitigate any negative implications of climate change.

The document before us recognises that planning consent for water resources infrastructure projects in Wales is a matter for the Welsh Government. Paragraph 1.2.3 on page 3 states that consideration must be given to,

“the potential socio-economic and environmental impacts of nationally significant infrastructure related to water resources infrastructure in Wales and Scotland, given their borders with England”.

I would be grateful if the Minister could spell out what exactly is meant by that in practice. Paragraph 2.2.6 highlights the impact of population growth, such as the estimation that,

“the population of England will grow by … 9.6 million by 2040”.

To some extent, that may occur largely in south-east England. It will exacerbate the water deficiency that already exists there. We know from publications over three decades that much thought has been, and is being, given to water transfer schemes, such as creating linkages to supply water from the River Severn to the Thames Valley. Clearly, that has implications for water storage and its release into Welsh rivers.

In this content, paragraph 4.1.3 emphasises the need to work with the devolved Administrations, on which I want to focus my concluding remarks. Given the politically explosive nature of these matters in Wales, good sense dictates that there should be some form of standing dialogue structures between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the one hand and the appropriate people from the Welsh Government on the other. This should be operational at both a political and technical level. Of course, the technical level should include environmental and biodiversity dimensions as well as planning and resource considerations.

Any new proposals with cross-border implications should be highlighted at the earliest possible opportunity and discussion triggered through the procedures I just mentioned. The concept of exploratory consent in principle should be developed, and it should be accepted that no proposal can be taken forward unless there is formal agreement in principle on both sides. Does the national strategy project’s approach, which the Minister mentioned earlier, potentially involve projects in Wales? If so, does it overrule the planning powers given to the National Assembly? If so, that could trigger a strong reaction and create the sort of problems we need so much to avoid.

I recognise that the document refers, where appropriate, to the need for consultation where cross-border issues arise. What I am calling for goes way beyond consultation. There is a need for a mutuality of approach, and for a solution not to be imposed cross-border unless there is a genuine acceptance on cross-border issues. Incidentally, that approach should be taken on matters such as dredging and marine management too, not just water abstraction.

Finally, in terms of the use of water abstracted or provided via reservoirs in Wales, there should be reasonable payments made. If Liverpool Corporation was entitled to create an income stream from water obtained from Wales, surely we in Wales should be entitled to some financial benefit. If projects that are needed to meet water shortages in some parts of England require water from Wales, there are two ways of going about it. First, there is the unfortunate approach of Liverpool Corporation in the 1950s. The alternative is to recognise that any cross-border project must have quantifiable benefits for Wales as well as England. If that approach is taken, there is no reason why, in future, we should not be able to have a harmonious relationship on these matters, unlike our experience in the Tryweryn Valley saga.