Environmental Priorities

2. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs – in the Senedd at on 15 May 2024.

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Photo of Paul Davies Paul Davies Conservative

(Translated)

4. What are the Welsh Government's environmental priorities for Preseli Pembrokeshire? OQ61079

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 2:53, 15 May 2024

Thank you, Paul. Protecting and improving our environment in Pembrokeshire and across Wales is a priority for this Government. We have provided Natural Resources Wales with powers to take strong action to regulate and enforce environmental controls at polluting activities. Additionally, an interim environmental protection assessor for Wales has been appointed to oversee the functioning of environmental law.

Photo of Paul Davies Paul Davies Conservative 2:54, 15 May 2024

Cabinet Secretary, as you've just said, one of the Welsh Government's environmental priorities for Preseli Pembrokeshire must surely be to keep people from harm, and yet, as we've just heard, residents living around the Withyhedge landfill site are still living in fear of the potentially toxic stench and stink coming from this site. Now, as was said, on Friday, Public Health Wales issued advice saying that the odours and emissions coming from the site could be harmful to people's health, and they urged people with symptoms to seek medical advice. Now, I'm surprised that we've not heard more from Public Health Wales. But, this morning, I've written to them, asking them what action they've been taking to resolve this unacceptable issue. But it's quite clear to me that this matter has been handled very badly, and I believe there now needs to be an independent public inquiry into the handling of all this, given it's been ongoing for around nine months, and how it's badly affected so many of my constituents. However, in the short term, given these huge environmental and public health concerns, can you tell us what discussions the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care has had with you about this issue, and can you also tell us just how bad the side effects have to get before the Welsh Government will intervene to remove this operator from the site permanently?

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 2:55, 15 May 2024

Thank you, Paul. First of all, at the outset, can I just reiterate my empathy with those residents who have been having to suffer what they've had to suffer for the past weeks and months there? This needs a resolution, I absolutely, entirely agree with you. Just to reassure you, both the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care and I, and our officials, are in close liaison on this because the two organisations that are critical to resolving this include Public Health Wales, who, of course, have issued advice to local residents and people on the ground. They're also taking forward, I'm informed, work to obtain monitoring data to inform a full health risk assessment. They have given advice to the public at the moment. From my perspective as the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, NRW are very clear what our steer is and what our priority is: that the enforcement orders that have been put in place to do the work on the ground and to resolve the problem need to be done for the benefit of local residents. There are deadlines with this, as you're fully aware as well, and NRW are aware that they have a range of enforcement powers that they can take if those measures to benefit local people are not adhered to, and that's what I would say. I don't think this is a question of an inquiry; this is a question, I have to say, for you and also for residents, of seeing the enforcement bodies on the ground, NRW, but also Public Health Wales, doing the work that they should do in order to resolve these issues very promptly and speedily now, because it's been going on too long for those local residents.

Photo of Joyce Watson Joyce Watson Labour 2:57, 15 May 2024

I also want to support Paul Davies in saying that some action has to be taken on the Withyhedge site. I do feel that anybody shouldn't be subjected to the fumes that may or may not be toxic and the sheer stress that has been imposed on people. I'm not, at this stage, supporting any public inquiry, but what I will ask, Cabinet Secretary, is that we are seen to support, where that's appropriate, the actions that should be taken on the ground. I know that several actions have been taken and several of them have been met to date. There are a number of outstanding actions that are causing real concern to those residents that need to be fulfilled. So, my question to you will be what conversations you're having with NRW and the local authority to help support those people who so desperately do need that support that we can give them.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 2:58, 15 May 2024

Thank you very much, Joyce. I'm glad to see there's real support from all Members of the Senedd here to alleviate these problems for local residents. It is unacceptable and it has to be dealt with. Can I just be as absolutely clear here as I possibly can be? NRW are on the ground—they've increased their presence because of the matters ongoing. They will continue to update the community as well. I understand that there's been a lot of communications, including newsletters. They've served enforcement notices on the landfill operator as well, who is required to cover all the exposed waste, complete the landfill engineering works, and to contain and collect the landfill gas. That's pretty explicit, pretty clear. If the operator fails to comply with the final deadline of the notice, NRW will be looking to take enforcement action in line with their enforcement and prosecution policy. So, NRW are responding as a priority to resolve this issue. I would encourage, however, both you and Paul to tell all residents to continue to report, as they have been doing, any instances of odour to NRW, as this will help, actually, NRW in terms of informing the effectiveness of their enforcement.