Wide NRW remit and budget cuts risk loss of focus

PLAID Cymru shadow environment minister Llyr Gruffydd has warned that changes must be made to the Environment Bill in the Assembly or Wales could be left without an organisation with the primary role of championing the environment. The Bill as it stands charges Natural Resources Wales (NRW) with managing Wales’ natural resources in a way that contributes to the achievement of all seven of the recently adopted Wellbeing Goals set out in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. These goals are: a prosperous Wales, a healthier Wales, a resilient Wales, a more equal Wales, a Wales of cohesive communities, a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language and a globally responsible Wales. Mr Gruffydd has called for the body to be given a clear remit that its overriding priority must be the environment. He said: “As things stand NRW’s remit is to contribute to all of the seven Wellbeing Goals listed in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. “This is a very broad remit and an all-encompassing responsibility for economic, social, cultural and environmental goals in equal measure. “I want NRW to focus on the environment. Yes it can contribute to the other goals, but its primary objective must be to maintain and enhance a biodiverse natural environment with healthy functioning ecosystems. If NRW isn’t fulfilling that critical role then we have to ask who will? “We can make an analogy with the NHS. As a public body it too would be expected to contribute to all of the Wellbeing Goals, but its over-riding focus would always be to maintain and enhance the health of the people of Wales. “In the same way as the NHS is the champion for health in Wales, NRW must be allowed to be the champion for the environment putting it first and foremost in all its deliberations.” Mr Gruffydd also expressed concerns that introducing new duties and responsibilities for NRW at a time of steeply reducing budgets could lead to capacity problems within the organisation. He said: “The Environment Committee has always been told by NRW officers that any new responsibilities should bring with them additional resources. “The Government has introduced a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, a Planning Act and now an Environment Bill all bringing with them new and additional duties for NRW. “This is set against the backdrop of year on year budget cuts and a reducing staff head count. “It doesn’t take an expert to realise that this trend is unsustainable. “Labour’s draft budget for next year shows a further £6.1m cut in funding for NRW and the Minister admitted for the first time to the committee recently that NRW is under pressure and had told him it might have to start thinking about its organisational capacity, something he accepted. “Plaid Cymru wants NRW to focus on what it does best – maintaining and enhancing a biodiverse natural environment with healthy functioning ecosystems. “The Environment Bill must give it the clear role of being the environmental champion for Wales.

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