I have respect for the concerns expressed by local people regarding the disposal of waste from Hinkley Point. This is clearly an emotive subject and I can understand why some members of the public feel concerned. I am keen to respond wherever possible to concerns raised by the public but can only do so within the powers that the Well-being of Future Generations Act confers on me and the resources available to me. There have been a number of inaccurate statements on what I can and should be able to do in respect of this issue.
The powers available to me are set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) 2015. I have powers to advise public bodies including on how they meet their well-being objectives and I also have duties to monitor and assess the extent to which they are doing this. I have provided advice to Public Services Boards on developing their well-being plans and I am currently in the process of monitoring and assessing how public bodies are meeting their well-being objectives.
Although sometimes I may like to stop or change decisions, unfortunately the law does not allow me to do so. I cannot overturn a decision already taken or determine the outcome of a specific decision at any given time. Unlike other Commissioners, the Well-being of Future Generations Act does not give me a case-work function to provide support to individual cases and my office is not established in law as an extra layer of appeal on specific issues.
The Act does however allow me provide advice to public bodies, to undertake a review into the extent to which a public body is safeguarding future generations’ needs and take into account the long impact of their work and recommend a future change in the process leading to a public body’s decision. Reviews are designed within the legislative framework to provide insight to me so that I can help a public body to improve the way in which they look at the long-term impact of their decisions in the future. The recommendations I make cannot compel public bodies to change their decisions and would only apply to future decisions.
In respect of specific points on the marine licensing timeline for the Hinkley application and the application of the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015, I have taken advice on this issue and contacted Natural Resources Wales. They have confirmed that Marine Licence 12/45/ML was issued to the applicant in July 2014, authorising the disposal of dredge arising from the Hinkley Point C development site at Cardiff Grounds disposal site, subject to the conditions in the licence.
I am advised that the document (12/45/MLv1 issued on 22 March 2018) is the original license with a change of address of the Head Office of the applicant. This does not constitute a new decision as the conditions of the original Licence remain unchanged. The recent document amounts to an administrative amendment of the original Licence only (i.e. change of address for the Head Office of the applicant). This process, therefore, does not constitute a decision amenable to the Well-being of Future Generations Act, which was passed in 2015 and came into force in 2016.
I am not able to comment in detail in respect of the process that Natural Resources Wales did follow in respect of this licencing decision. It is for them to address this, suffice to say it is clearly important that those bodies who are responsible for determining license applications, in this case Natural Resources Wales and others, such as Public Health Wales, who were consulted on this matter, are able to do so following an analysis of the evidence and within the parameters of the relevant legislation. In this case, the Well-being of Future Generations Act was not relevant legislation due to the timings of the decision. I am aware that questions regarding the quality of this evidence are currently being raised with Natural Resources Wales and others.
However, with regards to the broader issues of marine licensing, I do believe that decisions taken since the Act came into force should demonstrate how the Act has been considered. In line with my powers (referenced above), and my pledge to listen to concerns the public raise and to monitor these to detect any wider systemic issues in terms of how public bodies are applying the Act, I keep under constant review the issues and concerns that are raised with me.
The approach taken by Natural Resources Wales in their environmental permitting decisions, however, emerged last year as a common thread in the concerns raised to me by the public and local representatives. This has led me to work with Natural Resources Wales and Welsh Government to assess the application of the Well-being of Future Generations Act and its interaction with the Environment Act, in the environmental permitting process. In relation to the application of the Act on permitting decisions, I have recently issued advice to Natural Resources Wales and the Welsh Government regarding the application of the Act during their environmental permitting process.
My office is still working with Natural Resources Wales on the draft matrix recommended in my letter and with Welsh Government on guidance relating to the application of the legislation. I believe that there may be parallels with this work and the approach that is taken in respect of marine licensing and, therefore, I intend to raise this issue with Natural Resources Wales and Welsh Government to consider where the recommendations I have made in respect of environmental permitting could also be relevant to future marine licensing decisions. I regret, however, that due to the timeline for the license application (i.e. before the Well-being of Future Generations Act came into force) this work cannot impact on the decision taken in relation to Hinkley.
I hope that the work that my team is doing with Natural Resources Wales and Welsh Government will help to ensure that the Act will be embedded in decision making processes for permits and licenses in future.