Thursday, 23 March 2017

Coast with the most?

(Pic : The Telegraph)

Wales doesn't have the longest coastline in the world – and the Welsh perhaps aren't considered "seafaring" in the same way as the Cornish or English. Nonetheless it's a spectacular addition to the natural beauty of the country and could also provide a significant economic boost, which was the focus of the latest backbench debate in the Senedd.

The debate took place at exactly the same time as the terror attack outside the Palace of Westminster yesterday - which AMs quickly became aware of. The Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion), told AMs security staff at the Senedd were "taking appropriate steps" but the session was suspended later on once the seriousness became apparent.

The Issue

There's a more detailed summary from the Assembly Research Service.

The "blue economy" is estimated to support 5.4million jobs and €500billion in economic production across Europe. An inquiry during the Fourth Assembly recommended the Welsh Government develop a plan to harness Wales' marine-based resources and set a target for the marine sector to generate €6.4billion for the Welsh economy by 2020.

Obviously the big marine project currently mooted for Wales is the £1billion+ Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, but there are other key sub-sectors such as seafood, smaller renewable energy projects (like wave energy) and managing the marine environment for conservation and tourism.

The Motion

AMs called for the Senedd to:

  • Note that Wales benefits from a long coastline and the second highest tidal reach in the world.
  • Note that economic activity related to the sea is currently worth £2.1billion to the Welsh economy, and that a strategic commitment to the "blue economy" could turn the seas into a major economic asset.
  • Note that Wales could become a leader in marine engineering, renewable energy, sea sports and tourism.
  • Call on the Welsh Government to bring forward and ambitious Marine Plan as a central plank of its forthcoming economic strategy.

Key Points

Jeremy Miles AM (Lab, Neath):

  • Wales' growing aquaculture sector includes the largest mussel farm in Britain, significant coastal tourism and the coastal path. It all supports 31,000 direct and 56,000 indirect jobs – figures believed to be an under-estimate.
  • There are opportunities for inland communities as much as coastal communities; blue economy procurement should come with social benefit and local sourcing clauses.
  • We must avoid "blue washing" conventional economic activity where a commitment to sustainable development is superficial (like "green washing").
  • There's still a relative lack of private sector finance accessible to the marine sector. The Development Bank of Wales should consider establishing a blue investment fund.

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn):

  • Just as the sea has provided inspiration in the past, the question is how are we going to be inspired anew.
  • Five years ago the Irish Government introduced a marine development strategy, referring to natural wealth and the wider benefits of protecting the environment. It looked at the marine sector in its entirety and that needs to happen in Wales.
  • The potential won't release itself. Government needs to work with business and higher education to push developments; it's frustrating no UK Government decision has been reached on the Swansea tidal lagoon.

Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West):

  • The tidal reach of the River Usk has been crucial for Newport's development since the Bronze Age, exemplified by a 2,000 year old port at Caerleon.
  • The UK Government needs to give the Swansea lagoon a green light. It's "hugely exciting" and hopefully the first of many – including lagoons at Cardiff and/or Newport which could create 3,000 jobs during construction and 8,000 manufacturing jobs in the supply chain.
  • Tidal power could generate the cheapest electricity of all new energy plants in the UK.

David Rowlands AM (UKIP, South Wales East):

  • Much of tourist industry in Wales is linked to quality of coastal water (....guaranteed by the EU's blue flag scheme 🙊).
  • British fishing waters should be fully repatriated post-Brexit. He didn't accept that Brexit could impact the large amounts of Welsh seafood – as much as 95% of shellfish in some cases – that are exported to the EU single market.

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley):

  • The sea is a natural resource for the future in the same way coal was in the past, but harnessing it won't happen by accident, requiring co-ordinated action across government departments (and with EU institutions post-Brexit).
  • Changes in the maritime environment need to be monitored effectively through better data collection.
  • Vikki was impressed during discussions on the tidal lagoon developments at the range of local companies – including in the valleys - that could be involved.
  • There should be a systematic study of the skills requirements of the future, including tourism and engineering.

Michelle Brown AM (UKIP, North Wales):

  • The motion put forward no specific ideas of how Wales can exploit its seas; too many AMs are happy to see the EU in control of fishing and marine policy. Where was the outrage from Labour when the fishing industry was destroyed around the same time as mining?
  • Licence fees for fishing should be reduced for the low paid, and "discarding" dead/small fish should be abolished as it's a counter-productive practice.

Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli):

  • When we focus on new ideas, we need to concentrate on taking advantage of the expertise we already have – including renewable energy.
  • Lee's increasingly concerned we're constraining ourselves after giving regulatory powers to Natural Resources Wales (NRW). Ministers should consider reclaiming the powers for the Senedd if NRW are unable to discharge those powers "responsibly".
  • He brought up the foundation economy (The Welsh Economy: On Solid Foundations?) – tourism and food. Much of the added value (i.e. processing) is exported to other countries. Instead, we should be considering how we can capture some of the value internally through procurement reforms.

Welsh Government Response & Summing Up

Economy & Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South):

  • Developers around the world are showing active interest in projects in Welsh waters. With the right support, developers expect £1.4billion worth of investment, having already risen by 50% in the past two years.
  • 9% of UK freight is handled by Welsh ports. Their diverse role supports 11,000 jobs and other parts of the economy.
  • Marine energy projects can be catalysts for long-term economic benefit. There is commitment to develop a tidal power economy in Wales, with Wales being ideal for such developments.
  • The Environment & Rural Affairs Secretary will launch a consultation on a draft Marine Plan this summer. It'll highlight the significance of tidal resources, integrated sea development and strongly support marine energy.

Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W & S. Pembs.):

  • Our oceans are our single most important resource. It's only right we seek to maximise the opportunities.
  • Ports should be a locus for development of the blue economy. They can't be seen as "old fashioned"; she argued Milford Haven port is a national asset, with a strong engineering and tourism pedigree.
  • Scotland are way ahead of us on this and we can't be an "also ran".
  • Unless people can make a decent living from it then we will have failed; we can't afford to end up with a repeat of a previous green economy strategy: "written on the back of a fag packet in two days".

The motion was agreed unanimously.


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