Keep up to date with the CLA Cymru team and the work we do to represent our members interests with the Welsh Government and other key stakeholders.
Like a duck majestically cruising downstream, our outward appearance of calm and poise was supported by a scurry of frantic activity under the surface. Our efforts were rewarded with significant progress being made on several fronts; an extremely positive ministerial meeting, progress in the planning battle with Brecon Beacons National Park and the welcome news from Natural Resources Wales that they have rethought their water abstraction fees for hydro schemes.
The CLA Cymru policy team, accompanied by Deputy Chairman David Wynne-Finch, met with Deputy Minister for Farming and Food Rebecca Evans this month for our quarterly catch-up.
We expressed concerns over the cash flow issues that would be created through potentially extending the SAF 2015 deadline beyond the firmly established 15 May. Accustomed as the majority (and their bank managers!) are to receiving a prompt payment in December, the ramifications of delayed payment cannot be taken lightly.
The (hopefully final) consultation on Basic Payment Scheme options for payment was launched. Despite excellent progress being made in stakeholder meetings with regard to the feasibility of certain payment models and therefore the streamlining of the consultation, legal counsel to Welsh Government recommended that all potential options should be included. This has, unfortunately, created a sizeable, oft-confusing document that, CLA Cymru feels does not adequately outline the feasibility and ramifications of the various options.
As the consultation closes in late June, we are still in the precarious position of landowners claiming for new entitlements with insufficient knowledge of the road ahead. CLA Cymru will be holding a series of events in late May to gather member opinion and encourage individuals to respond to the consultation.
Whilst Welsh Government have still not received a comfort letter from the EU to bolster the potential for delivering RDP schemes ahead of the official sign-off of the Programme, CLA Cymru has been invited to comment on some (not all) draft RDP Scheme Guidance. We are also optimistic that the long-term missing Glastir Woodlands scheme should be up and running this year.
Renting Homes Act
CLA Cymru gave written evidence to the Environment and Sustainability Committee on the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill – this will be followed up with an oral presentation in May to the same Committee.
Having convened the excellent CLA Cymru Housing Group and forced them to read the substantial document, we have expressed significant concern regarding the overly burdensome administration and regulation being proposed in the Bill. Private rented housing has already seen significant gold-plating with the introduction of the Housing (Wales) Act last year; the proposals are not fit for purpose.
Local Government Reform
CLA Cymru turned attention back to the ongoing progress of Local Authority reform with the launch of another Devolution and Democracy consultation. This already baffling topic is becoming ridiculous, with Welsh Government flip-flopping over the voluntary merger of several local authorities and lack of practical action.
Whilst the oft quoted comparison of Birmingham, with the same population and one local authority, to Wales with twenty-two does suggest a need for serious reform, CLA Cymru does question the realism of six “super-authorities” being able to keep decisions relevant to the community that they serve.
Water Abstraction charges for Hydro schemes
CLA Cymru lobbying against Natural Resources Wales proposals to introduce an expensive flat charge for water abstraction for hydro schemes saw a positive conclusion.
Natural Resources Wales have officially announced that there will be a sliding scale of £375 to £1500 depending on the size of the scheme. Slightly concerning is Natural Resources Wales’s reticence in defining the term “large”.
February was a busy month bookended by Polisi Cymru in the first week, local branch committees in the last week and a week off for lambing in the middle. Looking back at this time last year, it is discouraging to note that conversations around big issues such as CAP have moved on little as we once again went to Committee with a paper discussing payment options soon to be outlined by Welsh Government in a public consultation.
In preparation for the imminent commencement of farmers filling in their Single Application Form, CLA Cymru hosted a series of CAP update events across Wales to bring members up to date with key requirements and changes that have been introduced with the new Basic Payment entitlement scheme.
If there is one message CLA Cymru would like to reinforce to members, it is the benefit of using the online system to apply for the new Basic Payment Scheme. With the issuing of new entitlements, tighter rules around ineligible features and greening requirements that will necessitate anyone growing a field of swedes or forage to map their Ecological Focus Areas, the online system offers the best opportunity to get your application right.
In other news, there is little movement on the Rural Development Fund as Welsh Government still awaits a comfort letter from the EU that would potentially allow them to run certain elements of the RDP scheme at risk. This would certainly be welcomed by the industry.
Moving away from agriculture, the private rented housing sector took another potential hit this month with the introduction of the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill. Hailing back to a public consultation in 2012, the Bill proposes replacing Assured Shorthold Tenancies with Standard Contracts with set, easy-to-understand, clauses supported with a key of padlocks, half-eaten apple cores and smiley faces to indicate importance and relevance. As with many things issuing from Welsh Government these days, we are concerned that these proposals have been introduced without adequate consideration for unseen consequences; we have concerns as to the long term tenability for some rented premises.
February also saw the introduction of the Local Government (Wales) Bill. Despite the Minister for Public Services, Leighton Andrews, earlier this year putting the brakes on the six local authorities who put themselves forward for voluntary merger, the Bill looks in detail at how the current twenty three Local Authorities will be reduced to potentially eight. Alongside the Bill itself, Welsh Government have issued a further Devolution, Democracy and Delivery consultation, this one discussing the intricacies of people management.
The Future Of Right To Buy And Right To Acquire – Welsh Government are seeking a way to address the shortage of social housing stock by removing the longstanding “Right to Buy / Acquire” your council owned house.
The CLA Cymru responses to each of these consultation can be found be following the link in the title of the individual consultation.
Planning (Wales) Bill – six consultation on supporting legislation and a written response to the first scrutiny review by the Environment and Sustainability Committee.
Brecon Breacons National Park Supplementary planning Guidance – six consultations on the secondary planning guidance notes that seek to introduce new and burdensome restrictions that adversely affect rural landowners.
Natural Resources Wales Charging Scheme 2015 / 2016 – NRW sought views on their updated fees they charge for permits and licences. Most controversial as a proposed 1500% increase in the cost of a water abstraction licence.
Location of TB Infected Farms – Welsh Government proposed to introduce a system for the recording of T infected farms for the intention of improving farmer knowledge, awareness and TB prevention measures. The consultation response was an online form therefore unavailable for inclusion on our website. CLA Cymru applauded Welsh Government commitment to seeking new avenues to resolve the problem of TB but also expressed the potential safety concerns that may arise from having the locations of TB infected farms widely available for the general public.
Flood Risk Management Plans – a UK wide consultation and a requirement under the Water Framework Directive, Natural Resources Wales have drawn up plans for assessing flood risk, addressing the immediate problem, exploring preventative measures and analysing flooding incidents.
CLA Cymru were invited to participate in Welsh Government’s high level meetings frantically drawn together to address the consequences of their last minute decision to withdraw from the Judicial Review of the Moorland line. Modelling work has begun in earnest to inform decisions for how Cap pillar 1 will be paid in Wales. Calculations can be viewed here:
There will be another consultation in February / March to seek wider public opinion. Regardless of what option is eventually chosen, it is looking likely that farmers will be applying for their Single Farm Payment with no knowledge of what rate of payment they will be receiving.
Whilst we were all aware that the new Rural Development Programme, technically due to be introduced at the start of this month, would not be forthcoming until late Spring / early Summer even this deadline if looking potentially problematic as Welsh Government look again at the options and schemes intended to “move money up the hill”.
The moorland priority map in Glastir Advanced has been removed with the consequence that there will be a further opportunity to apply to the scheme opening in early February.
CLA Cymru are continuing to advocate for an RDP that delivers real benefit to landowners on the ground with schemes aimed at improving supply chains and on-farm efficiency.
Interim funding keeping the scheme running till June 2015 (with the exception of one-to-one services and training for which applications closed last November) the Farming Connect team have proposed an ambitious schedule of events to fill the gap and provide valuable information help and advice to the agricultural community. A full list of their events, workshops and seminars can be found on their website.
Following ambiguous consultation from early 2013, and an innocuous mention in the Senedd at the start of December last year, Welsh Government introduced a surprising piece of legislation that would allow water companies to claw back defaulted bill payments from the landlord. With an introduction date of 1 January 2015, a requirement that all landlords register the name and date of birth of their tenants with the relevant water company within 21 days and a communication strategy bordering on non-existent, many were caught unawares. It was only through the foresight of the water companies themselves voluntarily postponing registration till April that the issue for many landlords was alleviated. If only CAP decisions moved this quickly!
Meetings attended by CLA Cymru:
Welsh Government Agricultural Strategy Stakeholder Engagement Meeting
Farming Connect Stakeholder Meeting
Woodland Management Stakeholder Meeting
FUW Senedd Breakfast Reception
BT Openreach meeting
High level CAP Modelling Group
Glastir Woodlands Stakeholder
Sustain Wales Conference
CAP High Level Group Meeting
NRW Charge Payers Consultative Group Meeting
Western Power Workshop
Water Framework Directive All Wales Liaison Panel
Science in the Uplands Workshop
National Habitat Creation Programme
Welsh Government Water Policy Meeting