THIS WEDNESDAY (July 21), the High Court permitted NFU Cymru to challenge the lawfulness of controversial new Welsh Government regulations on water pollution.
Labour rammed the regulations through the Senedd near the end of its last term despite promising it would not do so while the Covid pandemic continued.
Farmers unions and other bodies criticised the Welsh Government’s actions at the time and pointed out the Welsh Government’s failure to consider the regulations’ impact.
Earlier this year, in light of ongoing concerns about the new Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations 2021, NFU Cymru set out its position that the Welsh Government had acted unlawfully in failing to take into account all relevant information when undertaking its Regulatory Impact Assessment before the introduction of the regulations.
The union also challenged the Welsh Government’s failure to include an opt-out from the applicable nitrogen limit for farmers with 80% or more grassland.
As revealed at last week’s Pembrokeshire County Council meeting, so ill-considered was the Welsh Government’s approach that it risks delaying the development of much-needed housing for Wales’s families.
The regulations ‘catch-all’ nature means housing projects for which permission has already been granted must meet new statutory requirements for water pollution that were not in force when permission was granted.
Much work already done on Local Development Plans, already delayed by the Covid pandemic, will now have to start again with new assessments of development sites to meet the new standards.
That step will not be cheap, and cash-strapped Councils will get no extra money to carry out the mountain of additional work needed to ensure every site designated for development and every plan for their development meets the new criteria.
At a time of severe housing shortages across Wales, the regulations will also drive up house building prices with inevitable consequences on new homes’ affordability.
As an unintended consequence, that folly is trumped only by the Welsh Government’s carefree approach to the regulations’ impact on Wales’s primary export industry: agriculture.
In agriculture’s case, the Welsh Government ignored its own regulator’s advice (NRW) and submissions it requested from agricultural businesses and designated the whole of Wales as a ‘Nitrate Vulnerable Zone’ (NVZ).
NRW told Ministers the regulations needed to cover 12% of Wales.
To get away with doing so, Welsh Government ministers and dogsbody backbenchers wilfully and repeatedly made public statements they knew, or ought to have known, were untrue and (at best) wildly misleading.
The Party then used a procedural gimmick to get its way.
By the narrowest of margins, Labour managed to beat off two motions in the last Welsh Parliament – one from Plaid Cymru and one from the Conservatives – that would have forced the regulations to be paused for proper consideration.
However, at the start of the new Parliamentary term, Labour was forced to partly backtrack and offered the chance for the regulations’ consideration by a Senedd Committee. The level of its good faith in doing so remains open to question, as the rural affairs brief has now been lumped in with the critical economy committee.
The newly-constituted committee will only meet every fortnight and then only once the Senedd returns from its summer recess in September.
In the meantime, farmers are trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The new regulations impose massive costs and a huge regulatory burden on farmers, who face being driven off the land by the move with disastrous consequences for the Welsh economy, Wales’s cultural life and language, and the future of Welsh farming.
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “We are pleased to hear that the Court has accepted our application for permission for judicial review and agreed that the issues we have raised amount to arguable grounds which merit consideration at a substantive hearing.
“Reaching this point is testament to the hard work and expertise of NFU Cymru staff, the union’s in-house legal team, our legal panel firm JCP, Counsel at Essex Court Chambers and the NFU’s Legal Assistance Scheme.
“NFU Cymru does not take this action lightly but has done so on behalf of NFU Cymru members, farmers and rural businesses across Wales.
“Work will now be undertaken in line with Court directions to prepare for the substantive hearing and we are not able to comment further on the case at this time.”
WELSH GOVERNMENT NOT LISTENING
The Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs is Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MS Sam Kurtz.
Responding to the NFU announcement, Mr Kurtz said: Samuel said: “This is incredibly welcome news.
“The High Court’s granting of judicial review is a testament to the dedication and hard work of the NFU Cymru team and the strength of case they have put forward.
“It’s unfortunate that NFU Cymru have been forced to take this course of action. However, this has come about because of the Welsh Government’s inability to listen to the concerns and needs of Wales’s farming community.”
Sam Kurtz ended: “The Welsh Government should be seeking to support our agriculture sector and not restrict it by unnecessary and damaging regulations.
“NFU Cymru have my full backing on the matter.”