How Green is the UK Government’s plan for Wales?
At first glance the 34-page document is comprehensive with a clear plan set out in four parts, with positive and emotive messages. It makes the case that Wales is an integral part of the UK to build a stronger and greener economy, looking at the cultural, scientific and economic impact Wales has to the UK and what the UK can deliver for Wales.
Central to Part 1 of the plan is levelling up through a series of funds, including the Levelling Up Fund, UK Community Renewal Fund, UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The Levelling Up Fund will be used for initiatives and projects to upgrade local transport, revitalise town centres and invest in cultural assets, with Wales being guaranteed at least 5% of the fund, with £125,000 to each council in Wales.
Additionally, Part 1 outlines sector specific commitments, the UK Infrastructure Bank and the importance of collaboration including the Western Gateway initiative. The new bank has a mandate to support tackling climate change with a focus on infrastructure in the clean energy, transport, digital, water and waste sectors across the UK.
Part 2 of the plan which focuses on building back greener with Wales being at the heart of the drive to deliver net zero caught my eye in particular. It boldly states that £90 million has been committed for specific innovative net zero projects in Wales. This amount whilst welcomed is loose change when placed into context to the challenge facing the Government’s ambition to become net zero by 2050.
Being a construction lawyer, I read with interest that over a third of the £90 million was awarded to the Active Building Centre, following a successful proposal to the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. This project is a partnership with Swansea University and innovative companies looks to transform how buildings use energy with the aim for buildings of the future to become providers of rather than users of energy. I will keep a close eye on developments over the coming months and years and would be great to think that Wales could become a global leader of green building innovation, with the economic benefits that would follow.
The other amounts which have been committed such as £1.4 million for hydrogen transport technology, £15.9 million for electric heavy vehicles to be made in Cwmbran and £7.9 million for district heating in Cardiff and Bridgend are very targeted and small. Whilst I appreciate many of the new emerging green technologies are at R&D stage, I suspect further support will be required to realise the commercial and environmental value of these initiatives from both the public and private sector.
Over the last few years, I have been supporting and advising various companies to help win and deliver contracts at Hinkley Point C. It was disappointing that in the plan there was no mention of a potential large scale nuclear power station in Wales. The building of Hinkley Point C is having a positive impact for Wales as outlined in the 2021 Hinkley Point C socio economic impact report.
It highlighted that 155 Welsh companies are active on the supply chain and to date have won contracts to the value of £140 million. I hope that these innovative and high performing businesses will be able to secure supply chain opportunities with the planned small modular reactors in North Wales and the UK Government’s aim to bring one large scale nuclear power project to final investment decision in the UK by the end of this Parliament.
Other large-scale net zero opportunities in Wales were highlighted in the plan including the Holyhead Hydrogen Hub, South Wales Industrial Cluster and offshore wind. With the Crown Estate confirming that it will hold a formal leasing round for floating offshore wind projects in the Celtic Sea which could deliver up to 300 megawatts, this could be transformative in years to come.
Parts 3 focuses on connectivity both digital and transport to support economic growth, which is crucial to support a green economy. Part 4 centres on promoting the Welsh identity in terms of culture, language and sport along with the value of the armed forces in Wales.
Many of the elements of the overall plan particularly relation to green energy and achieving net zero had already been communicated but is good to be captured in a single document for Wales. From a green perspective it is a step in the right direction, but there is a long way to go. To achieve the UK’s climate goals further support will be needed, targeted on projects which start to demonstrate both long term environmental and economic sustainable growth. Potentially the biggest challenge is to train people for the skills needed to build back greener, a challenge not just for Wales but the rest of the UK, which will require continual investment.