Sustainable development kicked into Welsh long grass

Llyr Huws Gruffydd says the environment is the real loser in the reshuffle

Carwyn Jones’ decision to re-jig his cabinet last week has been described as more of a reorganisation than a reshuffle. It may well have been a damp squib in terms of ins and outs, but there is one key change that seems to have gone unnoticed. Looking beyond the personalities involved, the way portfolios and departments have been reconfigured seems much more significant – and I fear it doesn’t make great reading for the wider environmental agenda in Wales.

The underlying significance of this reshuffle is the break-up of what was the Environment and Sustainable Development portfolio into three:

  1. Part of the former Environment portfolio including climate change, flood prevention and the establishment of Natural Resources Wales goes to the Minister for Natural Resources and Food.
  2. The “central organising principle” of Sustainable Development goes to the Minister for Communities.
  3. The Planning remit is hived off to the Housing Minister and rather bizarrely National Parks ends up with the Minister for Culture and Sport.

It’s fair to say that John Griffiths’ former portfolio was too broad. However, the Government has been telling us for two years about the critical interconnectedness of the environment, sustainable development and the planning system in Wales. They claimed that having one Minister responsible for the Environment Bill, Sustainable Development Bill and Planning Bill would ensure joined-up and effective legislation.

My draft press statement welcoming Alun Davies’s new appointment as Minister for Natural Resources and Food and seeking early discussions about the proposed Sustainable Development and Planning Bills had to be scrapped when I realised he wouldn’t be responsible for either of them!

In a recent written statement the former Environment and Sustainable Development Minister, John Griffiths, told us the Government would ensure that the development of its approach to natural resource planning would go hand in hand with its focus on the improvement of the planning system in Wales. But now the Minister for Natural Resources is no longer responsible for planning.

But it’s moving the lead on sustainable development from Environment to Communities that raises the most interesting questions in my mind.

The whole drive for sustainable development to become a central organising principle of Welsh Government has so far been powered by an aspiration for more sustainable use of our natural resources. It’s the environmental lobby that has led the charge and provided the political thrust to keep this agenda moving. In my view it has made perfect sense for its delivery to be a key plank of the work of the Environment and Sustainable Development Minister. There has been little impetus thus far from either the Economic or Communities Ministers, with only the odd interjection when questions were asked about whether environmental, social or economic considerations should gain priority if push came to shove.

So why has Carwyn Jones chosen to pass the baton to the Communities Minister? I hope it’s a genuine effort to liberate sustainable development from its environmental chains and make it a truly cross-government agenda encompassing social and economic wellbeing. On the other hand it could be a cynical ploy to kick the whole agenda into the long grass and divert our gaze from the Government’s apparent difficulties in enshrining the whole concept into meaningful legislation. I fear though that it could also have just been bolted on to a portfolio that needed something added to it.

Whichever it is, handing “overarching responsibility” for anything is always ominous in my book.

The Government’s Sustaining a Living Wales Green Paper said it considered embedding sustainable development and achieving an ecosystems approach as aspirations which complement each other and which share common underlying values. But now one is led by Huw Lewis and the other by Alun Davies.

We also find that the Minister for nature conservation is no longer responsible for National Parks (despite being given their designation because of their environmental significance). National Parks remain in John Griffiths’ in-tray but become a strange addition to his new responsibilities for Culture and Sport.

Are we really looking at a situation where one Minister is now responsible for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and other environmental designations, whilst another Minister takes over National Parks? You could argue that putting National Parks and planning together might have made sense. However, planning has gone to yet another Minister – Carl Sargeant.

At a time when the Welsh Government has been extoling the virtues of bringing together the key environmental drivers and seeking coherence and consistency in environmental delivery (for example through Natural Resources Wales) it’s ironic that Carwyn Jones’ Cabinet reorganisation seems to do exactly the opposite.

The former Environment and Sustainable Development portfolio with its broad and weighty remit should have been a powerhouse to affect a deep and thorough greening of Welsh Government policy. The headlines might talk of a demoted individual. In reality the reshuffle leaves a rather disaggregated and dishevelled look to the Government’s environmental credentials.

Llyr Huws Gruffydd is Plaid Cymru AM for North Wales.

7 thoughts on “Sustainable development kicked into Welsh long grass

  1. Just a note of clarification – National Parks were originally established to promote the natural environment but also to promote recreation. See

    1949 was a landmark year as the government passed an Act of Parliament to establish National Parks to preserve and enhance their natural beauty and provide recreational opportunities for the public.

  2. Added to that is the decision to separate policy for Active Travel (walking & cycling) from its delivery in the department of transport. John Griffiths will pilot the Bill through but its implementation will be largely in the hands of Edwina Hart. This division existed in the One Wales Government and it didn’t work then so I don’t see how it will work now.

  3. Oh Jeanette, I do wish you wouldn’t missquote! National Parks were established under the 1949 Act (the first designated being the Peak District in May 1950) for ‘the conservation of their flora and fauna, and the promotion of opportunities for open air recreation and leisure’, – slightly different! To the Conservation remit were added the words ‘and cultural heritage’ in the early 1990’s after the Edwards Committee had heard evidence from my Park – the Pembrokeshire Coast – of the importance of man shaping the landscape and ecology. The ICUN catagorises National Parks in relation to their contribution towards Nature Conservation (and therein lies a significant debate) with British Parks under Catagory 5, those ‘lived in’. Recreation was a major theme in the first two decades after WW2, then Conservation (1970 Conservation Year), followed by their Community values, and now perhaps their ability to demonstrate and be exemplars for Sustainable Development. Just as important, but do get it right!

    I agree with Llyr especially on the stupid decision to split NP’s from AONB’s with which they share common purposes, language and procedures. The reunification of environment with farming is however long overdue, and potentially very valuable, and ‘planning’ has shown no aptitude to take on board Natural Resource Planning (says me as a saddened Chartered Town Planner!) which might as well lie elsewhere! Surely the trick, which our Assembly as a whole has missed so far, is the potential for EVERYBODY to work together in an INTEGRATED fashion, such that it shouldn’t matter what is with whom!

  4. I suppose that the logic of this move will become clear in time. Meanwhile we are left to wonder about it and put our faith in “joined up government,” whatever that means.

    I am concerned about the separation of National Parks from Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty from each other in an administrative sense. The two share similar origins in a legal sense, but with bifurcations along the way. Time to look at the whole picture again as regards these key pieces of policy. The recent article regarding The Gower comes to mind (

    One hopes that the government’s legislative initiative will sort it out, but I have strong doubts after the latest move.

  5. Nic, as much as I’d enjoy getting into a debate with you about the origins, further development and future development of national parks, I’m afraid my point of clarification still stands. If you look at the National Parks own website (, where my quote was copied and pasted from, you’ll find that indeed “1949 was a landmark year as the government passed an Act of Parliament to establish National Parks to preserve and enhance their natural beauty and provide recreational opportunities for the public”. No misquotes here, unless you’d like to take it up with the National Parks own publicity team.

    I also wonder whether you are referring to IUCN (not ICUN) and Peak District 1951 (source:

    These comments detract from the key issues being debated here, which I actually agree with, but as you say yourself, it’s important to get the facts right!

  6. Very very very naive article LLyr Huws Gruffydd. Sustainable development is a con trick to control all resources and private property. It is based on the draconian communist like Agenda 21. We deserve politicians in our government who see past through this charade. Please wake up and take the faux green glasses off

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