Scrutiny Panel to lobby Welsh Government for Stronger Enforcement & Severe Penalties for Damaging Biodiversity

Scrutiny Councillors have met on 25 September to discuss the Terms of Reference of the New Natural Environment Performance Panel and the Overview of current Council commitments in relation to this. The discussion was mainly focussed on activity over the last 3 years but Swansea Council has been doing work in relation to this for the last 50-60 years.

The Panel were informed that 80% of Swansea is green space and is extremely diverse with over 50% of the County having significant ecological value. There is protection for the environment via a range of site designations and legislation however, biodiversity loss and species extinction is a challenge and a risk and more awareness is needed to be raised around this issue.

The Panel were pleased to hear the teams within the relevant council department are working on a green infrastructure strategy which looks at nature based solutions going forward, and the Panel expressed their eagerness to be able to contribute to this at the appropriate time.

Issues around planning and some concern that this maybe contributing to biodiversity loss was discussed. The Panel was assured that the Nature Conservation Team work very closely with the Planning Services and the Planning services are passionate about this issue and do whatever they can to maintain and enhance biodiversity within the planning guidelines. There are some issues that arise outside of the planning process such as tree preservation orders being ignored or land cleared before or after surveys are conducted.

The Panel felt that is more to do with lack of capacity relating to enforcement and not a lack of will. This resource issue is not just limited to staffing levels within the Council and other relevant agencies, but the lack of consequence within the legislation.

Councillor Peter Jones, convenor of the Panel will be writing to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on behalf of the Panel to lobby for stronger enforcement and more severe penalties for damaging biodiversity or contributing to its loss. He will also include in this letter the issue around lack of funding.

The Panel feel passionate about these issues but are aware that as a council we cannot do it alone and feel the Welsh Government need to provide funding so the work can be done.

The Panel will continue to look at issues relevant to the natural environment throughout the year and feel strongly that the issue of biodiversity loss is an emergency and should be treated as such. The Panel concluded that there can no longer be an economic priority over ecology and hope to see swift and substantial progress on this issue in the immediate future.

In his letter to Cllr David Hopkins, Cllr Peter Jones asks if ‘there could be a regional approach to biodiversity. There are many areas of Council work which are scrutinised, advised on or developed at a regional level such as education, regeneration and even transport. It would seem that a regional panel/body looking at collaborative ways to improve biodiversity across South West Wales could share skills, knowledge and resources.’ – Cllr David Hopkins is due to respond to this by 25 October.

To keep updated with Panel and to read all letters sent and received from Cabinet please visit Swansea Council Website by clicking here.

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