Senedd stock image
The Senedd

The Senedd agreed reforms aimed at streamlining the consenting process for significant infrastructure projects in Wales.

MSs passed the infrastructure bill, which will establish a unified process, known as infrastructure consent, for major on and offshore projects.

Infrastructure consent will replace existing procedures for energy, transport, waste, water and gas projects above a certain size or capacity threshold.

Julie James, Wales’ housing, local government and planning secretary, argued the bill will introduce a modern and simplified process.

She said the bill will play an important part in moving towards net-zero emissions by 2050 by enabling consent for renewable energy projects in a timely but robust manner.

‘Process bill’

Julie James, Wales' housing, local government, and planning secretary
Julie James, Wales’ housing, local government, and planning secretary

She told MSs: “Not only will it improve the competitiveness of Wales as an attractive place for investment and jobs, it will also empower local communities and other key stakeholders.”

Ms James said it is a “process bill” with much of the detail to follow in secondary legislation and a significant amount of work ahead to ensure a smooth implementation process.

She told the chamber that secondary legislation will ensure the infrastructure consenting process operates effectively, efficiently and with maximum engagement.

She explained that two consultation papers will be issued by late May, with the first focused on pre-application consultation processes and the second centred on fees.

A third and final consultation paper will follow this year outlining the whole new process.


Conservative MS Janet Finch-Saunders
Conservative MS Janet Finch-Saunders

Janet Finch-Saunders, the Conservatives’ shadow secretary, described the reforms as hollow and lacking in fundamental details.

She argued this is in complete conflict with the bill’s core aims of delivering a streamlined process and empowering communities to engage.

Ms Finch-Saunders warned that the bill is missing a vast amount of details, including on how open-floor hearings will be triggered and time limits for making decisions.

She said: “It is apparent to any reasonable person that this bill does not represent anywhere near what it promises to do, and that is a streamlined and unified process.

“The reality is that so much information is omitted that we do not know how these processes are going to work in reality.”

The Aberconwy MS added: “Clearly, the legislation is not as I believe it should be. We do not believe that it delivers a robust process for Wales.”


South Wales East MS Delyth Jewell speaking in the Senedd
South Wales East MS Delyth Jewell

Delyth Jewell stressed the importance of striking the right balance between tackling the climate emergency and safeguarding the natural world.

Plaid Cymru’s deputy leader said planning processes must be more accessible to the public.

“Too often communities are left feeling disenfranchised and marginalised when decisions about infrastructure are made without their say,” she warned.

Calling for a coal-free future for Wales, Ms Jewell reiterated her party’s calls for coal to be removed from the list of significant infrastructure projects in the bill.

The South Wales East MS said: “We will keep pushing for a number of changes in regulations. But passing the buck and allowing this bill to fail would be a retrograde step.

“Let this be the first step in a journey towards democratising our planning process. There’s an awful lot more that we need to do, but it can at least start here.”

‘Out of date’

Ms James reiterated that many details were deliberately not included “on the face of the bill”.

She said: “If you were to put that into primary legislation, it would become out of date so fast that it wouldn’t make the end of the year.

“So, it is very important that we put those things in secondary legislation.”

Before the debate could be held, the King’s consent had to be sought because the bill could impact the Royal Family’s interests, such as the Crown Estate.

MSs agreed the stage-four vote on the final text of the bill, with 36 in favour and 15 against.

The infrastructure bill now enters “post stage four”, a four-week period during which it could be challenged by the UK Government but it is expected to move on to Royal Assent.

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