The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) has blasted the Welsh Government for causing ‘extreme anger’ with its handling of a controversial consultation which has serious implications for farmers.
The ‘Taking Forward Wales’ Sustainable Management of Natural Resources’ consultation was launched last month.
It bundles together a number of important agricultural proposals on access to the countryside; measures to protect water, air and soil quality; abstraction reform; extending the jurisdiction of the Agricultural Land Tribunal Wales and further regulatory action on the use of snares.
FUW president Glyn Roberts has written to Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, to complain about the timing and call for an extension of the response deadline to better represent the consultation’s ‘magnitude and potential repercussions.’
Dr Nick Fenwick, head of policy at the union, said: “People who have been working in rural policy for decades have never come across a consultation like this, either in terms of the failure to discuss or even mention the proposals to stakeholders prior to its release, or the disparate mixture of the proposals it contains – many of which are highly controversial for a large number of people, from farmers to foresters to fishermen.”
In his letter to the Cabinet Secretary, Mr Roberts questioned why several of the proposals in the consultation were under consideration again as they had been the subject of recent discussions and Government decisions.
He also raised concerns about lower-ranking civil servants with an environmental agenda pushing the consultation forward without the knowledge of more senior officials who ‘understood the controversy and complex implications of such proposals.’
It was suggested the plans would add to frustration with the Welsh Government at a time when ‘the value of devolution was being questioned by a large number of the electorate’ – an issue Mr Roberts claimed to have highlighted to Ms Griffiths and the First Minister.
Dr Fenwick added: “For this consultation to come at a time when Brexit is the main focus and is dominating so many workloads makes it even more concerning and has caused extreme anger, not to mention speculation that its range, complexity and timing is deliberate.”
The FUW letter follows earlier complaints from NFU Cymru about the consultation.
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We totally reject that any aspect of our approach has been ‘misleading’ or that we have not consulted with our partners, including farming unions.
“It is vital they are engaged and provide their views on what are, at this stage, still proposals. A consultation workshop was held at the Royal Welsh Show last month and further similar events are planned for South, Mid and North Wales in the next few weeks.
“By bringing together all of the proposals into one consultation document we are delivering exactly what our stakeholders asked for – a more joined up approach. We have also extended the closing date until the end of September, again at the request of our stakeholders. This will allow us to consider all responses before we announce our next steps.
“In light of Brexit, the timing of the consultation is vital so we can consider whether legislation may be required to address any potential impacts but also deliver potential opportunities.”