We’re running guest blogs from the four main political parties in Wales, on the subject of environment and development in the country. Simon Thomas, Plaid Cymru AM for Mid and West Wales, calls for a national ‘wealth fund’ to be set up.
By Simon Thomas AM
A crucial question for the future of Wales is how we can become less dependent and more self reliant as a society and economy. As a nation, we are actually quite rich, not only in relation to developing countries, but in our natural resources which can underpin a first class economy based on true sustainability.
This means making the greatest use possible of the wealth our resources such as water and wind create. Water is excluded specifically from the Assembly’s purview and only energy projects up to 50MW are under our own control.
I have campaigned for over 10 years to gain the devolution of energy projects to Wales and at least now even the current Labour government agrees with me.
But control is one aspect, we also need to see the benefit of exploiting our resources come directly to the nation. That is why I want to see us set up a sovereign Wealth Fund to ensure that Wales takes part in the green energy revolution and ensure that the people of Wales get a full share of the energy and wealth created.
At present, wind farm developments will allocate some of their profits to local communities. Many see this as patronising and the sums often do not reflect the huge profits to be made. But ensuring planning gain is reflected in direct financial benefit is a recognised part of the planning system. The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park has introduced a levy on house development, which means if you get planning permission to build a new home in the National Park you will be asked to pay up to £25,000 towards a fund for affordable housing. This is how a Wealth Fund for Wales could work.
Using the principles underlying the Community Infrastructure Levy, we can raise a national levy on resource development and build up a Wealth Fund. To this, we could add the money directly raised by Welsh Government from resource development, such as the leasing of Forestry Commission land for windfarms. The Fund could act as a guarantee for further borrowing, when such powers are gained, and taken together a Wealth Fund could build to be an impressive multi-million pound source of money.
How could the Fund be used? Well, communities could bid for small scale renewable projects, or regeneration projects in their areas. This would encourage more community leadership, an increased Welsh ownership of renewable companies and more cooperative models of ownership. Loans could be available from the Welsh Wealth Fund for individual home micro-generation projects. People in areas around renewable energy installations should receive discounted energy to encourage more community involvement and take-up.
Rather than the current scattergun approach, which means financial gains from energy schemes are often targeted at thinly populated areas, a national Fund would ensure the nation benefited, whilst local communities could still have a guaranteed allocation to bid into.
Currently, Wales is being left behind when it comes to renewable energy. Our rich resources are being picked off in a jumbled way without a sense of national direction. Scotland, meanwhile, is forging ahead. Wales has abundant sources of renewable energy which could cut our carbon footprint and find sustainable solutions to our energy needs. They could also bring significant business and employment opportunities to our country.
The natural resources of mid and west Wales, the region I represent, are crucially important to regenerate those communities. To achieve this, and as a first step, the Welsh Government has to press for full powers of determination over all renewable energy production but also for those over development levies. Then, we can move to set up a Wealth Fund, using our natural resources for the benefit of the country’s economy and the environment, by investing in offshore wind, wave and tidal power.