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Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon divides opinion

Today’s Guardian carries a substantial feature on the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon scheme and some of the controversies that surround it.

As the paper says there is huge local support for the Swansea Bay region becoming a leader in marine power. However, there are other issues that need to be taken into account, not least the cost of the electricity:

Mandarins from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Treasury are poring over the details before deciding whether it should be funded though a ‘contract for difference’ scheme.

The cost of lagoon power – a predicted £168 per MW/hour – is considerably higher than for offshore wind, or the £92.50 for nuclear.

The project has already been dubbed potty and the Daily Mail has predicted it is in line for the chop – the newspaper’s columnist, Christopher Booker, argued that Swansea would produce “easily the most expensive electricity in the world”.

But [Mark] Shorrock, [chief executive of Tidal Lagoon Power] who claims to have already spent £26m, including £7m of his own money, on the scheme, is confident he can defy the sceptics and get the green light from the government.

Although building Swansea Bay will require a high subsidy, Shorrock believes follow-on lagoon projects at Cardiff and Newport could shrink the power price to below £100 per MW/hour.

“Add a single full-scale project to the pilot and the nation’s first two tidal lagoons are, even in their early years, producing cheaper power than most other low-carbon generators in the country,” he said.

“For less than 1% of the UK’s annual subsidy spend, the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon gives you a scalable blueprint for a secure, long-lived power supply that is low in cost and carbon. And you seed a new global industry here in the UK. That’s incredible value.”

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Welsh Lib Dem bus discount scheme will help young people access work

Wales’ new bus discount pass for 16-18 year olds will help break down barriers to accessing work, training and education.

The discount bus pass is a result of the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ recent budget deal with the Welsh Government, and provides a third off bus travel across Wales for all young people aged 16-18 living in Wales.

A total of £14.75m was secured by the Welsh Liberal Democrats for the scheme until 2016-17, which is available to 110,000 16-18 year olds.

Welsh Liberal Democrats fought for this discount because we know just how hard it is for young people to access work, education or training – particularly in the most rural areas of Wales.

This pass will make it so much easier for young people in Wales to get around and get ahead, finally breaking down that barrier that stops so many from getting on in life.

Once again we have shown that a vote for the Welsh Liberal Democrats is a vote for Welsh Liberal Democrat polices to be put into practice. No other opposition party in the Assembly can claim such a vast record of delivery since the last election.

As usual, we see a Welsh Labour Government trying to claim credit for a policy they have been forced to implement. Let’s be clear: this excellent scheme only exists because of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

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Farage steals key Lib Dem policy but gets his sums wrong

One the of the more distinctive policy offerings in the Liberal Democrats Federal manifesto during this year’s General Election was the complete abolition of the Severn Bridge tolls.

We calculated that this would save the average motorist commuting each day over £1560 per year. These tolls are a huge barrier to business, costing the South Wales economy around £107 million a year.

Now UKIP have adopted our policy with Nigel Farage writing in the Western Mail this morning that these tolls penalise those coming into the country on one of the most direct routes from England. You would think that he would know but the last time he tried to come into Wales, to speak at a UKIP Conference in Margam, he failed to arrive, blaming immigration on the M4 as the reason for his no-show.

Where Farage really loses it is in his supposed analysis of how this policy will be paid for. As it happens the cost will not be great. All the revenue currently goes to the private company who manage the bridges, whilst the cost of maintenance after 2018 is a few million pounds each year and could be picked up as part of the UK’s annual road maintenance bill.

Farage though argues that the cost of scrapping tolls could be offset by choosing a cheaper option for an M4 relief road near Newport. This is financially illiterate as the money for building a new M4 relief road will come from the Welsh Government’s capital budget whereas any revenue from tolls would go to the UK Government. Capital is a one-off expenditure and by definition does not re-occur, whereas revenue is an annual charge on the taxpayer.

He continues: “It is staggering that Labour in Wales has mooted continuing the massive tolls on the Severn Bridges after 2018, reflecting the increasing appetite among politicians in Cardiff Bay to get as much money as possible from the taxpayer to fund an ever- increasing greed for big government.”

Well, yes it is staggering but none of that income would come to Cardiff Bay. As it happens the various parties in Cardiff Bay have different proposals for the Severn crossing. This is how much it will cost motorists under each of their plans:

• Conservatives: £1296 per year

• Labour: £888 per year

• Plaid Cymru: £480 per year

• Liberal Democrats: £0 per year

Farage also sets out his stall against the M4 relief road, though it is not clear what his alternative is. That leaves only Labour, amongst those contesting next year’s Assembly election wanting to build this by-pass.

Cross-posted with Peter Black’s own blog.

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First Minister’s office under scrutiny after complaint

The Western Mail reports that Carwyn Jones has been urged to order an independent investigation into how his top adviser was asked by a senior civil servant to approve a response sent to someone who complained about her conduct.

The paper says that a member of the public who does not wish to be identified claimed the First Minister’s Special Advisor, Jos Kiernan had breached the special advisers’ code of conduct when she attended a Labour Party fundraising event addressed by Ed Balls, the then Shadow Chancellor at the Bayside Brasserie restaurant in Cardiff Bay in April.

Special advisers are forbidden from participating in election campaigns. Mr Jones wrote back to the complainant saying Ms Kiernan had not broken the code because the dinner was a private, rather than a public event.

However, it has now emerged that Ms Kiernan personally approved the response sent by the First Minister to the person who complained:

A series of emails disclosed to the complainant following a request under the Data Protection Act shows that David Richards, the Welsh Government’s Director of Governance, was asked by Permanent Secretary Sir Derek Jones to investigate the complaint.

After drafting an email, Mr Richards ran it past Ms Kiernan, asking: “Is that okay with you as a response?”

She responded: “Happy with that David. Many thanks, Jo.” She also asked for, and was given, the full name of the complainant.

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AM joins opposition to Llangyfelach methane test drilling site

The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black has added his voice to protestors objecting to an application for planning permission to test drill for coal bed methane in Llangyfelach.

The application, from Pyle-based company UK Methane, is for an exploratory 1000m test borehole on a site adjacent to Bryntywod, Llangyfelach using two drilling rigs. In a letter to the Council, Mr. Black has formally objected to the planning application.

Mr Black said:- “I am opposed to the extraction of coal bed methane as it causes similar environmental problems as the extraction of shale gas, including disposal of waste water, and potential pollution of groundwater sources.

“Indeed, as coal bed methane extraction takes place at a much shallower depth than shale gas extraction, the risk is greater.

“Communities living near coal bed methane extraction sites in Australia have complained of respiratory rashes and irritated eyes.

“The long-term health impacts could be more severe; research from the USA has found that people living less than half a mile from unconventional gas wells have a higher excess lifetime risk for cancer, based on their exposure to air pollutants.

“That is why, in addition to objecting to this application, I have also written to the Minister for Natural Resources asking him to treat all applications for coal bed methane extraction in Wales in the same way as applications to extract shale gas are treated, by calling them in and deciding on them at Welsh Government level.”

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Over £27m spent in South West Wales on taxis for pupils

Over £27 million has been spent by South West Wales councils to transport pupils to schools in taxis. I believe that the Wales Audit Office should investigate if the current system is delivering the best value for money.

Freedom of Information responses reveal that since 2012, over £27,027,610 has been spent on taxis transporting pupils to and from schools in South West Wales.

The available figures are:

Bridgend – £1,227,815 (since 2014)
Carmarthenshire – £8,154,209 (since 2011/12)
Neath Port Talbot – £6,279,148 (since 2012/13)
Swansea – £11,366,438 (since 2012/13)

Although I understand the circumstances under which Councils need to use taxis for transporting pupils, £27 million is nevertheless an eye-watering amount.

I would expect local councils to be reviewing this expenditure to see if there are more efficient and effective ways of delivering the service, such as using the council’s own vehicles in some instances, combining contracts and staggering school start and finish times.

I believe a study by the Wales Audit Office of all 22 councils would be able to identify best practice and help with this process.

I am in no doubt that a proportion of this taxi money is spent to help pupils who have particular learning difficulties and that is entirely right. However, the overall figure is so high that it’s clear this figure goes beyond that.

Of course councils need to make sure that all pupils are able to get to school, but tax-payers need to know that we are getting the best value for money.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe in delivering the best possible service at the lowest possible cost. This must also be delivered in a transparent way, so people know where their taxes are being spent. Too often this hasn’t been a practice carried through by local councils and the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay.

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