Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Rural Affairs, North Wales and Trefnydd
The Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations 2021 seek to tackle the causes of water pollution from agricultural activities across Wales. The measures help to meet the delivery of a wide range of our international and domestic obligations and uphold the good reputation enjoyed by Welsh farming for high environmental and animal welfare standards.
Through the Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru, we committed to working with the farming community in the deployment of the regulations to improve water and air quality, taking an approach targeted at those activities known to cause pollution.
I am today providing an update on the package of measures the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru have agreed in order to progress the implementation of the relevant commitment in the Co-operation Agreement.
The regulations contain a phased implementation to enable the sector to transition to the new requirements over a period of time, in recognition that some within the sector would need to take action in order to be compliant. The Judicial Review challenge to the regulations, dismissed in April this year, nevertheless introduced an element of uncertainty. As a result, some farm businesses will have delayed taking investment decisions and making the necessary preparations. These preparations are now also under pressure due to the current rising cost pressures we are all experiencing, alongside the wider backdrop of the global implications of the war in Ukraine.
In recognition of these circumstances and, in particular, the concerns about the 1 January 2023 implementation of the 170kg/ha annual holding nitrogen limit, I am today announcing our intention to provide for a short extension of the implementation of this measure to April 2023. This will be accompanied by a consultation this autumn on a licensing scheme whereby any farm business can apply for a licence for a higher annual holding nitrogen limit of 250kg/ha subject to crop need and other legal considerations. We will consult on proposals for such a scheme to be operational until 2025. In parallel to this, we will undertake a further, specific Regulatory Impact Assessment considering the economic and environmental impacts of the 170kg/ha annual holding nitrogen limit and will review the implications of this assessment for the future deployment of the regulations.
We are also making available up to £20m extra funding to support compliance with the regulations. This is in addition to our current package of support through our transitional schemes and the significant training, advice and support available to farm businesses from Farming Connect and our own Farm Liaison Service.
Alongside this support, we remain committed to seeking the best mechanisms to address this important issue. We will also accelerate our work to encourage potential alternative technological solutions, using the Regulation 45 mechanism to do so where appropriate, including exploring the potential for treatments and processing of excess manures to be used in areas of nutrient deficiency and the potential for technology to reduce pollution risk and facilitate the most effective deployment of the regulations in future.
These new steps I am announcing today under the Co-operation Agreement represent further significant action towards our shared aim to reduce pollution from agriculture and our continued commitment to do so in partnership with the farming community to achieve lasting results.