John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development
Here in Wales, we don’t see our environment as something separate from us; to be put in a museum. This is a living and working landscape. We have always taken our responsibility to shape, nurture and care for it seriously. In return it has rewarded us.
Our Programme for Government is committed to living within our environmental limits, tackling poverty and improving health and educational outcomes.
However during difficult economic times it can be tempting for governments and local authorities to focus on economic priorities and forget about environmental or social commitments. We must remember that it is the environment and society that underpin and enable our economic success and that is what our commitment to sustainable development means. The natural environment not only provides us with our life support system but also brings a sense of place, feelings of wellbeing; of better health, more social cohesion, increased job opportunities and long-term success. It even costs little or nothing to enjoy it when times are hard.
Our challenge is to ensure that the ways we shape and support the environment, economy and society work together to ensure the long-term benefits for Wales.
But many of our poorer communities whilst having the worst environments have the least opportunity to take charge of their neighbourhood or take advantage of the wider benefits like community renewables, or green jobs. They experience the greatest negative impacts and reap the least benefits from their environment.
The problems of fly tipping, of litter, of unsafe roads, of high levels of air and noise pollution, of lack of green space and lack of ability to enjoy local beaches are an everyday reality.
In urban areas where most of our populations live, the environmental disadvantages for the poor are particularly acute. Communities there face poorer environments – noisier, more trafficked areas, reduced air quality and not to mention more environmental crimes like litter and fly tipping. They also experience more fuel poverty, have less access to green space, and use less local resources like community farms or allotments.
I want to enable communities to create better, safer local environments and build on it to get wider benefits and so enhance their well being.
We already work with a large number of communities to support local action. Work done under Tidy Towns, arbed, Environment Wales, the Pathfinders Programme and through organisations that we fund like Keep Wales Tidy, Groundwork and many others demonstrate the visible difference that can be made to the “liveability” of an area and pride of a place.
Work done by the Environment Agency on supporting communities exposed to flood risks and by the Forestry Commission and Countryside Council for Wales to support greater access to the green space also needs building on.
We need to do more to see that everyone has a stake in their local environment and that by making it better, it will improve the quality of their lives.
By working together we can be more effective and grow more initiatives that start with a single idea or theme. Communities clearing a local area of its litter may also be interested in developing local gardens or accessing green space. So this week I am delighted to unveil a new approach that will allow us to use our existing services more efficiently and maximise the people who benefit. We need to develop deeper and wider work that lever in the benefits of securing jobs and qualifications and of reducing poverty. This approach will make sure more people are aware of the wide range of activities and schemes that neighbourhood groups and individuals can access.
It will bring all the different offerings under my department together to create a local sense of pride in a place, in our square mile; Ein Milltir Sgwar is something I am keen to see in every community across Wales.
Selected areas across Wales will take part in our test phase and interest has already been secured from Wrexham, Holyhead, Swansea, Llanelli and Cardiff. By creating some test areas, initially in urban areas we will learn how we and our partners can work together in a more seamless, more effective and efficient ways, developing more than the sum of the parts in local environmental improvements. We want to ensure that those improvements also lead to better social connectivity at a local level and more jobs and skills. We need to raise the bar.
Development officers who support programmes we already fund will meet with local community groups to create a “one stop shop” approach to deliver a more joined-up and stream-lined service. And the efficiencies this results in will allow us to work with more communities as well as depending and widening the range of sustainable development actions possible.
Furthermore I am delighted to announce a new £500,000 grant scheme this week. Local authorities across Wales will be able to bid for a share of the money for projects to reduce air and noise pollution and develop tranquil green spaces.
This follows our recent consultation on protecting existing quiet areas, and the policy guidance I issued earlier this year requiring local authorities to address air quality and traffic noise in an integrated fashion. The new initiative will complement existing grant schemes so that together they provide a more complete framework for supporting communities in greatest need.
Finally I have asked the agencies we fund and partners we work with, to work differently to see if we can collaborate even more and to strengthen work with the users of our services to shape outcomes they want. We are very fortunate in Wales to live in such a beautiful country. We must ensure a top quality environment for all our people beginning with substantial improvement to our more deprived urban communities.