Tuesday 18 March 2014

Back to Silk

Another of the Silk 2 proposals relates to control over the planning of large energy projects.  It’s worth noting here that this isn’t about control over energy, as it’s been billed in a lot of the coverage, it’s merely about planning control.  In fact the report makes it very clear that they’re not talking about energy policy; most aspects of energy policy would remain as reserved powers.  The right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to proposals put forward by the energy companies is a long way short of the right to determine energy policy.
I welcome the Silk proposal, as far as it goes, of course; but I don’t really understand why the report proposed replacing one arbitrary cut-off point by another equally arbitrary cut-off point.  Why not just devolve the whole area?  The justification given is basically that the evidence they were presented with called for devolution of renewable planning consents and not the rest; but regardless of what the evidence says I’m not convinced that the logic of such an arbitrary split actually stands up to detailed examination.
I can understand why the politicians might want to keep a cut-off point of course.  Apart from anything else, it means that they can let “London” answer for the final decision on Wylfa B.  That allows our AMs to continue to claim that they have a renewable energy policy in Wales whilst supporting a proposal which actually negates that policy.  And of course, it neatly avoids the embarrassing splits in at least one party if the assembly were ever to have to vote on that issue.
One reaction to the proposal on energy which disappointed me was that of Glyn Davies, who said that this change would happen “over my dead body”.  Glyn’s opposition to exploiting Wales’ wind energy resources is by now well-known of course; and he could be expected to oppose any and every proposal to build wind turbines in his constituency.  But his reaction confuses policy with process and structure – no one who was really convinced about devolution would want to base the decision about where something is decided on what the people in that place might decide.  There are plenty of issues on which I disagree with Welsh government policy – but my response to that is to argue for a change in policy, not strip the institution of the power to make that policy.
It’s also an odd approach to democracy; tantamount to saying “I don’t trust the elected representatives of the people of Wales to make the ‘right’ decision so we must leave the final decision in the hands of the elected representatives of the English people”.  It sounds more David Davies than Glyn Davies – perhaps the differences between the two are not as great as they sometimes appear.

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