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Link subsidies to infrastructure call

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Recommendations will develop digital infrastructure: Russell George AM

THE WELSH G​OVERNMENT should consider ensuring future public subsidies to landowners such as farmers are conditional on them allowing mobile phone masts on their land, according to a National Assembly Committee.

A new report from the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee calls on the Welsh Government to consider innovative ways to connect the last ​4%​ of Wales without broadband access, and to consider reforming the planning regime to improve mobile phone coverage across the country.

Other recommendations from the report include:​

  • The Welsh Government should consider establishing a repayable grant or equity scheme to allow small operators to fill broadband gaps
  • The hardest to reach ​4%​ of communities and individuals living without broadband connectivity should be engaged in the process so that solutions are tailored to their needs
  • The Welsh Government should reform the planning regime to allow the installation of telecoms masts that cover a wider geographical range
  • OFCOM needs to use all its regulatory powers to meet its target of 100​% mobile coverage and, as a minimum, this should be a condition of future auctions of the right to transmit

Committee Chair Russell George AM said: “Connectivity is no longer a ​’nice-to-have​’ in our daily lives; for many people and businesses we spoke to during our inquiry, it’s now considered an essential service – like electricity.

“Wales’ landscape and population spread poses challenges in a world where market forces determine broadband and mobile phone coverage.

“While the Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru broadband scheme, delivered with BT – has connected high numbers of people, there remain pockets it has not be able to reach, and this is echoed with mobile phone coverage.

“Our recommendations will help Wales to develop a digital infrastructure which is as fast and as reliable as other parts of the UK, and is fit for the future.”

“Mobile phone operators must step forward with a business proposal in order to ensure they meet their universal coverage obligation,” said Charles Trotman, the CLA’s Rural Business and Economy Advisor in response to the Committee’s report.

Responding to the Committee’s message that the siting of mobile phone masts should be condition for land subsidy, Mr Trotman said​:​ “Operators are responsible for developing their infrastructure strategy including where masts and other facilities are located. Their strategy will logically be driven by their commercial priorities. The Government has the option of driving development in less economic locations to meet its own commitments to supporting the rural community.”

“We welcome the conclusions of the report which refers to mobile coverage as an essential service,” Mr Trotman continued. “Delivering coverage to the rural community is essential for landowners who run a diversity of businesses, vital to the local economy, employing a high proportion of rural people in Wales.”

“A structure exists which enables mobile phone operators to work with landowners to meet their obligation to ensure Wales is connected. It is crucial that the telecoms industry take action.

“Government has a role to play in ensuring service-providers meet their obligations and to ensure that the Welsh community receives a fair deal in terms of quality of service and in sharing the value of providing the necessary infrastructure.”

He added: “Government also has a role to play in developing planning regulations to facilitate and accelerate the process to install the infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, farmers and landowners in Wales who are approached about accommodating new Emergency Services Network (ESN) masts on their land are being urged to take advice from their agent before making any commitment.

The Home Office is planning to set up and install a number of telecommunications sites in Wales to support the transition of the ESN from the current Airwave system to the new 4G system being provided by mobile operator EE.

“This involves the deployment of large steel lattice masts or monopole structures in an enclosed compound,” explained land agent Kathryn Williams at Davis Meade Property Consultants.

“The apparatus is likely to be between 15m and 20m in height, to be confirmed by site survey, and the enclosed ground based compound will be roughly 10m x 10m.

Telecoms infrastructure service provider Clarke Telecom is negotiating heads of terms on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government on behalf of the Crown (the Tenant).

“We are encouraging landowners that are approached about the installation of an ESN mast to take professional advice in relation to the Heads of Terms negotiations, particularly as agents fees are covered by the Secretary of State up to an agreed cap,” Kathryn explained.

“There are many clauses that are site specific, such as connecting the electricity supply and the installation of access tracks and roads, and these need to be carefully considered,” she added.

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Farming faces zero carbon challenge

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AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.

Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.

According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.

“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.

“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.

“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.

“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.

“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

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Farming

HSE fees up 20%

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A FEE imposed on farm businesses found to be in breach of health and safety legislation has gone up nearly 20% to £154/hr.

Since October 2012 the Health and Safety Executive has operated a cost recovery regime, which means that businesses are charged for the costs of an investigation from the point a material breach has been identified through to the point when a decision is made on enforcement action.

If you are found to be in material breach of health and safety law, you will have to pay for the time it takes the HSE to identify the breach and help you put things right. This includes investigating and taking enforcement action. This charging scheme is known as a Fee for Intervention (FFI).

Robert Gazely, farm consultant and health and safety specialist for Strutt & Parker said: “A material breach is something which an inspector considers serious enough that they need to formally write to the business requiring action to be taken. Once an inspector gives a farmer this written notification of contravention (NoC), the farmer will be expected to pay a fee.

“From 6 April 2019, the hourly charge has been increased from £129 to £154. The final bill will be based on the total amount of time it takes the HSE inspector to identify the breach and their work to help put things right.

“Of course, the primary reason for farms to be proactive in their approach to health and safety should be to protect themselves, their families and any employees.

“The number of people who are killed and injured each year on farms remains stubbornly high and the human cost of these incidents can be incalculable to those affected.

“But taking a safety-first approach should also help farm businesses to avoid a financial hit, as the HSE fees can mount up in the event of an investigation.”

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Farming

Red meat gives ‘Taste of Wales’

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WELSH Lamb and Welsh Beef were among the finest of Welsh foods at Wales’ largest and most prestigious food and drink trade event, Taste Wales last month.

The remarkable display of products, all under one roof, brought together a large contingent of UK and overseas buyers, including importers with a specific interest in Welsh red meat. These included a major foodservice and retail importer and distributor from Scandinavia that imports 6,000 million tonnes of meat annually from all over the world. The company is recognised for bringing tasty food experiences to Nordic dining tables.

They were invited to the event by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) who also arranged site visits to some of Wales’ major red meat processing plants. The main aim was to impress the importers with the industry’s high ethical and environmental standards.

The visit, led by HCC’s market representatives in Scandinavia, was a platform for many productive and promising discussions.

One representative, Anette Stenebrandt said at Taste Wales: “We have a company from Sweden and Finland with us, trying to do some new business in the Nordic-speaking countries. This is really a fantastic fair and we have enjoyed it a lot.”

Her colleague Jakob True added: “This is our first time here at this amazing event, it’s a great opportunity to meet a lot of Welsh producers, particularly Welsh Lamb which is world-class, we know. We’ll go back to Scandinavia with a lot of good new leads and hopefully bring a lot of business to Wales.”

HCC’s Market Development Manager, Rhys Llywelyn said: “Many of the buyers we met at Taste Wales, including the Scandinavians, showed a significant interest in Welsh Lamb and were impressed by the whole package – from the story of producing Welsh Lamb to the processing techniques, the taste and texture.

“Others also expressed a keen interest in forging deals with the industry, including a Japanese department store, a major buyer from Hong Kong and a representative from Qatar. This bodes well for the future, especially as Brexit uncertainty is set to continue in light of the extension on Article 50.”

In recent months, HCC has undertaken a strategic GB marketing drive to encourage growth and recognition of our quality produce on British soil.

HCC’s UK Market Development Executive, Emily Davies said: “Our presence at Taste Wales also included concentrating our efforts on promoting Welsh Lamb in the domestic market. We met a number of foodservice companies, retailers and executive chefs and discussed Welsh red meat opportunities with meal-kit companies and online retailers. We also launched a new tool-kit for retailers which highlights the ways in which we can work with them to promote Welsh Lamb and Beef.”

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