THE WELSH GOVERNMENT 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.
Beacons inspire army of Swiss chefs
A TRIP to Wales has helped some of Switzerland’s leading chefs and restaurateurs create tasty new dishes with the finest Welsh Lamb.
PGI Welsh Lamb has been growing in popularity in top Swiss restaurants and hotels. The tour was arranged by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), in conjunction with a major food importer who added Welsh meat to its premium listings last year, in order to boost demand.
To help raise awareness of the provenance, quality and versatility of the meat, the tour included a visit to a farm in the Brecon Beacons, a guide to how the lamb is processed and a cutting demonstration by a master butcher, and a cooking display.
The Swiss restaurateurs enjoyed seeing how Welsh Lamb is produced in its natural environment, according to sheep and beef farmer Richard Roderick of Talybont-on-Usk. “It gives such confidence for chefs to see the low-intensity and high-welfare way in which the animals are reared, and that they’re fully traceable from farm to fork” said Richard.
“Hopefully the visit will inspire the chefs and their colleagues to use more meat from Wales in their restaurants!”
HCC’s agent in Central Europe, Patricia Czerniak, said that since re-establishing a foothold in the Swiss market recently, demand for PGI Welsh Lamb had increased substantially.
“Hotels, restaurants and tourism is big business in Switzerland, with chefs looking for high-quality ingredients,” said Patricia.
“Since they started to list Welsh Lamb last year, business with one foodservice importer has already doubled, and they’re looking to triple sales by the end of 2017. Bringing their clients and prospective customers to Wales can only help to boost this market.”
Patricia was also encouraged to see the chefs picking up new ideas through their visit.
“After the butchery demonstration, many of the chefs asked for new cuts to be made available, including offal such as livers and sweetbreads,” she said.
“The visitors included some of Switzerland’s top chefs, so we hope that their new Welsh Lamb creations will set a trend in the country.”
NFU-Cymru President’s New Year Message
I AM pleased that we end 2017 on a positive note, with UK and EU leaders agreeing to move on to Phase 2 of the UK Exit negotiations.
This phase, in which the transition deal and our future trading relationship with the EU is negotiated, is absolutely critical to the future prosperity of the food and farming sector in Wales.
I cannot stress highly enough the importance of maintaining continued free and frictionless access to our largest and most proximate market. We hear both UK and EU negotiators repeatedly use the words ‘clarity’ and ‘certainty’, and as farming businesses that is exactly what we want to see early in 2018 – clarity and certainty over the type of trading environment that we will be operating under come the end of March 2019.
In our view this should mean the UK remaining in the Customs Union until such time as a comprehensive free trade agreement can be agreed between the UK and EU.
I remain optimistic at the opportunity Brexit provides to develop, design and implement new policies that support our vision for a productive, progressive and profitable industry in Wales. This will ensure Welsh farming can continue to contribute to, and enhance, the economic, environmental, social and cultural well-being of Wales.
The speed of change to implement a new agricultural policy should be determined by our future relationship with the EU. Throughout this evolution to a new domestic agricultural policy, and thereafter, governments in Cardiff and Westminster must maintain current levels of investment in farming to ensure that Welsh farmers remain competitive whilst continuing to produce food to the highest standards.
The Nitrates Review and proposals to increase the areas of Wales designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) has been very high on our lobbying agenda for over two years now. I am pleased that Lesley Griffiths AM, the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, has recently announced her intention to work with stakeholders to explore further options to safeguarding water quality in Wales. This means that no new NVZ designations will be introduced at this point in time – a huge relief to many farmers across Wales who have been highly concerned about the costs and burden of NVZ regulations.
I am very clear, however, that regulatory pressure still remains and the group charged with taking this task forward (the NRW Wales Land Management Forum Agri-Pollution Sub Group) will, over the coming months, consider the right balance of regulatory measures, voluntary initiatives and investment. As farmers, we recognise the role we have to play in contributing to further and sustained improvements in water quality in the years ahead and NFU Cymru remains fully committed to working with Welsh Government, the Regulator and other partners to deliver workable (non-regulatory) solutions.
The scale of this challenge must not be underestimated and I want to ensure that NFU Cymru has a robust structure in place to drive this forward. It is, therefore, my intention to establish an NFU Cymru Water Quality Task & Finish Group. The group will consist of members from across Wales, across all sectors and the wider supply chain, with the aim of shaping the NFU Cymru contribution to the work of the NRW Agri-Pollution Sub-Group and also working to secure the ‘buy-in’ and commitment of the wider farming community to a non-regulatory approach.
Last June the Cabinet Secretary announced a new TB programme for Wales, a programme that we see as a step forward given the recognition by Welsh Government of the transmission link between cattle and wildlife.
Bovine TB continues to be the subject that causes most frustration amongst our membership. The latest statistics show a year on year increase in herd incidence and herd prevalence in Wales and over 9,700 cattle slaughtered because of TB, so it is clear why cattle keepers believe this to be the biggest immediate threat to their farming businesses.
I am pleased that on these two vitally important issues to the agricultural sector in Wales in 2017 the Cabinet Secretary has made policy decisions based on scientific evidence. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the Cabinet Secretary and the newly appointed Minister for the Environment, Hannah Blythyn AM.
Our work in 2017 has sought to highlight the unrivalled contribution of farmers and farming to Welsh society. Our campaigns have highlighted how we are ‘Proud to Produce’ across so many areas; food, environment, landscape, heritage, culture, language and to the economy of Wales and our NFU Cymru Community Champion, Wales Woman Farmer, Dairy and Livestock awards have showcased the individuals and farming families behind this good work.
I am immensely proud of our contribution to the well-being of Wales and it is something that we must never lose sight of at what is a pivotal time for Welsh farming.
Pig keepers’ disease warning
PIG KEEPERS are being reminded not to feed kitchen scraps to their animals to prevent outbreaks of animal disease.
The warning comes after the risk of African swine fever entering the UK was raised over the summer following spread of the infection in Eastern and Central Europe.
There has never been a case of African swine fever in the UK and it does not affect humans, but it is potentially fatal to pigs. If the disease were to reach the UK it could have a devastating effect on our export market and would also mean the humane culling of pigs on infected premises to prevent further spread.
Keepers are being reminded that it is illegal to feed catering waste of any description or domestic food waste to farm animals in the UK, including pigs kept as pets, as some of the outbreaks of African swine fever in Europe have been attributed to wild boar or domestic pigs consuming contaminated pork or pork products. This includes food from vegetarian kitchens, as there is still a risk of cross contamination in products of animal origin such as milk.
Strict hygiene measures are essential in preventing disease – people should not take meat or meat products into areas where pigs are kept and should only eat food in designated areas such as staff rooms or the farm kitchen. Pig keepers, farm staff and anyone in contact with pigs should wash their hands before and after eating or preparing food.
UK Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens said: “The introduction of African swine fever would have an enormous impact on our pig industry. No matter how many pigs you keep, you need to be aware of the potential consequences of feeding waste food to your animals. Not only is it illegal, but you run the risk of spreading disease which could be fatal to your livestock.
“You can purchase a range of pig foods from your local agricultural merchant that can be safely fed to your pigs and which is the most reliable way of giving them a balanced diet. Good biosecurity is also essential for minimising disease risk, such as providing dedicated clothing and boots for workers and preventing vehicles which may be contaminated from entering pig premises.”
Wales’ Chief Veterinary Officer Christianne Glossop said: “African Swine Fever is a highly contagious disease. Pig keepers can help prevent the spread of infection by practising strict biosecurity on their premises. An important part of this is ensuring that your pigs do not have access to potentially infectious meat or meat products, including kitchen waste.”
The UK suffered the consequences of pigs being fed illegal waste food in the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001. That outbreak is thought to have originated from pigs being fed catering waste containing the virus, which came from outside the UK. The outbreak resulted in the destruction of more than 10 million cattle and sheep and cost the UK many millions of pounds.
Chief Executive of the National Pig Association, Dr Zoe Davies, said: “The health of our pigs is fundamentally important to our sector. A notifiable disease outbreak would not only needlessly result in the loss of many pigs and annihilate our burgeoning export market, but would significantly impact on countless families, their staff, local businesses and tourism for months. Feeding illegal food waste, however harmless it might seem at the time, is just not worth the risk.”
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