Building a Green Jerusalem from the Bottom Up; Wales' New Environment Minister John Griffiths Is Keen to Address the Little Local Issues to Get People Interested in the Bigger Global Ones, Chris Kelsey Writes

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), July 20, 2011 | Go to article overview

Building a Green Jerusalem from the Bottom Up; Wales' New Environment Minister John Griffiths Is Keen to Address the Little Local Issues to Get People Interested in the Bigger Global Ones, Chris Kelsey Writes


Byline: Chris Kelsey

John Griffiths looks like being a very different environment minister to his predecessor. Where Jane Davidson was keen for Wales to make its mark in tackling the big, global issues such as climate change, Griffiths is starting with a far more local focus to his role.

Asked what his priorities over the next years will be, the quietly spoken Griffiths said he was "keen to look at what most directly impacts on the environmental quality of life of most individuals."

He added: "Most people in Wales live in urban environments and many people in relatively deprived communities, and I'm very keen to understand what their environmental issues are.

"A lot of the time it is about some very basic environmental issues such as litter, fly-tipping, dog mess, green spaces, allotments, parks, whether the children have access to forest parks and grow vegetables in their school garden.

"There's a lot we can do to look at those issues and as a government be strategic about addressing them.

"We're lucky in Wales to live in a very beautiful country and I hope people get out and about to enjoy the great outdoors as much as possible, but I think there are real issues about the local urban environments most people in Wales experience on a day to day basis."

This is a radical change of emphasis from the last few years when the discussion was far more about low carbon targets and tackling global warming, but Griffiths insists it is just that, a change of emphasis.

"I remain very committed to the wider environmental picture and the challenges that Wales in common with the rest of the world faces, such as climate change," he said.

"But we need buy-in from the people of Wales if we're going to get the behaviour change we need, and it's only if we address the basic bread and butter environmental issues that people have that we will achieve the buy-in that we need."

On the day of the interview figures were released showing a huge variation in recycling rates between different local authority areas in Wales, with Merthyr Tydfil recycling only 35% of its waste while neighbouring Caerphilly achieved 51%.

Griffiths pointed out that recycling rates had gone up across the country.

"Not so long ago we were on 7% in terms of recycling municipal waste, now we're on 44%, and we're in step with the progress we need to make if we're to hit our targets," he said.

He admitted though that some areas were doing much better than others.

"We're always looking to spread best practice, to look at what's working particularly well and learn lessons from that. The challenge is to get best practice adopted by every local authority across Wales and I'll be working with Welsh Government colleagues to make sure that happens."

The Welsh Government hopes to achieve a 70% recycling rate by 2025, which if achieved would still leave nearly a third of our waste to be dealt with. Its plans to dispose of that residual waste by encouraging the building of energy from waste plants has encountered local opposition almost everywhere such plants have been proposed.

Griffiths insists: "We've been technology neutral in supporting the consortia that have built across Wales. It has been left to them to decide which technology is best placed to deal with that residual waste, although we've given quite a strong steer in terms of our own view on energy recovery."

But the issue that will have given him the biggest headache since becoming environment minister in May is surely the rising tide of opposition to further wind farm development, and the construction of the attendant grid infrastructure in Mid Wales.

A keen walker and lover of the countryside, does he think the protection of the visual environment is more important than tackling climate change through the development of renewable energy? "It's always necessary to strike a balance between competing views and interests," he said. …

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