A row over the direction of environment agency Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has reached the Senedd, with opposition members demanding an urgent review of the way the organisation is run.

Their calls follow news that the leaders of Wales' 22 councils wrote to climate change minister Julie James last month with a withering assessment of NRW's competence.

As reported by ITV Wales, some of them alleged "not all is well" in their dealings with the organisation, and urged James to consider whether "there may be alternative, more effective arrangements" for delivering their services.

NRW is a Welsh Government-sponsored agency that is responsible for regulating the nation's marine and forest industries, as well as managing things like woodlands and flood defences.

In the Senedd, Welsh Conservative MS Janet Finch-Saunders said council leaders had made "scathing comments" about their dealings with NRW. She had received a number of complaints, revealing a "concerning... lack of trust the public has in this organisation now," she added.

Finch-Saunders said the Conservatives had called in 2018 for the "quango" NRW to be split up after going "from crisis to crisis".


Members of other parties joined in the criticism of NRW, which focused mainly on its response to widespread, severe flooding in 2020.

Welsh Labour MS Buffy Williams agreed with calls for an urgent review of NRW. She said more than 200 homes and businesses had been flooded in her Rhondda constituency, and while other authorities – RCT Council, the Welsh Government and Welsh Water – had been involved in "clear dialogue" throughout the emergency, "this can't be said of NRW".

Williams said she and residents felt the agency had a "lack of accountability" and, after an RCT Council report found flooding at Pentre had been caused by "debris...blocking a culvert," she said NRW's "refusal to take any responsibility is insulting".

Climate change minister James said there had been some "very concerning findings" and the government was working with NRW to "make absolutely certain" that flood management authorities worked together and lessons were learned.

She had already held a meeting with NRW and been "extra clear about [her] expectations" from them, she told the Senedd, adding that a review of flood management arrangements was already under way.

But Plaid Cymru MS Heledd Fychan said reviews fell short of the scrutiny that was needed. She called for a full independent inquiry into the 2020 flooding "so that people get justice".

Citing the government's sponsorship of NRW, she said the agency should not be made a "scapegoat" for shortcomings, adding that NRW had themselves raised issues of funding and staffing levels.

James rejected these allegations and said an inquiry would "divert resources away from the issue at hand".

The minister told the Senedd that NRW was "more than a flood defence authority," adding that it employed 1,900 workers and had a budget of £180 million.

"This is not a small, under-resourced organisation," she said. "We'll be working very hard with NRW and other partners to ensure we have all the lessons learned in place... for the winter."

NRW told The National it was "proud to serve the people of Wales and to do all we can to protect and preserve the natural environment for future generations".

Following the Senedd debate, Claire Pillman, the chief executive of NRW, said: “We are committed to using the resources, knowledge and skills at our disposal in the most effective and transparent way.

"We are already undertaking our own baseline exercise on behalf of the Welsh Government to ensure there is a wider understanding of how we manage, resource and deliver the services within our remit and to ensure that this is completely aligned with the wider expectations of the level of service we are able to provide."

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