During difficult economic times it can be tempting for governments and local authorities to focus on economic priorities and forget about environmental or social commitments.
But in Wales, we believe that our economic, social and environmental wellbeing are intrinsically linked. You can’t sacrifice any one of these without impacting on all three. This is what our commitment to sustainable development recognises.
Our challenge is to ensure that the ways we shape and support the environment, economy and society work together to ensure long-term benefits for Wales.
The social and environmental scars left by our industrial past are reminders of the potential dangers of not taking a joined-up, sustainable approach.
We can all benefit by working together to improve our local environments. The results of a more pleasant local neighbourhood improve our quality of life. We enjoy living were we live and feel more confident about our future and the world our children are growing up in.
To do this we face a number of challenges, which can be summarised as follows:
- For everyone to be prepared, and empowered, to benefit from environmental challenges.
- To ensure that those least likely to cope with environmental challenges such as flood risk and fuel poverty are given education, support and guidance.
- To reduce cases of environmental crime such as fly-tipping and littering, that those living in poorer neighbourhoods often face.
- To improve poorer, urban neighbourhoods that often have problems such as noisy pollution and poor air quality.
- To increase access to attractive, green spaces.
- To improve local access to things such as allotments so people can grow their own fruit, vegetables and flowers.
- To improve the general environment of those living in deprived areas. Working with communities to develop practical solutions will generate greater confidence and a sense of pride in these areas.
To achieve all of this is a challenge that I am determined to meet. This week I’ve been delighted to unveil a new scheme that will allow us to utilise existing services more efficiently and maximise the people who benefit.
Six areas across Wales will take part in our test phase: three in Wrexham, and projects in Holyhead, Swansea and Ely, Cardiff.
Development officers will meet with local community groups, discuss how they would like to see their neighbourhoods improved and then work together to see what schemes and benefits can be used to resale this. This “one stop shop” approach means we can deliver a more joined-up and stream-lined service. And the efficiencies this results in will allow us to work with more communities.
There are a wide range of schemes that neighbourhood groups, and of course individuals, can access, and this project will make sure more people are aware of them.
For example, our Arbed scheme upgrades the energy efficiency of existing housing stock in some of the most deprived parts of Wales and provides a boost to jobs, skills and regeneration.
The programme is having a real impact on communities across Wales and is ensuring that homes in some of the more deprived area of Wales are warmer and easier to heat. Not only that but it is helping us to reach some of the challenging carbon reduction targets set out in our Climate Change Strategy. It is an excellent example of a policy that makes a real difference to carbon emissions and to people’s everyday lives
During the first phase of Arbed, which ran from 2009 to 2011, 6,000 Welsh homes Wales were transformed by the installation of energy efficiency measures.
Ways in which people’s home have been improved include installation of solid wall insulation to almost 3,000 homes, installation over 1,800 solar PV panels in social housing and provision of solar heated hot water to 1,000 households, including several sheltered housing schemes.
We’ll soon be announcing the next phase of Arbed, which will help more households.
During visits to neighbourhood clean-ups across Wales, I have heard about people’s increased pride in their homes towns. I was touched when I heard how one single mother now felt safer walking down a particular road because “without the graffiti and the fly tipping and the needles gone”, the road felt safer.
Access to quality green space is important. The work of the Forestry Commission in places like the Heads of Valleys needs expanding. Staff at the Commission have worked with neighbourhoods to plant trees and maximise associated benefits such as job creation visiting local forests.
Many communities I visit are showing increased interest in growing their own food, developing local orchards, community allotments and farms. As these open they often lead to further benefits such as the development of skills and job opportunities.
Crest Cooperative, in Wrexham, which I have visited is a fine example of how a co-operative has taken on the mantle of using out-of-date, but still edible, food from supermarkets to feed homeless people.
My aim is for everyone in Wales to benefit from the environment, whether it is for social, health, economic or purely environmental reasons. And we should all believe we have a stake in creating the environment we want to live in. This is only right and just.