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New Wales Bill offers ministers more powers over energy planning

Words: Roger Milne
Wind farm in Wales

The new Wales Bill, published this week, confirms potential new powers for Welsh ministers over energy projects and ports and harbours, and offers ministers responsibility for licensing coal mining for the first time.

Under the bill, the development of Welsh ports and harbours will no longer be subject to the planning regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) under the Planning Act 2008.

Crucially, the legislation, if passed in its current form, will devolve energy planning powers to Wales of all generation projects up to 350 megawatts capacity both onshore and in Welsh territorial waters.

This means Welsh ministers would determine the Swansea tidal lagoon project. Associated developments involved with such projects (such as overhead power lines and sub-stations) will also become a matter for the Welsh planning system.

The bill also provides that Welsh ministerial responsibility for marine licensing in the Welsh inshore region should be extended to the Welsh offshore region.

The bill is a revised version of an earlier draft that proved controversial because it was thought it could reduce assembly ministers' powers. The new bill proposes more powers to be devolved than previously planned - including the power to take partial control of income tax without a referendum.

The bill is expected to complete its passage through the UK Parliament over the next year. Welsh secretary Alun Cairns told BBC Wales that he didn't foresee any major obstacles now that the bill had been revised.

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