Redwood's agenda for green Wales instantly criticised

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Indy Politics
A futuristic "green" Wales in which people either travelled by train or telecommuted from home was foreseen by John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, yesterday.

He invited journalists and representatives of environmental groups to his Cardiff offices to unveil his green agenda for the principality.

But it was immediately condemned for its lack of detailed commitments, clear targets and firm promises to inject any new government money. "A pretty disappointing speech, there's hardly anything new," said Alan Watson, manager of Friends of the Earth Cymru.

Mr Redwood said he was in favour of planting new forests, energy-saving, increased recycling, railways, and new developments going on derelict and vacant sites wherever possible.

He said he would make government grants available to companies laying cable in remote rural areas, to encourage telecommuting and reduce rural people's reliance on their cars.

And he would be sympathetic to applications for grants towards new railway sidings from companies wanting to shift freight by rail rather than road.

Mr Redwood did not, however, pull back from his controversial plans to cut one-sixth of the annual budget from the quango charged with conserving the principality's scenery and wildlife, the Countryside Council For Wales.

That decision, announced late last year, has pushed the organisation into a financial crisis and infuriated conservation groups. The Bangor-based council is having to shed many of its 300 staff and drop parts of its works programme.

The council was set up three years ago and Mr Redwood believes it can be trimmed sharply because its initial work was concerned with assessing Wales' natural assets. "It's coming to the end of that assessment process, it's got up to speed and in future it will be more concerned with care and maintenance of those assets," he said.

Mr Redwood said reports that he was considering privatising government-designated nature reserves were inaccurate. It was the Countryside Council for Wales itself which had been considering transferring their management to voluntary conservation bodies, in response to its financial crisis. But Mr Redwood said he would not allow the council to transfer its management duties in this way.