The Green Question Time held at the Windsor Arms on 8th March far exceeded the expectations of Gwyrddio Penarth Greening’s organisers. A packed house heard questions on a range of environmental issues, waste incineration, fracking, nuclear power, tidal energy and the importance of local food, put to the panel of five. The politicians answering the questions were Pippa Bartolotti, leader of the Welsh Green Party, and Assembly members Vaughan Gething (Labour), David Melding (Conservative), Eluned Parrott (Lib-Dem) and Plaid Cymru leadership candidate Leanne Wood. The debate was expertly chaired by Professor Ian Hargreaves of Cardiff University, an ex editor of the Independent and New Statesman.
The debate was lively and informative with an unexpected level of agreement between Vaughan Gething and David Melding. On the subject of waste incineration they both felt that they needed more information but couldn’t see any alternative solutions while the other three panellists were all clear in their strong opposition to the scheme. One concern raised was the length of the 25 year contract that the Local Authorities would be tied to. Eluned Parrott mentioned the more environmentally sustainable scheme in place at Avonmouth and Pippa Bartolotti argued for more compostable packaging that would reduce the need for recycling. There was general agreement on the need to revisit recycling targets urgently.
On the subject of fracking it was thought that economic pressures were likely to influence the planning decision on the application to test drill for shale gas at Llandow. Vaughan Gething expressed disbelief that the plans would go ahead while David Melding felt that the issue should be devolved to the Welsh assembly who could then give guidance. Pippa Bartolotti and Leanne Wood argued against increasing reliance on fossil fuels and Eluned Parrott was also against the proposed fracking.
The panel was again divided along the same lines on the subject of nuclear power with Vaughan Gething and David Melding offering qualified support for nuclear. Pippa Bartolotti spoke of the obvious need for a long term assessment of our energy needs and the lack of real understanding about nuclear power’s ‘filthy waste’.
On the question of tidal power and the proposed Barrage Vaughan Gething had ‘an open mind’. David Melding remained unconvinced and favoured smaller marine turbines in which the Scots are investing heavily. Eluned Parrott did have concerns about wildlife while Pippa favoured tidal lagoons. Leanne Wood concentrated on the need to look at Wales’s independence in relation to energy and drew attention to her consultation document
‘A Greenprint for the Valleys’ which contains alternative renewable proposals.
All the panellists agreed that encouraging local food production was a good thing but David Melding expressed concern on the possible knock-on effect to Third World producers. Leanne Wood was concerned that short term answers to food issues risked ignoring the wider issue of food security which could be answered by planned local food production and distribution.
The audience took a very active part in the discussion with one person asking why Wales couldn’t take a look at the offshore wind project at Great Yarmouth and how it operates in an environmentally attractive way and where local marine life has bloomed. A big round of applause greeted one comment from the audience on the need ‘to take the challenge of climate change as seriously as the Second World War when research, changes in lifestyle, etc happened without question’.
The whole evening, although covering some very serious subjects, was punctuated with laughter – particularly when the panel was asked what they had done personally to cut their carbon. Pippa Bartolotti wasn’t prepared to walk back to Newport. Everyone claimed to shop as locally as possible and David Melding mentioned downsizing his car. Eluned Parrott talked of switching to real nappies.
Chairman for the evening, Professor Ian Hargreaves said ‘The debate was filled with energy, information and passion. The panel was of a very high quality and the interventions from the audience well-formed and incisive. As one of the panellists said to me at the end of the evening ‘this is what politics is really about.’’
GPG would like to thank everyone who took part, including the audience, in an event that showed there is real interest in these subjects and genuine concern that we need to make informed decisions on how to create a more sustainable society.
The evening was filmed and there are plans to make the footage available online.