The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, praised the contribution to the principality of minerals extraction when he delivered the keynote speech at the annual Mineral Products Association (MPA) Wales Seminar, Planning Workshop and lunch on Friday 10 May.
He told the audience of 110 from 40 organisations about the 'Opportunities for Wales Beyond Brexit', which the event had been called as the MPA endeavoured to look beyond the immediate consequences of whatever shape or form the UK's exit from the EU finally takes.
Chief Executive of the MPA, Nigel Jackson, introduced the main session by talking about the ‘Climate of Change’ that was rapidly emerging across both politics and the global environment. He outlined some of the challenges this presents for the mineral products sector, which includes natural stone production (the MPA has its own natural stone group to which many of the major UK stone producers belong).
Commissioner Emma Thomas provided an overview of the role of the new National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, which has recently been established and the eighth planning workshop tackled important topics such as the ongoing review of the Regional Technical Statement and the role of the Planning Inspectorate in Wales.
Beth Thomas from the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, which participates in the All Wales Water Safety Group, of which MPA Wales is also a member, provided an update about the 'Float to Survive' initiative.
Mark Drakeford, praising the mineral products industry in his keynote address, said: “I recognise the enormous contribution you make to Wales and its economy. Whatever the future looks like, we will always need a wide and diverse range of minerals to power and build the future we need. You provide many of the jobs and the prosperity that support communities across Wales. Your contribution to the construction sector is perhaps the most obvious example of the enabling role you play. Our housing, infrastructure and industry; our schools and our hospitals are all dependent on the work we do with you.”
Commenting on the current political landscape, the First Minister stated: “Brexit has thrown up fundamental questions about the future of our economy, posing a genuine challenge for our politics and our government across the UK. As a Welsh Government we have been clear in what we want to see. Our belief is that Wales’ future is best served working in partnership with our colleagues across the continent. Our businesses are part of a global economy and that is why access to the EU single market that we have argued for and the alignment that goes with it is so important to our future.”
Acknowledging the importance of sustainability, natural resources and the planning system the First Minister said: “In developing a strategic approach, and the planning system that goes with it, we will continue to work with you to sustainably manage our natural resources and to develop the opportunities we need for green growth.
“Sustainable development itself has long been reflected in national planning policy for minerals. I want to see all those participating in the planning process consider the opportunities their developments present for securing positive benefits as well as protecting against environmental harm.”
Making the link to the vital contribution of mineral products to infrastructure, the First Minister highlighted that: “Aggregates are of particular importance in underpinning economic growth, providing construction related products essential for the delivery of placemaking, housing and infrastructure.”
In response, Nigel Jackson welcomed the First Minister’s recognition of the role and contribution of mineral products to the Welsh economy and pledged the industry's continuing support in delivering the aims of Welsh Government for both the built and natural environment.
"Our conference provides an opportunity to acknowledge the mineral industry’s deep-rooted history in Wales, helping to shape both the landscape and the cultural identity. While there is understandable attention on the potential implications and consequences of Brexit, we believe that it is equally important to look beyond to consider future opportunities and challenges such as climate change and the growing awareness of pressures on the use of all natural resources too often taken for granted.
"The minerals products sector is a long-term business and as such there is a need for clarity around longer term ambitions around housing and infrastructure to allow Welsh companies and operators to plan and invest with confidence in order to meet these national needs in the most sustainable and cost-effective way. Supply of mineral products cannot be assumed and the industry will continue to work with Government to ensure that Wales continues to receive a steady and adequate supply of the essential materials it needs.”