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Timber row fells environment body chair

The chair of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has quit after auditors qualified its accounts for the third year running over unlawful contracts.

NRW, the Welsh equivalent of the Environment Agency, failed to properly deal with 59 contracts for timber sales, according to auditor-general for Wales Adrian Crompton.

Lesley Griffiths, cabinet secretary for energy planning and rural affairs, said NRW chair Diane McCrea had resigned following “concerns and criticisms from all parties in the [Welsh] Assembly”.

An interim chair will be appointed while a permanent one is recruited, along with five new board members.

Griffiths said chief executive Clare Pillman, who took the post in February, “is taking the Wales Audit Office’s concerns seriously… and implementing the changes necessary to have a delivery organisation with strong governance”.

NRW’s annual report and accounts for 2017-18 show auditors questioned the lawfulness of the 59 contracts, from which the organisation received £2.8m.

Auditors said: “NRW failed to demonstrate good reason for departing from its own policy of openly marketing timber.”

It also failed to properly document the decision-making process, leading to “significant uncertainty that NRW acted in compliance with principles of public law” and did not refer the contracts to the Welsh Government as rules required.

Crompton said: “I therefore consider the transactions relating to these contracts to be unlawful and I have qualified my regularity opinion accordingly.”

He was also concerned that NRW might not have complied with state aid rules because it did not appear to have considered market prices when pricing its contracts.

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