COMMITTEE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
End of Session Report September 2008 – August 2009
MEMBERSHIP AND POWERS
The Committee for the Environment is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Standing Order 48.
The Committee has power to:
- Consider and advise on Departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
- Consider relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of primary legislation;
- Call for persons and papers;
- Initiate inquires and make reports; and
- Consider and advise on any matters brought to the Committee by the Minister of the Environment
The Committee has 11 members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson and a quorum of 5.
The membership of the Committee is as follows:
Mr Roy Beggs 2
Mr Cathal Boylan (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Trevor Clarke
Mr John Dallat 5
Mr David Ford
Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson) 6
Mr Danny Kinahan 3,4
Mr Ian McCrea
Mr Daithi McKay
Mr Alastair Ross 1
Mr Peter Weir
1 From January 21 2008, Alastair Ross replaced Alex Maskey on the Committee for the Environment.
2 with effect from 15 September 2008 Mr Roy Beggs replaced Mr Sam Gardiner.
3 with effect from 29 September 2008 Mr David McClarty replaced Mr Billy Armstrong
4 With effect from 22 June 2009 Mr Danny Kinahan replaced Mr David McClarty
5 With effect from 29 June 2009 Mr John Dallat replaced Mr Tommy Gallagher
6 With effect from 3 July 2009 Mrs Dolores Kelly replaced Mr Patsy McGlone
1. The Committee reported its findings on the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Bill after taking evidence sessions from the Department of the Environment, the Freight Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association, Horticulture Forum NI and the North West Traffic Commissioner. At the time of writing the Bill is awaiting consideration stage. The Committee was concerned about enforcement of the Bill and made a recommendation that when implementing the Bill the Department should separate the regulatory and enforcement roles. The Committee also recommended that the Department pursues the feasibility of appointing a traffic commissioner for Northern Ireland to have statutory responsibility for, among other things, Good Vehicles Operator Licensing. The Committee was concerned about the potential for read-across of the Bill into planning interests and action and recommended that the Minister provided clarity on this issue during consideration stage.
2. The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill entered Committee stage on 2 July 2009. The Committee issued a public notice calling for submissions from interested parties and will be conducting oral evidence sessions in September 2009.
3. The Committee considered 24 statutory rules and received Departmental briefings on the Groundwater Directive, Planning Fee increases, Outdoor Advertising, Lead Shot Over Wetlands, License Fees – PSVs / Driving Licenses and Motorbike Special Manoeuvres. The Committee insisted on better guidance for those affected by the banning of lead shot, required confirmation of adequate implementation of planning regulations to ensure no detrimental effects arose from the new outdoor planning regulations and noted a reduction in the planning fee increase proposals subsequent to its intervention.
4. The Committee initiated an inquiry into climate change on 23 November 2008. The aim of the inquiry is to understand the implications of climate change for Northern Ireland and to make recommendations on government policies, in line with the Committee’s earlier response on the UK Climate Change Bill, to mitigate the impacts of climate change, examine economic implications and identify suitable adaptation initiatives.
The Committee received 45 written submissions to the inquiry and took oral evidence from 24 contributors including the Met Office, the Committee on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Commission. As part of its evidence gathering the Committee visited the DEFRA’s Climate Change Mitigation and Land Use Division, the Rural Climate Change Forum, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Environmental Audit Committee in London, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security in Dublin and the Department of the Environment’s Climate Change Unit in Northern Ireland. The Committee has appointed a specialist adviser and is due to publish its inquiry report in September 2009.
5. The Committee received a Departmental briefing on the budget and regular updates on the Departmental quarterly monitoring rounds. Members have requested further information in relation to Departmental bids; questioning underlying policy where necessary in areas such as recruitment and consultancy costs and the reasons for delays and overspend in areas such as the electronic planning system e-PIC. The Committee has also sought reassurance that the Department is on track to meet the forthcoming International Financial Reporting Standards.
6. The Committee considered 47 consultation documents and issued responses to consultations on the landfill allowances scheme and a waste management charging scheme. The Committee took briefings on consultations on the carbon reduction commitment, the determination of fees for entertainments licences and other proposed increases to charging schemes and the UK strategy for radioactive discharges and aquaculture. The Committee also formed a sub-group to consider and deliberate on Planning Policy Statement 21 (PPS21). The sub-group met 4 times before bringing back its findings to the full Committee which endorsed a response to the Independent Working Group appointed to advise Department on planning guidance for non-farming rural dwellers. The Committee urged the working group to recognise that rural planning guidance should facilitate the evaluation of rural space by taking local need into consideration as well as site planning and effective landscaping. Members also wanted effective checks and balances in the guidance to prevent unsustainable development damaging Northern Ireland’s rural character and squandering its natural resources.
7. The Committee, along with the Committee for Regional Development, held a public consultation exercise on the draft River Basin Management Plan. Representatives from 11 organisations met with members in the Long Gallery to give their views on the plan and these views were used to produce a joint interim consultation response to the Department of the Environment.
Members have also met, on behalf of the Committee, with interest groups and representative bodies such as the Quarry Products Association, the Northern Ireland Marine Task Force, Value Cabs, the Community Against the Lough Neagh Incinerator, Rose Energy, Belfast City Airport and the Outdoor Media Association.
The Chairperson participated in a series of Committee-liaison training events for Department of the Environment staff, including a day long training session for senior Planning Service staff held at Stormont.
8. During the period of this report, September 2008 – August 2009, the Committee met 36 times. These were open to the public except for 2 brief closed sessions to receive legal guidance and at the Department’s request when discussing a developing policy proposal. 2 meetings were held outside Parliament Buildings in Armagh City Council offices and Castlewellan Forest Park.
Committee Meeting in Castlewellan Forest Park
On the visit to Armagh the Committee met with representatives from local community groups to discuss their environmental community projects.
Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson looking at environmental community projects in Armagh
On the visit to Castlewellan members met with representatives from the RSPB to discuss their Red Kite Project. Members also availed of the opportunity to view the red kites flying.
Members looking at the Red Kite Project with RSPB
With a view to finding out more about the forthcoming planning reform process in Northern Ireland the Committee visited Fife Council in Scotland, where a major reformation of planning has taken place over the last few years. The Committee took the opportunity during this visit to talk to Scotland’s Chief Planner, who will be involved in the planning reform process in Northern Ireland, and to look at and talk to local community representatives about a Fife chicken litter biomass plant.
Members with members of Fife Council, Scotland
As part of its inquiry into climate change the Committee visited London to speak to Westminster officials regarding climate change targets and mitigation. Members also attended the Royal Town Planning Institute’s conference – Planning in a Changing Climate.
Members before the meeting with Climate Change Mitigation and Land Use Unit
Likely Priorities for the Next Session
9. The key priority for the next session is to complete the Committee’s inquiry report into climate change which is scheduled to be published in September 2009.
Other priorities include a series of Bills in relation to the Review of Public Administration; the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill currently at Committee stage, the Local Government (Finance) Bill out for consultation and the Local Government (Reorganisation) Bill due for consultation soon. The Committee will hold evidence sessions on the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill in September/October after it has received written submissions to its public notice.
Waste is another priority for the Committee. The Committee has heard evidence this session from the 3 waste management groups operating in Northern Ireland and is expecting a Waste Management Bill to be introduced later this session.
A major Planning Reform process is due to commence and this is likely to be a priority for the Committee along with the introduction of new and revised planning policy statements on sustainable planning for the countryside, renewables and town centre regeneration.
Road Safety remains a major priority for the Committee, along with budget monitoring and compliance with European environmental legislation.
Committee for the Environment – Expenditure for the period 1 September 2008– 31 August 2009
|Committee travel – Committee members and staff travel and subsistence in relation to visits and meetings outside Parliament Buildings
|Visits to London and Dublin to speak with government officials as part of the Committee’s Climate Change Inquiry Staff / members’ car expenses to external meetings / visits etc
|Printing of Committee reports
|Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Bill Report
|Advertising – the cost of public notices relating to Committee inquiries, the Committee stage of bills and meetings held outside Parliament Buildings
|Public notice calling for submissions to the Committee stage of the Goods Vehicle (Licensing of Operators) Bill, Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, and the Committee Inquiry.
|Consultancy support – the cost of specialist advisers appointed by the Committee and commissioned research
|Specialist Adviser appointed for the Committee’s Climate Change Inquiry
|Refreshments for Committee meetings, working lunches, seminars, room hire, witness expenses.