End of Session Report 2010/11
Committee for the Environment
End of Session Report September 2010 – March 2011
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 since 9 May 2007 has been as follows:
|Mr Thomas Buchanan 7,8,13|
|Mr Trevor Clarke 15|
|Mr Alastair Ross 1|
|Mr Peter Weir|
|Mr Cathal Boylan (Chairperson) 9|
|Mr Willie Clarke 14|
|Mr John Dallat 5|
|Mr Patsy McGlone (Deputy Chairperson) 6,10,12|
|Mr Danny Kinahan 3,4|
|Mr George Savage 2,16|
|Mr Brian Wilson 11|
1 On 21 January 2008 Mr Alastair Ross was appointed as a Member and Mr Alex Maskey ceased to be a Member.
2 On 15 September 2008 Mr Roy Beggs replaced Mr Sam Gardiner.
3 On 29 September 2008 Mr David McClarty replaced Mr Billy Armstrong.
4 On 22 June 2009 Mr Danny Kinahan replaced Mr David McClarty.
5 On 29 June 2009 Mr John Dallat replaced Mr Tommy Gallagher.
6 On 3 July 2009 Mrs Dolores Kelly replaced Mr Patsy McGlone as Chairperson.
7 On 15 January 2010 Mr Adrian McQuillan replaced Mr Trevor Clarke.
8 On 1 February 2010 Jonathan Bell replaced Mr Adrian McQuillan.
9 On 12 April 2010 Mr Cathal Boylan was appointed as Chairperson and Mrs Dolores Kelly ceased to be a Member.
10 On 12 April 2010 Mr Dominic Bradley was appointed as Deputy Chairperson.
11 On 13 April 2010 Mr Brian Wilson was appointed as a Member and Mr David Ford ceased to be a Member.
12 On 21 May 2010 Mr Patsy McGlone replaced Mr Dominic Bradley as Deputy Chairperson.
13 On 13th September 2010 Mr Thomas Buchanan replaced Mr Jonathan Bell.
14 On13 September 2010 Mr Willie Clarke replaced Mr Daithi McKay.
15 On 13th September 2010 Mr Trevor Clarke replaced Mr Ian McCrea.
16 On 01 November 2010 Mr George Savage replaced Mr Roy Beggs
1. The Committee considered 8 written briefings on the Waste and Contaminated LandBill and took oral evidence from several of these organisations prior to producing its report in November. The Committee made five recommendations all of which were accepted by the Department and delivered through commitments for action or amendments to the Bill.
2. The Committee considered written evidence from 11 organisations on the Local Government (Finance) Bill and produced a report on it after taking oral evidence sessions from several organisations. The Committee made five recommendations, four of which were accepted by the Department and addressed by amendments to the Bill, bringing forward alternative legislation and committing to a review of the local government audit process. However the Committee tabled its own amendment to address its recommendation that once set, the rates support grant could not be reduced during the financial year. The Assembly supported the Committee and the Bill was duly amended.
3. The Committee considered written evidence from 18 organisations on the High Hedges Bill and produced a report on it after taking oral evidence sessions from several of these. The Committee made four recommendations of which the Department agreed to deliver only one; the need for clear guidance. The Committee subsequently tabled its own amendments for:
- an upper limit to be set on the fee a council could charge for making a complaint about a high hedge;
- a requirement on councils to reimburse the complaint fee and recoup the money from the hedge owner in the event of an upheld complaint; and
- the inclusion of single evergreen and semi evergreen trees in the legislation.
The Committee subsequently decided not to move the amendment to include single trees but the other two were agreed by the Assembly and the Bill amended accordingly. The Bill awaits further consideration.
4. The Committee considered the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill and produced a report on it after receiving written evidence from 21 organisations and taking oral evidence from several of these. The Committee made 8 recommendations, 4 of which required and received a commitment to action by the Department. The Department also agreed to introduce amendments in response to the Committee’s suggestion to increase the age below which aerosol paints could not be sold to children and to make powers to amend the level of fine for a fixed penalty notice subject to Assembly approval. When advised that the Bill would enable councils to issue fixed penalty notices for littering to children as young as 10, the Committee was adamant that guidance must be provided for council officials issuing notices to juveniles, and tabled its own amendment requiring this. The Department subsequently tabled an alternative amendment to achieve the same objective which the Committee and the Assembly accepted and the Bill was duly amended.
5. The Committee considered 61 written submissions of evidence on the Planning Bill, took oral evidence from 11 of these and held a stakeholder event focusing on key aspects of the Bill that involved over 25 groups and organisations. In its report the Committee made 25 recommendations, most of which were accepted by the Department. Amendments it agreed to included:
- raising the level or scale of fines
- requiring key order making powers to be subject to Assembly scrutiny
- strengthening the commitment of both the Department and councils to sustainable development
- changing the time limit after which a development will be exempt from enforcement
- introducing a power for the Planning Appeals Commission to award costs for frivolous or vexatious appeals
- restricting new material that may be presented at appeal
- putting a time limit on the Department’s production of a Statement of Community Involvement
6. The Department also committed to timely production of guidance and subordinate legislation, statutory links between local development plans and community plans in future legislation and the introduction of neighbourhood notification through regulations.
7. However in the absence of Departmental support the Committee agreed to table its own amendments to:
- Ensure planning control functions cannot be devolved to councils without the approval of the Assembly
- Include ‘well-being’ as a function of the Department with respect to development of land
- Require councils to consider the potential impact of climate change in their survey of the district
- Remove liability for compensation from a council in the event of it having to revoke a planning decision as a result of information from a statutory consultee, if that decision was made after the time limit agreed for a response from that statutory consultee had elapsed
- Introduce the option of conviction on indictment to the penalties for acts causing or likely to result in damage to listed buildings
8. A Private Member’s Bill on protective headgear for cyclists was also referred to the Committee for scrutiny. In the short time available the Committee issued a public notice inviting written evidence and agreed to hear oral evidence from the sponsor, cycling representative organisations and a charity working with people who have sustained head injury. Evidence gathered will be compiled into a report.
9. The Committee considered 21 Statutory Rules. Members requested further information from stakeholders on proposals for marine licensing and amendments to the landfill regulations and from the Department on amendments to planning fees regulations. It requested an oral briefing from the Department on SR 2010/410 - Local Government Pension Scheme (Amendment No. 2) Regulations (NI) 2010.
10. The Committee received regular updates on the Departmental quarterly monitoring rounds and requested a briefing on the Department’s budget proposals for 2011-2015. Members requested further information in relation to Departmental bids and questioned underlying policy and budget priorities where necessary. Areas of particular concern included the redeployment of Planning Service staff, deferred capital income identified for waste infrastructure projects, overspend in areas such as the electronic planning system and proposals for funding time critical European obligations from the proceeds of a single use plastic bag levy that has still to be introduced.
11. The Committee considered 23 proposals for secondary legislation including an Amendment Order to the Carbon Reduction Commitment and a Legislative Consent Motion affecting public bodies under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Environment and received briefings from Departmental officials where appropriate. The Committee also considered 63 consultation documents, receiving oral briefings where it felt it needed more information and calling for the reissuing of two consultations, on the implementation of taxi operator licensing and bus operator licensing, where members felt they had been inadequate.
12. The Committee held 1 stakeholder engagement event. This took place on 27 January 2011 to gauge stakeholder views on the Planning Bill and included deputations from over 25 organisations and groups including councils, NIE, Federation of Small Businesses, Community Places, Planning Task Force, Mobile Operators Association and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Members took the views of the stakeholders before formulating its report to the Department on the Planning Bill.
13. During the period of this report, September 2010 – March 2011, the Committee met 33 times including several all-day sessions to complete its scrutiny of the Planning Bill. Where possible meetings were held in public session. On 2 occasions it was necessary for the meeting to go into closed session which constituted 1.3% of meeting time.
14. There were 3 meetings held outside Parliament Buildings at Carrickfergus Castle, Co Antrim, Roe Valley, Limavady and Londonderry.
15. The Committee visited Carrickfergus Castle to view the work of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Members received briefings on the High Hedges Bill from Carrickfergus Borough Council and on the Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Bill from the Pubs of Ulster. Members were also taken on a tour of the Castle.
Chairperson with the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Members of the Committee visit Carrickfergus Castle
Members receive a briefing from the Pubs of Ulster on the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill
15. The Committee visited Roe Valley, Limavady to view a Hydro Scheme. Members also held a Committee meeting and carried out formal clause by clause consideration of the High Hedges Bill. The Committee met with a representative from the Giants Causeway to discuss the new visitor centre, the Ulster Anglers’ Federation and the Department to discuss Hydro Schemes.
Members receive a Departmental briefing on the High Hedges Bill
16. The Committee met with a representative from RSPB to discuss issues regarding marine protection legislation at Roe Valley, Limavady