Committee for the Environment - Inquiry into Climate Change
Inquiry into Climate Change
14 May 2009
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Patsy McGlone (Chairperson)
Mr Cathal Boylan (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr David Ford
Mr Tommy Gallagher
Mr David McClarty
Mr Ian McCrea
Mr Daithí McKay
Mr Alastair Ross
Mr Peter Weir
Mr Mark Ennis ) Confederation of British Industry
Mr Nigel Smyth )
Ms Lynsey Orr ) Energy Saving Trust
Mr Noel Williams )
Mr Charles Anglin ) British Wind Energy Association
Mr Gary Connolly ) Irish Wind Energy Association
Mr Michael Walsh )
Mr Michael Doran ) Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
Mr Liam Dornan )
Mr Tom McClelland )
Ms Nuala O’Neill )
Mr Herbert Bailie ) Institution of Highways and Transportation
Mr Geoffrey Perrin )
Mr Philip Robinson )
Mr Gavin Rafferty ) Royal Town Planning Institute
Mr Brian Sore )
Mr David Worthington )
The Chairperson (Mr McGlone):
The Committee has with it Confederation of British Industry (CBI) director Mr Nigel Smyth and Mr Mark Ennis, who is a director of Airtricity, but who is today representing the CBI. Both are very welcome.
Members already have the CBI submission, which they have read. You have 10 to 15 minutes to provide the Committee with a further, supplementary overview of the CBI’s perspective, as a very important player, on economic and employment prospects, job creation and other matters — the good things about the economy. Some very refreshing evidence from representative groups has been heard, particularly last week. I am looking forward to hearing the CBI’s evidence. I thank both witnesses for taking the time to attend.
Mr Nigel Smyth (Confederation of British Industry):
I am the director of the CBI; my colleague Mark Ennis is a previous CBI chairman and a current council member. He is also director of communications at Airtricity. We hope to keep our opening remarks to less than 10 minutes, after which we will answer questions. I welcome the opportunity to be here.
The CBI has taken the issue of climate change very seriously. Our task force in 2007 resulted in the major document to which the Chairperson has referred. The CBI believes that climate change is a serious risk and, as such, business wants to do everything possible to mitigate that risk. We believe that the UK’s 2030 targets are achievable at a manageable cost, but the 2020 targets will be difficult to achieve. It is also fair to say that many of the initiatives and responses that will be required in the next 10 years will deliver an economic benefit, particularly around the area of energy efficiency. Our detailed work includes cost curves that illustrate the most economically effective return and the most costly initiatives that are required.
An area of the CBI’s work to which I will return later involves road maps. We are delighted that the Committee has identified that in its terms of reference. We have an international working group, we have an adaptation group, we are looking at the whole of carbon reporting and, as I said, we are looking at our recently published road maps.
From the perspective of Northern Ireland business, another key driver has been concerns about possible cost rises and the volatility of fossil-fuel prices. In the whole area of peak oil, there is very strong evidence. We have experienced that in the past 12 months. We are in the middle of the worst recession for six decades, yet oil yesterday cost more than $60 a barrel. Many members of the CBI are questioning where oil and gas prices will be when we come out of this recession in two to three years’ time. Northern Ireland is very vulnerable; we import approximately £2 billion worth of fossil fuels a year. There is a significant risk and dependence upon those fuels.
Our submission emphasises the importance of the Executive focusing on those areas that they can influence. There are particular challenges in Northern Ireland. The transport sector has seen a significant growth in car ownership and use in recent years. The power sector, although a challenge, presents significant opportunities, particularly for onshore wind projects.
Interestingly, at a UK level, the CBI did not feature agriculture, but, clearly, it is a much more significant part of the Northern Ireland economy that probably faces significant challenges in how it addresses its emissions. Difficulties in the agriculture sector may mean extra work must be done in other areas. We believe that targets must be set in Northern Ireland. We must monitor our existing position, because in order to take effective action we must know where we are going and what we are trying to achieve.
I referred to the road maps that we have established. I have circulated a summary document to the Committee. In the past four weeks, the CBI has published on its website four very detailed road maps covering four key areas — transport, power, buildings and industry. In total, those will save about 117 million tons of carbon across the UK. Transport, power and buildings are very much the biggest chunks. Hopefully those road maps will be helpful to the Committee. Colleagues in the CBI nationally can offer further help and technical assistance to the Committee.
As we state in our submission, boosting renewable energy in the energy mix is critical. Likewise, energy efficiency must be significantly increased across the building sector, whether that is in domestic buildings, in commercial buildings or across the Government estate. In the area of transport, 50% of the reductions that are to be made by 2020 are likely to come from technological developments in the car industry and the use of biofuels, and a further 30% will come from eco-driving and a greater utilisation of public transport.
We suggest that the Assembly and the Executive work with the UK Committee on Climate Change on the issue of agriculture. The CBI has not done much work in that area. We highlight the area of public procurement as a key area, able to drive change. We highlight the opportunities that the low-carbon economy creates for industries in Northern Ireland and the importance of having the right skills base to support the development of that industry.
It is important that we move to a low-carbon future in a cost-effective manner. From a business perspective, Northern Ireland’s competitiveness must be maintained. The energy-efficiency arena offers opportunities for businesses, for consumers and even for Government. Even in the next few years, we need to be considering the longer-term consequences. After 2020, as the whole power-generating sector becomes low-carbon to achieve the targets for 2030 and beyond, a significant amount of electrification will be used in the heating of homes and for transport. In the next few years, thought will need to be given to planning for that.
Mr Mark Ennis (Confederation of British Industry):
By 2030, Europe will be dependent on imports for 95% of its oil, 85% of its gas and 60% of its coal. We are at the end of a long gas pipeline from Russia, and we are increasingly reliant on gas as an environmentally friendly fossil fuel. Therefore, it is imperative that we develop our natural resources, which are renewable. Some people will say that I am bound to say that because I work for Airtricity, but I am not here to represent the company; I am here as a businessperson in Northern Ireland.
I am interested in delivering whatever energy resources we can, first from a security standpoint and also from that of climate change, and doing so in a cost-effective way. There are a couple of keys to that. It requires the setting of targets by sector. Mr Smyth has mentioned the main sectors. Northern Ireland will face a challenge in meeting any improvement in the agriculture sector and even in the transport sector, because car usage has increased enormously in recent years.
Even with the introduction of electric cars, the use of biofuels and so on, there will still be a huge challenge. That challenge will fall to two sectors: the power sector and the efficiency sector, most importantly in buildings. Those challenges must be taken up to encourage investment, given that we are now competing across Europe in trying to encourage investment in climate change.
For instance, we have made a number of presentations to the Centre for Competitiveness to encourage Northern Ireland businesses to get involved in the renewables sector. To encourage that, we need clear goals from Government and clear cross-departmental and cross-party leadership, and we need a clear regulatory framework, whatever it is to be. We have some concerns that some of the regulations that are being put forward, particularly by the Department of the Environment, will not be conducive to achieving the lowest-cost delivery of those targets.
Can you expand on that last comment?
Planning policy statement (PPS) 18 is being delivered to the Assembly, and it has supplementary planning guidance that effectively puts a constraint on the height of wind turbines. Effectively, that means that a piece of legislation that is closely focused on one particular aspect condemns Northern Ireland to inefficient generation, because that is what removing height causes. Many of us may be familiar with the turbine in Bangor. If you stand under that, or even a couple of miles back from it, and look at another turbine in a different context that is 20 m higher, you will not be able to tell the difference. All turbines are substantial structures, so that constraint is unhelpful.
We shall probably hear more about that in the next submission. Thank you both for your presentations.
The car industry is a multi-million-pound industry. There are 900,000 private vehicles in the North. In trying to lower emissions, how can we encourage people off the roads and onto public transport? Can you elaborate on how we can take that forward in the next 10 or 15 years?
As I mentioned, we have produced a detailed summary on transport. I will pick out a couple of figures from that; for example, 50% of reduction in fuel emissions will be driven by technical development in the car industry. We have moved from 198 grams per kilometre in 1997 to around 150. The target for 2020 is 98 grams per kilometre. That will take a certain amount of carbon out of emissions. There will also be a 5% or 10% use of biofuels.
Certainly, I accept that we must encourage more people onto public transport. We have stated in various submissions that we support public transport. However, it must be safe and affordable. We strongly support the rapid-transit system that has been proposed for Belfast. Clearly, that must be done, and efforts and resources must be focused in urban areas where the population is concentrated. Therefore, you must focus resources at Northern Ireland’s key cities in order to bring that modal shift into play.
Other transport issues include vans, commercial vehicles, low-rolling tension in tyres, and so on. Several other technical developments are coming along. Again, Government procurement can insist on and try to encourage some of those required behavioural changes. Beyond 2020, what we are looking at is hybrid electrification. We have seen a strong commitment to electrification in the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland needs to think about building the right infrastructure now to support that and the costs that will be associated with it.
To introduce electric cars, an infrastructure must be rolled out that will allow users, effectively, to plug in and play — whatever happens to be the design of the car. A number of companies, including my parent company, Scottish and Southern Energy, have brought together industry members such as Stagecoach and Arriva — a range of players — to start to develop and examine properly electrification of transport.
I recommend that instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, Northern Ireland should feed off what is being done elsewhere and try to adopt it here. There are many opportunities for local industry. Northern Ireland has some of the best electronically literate brains in the United Kingdom. We should try to apply that knowledge, create business from it and join that type of group.
You have focused on urban areas where there are large populations, which is fair enough. You say “go nuclear”, which, obviously, does not apply to Mr McKay and me. You are correct that many young people here are trained to work with new technologies and in innovative ways. We encourage that. What is the situation as regards working from home in rural areas? Where do we stand on broadband, decentralising jobs and encouraging people to work from home? Where do you see that in the future? What can you offer?
We have commented in our reports that during the next five to 10 years, homeworking will increase. There is no doubt about that. Broadband is well positioned for that in Northern Ireland. Clearly, we need to move to the next generation. We certainly accept that homeworking will increase, which will take demand off vehicles.
We also need to ensure that we have the right information. For example, I suggest that it is much more efficient for four people to travel from Magherafelt to Belfast in a hybrid car than to use public transport. A bus may travel to Belfast at full capacity in the morning, but return empty. That is merely speculation; I do not know the numbers. We must get a better understanding of the numbers before we make decisions. Clearly, we support trying to get people to use public transport. I referred to urban areas because those areas have the population density to make that meaningful. Having buses travelling around the countryside relatively empty does not sound particularly efficient. Again, we need better information on that in order to be able to understand the implications.
I agree with you about the importance of a low-carbon future. You went on to talk about opportunities. [Interruption.]
Someone’s mobile phone is on. Please switch off all mobile phones, because they interfere with the sound system. I remind you that the proceedings are being recorded.
You talked about targets and opportunities for business and Government. Will you elaborate on the opportunities for business in a low-carbon future? You also mentioned leadership. All organisations have to improve all the time. What are your thoughts on the Assembly’s leadership on the development of that low-carbon future?
The CBI has not done a lot of detailed work on business opportunities. We are aware of the work that Invest Northern Ireland has done, and we referred to that in our submission. Many companies in Northern Ireland are involved in low-carbon industries. The most obvious are the likes of Harland and Wolff and Glen Dimplex. A range of small companies in Northern Ireland are also involved in low-carbon industries. There is also a significant amount of research ongoing.
We would like to see opportunities for all of those. There is not a week goes by that I do not receive an email about a low-carbon-related event. We are running our own event next week, which will be attended by representatives from 40 companies. The Carbon Trust and other organisations are also involved in looking at ways of bringing those companies together and how they can develop and take advantage of the market opportunities that will be developed in the years ahead.
Mr Ennis talked about leadership. There needs to be a firm commitment that we are serious about the direction in which we are going. Reducing carbon emissions is a cross-departmental issue, and buy-in from many Departments is required, particularly if we are going to do it cost-effectively. We cannot have a situation where some Departments go off on a strong tangent and other Departments are reluctant to move at the same time. Competitiveness is key, and whether that is achieved will depend on how we invest in renewable energies, for instance. It is imperative that planning policies that are supportive of developing wind power are in place, because we have potential for competitive advantages, and we need to make the most of those.
On 19 May I am delivering a talk on job opportunities that will arise from the climate change requirements. I can give you a couple of examples, but I will be happy to submit my presentation to the committee, if you think that that would be helpful.
When and where is your event?
It is a breakfast seminar on 19 May. People usually think that it is about the building of turbines. It is wrong to think that, because there are lots of people doing that already. There are a lot of things inside and around a turbine. For instance, one of our local companies, Lagan Construction, does a lot of good work and is probably one of the leads in building roads around wind farms.
Local companies are involved in the development of new waste-treatment facilities that do not involve incineration or landfill. I am involved with Re3, which is a new autoclave technology that is driving new development. There is lots of that. I know that you are pressed for time this morning, but I will be happy to deliver my presentation to the Committee.
Last week, we were provided with riveting information about the innovation and leadership that is being shown by the private sector, when, on the other hand, the public sector is dithering and not co-ordinating its efforts or even being aware of what to co-ordinate. We heard that Michelin in Ballymena cut its energy use by 27% and saved over £2 million. Pritchett’s in Newtownards invested £1 million in energy-efficiency projects, and made annual savings of £2 million by cutting its CO2 emissions by 70%. We heard that from the Sustainable Development Commission. That is innovative work, and it is a win-win situation. It is refreshing and enlightening to hear that.
I certainly think that the road map is an extremely useful document. Unfortunately, so much of what the CBI does is UK-wide, and we are keener to hear about the Northern Ireland opportunities. As regards the climate change targets, you said that the agriculture industry and the high dependence on private cars are problems in Northern Ireland. Have you done any work on achieving gradual targets of 2% or 3% per annum, as opposed to just setting targets for 2012 or 2020?
Our summary document is split into short, medium and long term. We have policies for most of these issues for 2010-12, 2017 and 2018 respectively. That is the stance that we have taken. I accept that those targets are UK-focused and that the references to nuclear power are not applicable to Northern Ireland. However, in the longer term, nuclear power might be used in the next 10 years in Northern Ireland, so do not rule it out. We have not got the resources locally to do more detailed work at a local level. Those phased targets are now available publicly.
Leaving aside the issues of nuclear power and onshore wind energy, which has already been established here, has any work been done on the other renewables that will be introduced over the next 10 to 20 years in Northern Ireland?
We have not done any work on renewables. I am conscious of speaking out of turn; however, some of the other witnesses today might mention a group that is looking at how to make buildings in Northern Ireland energy efficient. Government will need to invest approximately £300 million per annum for 10 years. That will create 9,000 jobs, cost £2·7 billion and deliver an economic return of £3·4 billion. The big issue is how to finance it. How do you get people to invest in cavity wall insulation — payback for which takes between three and four years — or other forms of insulation? There are a lot of small technical barriers.
On the way here, I was telling Mr Ennis that I finally got round to putting cavity wall insulation in my house last year. That work is subject to control under building regulations, but I just went ahead and did it, because I could not be bothered with the hassle of that. There must be hundreds of other people thinking that, too. It is nonsense; lots of small barriers prevent people from making very sensible decisions that will get them attractive paybacks. The payback for some other renewable products takes significantly longer, and we need incentives, such as reduced rates and various things, to try to encourage a change in behaviour.
I am more attuned to what is happening as regards renewables. From a Northern Ireland perspective, after onshore wind, offshore wind is probably next in line, and wave or tidal power is after that. Northern Ireland is 10 years or more away from using wave and tidal power. I am quite close to a number of developments in that field, and the production of such a facility is probably 10 or 12 years away. In the short term, we should focus on wind energy. However, we also have tremendous marine resources and good institutions.
Leadership is about pulling together the intellect that is tied up in our universities with the business and political community into a single focus. I think that we can deliver and be world leaders in a number of technologies.
The two big differences generally between the UK and Northern Ireland are the agriculture sectors, which we made reference to, and the transport sectors, because we have a young population who drive more cars. Those differences mean that the power sector and the building-efficiency sector will have to absorb and meet the required policy targets. The initiatives that Mr Smyth mentioned and the need to deliver renewable technologies in the power sector will be the two key drivers over the next 10 years. Those are big challenges.
In the short term, the other obvious area is biomass energy from the waste sector. Again, that is close to being put on the market, if it is not already on the market. Overall, that will still play a relatively small part in power generation. We are very supportive of encouraging activity and ensuring that we have the right planning policies that will encourage biomass energy from waste.
When you spoke about leadership, you also referred to the fairly challenging target of having a carbon-neutral Government estate. Is that challenging, or is it impossible?
It is doable, but it will take a lot of leadership from around this table. That will be key. It would be a huge example to others. That is the sort of leadership that we need. In the context of delivering something on carbon emissions, it might not be a lot, but it is very significant in respect of symbolism, leadership and showing a direction. It is achievable, but it will be very difficult.
It also depends on how one defines “carbon-neutral” and so on. That is a big issue. It also depends on whether they are looking to buy in carbon in various things. That would be a cheap way out.
What sort of incentives do you think there should be in the private sector for businesses to invest in renewable energy, not only on a larger scale but on a small scale as well? The Chairman has already mentioned the example of Michelin. We visited Michelin last week. It is seeking planning permission for a number of wind turbines on site that will produce 10% of its energy needs. That decision was brought about by market pressure, rather than by any incentive from Government. Energy costs for Michelin here are far greater than at their other factories and sites across Europe. What sort of incentives should we provide for businesses, particularly in places like North Antrim where there is a lot of wind potential? Secondly, how do we compare with other areas and other states on research and development? Do you feel that we are being left behind? Is there a need for more investment in that field?
For large companies, the key driver is energy cost; that is what has driven energy efficiencies. Michelin is a very good example of that. If we are to create a greater demand to go down that route, there is a need for incentives. In view of the financial crisis, we can also help ourselves. The construction industry has suffered, in particular. We should give incentives for roof and wall insulation or anything that drives energy efficiency. We can help that by giving a small grant towards the product itself or a rates rebate for small businesses. They could get a discount on the rates if they reach their carbon targets. That will cause them to do two things: measure their carbon emissions, and do something about it. It is a win-win situation, because it will reduce costs for those businesses. That is an exciting way to go forward in the short term.
As regards R&D, we are well behind Scotland, which has taken the lead. Alex Salmond in particular has taken a leadership role in trying to promote Scotland as the renewables Mecca for Europe. Even compared to the Republic, our research is behind. However, we have the capability to catch up and the natural resources to encourage that. It goes back to the linkage between institutions, business and politicians: we must all pull together. R&D is a key area where we can see some positive new industries emerging in Northern Ireland. The waste industry and biomass is another area where we can take the leadership role. There are opportunities, but they have to be grasped.
Through the Carbon Trust, there are loans of up to £400,000 for industry. That is good, but it does not go far enough. Over the last 12 months, we have argued that there are two additional barriers. One barrier is regulation: it has taken Michelin four years to get through the whole process. Anyone who wishes to put in a reasonably sized wind turbine has in the first place to get planning permission for a trial turbine, which takes 12 months. All these barriers are additional.
Another barrier is the payback periods. They are still long, and we are strongly supportive of some kind of capital grant assistance to encourage that investment. I have spoken to a number of consultants who have commissioned by Invest Northern Ireland to look at those opportunities and try to get a better understanding of the barriers and of what sort of leverage they can have to support that. We are supportive of that, and not just with respect to wind power, although that will be a key area for companies based in rural areas.
On the R&D side, through the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (IBEC)/Confederation of British Industry joint business council, we are trying to bring together the research by the universities. Most of the universities on the island of Ireland have research going on in the area of renewables. We are trying to see whether we can bring some of those people together to find out whether there are additional synergies on the back of that. There is a lot of activity and a lot of potential. A lot of it is probably medium to longer term, but we need to encourage people to invest in it.
You mentioned Invest NI. Do you feel that it is doing enough to encourage businesses to go green?
I believe that it is. It is a fairly active section. It has been running a lot of green events, and it has just produced a very significant document. The industry has already done a lot, because of the cost pressures. The CBI’s road map addresses issues such as motors, compressors, and a whole range of other things, and Invest NI will be running specific workshops on those areas across Northern Ireland. I am sure that it can always do more, but, to be fair, green issues have been featuring prominently in Invest NI’s work over the past couple of years.
I sit on the board of INI, so I am glad that Mr Smyth answered that question. A renewables team has been set up in INI to focus on that issue.
You mentioned working with IBEC and the universities and trying to co-ordinate efforts there. Clearly, it is one of those areas where one would expect the Government to have some input and to show some leadership with business and with the intellectual capacity that you referred to. That sort of stuff should also work its way into our inquiry. We often hear about joined-up Government, but the more we probe, the more we find out that it is not very joined-up. However, if some common sense was applied, we would have a better desired outcome. That issue has been popping up at various stages throughout the inquiry to date. Everyone is doing their own thing and doing it well, but, with a bit more co-ordination, it could be done a bit better.
We are at an early stage. We have identified a project, and we are going to do something. However, we are concerned that each of the university research teams is dependent on short-term funding of two or three years. Therefore, we do not know whether they are willing to share and to try synergies, because of the whole area of competition. That is where the Government could play a role in the medium term: to try to encourage more collaboration between universities and businesses. Part of our role would be to try to get businesses to be more aware of what research and development is coming out to ensure that it is relevant to the marketplace. Therefore, hopefully, there will be some synergies that we can identify over the next 24 months.
Thank you very much for that refreshing overview of where business is coming from.
One of our witnesses from the Wind Energy Association has been involved in a car accident; I trust that he has not been injured. He is coming along anyway, so I hope that he is not in a bad way.
We move to the next evidence session. We will hear from the Energy Saving Trust (EST), which is an advice centre that offers free comprehensive advice and support on how energy can be saved in the home, on low-carbon transport and on renewable technologies, as well as tips on saving water and waste, and ways to save money, as well as the environment. It operates across the North, with offices in Belfast, Enniskillen and Derry. A summary of the trust’s submission to the inquiry is provided in members’ packs, along with the specialist adviser’s comments.
Noel Williams is with us today. I apologise, but I do not know your colleague’s name.
Ms Lynsey Orr (Energy Saving Trust):
My name is Lynsey Orr, but I will not be giving evidence.
It is good to have you with us. You will have 10 to 15 minutes to give us an overview of where you are coming from and to expand on the submission that you provided to us. Then we will have a question-and-answer session.
Mr Noel Williams (Energy Saving Trust):
Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here. As you stated, I presented written evidence to the Committee in February, which covered what the Energy Saving Trust is trying to achieve. A chart was included in that evidence, which showed the specific benefits in respect of the domestic sector and the need for the provision of advice and support to reduce transport emissions. I hope that our evidence provided useful background on where we need to be in order to meet the energy and climate challenges. Together, those highlight the practical measures that we need to take if we are to achieve an equitable share of the climate-change targets that have been set by the Government. I have briefed several members personally, and I happy to offer a fuller one-to-one briefing at any stage, if any members wish.
The Committee’s terms of reference sought:
“To identify initial commitments for Northern Ireland that will ensure it plays a fair and proportionate role as part of the UK in meeting climate change targets.”
The Energy Saving Trust believes that a regular series of targets must be set — a point that was mentioned by previous witnesses — for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Northern Ireland. Within that, the sectors — namely housing, transport, and waste — which concern the trust, need to be targeted.
There are practical issues associated with setting targets. One can opt for a five-year target, as in the Climate Change Act 2008, or a one-year target, as in Scotland and Wales. That type of targeting creates practical difficulties in that there could be unusual weather or difficulties with finances at the time such as the current credit crunch. Whichever option is chosen, we need to set a fair and proportionate target for us to meet the climate-change targets, and that needs to be based on a full analysis of the actual and realistic potential for emissions reductions here.
The detailed analysis in the recent Committee on Climate Change report should be used to guide us in setting targets. However, although the Committee on Climate Change talked about the potential for reductions on a UK-wide level, its report did not break down that potential for Northern Ireland, and I am not aware of any specific Northern Ireland analysis that does. Given that the potential for emissions reductions, at least in the household sector, varies greatly across all UK countries, such Northern Ireland-specific analysis work will be vital if we are to determine a fair and proportionate level of targeting for us.
I would like to outline some of the trust’s views on emissions reduction targets for the household, transport and waste sectors. When considering targets for the residential sector in Northern Ireland, it is important to take into account the fact that it is more cost effective to deliver carbon savings in the household sector than in any other sector. The potential for improvements to the housing stock across Northern Ireland must also be taken into account, as must the conclusions of the Committee on Climate Change that if the UK is to meet climate-change targets, emissions from existing housing stock will need to be reduced considerably.
The Committee on Climate Change’s analysis highlighted the fact that one key feature of the sectors covered, particularly the residential sector, seemed to be the scope for significant energy-efficiency improvements. The scope for such improvements is massive. Renewable energies will come, but it will not be a case of the cavalry saving us tomorrow. We must do something about energy efficiency now, and do it big style. Significant energy savings are possible in housing because that can be done at low cost, nil cost and at even negative cost, as up-front investment would be quickly recouped and deliver a good return.
What is the potential for improving the housing stock here? The energy efficiency and microgeneration technologies here are different from those in the UK as a whole. There are a range of reasons why that is the case. One reason is the number of households that are on gas. In GB, 95% of households are on gas, but only 122,000 homes here. The gas network has to be extended to the rural areas of Northern Ireland, around Lough Neagh, for example. We must make sure that, by 2020, we are not still at 70% on oil, but that 70% of us are on gas.
The other 30% of people should be using renewables, and moving forward so that renewables can take a bigger share.
We do not deal with big energy generation; we deal with domestic and consumer transport. However, if ever I see a saving for us, it is in getting people to use gas. Some of you might remember from one of our “green barometers”, that 17 of the 26 Northern Ireland council areas — not the councils, the areas — made up the bottom 17 of approximately 600 local authorities in the United Kingdom. Of course they did, because they are using oil. If those areas were to use gas, they would become much more competitive.
I hope you do not mind me interrupting, Mr Williams. I live in on the shores of Lough Neagh in County Derry. Some people would say that where I live is out in the wilds, and it is a fairly isolated and rural area. As for the prospect of me having gas, I do not see it. We have already heard information about the reliance on gas as an energy source. There are all sorts of uncertainties and worries about the ultimate source of that gas and around how long it might last. Supplies may run out, and there are some political uncertainties, especially in Eastern Europe. Have you any ideas or views on the sourcing of gas supplies?
We are at the end of the pipeline. The island of Ireland makes up 1% of the land mass of Europe, 1% of the population of Europe, and uses 1% of the energy. However, we are still at the end of that pipeline. Natural gas is going to be with us for some time, and there are potential fields off the south of the Republic of Ireland, and off the north-west of Donegal. However, it will be some time before those come on stream, if, indeed, they do. Gas is going to be around for a while, and although it would be nice if renewables could come charging in to save us tomorrow, there is still a lot of development to be done. The grid is not ready yet.
I applaud what CBI and other organisations are doing, but we need to stop using the worst fossil fuels. If you consider natural gas the best fossil fuel, carbon emissions from oil are 32% worse, and from coal, 58% worse. In the interim, we need to use our gas supply, extend the gas network, and incentivise it where necessary. That way, Chairman, your own home could be sucked into a gas system that goes round all rural Northern Ireland. We can then swap gas across the border as well.
Thank you very much. Please continue.
The Committee on Climate Change, which the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) at Westminster dealt with, concluded that if we are to meet our climate-change targets, emissions from our housing stock need to be reduced by 80% by 2050, and all buildings need to be as close as possible to zero emissions by 2050. That is a big ask. Information from the Committee on Climate Change suggests that Northern Ireland is likely to reduce emissions from its housing stock at a different rate. Of course it is, and I have just tried to explain the reasons why. That is why we need interim targets. There is no point in setting a long-term target; to achieve this, we need to set interim targets. We recommend that the Executive undertake more detailed analysis, which we definitely need.
I scribbled down some notes when Nigel Smyth was speaking. He talked about savings in the domestic sector. A civic forum is debating the potential for a “green new deal”, the housing aspect of which I have done some work on with a colleague from the Housing Executive. Although it is not definitive, I will give you a quick analysis of some of the things that could be done. There are 75,000 homes that need cavity wall insulation; 75,000 homes that have solid wall insulation; 500,000 homes that need their lofts topped up to the right level of insulation; and 150,000 oil boilers that need to be upgraded. I hope that I am not boring you, but I have a couple more figures. By 2020, we need 250,000 gas conversions, 55,000 wood-pellet boilers, and 200,000 solar and water panels, if we are to get to where we want to be.
We need 50,000 ground or air heat pumps. The cost of those measures amounts to £2·6 billion over the next 10 years or so, but they will result in savings of £3·7 billion and 7·3 million tons of carbon. I am sorry to have to give members all those figures, but Nigel Smyth prompted me. It is all very well for me to try to cover these issues, but we need a proper analysis.
It is important to take account of the Committee on Climate Change’s analysis that there is potential for reductions in the road transport sector here. Interim targets must be set. We can achieve big wins in Northern Ireland right now. We can choose the lowest carbon emitting vehicles in their class, which will reduce our carbon emissions by 25%, or drive the most efficient vehicle, which will reduce carbon emissions by 15%. We would not expect Mrs Jones and her five children to get into a Mini, but she can choose the most efficient car in its class. People who normally drive to work alone could reduce their carbon emissions by 50% by sharing a car with someone else. That figure would, obviously, rise if the car were shared by three or four people. Taking the bus instead of the car also reduces emissions on a journey by 50%. Longer-distance journeys on alternative transport could reduce emissions by up to 85%. All those figures are contained in my written submission, but it is important to highlight them. Of course, if we all decided to walk or ride a bicycle, we would reduce our emissions by 100%.
It is important to understand the need for investment in low-carbon infrastructure. The CBI talked about that; it is about individual behaviours and what people can do if they receive the proper advice. Some members who also sit on the Committee for Regional Development will know that I have addressed the matter with that Committee. We must try to make a modal shift. People will not move off the current mode if the infrastructure is not there. Electric points and hydrogen points were mentioned earlier. One cannot drive an electric or hydrogen-fuelled vehicle over the border without having those facilities down there. Those points must be introduced on the islands of Ireland and GB.
Finally, I will touch on the issue of waste. Over the past six months, the Energy Saving Trust has been running waste pilots, which are outlined in our advice offerings. We developed those pilots in partnership with the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). The four pilots deal with food waste, home composting and recycling, and are based in Northern Ireland, Wales, the north-east of England and London. The early results are positive; we gave advice on waste to more than 10,000 people between June and October 2008. Waste advice is a natural part of what we offer, and we will roll that out in all our advice centres in 2009 and 2010. We look forward to sharing that data with the Committee and any other interested people. We have developed a route map; I could talk about that now, but, given the time constraints, I will be happy to answer questions.
Thank you very much. You mentioned the Energy Saving Trust’s guidance. I would be grateful if you could provide the Committee with anything that could be of benefit to constituents.
We will do that. Copies of the guidance are being prepared for MLAs as we speak.
That is excellent.
A large part of your role is to give advice to households about saving energy. We all use a lot of energy on electrical products at home. The Committee heard evidence from BT; phones use a lot of power, as do Sky boxes, LCD TVs and dishwashers. Do you think that manufacturers are doing enough to reduce the amount of energy that their products use?
That obviously impacts on ordinary people living with their families, as that is their main use of energy. Anything that saves families energy and, ultimately, money is welcome. Are companies doing enough to reduce the use of energy, or have you had any discussions with companies about that issue?
The short answer is no, they are not. The Energy Saving Trust is working with a raft of companies, and it has over 3,000 products that people might see when they are out and about that display the “energy saving recommended” logo. However, 3,000 products is not enough, and we want it extended to PCs, Playstation 3s, and the like, and we are working with people who manufacture those products. We are working with people all the time, including B&Q, Currys and vehicle manufacturers.
Mr Ross’s question referred to people’s behaviour. We carried out research in Northern Ireland — not in GB — and, together with the Housing Executive, we talked to 3,000 homeowners and discovered that behaviour was a big problem with those products. That is why I put my marketing into the same pot as the Housing Executive, and you may have seen our advertisement, ‘The power to save is at your fingertips’. Those are not statistics from somewhere else; they are hard facts from Northern Ireland, and we are trying to change people’s behaviour. We want to do that in the home and in transport.
I recently bought a dishwasher and it has the EST logo on it. What can the Assembly do to encourage individuals to buy products that are more energy efficient? What incentives could there be for individuals to buy energy-saving products as, ultimately, their main concern will be the long-term cost?
I would argue that the Energy Saving Trust is there to provide that advice to the consumer. We do not get involved in business; we leave that to the Carbon Trust. We look at the domestic situation and offer consumer advice. We have a free phone line because, if the consumer is to act, he or she needs free, impartial and reliable advice. The Committee could do that by suggesting some additionality to what we do already. If you want us to do something, phone us or send an email and ask us whether we have thought of doing something. I might well come back and say that your idea would be great but I would need a few extra pounds to provide that additionality. The Assembly can show its support by supporting the work of the Energy Saving Trust, because people are realising that it is a one-stop shop.
When the Minister for Social Development sent out her letter advising people about their £150 fuel payment, the Department advised those people to ring the Energy Saving Trust if they had any queries. That is one way in which we can provide additionality.
You said that you work with a range of product manufacturers. Do you have a list of those energy-efficient products and their energy ratings that could be made available to the Committee?
I can provide that list to the Committee.
The list is available on our website.
Mr I McCrea:
The Energy Saving Trust gives advice on how to save energy. The knock-on effect of people saving energy will be the effect on our carbon footprint and on climate change. My point is not specific to the Energy Saving Trust, but I am concerned that some organisations may say that if people save energy, they will save the climate. I have not heard the message that people are generally concerned about the climate when they are considering saving money by buying energy-efficient products. The knock-on effect is doing what we have been discussing.
I am concerned that people are being used as facts and figures to highlight what the impact of the use of energy-saving products will have on climate change. In reality, those people are only interested in saving money for themselves. That is good, and people will jump at any energy-efficiency savings, if there are financial incentives.
Alistair spoke about what the Executive could do. During last week’s Committee meeting, there was a discussion with some witnesses around finance and the cost to the Government. They were looking at other means of finding money for looking into renewables, and so forth. Have you considered alternative ways of finding finances for that? As you will be aware, the Budget is finite; therefore the cost will have to be borne by someone. At the end of the day, that someone will be the taxpayer.
To answer your first point, there is a win-win situation. There are those people who are more worried about putting a meal on the table than the climate; that is their concern. Rather than save energy, we are trying to tell those people to stop wasting it. If you are not wasting energy, you are not wasting money, and are therefore more able to put a meal on the table. Their perspective is: to heck with the climate.
We carried out some research here in 2006 with the Housing Executive. That research showed that 80% of the 3,000 people surveyed said that they knew climate change was happening, but half of them said that they could not be bothered doing much about it. My job is to make them do something about it. If someone saves money by saving or not wasting energy, they are helping to save the planet. That is a win-win situation.
Turning to funding, the good news for the Northern Ireland Executive is that they do not fund the Energy Saving Trust. The Westminster Government fund the Energy Saving Trust, and they take that responsibility seriously, because they want to look after all of the UK. They fund me, my staff and the advice centre. I told one Minister recently that if she wanted to take that portion of the money, I will just close up and go and look for another job. She told me not to do that, because the Ministers were very happy to take our advice at no cost to the Executive. There is no direct cost to you.
As I told Mr Ross, however, a bit of additional funding would do no harm, and we could do a bit more for you. This resource comes in at no cost to the Executive, but I will be looking to you to perhaps do a bit more as we go forward.
Thank you for your presentation. I want to talk about housing stock and energy efficiency and to see whether you have any detail on the current position. There are two elements to insulation; cavity insulation and loft insulation. I also want to talk about what we can do about policy.
Recently, we have seen that there seem to be separate guidelines for the adaptation of social housing, as opposed to private housing. The Minister for Social Development recently commissioned the purchase of some private housing stock, which now has to be adapted. We now have to get policy on adaptation right. It is easy to say that all newbuilds should be more energy efficient and adapted, but what information are you getting from the public in relation to the housing stock itself; particularly the social housing that you are dealing with?
We would like to see some key actions to address the route map for the domestic sector, such as the development of a forward-looking strategy for emissions reductions from the housing sector. If we are to achieve an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 — and I do not want to over-emphasise this point — targets are needed. Interim targets are also needed so that we can measure how well we are doing.
A programme of public engagement is also required — a buy-in on the technologies and policies to affect the emissions reductions. If we cannot persuade the public to buy in, we will not achieve a win-win situation.
Barriers exist — someone mentioned cavity-wall insulation. Changing from an oil-fired to a gas system requires building permission. The erection of a wind turbine involves planning issues, which delays the process. Triggers must be reviewed in the next update of the Northern Ireland building regulations. For example, adding a loft or an extension are good triggers to upgrade a home.
The Committee has heard of the energy performance certificate (EPC) that is needed by someone selling or renting out a house so that the tenant or purchaser can see the state of the house. The EPC allows the purchaser of a house to make a decision based on the type of information that a potential car-buyer may consider — rather than a costly gas guzzler, they may prefer something that is cheaper to run. The EPC does that for the home.
If we were brave, we could further say that all the recommendations on an EPC must be carried out. Therefore, if a house is sold in 2016 or 2017 and the energy performance certificate indicates that this or that are bad, it would be mandatory to rectify those faults before that house can be sold or rented. That policy issue could be considered. A variety of incentives and awareness-raising activities could be developed around people’s behaviour. I have talked about that because people’s behaviour is crucial.
A Committee member asked about incentive levels. The trust has found that, in housing, a 30% incentive is good, whether that incentive is for renewables or insulation. The Reconnect programme of a couple of years ago offered a bigger incentive than that, but I believe that those days have gone. We are seeking incentivisation at the appropriate level so that there is a buy-in from the householder.
Local analysis has been talked about. At the start of the whole process, the Committee on Climate Change was mentioned. This Committee is concerned about the North being left out of the loop by not having anybody specifically from this area involved. How far down the road of local analysis are we? Who will be called on to conduct that? How is all that tied together to identify and analyse local need? Where does the trust see that?
In costing that with the Housing Executive, I sucked in my resource from London, where I can call on 200-odd people. I may not know some of the facts being sought, but I know of a man or a team of people who do.
The Energy Saving Trust is happy, as a company, to invest in Northern Ireland by doing that research, and I offer the trust’s input to all of the consultations. For example, the renewable energy strategy consultation is coming up. There was the scoping study before that. Those are very important consultations, which we address big style, if I may use that colloquialism.
The trust ensures that Northern Ireland is embraced in a consultation such as the heat and energy saving strategy, which is the major one that has just been completed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. However, more locally, specific work must be carried out, and I believe that the Committee should, perhaps, go down that road.
Much of the conversation has focused on the issue of incentives and the trust’s public-awareness activities. It is fine that the trust can give advice. The example of incentivisation that was given involved the EPC and the fact that if a problem was noted on the certificate, a house could not be sold. That sounds to me more like a stick than a carrot, and I thought that carrots were incentives. A while ago, one could not attend a public event without being given a low-energy light bulb, which sold the message. I presume that the trust is about to give me an A++ rated fridge for free. How does it incentivise in order to get the message across beyond the current, minimal level of light bulbs?
We moved well away from the free light bulb and giving advice on draughtproofing and cavity-wall insulation two years ago. Being energy efficient is no longer good enough; the trust is now looking at the whole issue of sustainability. Therefore, renewables and the use of personal transport must be embraced. I would incentivise the purchase of an A++ fridge by pointing out that in its first year it will save £28 in electricity.
Therefore, in two or three years’ time, the additional £40 cost will have been paid off. As time goes on, energy will undoubtedly become more expensive, and, therefore, that machine will become even more valuable. It will last for 12 years before it rusts away or its owner decides to upgrade. That is the message that we are trying to get across, but trying to relay the benefits to people is a hard old paper round.
Presumably we are still not getting that message across terribly well because that machine sits in a shop costing £40 or £50 more than the alternatives.
We are working to try to get the information to the public. We work in partnerships with Tesco, Ariel, and Marks and Spencer. Members may remember the Energy Saving Week two years ago, when Ariel ran a campaign promoting washing at 30 degrees, and kids played Gaelic football dressed up as washing machines, and so forth. We are trying to get the message across to kids and, using the “pester” factor, into schools. The commercial sector is the territory of the Carbon Trust and the CBI, but we are happy to work with the employee-engagement programmes of big companies. We work on the basis that someone who saves energy at home may do so at work too, and vice versa. Incentivising is a hard old paper round, but we are trying.
Thank you for coming and giving your time today, Mr Williams. You were amply supported by Lynsey.
We must move on, because lunch has been ordered for 1.00 pm. The next witnesses are from the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) and the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA). The British Wind Energy Association is the trade and professional body for the UK wind and marine renewables industry, and it claims to be the leading renewable-energy trade association in the UK. Its primary purpose is to promote the use of wind power offshore and onshore in and around the UK. The Irish Wind Energy Association is the national association for the wind industry in Ireland. Its primary purpose is to promote the use of wind power in Ireland and beyond as an economically viable and environmentally sound alternative to thermal or nuclear generation.
Members have been provided with a summary of both associations’ submissions and the specialist adviser’s comments. The witnesses are Charles Anglin and Michael Walsh from the BWEA and Gary Connolly from the IWEA. Mr Walsh, I heard that you were involved in a car accident; I hope that you are well and that not too much damage was done.
Mr Michael Walsh (Irish Wind Energy Association):
I am very happy to be here.
Thank you all for attending the Committee today. As you will have seen from previous presentations, we would like you to give an overview of your submission, which should last approximately 10 or 15 minutes. We already have your submissions, and Committee members will have had time to read them.
Mr Gary Connolly (Irish Wind Energy Association):
Thank you very much. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to make our oral presentation to the Committee. I must first make a minor correction to your introduction. I am a representative developer who operates in Northern Ireland. In common with many developers in Northern Ireland, I hold dual membership. Charles Anglin is the director of communications for the British Wind Energy Association, and Michael Walsh is the chief executive of the Irish Wind Energy Association.
It will be helpful to give the Committee an overview of the structure of wind industry in Northern Ireland. It is an extremely healthy industry, and a significant number of developers, including us, of differing size and origin, operate in the Province. Northern Ireland is a unique region, in that it is affected by what goes on in Westminster and on the island of Ireland as a whole. For example, the Northern Ireland renewables obligation (NIRO) is specific to Northern Ireland and came from Westminster policy, whereas we operate in a single electricity market, which is an all-island matter.
As I said, most of the developers who work in Northern Ireland hold dual membership, in that we are members of the BWEA and the IWEA. The BWEA has been working successfully in partnership with us to represent our interests and ensure that our message reaches bodies such as the Committee for the Environment.
As was mentioned, the British Wind Energy Association is the primary representative body for the wind, wave and tidal industries in the UK and has more than 500 corporate members. The Irish Wind Energy Association is the national association for the wind industry on the island, and it is keen to promote the use of sustainable-energy systems.
It is important that I reinforce the fact that the wind industry in Northern Ireland makes a very important contribution to the local economy. It makes a significant impact on carbon-emission reductions and increases the security of energy supply in Northern Ireland. Further development of the industry here will have significant additional economic, environmental and social benefits; Michael Walsh will outline those benefits in a few moments.
The headline figures for the industry show that approximately 280 MW of onshore wind is generated in Northern Ireland. Almost 7% of the electricity that is consumed in Northern Ireland is generated from renewable resources, the vast majority of which currently comes from onshore wind. The DOE’s Planning Service has approved facilities — operational and waiting to be constructed — that will generate approximately 500 MW of wind power. When all the facilities that produce that 500 MW of power have been built and are operational, they will generate in excess of 12% of total electricity consumption, which is the 2012 target. We are well on our way to meeting that target.
Renewable-energy producers that will be capable of producing 1,000 MW of power are in the queue for planning permission. The all-island grid study, which is internationally recognised, has estimated that renewable energy across the island could contribute 42% of total energy consumption. Charles Anglin will expand on that in a few moments. In conclusion, it is worth pointing out that, since 1995, initial capital investment in Northern Ireland on renewable-energy production has amounted to between £300 million and £400 million, not including ongoing income.
Mr Charles Anglin (British Wind Energy Association):
It is important to recognise that changing the ways in which we produce and use energy is the key driver in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. In doing so, it is important to understand that the shift to low-carbon energy sources, and renewables in particular, is the key deliverer of that change. We are already aware that the UK has signed up to the EU-wide targets that call for 20% of all energy to come from renewables by 2020. In the UK, that will mean 15% of total energy produced. Members heard from other witnesses that renewable heat and fuel sources start from a very low base. That means that between 35% and 40% of our total electricity production will have to be generated from renewables.
As Gary Connolly said, 7% of the energy currently produced in Northern Ireland comes from renewable sources, and that is above the UK average of approximately 4·5%. We are well on course to meet the 2020 targets, but Northern Ireland cannot rest on its laurels. We must look beyond 2020, and the forthcoming strategic energy framework will provide a perfect opportunity for doing that. Gary mentioned the all-island grid-study estimate that 42% target of total energy consumption could come from renewables. That is what is attainable and viable on the island of Ireland. That estimate should become Northern Ireland’s new renewable-energy target for 2020.
That target is ambitious, but we believe that it is deliverable. If that were broken down a little further, it would mean something in the region of 1,600 MW of installed renewable capacity. If that were broken down even further, what kind of energy supplies would there be? Part of that might answer some of the points that Mr Ford raised.
If one looks at wave and tidal energy, specifically tidal energy, because the wave potential in the next decade is negligible, there is the potential for about 50 MW to 100 MW capacity by 2020. Those are not just figures from BWA, which represents the wave and tidal sector, but from Marine Current Turbines Ltd, which is carrying out the exercise in Strangford Lough and has a degree of expertise in the matter. If one looks at the potential for offshore wind, it is in the region of 200 MW. That is a total of 300 MW out of the 1,600 MW needed to be achieved. The remainder — 1,200 MW to 1,300 MW — must come from onshore wind, and that is why it is so important to ensure that not only do we get the strategic energy policy and the forthcoming sustainable development plan right but we must ensure that planning policy is right. On that note, we must welcome the Minister of the Environment’s commitment this week to ensuring that economic considerations will be a factor in the Planning Service’s decision-making process. The Minister has long been committed to that. Our industry welcomes that, as will all industries in Northern Ireland, and it is about time.
However, that same approach must be extended beyond the basic economics to the question of climate change. The Planning Service needs to consider what impact its decisions will have on Northern Ireland’s ability to mitigate climate change. Planning reform is absolutely vital to tackling the targets that we are addressing. We need up to another 1,000 MW — 1 GW — of onshore wind.
Draft Policy Planning Statement 18 (PPS 18), ‘Renewable Energy’, represents a significant advance. Having said that, however, the devil is always in the detail, and the supplementary planning guidance, specifically on wind, is deeply problematic. Serious concerns arise about the specifics. The supplementary planning guidance is too prescriptive and would severely restrict the growth of the onshore wind sector. It could mean that, instead of more than 90% of the current backlog of schemes being approved, which is the current, and very good, approval rate in Northern Ireland, that approval rate could be completely turned on its head, and, because of the restrictive nature of the supplementary planning guidance, one could see as little as 10% of those schemes currently in the queue getting passed. In its current form, the supplementary planning guidance would effectively pre-empt the strategic energy framework. The planning approach to wind should follow on, and flow from, the renewable targets, not the other way around. If we get planning wrong, we will not be able to meet those renewable targets and make the necessary contribution to tackling and mitigating climate change. Northern Ireland needs a coherent, strategic, holistic approach to policymaking across a range of Departments if it is to secure the reductions in climate change that the Committee seeks.
We strongly support the idea of a Northern Ireland climate change Act. Rather than merely accept secondary legislation from the UK Parliament, the Assembly should adopt its own primary legislation, which should contain a bold target on renewables of 42% and a commitment to ensuring that a planning regime be responsive and sustainable. That will create a secure, indigenous energy supply, and Northern Ireland will be able to punch above its weight and reap the benefits of having a low-carbon economy.
Charles Anglin and Gary Connolly have covered the subjects eloquently. To conclude our evidence, I will refresh the wind industry’s economic case. There was an insightful comment in the previous question in that many people want to know what is in wind energy for them and what it will cost. We have a strong case to make on those points, which I will outline to the Committee.
In the keynote opening address to the Irish Wind Energy Association’s autumn conference in Belfast in October 2008, the Minister of Enterprise Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster, provided many useful insights into issues that will be important to the industry in Ireland. She talked about the importance of creating jobs, of stabilising energy security and of steadying energy prices. Those are all areas in which the wind industry has a strong case.
I will run through some numbers. Targets have been mentioned. The association believes that it will be necessary to generate another 1,000 MW of wind energy in Northern Ireland over the next 11 years to meet the local share of UK energy targets. The all-island grid study shows that that would be consistent with providing 30% to 40% of the requirement on renewables. That represents a direct investment of £1·2 billion in the Northern Ireland economy from private companies, such as Gary Connolly’s Northern Wind Power; Airtricity; Gaelectric; many other companies based in the UK, Ireland, mainland Europe; and, more encouragingly, companies that are setting up in Northern Ireland.
Of that £1·2 billion, £300 million will be spent on local businesses in areas including construction, crane hire, access roads, project management and legal expertise. Therefore, the industry will provide a significant investment boost to the Northern Ireland economy.
In addition, for every MW of power installed, the wind developer collaborates with the local community; they set up community-development funds and pay local rates, which will bring an ongoing injection of about £13,000 a year to the ultra-local economy. On a scale of 13,000 MW, that amounts to an ongoing injection of £13 million, without taking into account the energy-saving cost, the impact on energy prices or long-term investment. That money will go solely into the very local economy. A feature of the welcome given to the wind industry is down to the fact that it brings capital and jobs to areas where both are badly needed.
Minister Foster has talked a few times about another area in which the wind industry can really help is its impact on our fuel security and energy prices. Charles Anglin mentioned that Northern Ireland imports almost 99% of its core energy requirements. Wind is an indigenous energy resource that Northern Ireland can and will be able to exploit. Doing so will reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels, with their attendant price volatility.
Oil prices hit a six-month peak and were expected to rise again today. It is impossible to know what will happen with them next week. Try rolling that forward — what will those prices be next summer or winter? We are in the middle of one of the biggest, deepest global recessions in perhaps a century, and oil prices remain much higher than they were three years ago. For any economy to leave itself more dependent than necessary on oil is a very dangerous strategy to follow. Northern Ireland has access to an indigenous source of energy that would provide a strong hedge against that.
As Charles Anglin mentioned, the all-island grid study, which the Governments in the North and in the South sponsor, has shown that 42% of energy on the island can be generated from renewable sources, mostly wind. It also showed that the cost involved would be very advantageous, and that report was compiled at a time when oil prices were costing $30 to $40 a barrel. Similarly, the regulatory authorities on the island — the Northern Ireland Authority for Utility Regulation (NIAUR) and the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) — recently published a study that showed that using wind energy will reduce prices for energy consumers in all but a very low fuel-price scenario.
It is important to leave that message with the Committee. Wind energy will do three things. First, it will stabilise fuel security, because there will be access to a fuel source that is not subject to other geopolitical concerns. Secondly, the price of wind energy is stable, because, once the turbines are built, the cost of that energy for the next 15 years is known. Thirdly, it will reduce prices in all but the most unusual scenarios.
We are currently working to evaluate how many jobs the industry will create in Northern Ireland. We have already seen substantial employment here. I attended a session in Dublin with the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) this morning, which had more than 100 attendees, including representatives of companies from Northern Ireland, such as Lagan Cement, that are looking to diversify into the industry. They are looking to bring not only their construction experience but their project-management, site-selection and planning experience into the industry, and to continue to have jobs in that sector.
We are very encouraged by the signals and the strategic energy framework coming from the Northern Ireland Government. We want the Committee to be aware that a very strong opportunity is available for Northern Ireland to improve its energy position in the medium term.
Thank you for the opportunity to meet with the Committee.
We watched ‘The Age of Stupid’ last month. One issue that the film covered was planning and windmills, and people’s experience of trying to get planning permission for wind installations in England. Has any council area or jurisdiction struck the right balance between communities and those who are applying to put wind installations into an area? If the Minister of the Environment dropped the supplementary planning guidance that is attached to draft PPS 18, would you be relatively content with that document, or do you feel that more could be done?
I ask that one person answer on behalf of each witness group, rather than our having three separate answers.
Perhaps I can clarify it for you, Mr McKay: do you want me to use one of the authorities in Northern Ireland as an example, or one from across the islands?
I would like to hear any good examples, either from across the water or here.
Different jurisdictions can treat it very differently. The Planning Service here has its own structure. In the UK as a whole, any schemes above 50 MW are decided by Whitehall officials for England and Wales, and by Scottish Government officials for Scotland.
There has been a real change in the industry over the past few years; it has grown and matured, and a great deal more consultation goes out to the public. Engagement is undertaken to try to ensure that local communities’ concerns are addressed and that any specific issues are responded to. It is now extremely common to see developers establishing community funds that go beyond those payments detailed in section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Developers try to address very specific concerns that the local community may have; for instance, they may take measures or establish a fund to which people can apply to have home insulation.
One issue to which we are very sensitive is that people will often say that they think it is fine to have a wind turbine and that they are all in favour of saving the environment, but they will ask what is in it for them. We want to ensure a direct relationship between having a wind farm near someone, and improving that person’s standard and quality of life. We recognise that we must be part of the community and not be imposed on it.
I am sorry, but what was the second part of your question?
I asked whether you would have any major concerns about draft PPS 18 were the strategic planning guidance were to be dropped.
No industry representative will ever say that he or she loves everything that a Government are doing, but we recognise that draft PPS 18 is a pretty good document. There are parts of it that we would like to see tweaked, but we want to concentrate on the parts that we really think are damaging, and we do not think that the supplementary planning guidance is helpful. We have not seen the latest draft; we await its publication with keen eagerness. However, the restrictions on turbine height, as well as the fairly arbitrary designation and assessment of landscape characteristics, will deeply damage the industry.
The Committee received representations a few months ago that expressed concerns that liaison, co-operation and channels of communication between the industry and the Department over the formulation of policy were not up to the desired standard. I know that, at that stage, the Minister took an active interest in the matter. Did the situation improve?
The situation improved. Then Minister Foster met with us and sent a letter to clarify her understanding of the status of the draft supplementary planning guidance, and, thereafter, we met her officials on two more occasions. Despite that initial improvement, we encountered another period during which it became slightly more difficult to understand at what stage the policy was. Since then, we have had a constructive meeting with Minister Wilson. However, there is always room for improvement and an increased degree of interactive dialogue between us and certain officials.
At that stage, we were concerned to learn about the deterioration — or, perhaps, total absence — of communication. I am glad that the situation improved. Will you keep in touch with the Committee on that matter?
Mr McKay has already asked about draft PPS 18. It is good to see some unity on the island, even if that comes through the two wind energy associations.
Led off by an Englishman. [Laughter.]
He is an invited guest.
Michael, I am glad that you have recovered from your accident. Draft PPS 18 has proved to be a problem here, especially the permitted height of turbines under the guidelines. Through your policy in the South, how easy, or difficult, has that process been? Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) and EirGrid have linked to provide an interconnector. There were problems in my constituency, but the two bodies seem to be working well together to provide electricity across the country.
In my previous role, I worked with EirGrid on the single electricity market (SEM). Therefore, I have been working on a policy framework in the North for about four or five years. As Charles said earlier, the concept of PPS 18 and the turbine height limitation is a huge risk to the industry in Northern Ireland. However, the South has an issue whereby planning permission can expire before one obtains a grid connection. That is a major risk to the industry in the South.
Although that is a different issue, it is a fundamental one, through which two well-intentioned policies in two different arenas do not properly line up. Through our strategic-energy response, we want to increase cohesion among Departments, agencies and regulatory authorities in all jurisdictions. Although the supplementary planning guidance, draft PPS 18 and the strategic energy framework are well-intentioned policies, they do not line up. Similar issues arise in the South. For example, five-year planning permission for a wind turbine in the South may expire because it takes seven years to obtain a grid connection.
We have been impressed by the engagement, professionalism and competence of people in Northern Ireland and by the quality of interaction. The strategic energy framework pre-consultation document is one of the most impressive documents in the world. It is thoughtful and poses questions of some depth. It is encouraging that those fundamental questions have been asked ahead of the consultation process. We expect that to lead to a strong energy policy for Northern Ireland that is the interests of the economy and society here. We are trying to advise you on areas that may require further consideration or work. However, on the whole, we are encouraged by the initiatives and by the leadership that is being demonstrated.
You said that a target of 42% by 2020 is viable for renewable energy on the island. That is, therefore, a target of approximately 35% from onshore wind. Is that the limit of penetration of the market that you see for onshore wind because of the question of intermittency, or could it grow further if the grid were improved further?
We consider that target to be technically feasible and economically deliverable in that period. NIE has been looking at studies that assume around 2 GW of renewable capacity, so clearly there is potential to expand. The target of 42% is based on an assessment of the capacity that is needed to provide additional backup for that level of wind penetration.
I take this opportunity to debunk one of the myths that one often hears, which is that wind is intermittent and may not blow and that the lights will suddenly go off. I am not familiar enough with the single electricity market, so I shall use the UK example. The UK currently has a generating capacity of around 78 GW. It has peak demand of around 62 GW or 63 GW, which means that it carries a spare capacity of 15 GW or 16 GW.
The National Grid, which is charged with balancing the grid and ensuring that the lights do not go off, operates on a four-hour time frame. During that four-hour time frame, the National Grid asks the generating companies to supply it with enough spare operating capacity — spinning reserve, as it calls it — to keep the lights on if the wind were to stop blowing or if a nuclear plant were to go down and a sudden supply were needed.
The National Grid currently operates on 4 GW of spinning reserve. When the new generation of nuclear power comes in, around 5 GW of spinning reserve will be needed. Based on 30 GW of wind power, as opposed to the 2·5 GW that is currently generated, the National Grid assumes that the spinning reserve capacity will have to increase to 8·5 GW. Therefore, the amount of backup needed will not be 80% or 90%; around 3 GW or 3·5 GW more than what is needed already will be needed to renew the grid.
Do you think that the supplementary planning guidance to draft PPS 18 is wrong or completely unnecessary?
The supplementary planning guidance may well be helpful. The guidance as it had been drafted was certainly not helpful, and the industry would be in a much better position if that guidance were substantially revised. We recognise that landscape is an important issue and that it must be one of the key factors in deciding on the siting of wind farms. However, that is only one factor, and the fundamental problem with the supplementary planning guidance’s approach is that it would become the decisive issue.
Not only would it become the decisive issue, but it appears to be being assessed highly subjectively. Around 130 landscape-character areas are identified and assessed. Extraordinarily, 90% of those are assessed as effectively inappropriate sites for wind farms. Of the remaining 10%, half of those are next to City of Derry Airport and would be ruled out owing to radar. That means that around 5% of Northern Ireland would be available for new turbines. The 2020 targets will not be reached if only 5% of Northern Ireland is available.
Thank you very much. If no other member has anything further to add, we will conclude our deliberations for the moment.
The Committee was suspended.
On resuming —
The Chairperson (Mr McGlone):
We will now hear evidence from the Institution of Highways and Transportation (IHT). The institution is a learned society concerned specifically with the planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of land-based transport systems and infrastructure. IHT provides authoritative, independent, professional advice to Government and transport stakeholders, and it ensures that its members have access to current skills and good practice. The institution also provides qualifications to underpin the standards of the profession. Members have a copy of IHT’s submission to the inquiry and a copy of a specialist adviser’s comments.
The witnesses from IHT are Geoffrey Perrin, Herbert Bailie and Philip Robinson. Gentlemen, you are all most welcome, and thank you for coming. You have been very patient in sitting in on the earlier proceedings, and you have an overview of how the Committee works. Perhaps you could give a presentation lasting approximately 10 or 15 minutes to the Committee. We would like to hear a synopsis of — and any information additional to — the submission that members have already received. After your presentation, members will put questions to you.
Mr Philip Robinson (Institution of Highways and Transportation):
On behalf of the Institution of Highways and Transportation, thank you, Chairperson, and the Committee for inviting us to convey our views as part of the inquiry into climate change. By way of introduction, I am the chairperson of the Northern Ireland branch of the IHT; Geoffrey Perrin is the chairperson of the policy subcommittee and a former chairperson of the branch; and Bert Bailie is a member of the committee at our headquarters in London and chairperson of its membership board. Bert is also a former chairperson of the Northern Ireland branch.
As you said, Chairman, the institution is a learned society. It has over 11,500 members in the United Kingdom, with around 450 in Northern Ireland. It is concerned specifically with the planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of land-based transport systems and infrastructure. It is important to note that we represent a group of professionals; we are not a lobby group.
I will hand over to Geoffrey Perrin, who will cover the key points in our submission. He will be followed by Herbert Bailie, and then Mr Perrin will summarise our report.
Mr Geoffrey Perrin (Institution of Highways and Transportation):
The institution recognises that the increased demand for travel and transport in its current form in Northern Ireland is unsustainable in the long term. Fossil fuels are finite, and peak oil production is approaching, possibly in the next 10 to 15 years. The carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles in the UK represent 25% of the total carbon dioxide emissions, and that is recognised in the Climate Change Act 2008. Serious issues have been raised about the impact that carbon dioxide emissions can have, including the impact on the health of the community. As has been mentioned, there is a target for an 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050, and that represents a major challenge for us all.
However, for a prosperous Northern Ireland economy, we need good, efficient transportation systems and transport infrastructure. That has been recognised in the regional transportation strategy, which has been adopted by the Assembly. Many of the issues that we would like to raise are covered in the regional transportation strategy, and there is a need for the finance to implement fully that strategy. In recognition of the issues facing transport, the Institution of Highways and Transportation produced the publication, ‘Climate Change and Sustainable Transport — the Challenge for Transport Professionals’. Copies of the executive summary of the report will be made available to Committee members this afternoon.
Mr Herbert Bailie (Institution of Highways and Transportation):
I will go through the five main points raised in ‘Climate Change and Sustainable Transport — the Challenge for Transport Professionals’, which we used in formulating our submission. The five themes are: managing demand; changing behaviour; accessibility and social equity; technology and safety; and administration and finance. In addition, we make reference in our submission to alternative energy sources and renewables, but we are not specialists in that field.
With regard to managing demand, reducing the need to travel is not just an environmental objective; it will and has become necessitated by daily and weekly household budgeting as fuel costs have increased over recent years. It will continue to play an increasing role in choices about where to buy a house or where to seek work. However, reduced travel has the capability of contributing to reductions in CO2. It is clear that transport and land-use planning are linked. We emphasise that the regional development strategy and the regional transportation strategy must continue to sustain integrated development, taking account of environmental sustainable impacts, climate change and the issues associated with peak oil.
The demand for travel can be affected by measures that rely on persuasion, in other words, soft measures, or by hard measures that deter travel. Soft measures include: promotion and provision of good public transport, walking and cycling, car clubs, car sharing, and other measures that were mentioned earlier. The hard measures are: reducing car parking, increasing the cost of car parking, allocating space on the roads to public transport, and even the possibility of road-user charging — which has not made headlines here, but has done so in GB on many occasions.
Provided that attractive alternatives to the car are available, soft measures can be more effective than is appreciated by many transport planners. A significant body of evidence supports that. The Office of Fair Trading has recently published good-practice guidance on smarter choices that we consider worthy of the attention of all transport planners. Our colleagues from the Confederation of British Industry or the Energy Saving Trust said that we should look beyond our own boundaries to what happens elsewhere.
In Northern Ireland, we depend significantly on road freight. In the UK, food and agriculture products account for nearly 30% of goods transported by road, and food miles on roads rose by some 15% between 1992 and 2002. Food transport in 2002 accounted for about 25% of all heavy goods vehicle (HGV) kilometres travelled in the UK. Some 95% of fruit and 50% of vegetables sold in the UK is grown abroad, and the amount of food flown into the UK doubled in the 1990s. It is estimated that, for the UK, the direct environmental and social costs of food transport are over £9 billion each year, predominantly related to congestion charges, as we move those goods around the country.
The wider implications of unsustainable transport impact need to be addressed at local, national and global levels. One of the issues we must look at — and it is topical — is that, if we reduce food waste, we reduce the amount of food that has to be moved around, reduce food miles, and consequently emissions and CO2. In local planning, we need to consider and assess carefully the location of new retail food shopping outlets, including the introduction of local farmers’ markets. We have to ensure that, when we do that, we give priority to sustainable transport. However, there is concern about trends towards Internet shopping, which has become increasingly popular. That may not reduce the number of trips made, but it changes the types of trips made, causing considerably more deliveries to occur.
We need to look at actions that manage demand and require people to change behaviour. Let us look at what happens elsewhere: car ownership in France and Germany is higher than in the UK, but mileage driven in those countries is considerably less than in the UK. We can read that into Ireland and Northern Ireland as well. The provision of alternative travel options as a priority, the provision of timely information about travel opportunities, and better marketing and advertising of significantly good initiatives has been advocated by transportation professionals for many years.
We encourage walking and cycling along safe routes, car-sharing, car clubs, park-and-ride schemes, public transport and travel plans. We welcome the significant progress made in Northern Ireland in promoting sustainable options over recent years. The Travelwise campaign has been a significant platform for that, but more needs to be done. We need to get kids to ask parents why they are driving them to school and polluting the atmosphere with emissions, instead of helping them to walk into a healthy future. If we tackle those people about those issues, there is a possibility that they will think more about how they travel. That will help to reduce transport emissions and will, consequently, have an impact on climate change.
Accessibility and social equity, achieved in a sustainable manner, is a fundamental requirement of modern society. The Institution of Highways and Transportation believes that measures that promote and develop walking and cycling in an urban transport hierarchy must be given high priority, not only for people’s health but for the general environmental impact of those pursuits. Better use of existing networks, through small and large-scale initiatives, can contribute to the more efficient movement of traffic. The resulting reduced congestion means less emissions and less pollution. We accept that public transport, as was mentioned earlier, cannot be a substitute for many journeys, particularly those in less built-up and rural areas that have diverse origins and destinations. However, we suggest that public transport must be a key focus in urban areas. Those services must be frequent, reliable, affordable, comfortable and accessible if people are going to use them.
As pressure mounts for more sustainable transport as a result of the reduced availability and rising cost of fossil fuels, or from policies such as carbon rationing to limit climate change, public transport will have an increasingly crucial role to play. It is important to ensure that public transport is well integrated with other forms of transport. The regional transportation strategy has addressed, and is continuing to address, that issue. We support fully the concept of a rapid-transit system in Belfast, but it must meet the criteria for good public transport.
I will now move on to technology and safety, and talk about vehicle efficiency and alternative fuels. The increase in car traffic, coupled with improved fuel consumption and better engine efficiency, is an interesting subject. Those factors mean that car emissions are relatively stable. Nevertheless, we must not be complacent, and technology must be improved so that emissions are further reduced. It is obvious that fleet operators and major employers, as well as individual owners, will have to look carefully at new vehicle stock. Future technological development will create savings. We must look at the introduction of new technologies, such as hybrid and electric engines and fluid-cell energy; many organisations are already doing so.
Manchester Airport plans to have its ground operations rendered carbon-neutral by 2015, and has begun purchasing electric vehicles to support that target. Some Government Departments are using hybrid cars; I understand that the Government carpool is using some of those vehicles. As was suggested earlier this morning, however, there is perhaps a need or an opportunity for people to do a lot more.
Significant improvements have been made to recycling on construction schemes, which will help to reduce the construction industry’s carbon footprint. However, we must ensure that we have a resilient transport network as we move forward into a time of change. Recent experience has demonstrated the potential for extreme weather to have a major effect on transport networks. That has been evident in England since 2007, and, to some extent in Northern Ireland in the past year or so. Climate science is unequivocal about the fact that extreme events of that nature will become more common and possibly more intense. As a result, it is important that we understand where transport networks are most vulnerable and what measures can be taken to reduce the consequences of that disruption. That is how climate change impacts on the economy, which, in turn, impacts on how we live.
The stability of embankments and cuttings could be at risk if drainage systems were swamped, and bridges, road surfaces, permanent ways and railways would be at risk if there were extremes in temperatures. Those issues have to be looked at. Although engineering solutions are appropriate to deal with climate change and developments, it is clear that planning the location of critical services and the development of contingency plans will have a vital role to play. No complete picture exists of where those vulnerabilities lie or what the thresholds at which failure could occur are. It has been suggested that that be addressed as a matter of urgency to minimise the social and economic disruption that will occur when we are subjected to such extreme weather events.
It is clear from the Eddington Report that transport is a key factor in economic performance. It is a challenge to maintain services and infrastructure in a sustainable manner. We are aware that road transport is a significant source of taxation and revenue. In fact, road users and public-transport users probably pay more than they get in return.
However, as we move forward, we must give considerable consideration to where the finance for tackling climate change and addressing the issue of transport will come from. Apart from the current Exchequer funding, we must begin to look at local tax-raising powers, road-user charges, parking levees, developer contributions and land-use tax. Incidentally, in Nottingham, officials are seeking to introduce parking levies on all workplace parking spaces and are waiting for permission from the Government to implement that.
Finally, I turn to alternative energy sources. Global fuel sources are being depleted. As Geoffrey Perrin said, peak oil production is approaching. We have only very limited carbon fuel resources available in Northern Ireland, and those are not commercially sustainable. At present, we are reliant on imported carbon fuels and interconnectors for energy. If electric power can be generated without burning hydrocarbons, pressures on valuable oil resources will be relieved. Northern Ireland is ideally placed to benefit from natural resources, and the Institution of Highways and Transportation supports continued work to develop those options.
The agriculture industry has the potential to produce managed crops for biofuels for power generation. Wind energy and tidal energy options also exist. The issue of waste disposal was passed over very quickly this morning. Despite the problems that we have with it, waste disposal could contribute to our energy needs. If we can generate electric power without burning hydrocarbons, we can provide other advantages for the Northern Ireland economy.
In summary, for the good of the economy, we need a good transport system and infrastructure. Internal freight movement here is always by road, and without that we would be in severe difficulties. As well as that, private cars and buses will be the dominant forms of transport in rural areas for the foreseeable future. An opportunity exists, however, in Belfast in particular, for providing a modern, integrated public transport system, with park-and-ride facilities at the key entry points along the key corridors. That will help to reduce congestion and carbon emissions, and create a better environment for people.
It is expected that engine efficiency will improve with new fuels. That will play a major part in reducing carbon emissions. The review of the regional development strategy and the regional transportation strategy, which is currently ongoing, gives us an opportunity to study the sustainable and environmental issues and study how traffic impact on the climate and the environment will develop.
IHT recognises that numerous Government Departments, Translink and Roads Service have worked to implement the RTS. Many of the measures that we have briefly mentioned are being covered and are in their early stages. A lot of our members are involved in that process. Our plea is that the finances and resources should be available so that the measures that are contained in the modified RTS are carried through when the review is complete.
You mentioned the Executive’s pool of vehicles. After asking a question in the Assembly, I discovered that that pool contained a couple of hybrid vehicles. However, the CO2 emissions of the other vehicles are quite high. The criterion that the Department used in its tendering process was 170g/km. Compared to some vehicles, that is very high. We must question what is being done. People can talk the talk, but if they do not walk the walk — or drive the proper car — it does not stack up to the example that is set elsewhere.
I had a poor experience with some biofuels on one occasion, and I was a bit soured as a result. You mentioned that the description of biofuels as a single category is oversimplistic. You stated that although some biofuels offer real savings in relation to carbon emissions, others may not be truly sustainable. Will you give us a bit more information about that? Do you have more information on that?
I cannot provide numbers at the moment, but the issue is related to the fact that many biofuels create big impacts on other cash crops and create other impacts in general economies. The biofuels may create less emissions and fewer environmental problems, but there could be other problems in the background, so the true footprint has to be considered. There are more detailed references to that matter in some of the documentation that we will make available.
Perhaps the pool of cars should consist of Volkswagen Passat BlueMotions, or other environmentally friendly cars.
Was that a plug, Mr Ross? [Laughter.]
We heard a submission from the Energy Saving Trust. Its message was very positive: if people save energy, they will save money up front or over the course of two or three years. Some of the things that you have said relate to the impact on individuals. You talked about the need to reduce travel. Over the twentieth century and the twenty-first century, one of the biggest advances for individuals has been the ability to travel — whether individual travel, or because families who could never have afforded to go abroad before now can because of low-cost flights. I think that that is a major advance in civilisation. To say that that should be reduced automatically has a bit of a negative connotation.
You talked about the need for road charging, and so on. I would be totally opposed to road charging anywhere in Northern Ireland. Look at the size of this country — road charging does not make sense to me.
The people who end up paying are those who cannot afford it, because it does not matter to those who can. Charging for road use impacts on the wrong people in society. The necessity for parking levies was mentioned. That means people travelling to work must pay to do their jobs, which is totally unrealistic. People lucky enough to have a job in today’s economic climate should not be further penalised.
If the aim is to get more people into retail centres to spend money in businesses that are struggling, charging more for car parking in town or city centres is wrong. I do not like the idea of people being punished. If the objective is to encourage people to use public transport, make that attractive and make it something that they want to do; do not bully them into using it. Some of the institution’s suggestions are the very measures that feed scepticism about so-called environmental taxes or green policies. People believe, quite rightly in many cases, that they have little to do with saving the environment and more with generating revenue for the Government.
What is the institution’s response to those comments, some of which, I am aware, are quite critical?
As a member of the public, I share the same general scepticism. Road charges, parking levies, increased parking charges and removing road space to give priority to public transport are all part of a toolbox that help people to make choices and decisions about how and why they travel and how they judge the necessity of a journey. Yes, Northern Ireland is small and the need for people to travel will continue.
Do you accept that those measures do not give people choices over their decisions — that their choices and decisions are being limited?
Yes, but I was about to say that because those measures are part of a toolbox, their application must be subjected to a full economic analysis. Those tools may not be appropriate in many situations, or there may be some in which they will or could be appropriate. That must be considered. The key point is that, in order to contribute to reductions in CO2 and pollution, there is a requirement for mechanisms and measures to reduce travel.
Persuading parents to have their children walk to school rather than drive them there has the double benefit of making the children healthier, and perhaps the parents, if they walk with them. That immediately reduces emissions, as does increased use of public transport. Car sharing, which was referred to this morning, has the potential to, and does, reduce congestion and emissions. Further reducing congestion cuts down on emissions and produces a win-win situation by creating efficient transport, helping the economy and supporting the climate-change agenda.
I have one final point about lower carbon emissions from the new vehicles stock, which has been mentioned. I know that Translink recently received new, lower-carbon-emission buses. Is it not the case that those vehicles use more fuel? Therefore, the overall impact is that the environment is no better off. Carbon emissions from the vehicle may be reduced, but because it uses considerably more fuel the overall impact is nullified. Is that fair comment?
I cannot comment on that directly. If the Committee wants us to find out more and come back to it, we will do so.
I am very confident that that is the case. Perhaps the witnesses will have a look at that.
The Committee cannot expect the witnesses to be engineers. By the way, that is not the case with the BlueMotion, Alistair.
To add to what Bert Bailie has said, the institution is trying to encourage, to some extent, a modal shift. There is a carrot-and-stick approach. The carrot is that we must have a good, affordable, reliable, comfortable and dependable public-transport system. People will not be denied travel; they will see and use a more environmentally friendly alternative.
We cited greater Belfast as the most appropriate location for that system, because a certain volume of users is needed to justify having it.
Some of the more penal measures are an attempt to demonstrate that there could be a funding mechanism to help with the implementation of a sustainable transportation system. We are conscious that it is all very well saying that we need more money for these things. Doubtless, you would love to give us the money, but we accept that it is not as easy as that. There is a basket of mechanisms that could possibly be used to fund better public transport.
Thanks very much for your presentation. My point is along the same lines of what Mr Ross has said. It is a matter of changing attitudes and behaviours, and you outlined some fiscal instruments that are aimed at doing that. I travel up the M1 on my way to Stormont, four days a week. A huge number of cars use that road, and there is a good park-and-ride facility.
I appreciate your point that the population around Belfast could sustain a new rapid-transit system. However, you have not really touched on how the issues in rural areas should be addressed. It should not merely be a case of building up roads infrastructure and networks. There should be other ways of addressing the problem, such as improving broadband access, increasing working from home, and so on. How do you feel we should address those issues?
I had jotted down some points on that, but I managed to go past them. Reference was made to broadband this morning, and networks incorporate communication as well as transport. A good communication network and good broadband access would create opportunities for home working, which is one of the soft measures that I mentioned. Some Departments and a lot of employers have been looking at allowing staff to work from home.
One fewer car journey per person per week would potentially reduce traffic by 20%, which would lead to a substantial reduction in congestion. It is going to be difficult to come up with alternatives to using the car in rural areas. The car will probably remain the main mode of transport for a significant period of time. That is why it is important to continue to invest in technological developments that will provide more efficient engines. We need to support the rural economy and to reduce certain types of travel within urban areas.
You may look at developing technologies in the long term, but people in rural areas need transport, and they will ultimately have to pay for new technologies or any other measure that is implemented. The provision of public transport is always more viable in urban centres. How do you see that situation progressing? Will it be a case of seeking subsidies? No matter how one looks at it, people in rural areas will always have to pay.
All that the institution has done in that respect is to identify potential fund-raising measures. How those measures are put in place is a matter for the politicians and officials.
That is why I asked that question here at Stormont. Chairman, we must be sure to note that response.
Mr Philip Robinson:
The Department for Regional Development has availed itself of EU funding over the past five years to improve minor roads in the border region, particularly in County Fermanagh. We advocate the promotion of rural transportation in the next tranche of EU funding from Brussels for 2007-2013, and there is scope to do that. Although much of the funding is heading to eastern Europe, there is still an opportunity for Northern Ireland.
Thank you very much for your presentation. It was an interesting complement to some of the earlier presentations that focused more on the domestic scene. You said that the RTS recognises the need for change. In your written submission, you referred to the:
“realisation that the philosophy of ‘predict and provide’…for traffic growth was not sustainable”.
Is that the case in Northern Ireland? Does the RTS go far enough, or are we still facing a Budget that is seriously skewed towards roads rather than public transportation?
As I said earlier, our submission is based on a document that was produced on a UK-wide basis. There has been a strong realisation across the profession generally that the “predict and provide” philosophy is, in many ways, unsustainable and leads to attempts to squeeze quarts into pint pots. Part of the problem in Northern Ireland, as the RTS recognises, is that the communications network is poor and requires much investment to bring it up to a standard that meets modern-day requirements. That is not necessarily a matter of “predict and provide”; it is providing what is necessary to support a vibrant economy. That is what the RTS has been doing and intends to do. The Assembly recognised that when it voted for the measures, and I imagine that it will continue to be part of the ethos when the RDS and RTS are next reviewed.
Gentlemen, thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today. You will receive a copy of our report when it is produced. I hope that it will contain many illuminating recommendations for the Assembly, the Executive and possibly others.
We will now hear evidence from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). The institution represents the property profession and offers advice on a diverse range of land, property, construction and related environmental issues. Part of its role is to set, maintain and regulate standards. The RICS also provides impartial advice to Governments and policymakers. Members have a copy of its submission to the inquiry.
The RICS delegation comprises Michael Doran, head of the environmental group in the North; Thomas McClelland, the NI residential spokesperson; Liam Dornan, head of the building control professional group; and Nuala O’Neill, who is the public policy executive. It is great to see you again, Nuala.
Ms Nuala O’Neill (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors):
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Northern Ireland thanks the Committee for inviting us to give evidence to its inquiry. Michael Doran, who is the head of the environmental professional group, will cover energy issues. Tom McClelland is the Northern Ireland residential spokesperson, and has a particular interest in transport. Liam Dornan is the head of our building control professional group, and he will talk about the built environment.
As our submission states, the RICS has approximately 3,000 members in Northern Ireland. It is the principal body that represents professionals employed in the land, property and construction sectors. Our members practise in land, property and construction markets, and are employed in private practice; central, regional and local government; public agencies; academic institutions; and business and non-governmental institutions. As part of its Royal Charter, the institution has a commitment to provide advice to the Government of the day, and in doing so, has an obligation to bear in mind the public interest.
Our written submission stresses that it is imperative that we act urgently to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Global CO2 emissions are rising — not only that, but there are signs that increases in recent years have been particularly sharp. One international energy agency projection is that emissions will be more than 60% higher in 2030 than in 2002. By comparison, the Stern Review suggests that global emissions in 2050 should be 5% below current levels in order to meet the climate change goals adopted as a basis of the review. Not only are we not on track, we are going in the wrong direction.
I should like to make the Committee aware of the publications and research that the RICS has issued since our February submission. We have published ‘Towards a Low Carbon Built Environment: A Road Map for Action’, and the ‘RICS Global Zero Carbon Capacity Index’, based on 2008 results. Links to those documents have been made available to the Committee Clerk in case members require further information.
Mr Michael Doran (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors):
Before I start I should say that I am also the director of Action Renewables, although it is not in that capacity that I appear before you today; it is on behalf of the RICS.
Members will be aware that Northern Ireland imports 97% of its primary energy requirement. It is interesting that we also export 85% of our agricultural produce. I suggest that that imbalance could be addressed in co-operation with some of the other Departments.
I will set the scene about where we are now, what the RICS policy is, and what we and the Department of the Environment could do to address the issues. Most of the fossil fuels that we use are imported. By reducing the amount of fossil fuels that we use and import, we would not only address climate change mitigation but address security of supply and provide an opportunity for increased economic development in Northern Ireland.
The RICS strongly supports the UK Climate Change Act 2008, which suggests that, by 2050, we will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. Currently, the Assembly’s emissions reduction targets are uncertain. The sooner we agree on those targets, the better. Whatever we do, we need to start sooner rather than later.
The Committee will be aware of the Stern Report, which was produced in 2006. Most people have not read the report, because it is 700 pages long, but its basic thrust is not about the implications of climate change; it is about the cost. It is an economic report on what the costs will be and what those costs will mount to if we do not address the issue quickly.
The question is what we and the Department of the Environment can do. First, it is a cross-departmental issue, particularly in conjunction with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. I am aware that you already have an interdepartmental working group, headed by Minister Foster, that is looking at climate change. That has great potential.
Secondly, there is the legislative framework, which is within the remit of the work of the Department of the Environment. We have some concerns about some of the recommendations in planning policy statement (PPS) 18, particularly on restricting the height of wind turbines. Northern Ireland has tremendous potential, both in wind capacity and in water capacity from tidal streams. It is a mistake to tie one hand behind our back when trying to address those issues. Individual decisions must be made, but if we make overarching decisions on, for instance, the acceptable height of turbines, we will be fighting with one hand behind our back.
We must recognise that electricity accounts for only about 30% of total energy consumption in Northern Ireland, whereas heat accounts for 40%. At the moment, DETI is developing — and I think the Department of the Environment also has input — a renewable heat strategy. We hope that that strategy will be published soon and be supported by the Department of the Environment.
I have already mentioned wave and tidal technology; Northern Ireland has tremendous potential in that area. One turbine development between the mainland and Rathlin could produce 10% of all Northern Ireland’s electricity. The Committee will be aware that a demonstration turbine is already operating in Strangford. That turbine has only a five-year licence, and, therefore, it is likely that it will have to be removed from the water in three years. At the moment, it appears to be running successfully. To date, there has been considerable constraint on the development of such projects. I ask the Department of the Environment to look on such projects favourably.
Northern Ireland has an opportunity to use its existing skill base to increase economic development based on existing renewable technologies, particularly marine technologies. Northern Ireland has a background in shipbuilding, drilling, sub-sea cable laying and offshore platform construction. If we move now, we have the opportunity to develop those skills as part of a renewable energy industry.
Mr Tom McClelland (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors):
Chartered surveyors are a hard-working lot. I am chairperson of the Northern Ireland Cycling Forum, and I submitted a response in that capacity to the Committee’s inquiry some time ago.
I am sure that the Committee has heard similar comments from the Institution of Highways and Transportation and other bodies. In Northern Ireland, the Roads Service transport system is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels, global reserves of which are depleting faster than the discovery of replacements. Carbon dioxide emissions from transport in Britain and Northern Ireland have risen from 27% in 1990 to 33% in 2004, and that rise is projected to continue. Although increasing numbers of people use public transport, the figures show that car use is still the dominant mode of transport. Between 2005 and 2007, car travel accounted for 81% of the total distance travelled in Northern Ireland. Since 1990, emissions from road transport have risen by almost 35%.
RICS recognises that transport is one of the most technically and politically difficult sectors in which to reduce emissions, partly due to the widespread behavioural changes that are required. However, that does not justify a lack of action. We need to develop a two-pronged approach: the reduction of the emissions footprint, and a spatial relationship between the use of land and transport infrastructure. We welcome PPS 13, ‘Transportation and Land Use’, and look forward to its full implementation.
RICS considers all transport modes to be legitimate options of travel, but, where realistic, we advocate a modal shift to public transport, cycling and walking. About 65% of all journeys in Northern Ireland are shorter than five miles, and 17% are shorter than one mile. Moreover, we believe that the price that a passenger or driver pays should more accurately reflect the real cost of higher emissions of certain modes of transport. The reduction of carbon dioxide in the transport sector must be set within a wider policy framework at Westminster. Fiscal incentives combined with infrastructure should be introduced to encourage alternative fuel use.
There should be greater investment in an affordable, sustainable public transport system, particularly in rail transport. The introduction of new rolling stock has significantly increased passenger numbers, and consideration should be given to the reintroduction of carrying freight on the rail network.
Higher levels of road space correspond with higher levels of traffic and, in turn, higher carbon dioxide emissions. RICS advocates the careful use of design to reduce road-hub space and establish communities around well-serviced public-transport hubs, alongside the provision of incentives to reduce dependence on private cars. RICS believes that the high level of car use can be reduced by addressing the spatial relationship between the use of land and transport infrastructure, and by using the built environment to encourage walking, cycling and the use of public transport. The planning system must be used to reduce the need to travel, particularly in private vehicles, while providing accessible, affordable and relevant public-transport systems. We should be linking transport services, jobs and people through transport development areas, where possible containing high-density development around public-transport nodes, which will help to create sustainable communities and should lower carbon emissions from the built environment by reducing people’s reliance on cars.
Mr Liam Dornan (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors):
I should like to address the issue of building stock. Clearly, buildings in use are a significant contributor to carbon emissions. It has to be recognised that significant work has been carried out by Government on reducing emissions from the built environment through the introduction of the code for sustainable homes, which is applied to all new social housing; energy performance certificates (EPCs); and the green rates rebate. However, much more work needs to be done. At present, buildings contribute 44% of carbon emissions, and 63% of all energy consumed in the UK comes from the built environment.
We suggest that government, in its endeavour to combat climate change, has one of the most potent weapons at its disposal in the form of the existing building control framework, which is already within the powers of local authorities. Building regulation approval is required for most building works. Property professionals assess plans to ensure that they meet environmental standards for energy performance. That can be as fundamental as ensuring the use of energy-efficient boilers and the insulation of building structures. In our efforts as property professionals and with the Department’s continued support, RICS believes that increased regulation of energy-efficiency standards will go some way towards helping the Assembly to address fuel poverty for the people of Northern Ireland by making energy-producing appliances more efficient. At a commercial level, application of those same principles will reduce energy bills for business, thus helping the economy.
RICS acknowledges that measures to effectively reduce carbon emissions involve a wide range of policy mechanisms, such as taxation, which are probably outside the remit of the Assembly. However, there are tools at our disposal — for example, the introduction of EPCs for commercial and domestic properties, which became mandatory on 1 January 2009. Although RICS welcomes that move, we would like to see a firm commitment from Government that EPCs will be taken seriously and operate as an effective incentive to reduce energy consumption. For that to be effective, RICS recommends that the role of EPC enforcement be given to local authority building control officers as soon as possible and that adequate funding be provided to cover that duty. RICS also recommends that Government buildings should lead by example in that respect.
We welcomed the announcement in December 2008 that rates rebates will be introduced for domestic energy efficiency. We advocate that a similar policy be introduced for non-domestic, or commercial, properties. We urge the Executive to look at proposals from the UK Government’s heat and energy savings strategy. Improving the energy efficiency of older residential properties must be a priority for Government. RICS and its members are strongly committed to delivering a sustainable property sector in which the use of resources, particularly energy, is minimised throughout the life of a building, from concept to disposal. Government intervention cannot work in isolation. Members from each part of society — individuals, businesses and Government — must work together to limit emissions.
I will end on a positive note by saying that if we save energy, we should save money. It is easy for me to recommend to the Committee codes of practices and in-depth reports from eminent professionals. However, the building regulation framework exists as a key statutory arm. We look forward to your continuing commitment to the promotion and enforcement of European energy standards.
Are the policy and building regulations that are in place complementary to achieving the targets for the older building stock? What are your suggestions on how we should address that through incentives or funding?
Mr L Dornan:
People living in older building stock want to improve their dwellings and cut down their bills. However, they may not have the money to improve their properties. Financial incentives are required from Government, by way of simple measures such as roof-space insulation and the replacement of old boilers. It is similar to scrapping a 10-year-old car and getting £2,000 to help to buy a new one; those are the sort of measures that I am referring to. Incentives are not as
readily available as they used to be. Perhaps Government need to think about that, because most of our emissions come from the older stock. New stock is not as bad, as it will already meet the current standards for energy conservation. Old stock, however, really needs money spent on it.
Is there any more that we can do through policy or regulation?
Mr L Dornan:
There is a piece of legislation being considered by one of your sister Committees, the Committee for Finance and Personnel. It is an amendment to the building regulations making it mandatory to make an application to building control if one is changing an old boiler for a new one. That will ensure that people do not install a boiler that is less efficient than one that meets current standards. That can be regulated only if the building control officers have sight of it.
PPS 18 and its supplementary policy guidelines keep raising their heads today. At the minute, the focus is on the height of wind turbines. Do you believe that that should be withdrawn and looked at again?
Mr L Dornan:
Yes, I do. Committee members will be aware of the proposal for a new cross-discipline training college at Desertcreat near Cookstown. The college will cater for the PSNI, the Fire and Rescue Service and the Ambulance Service, and will contain between 400 and 450 accommodation units. If the college is restricted under the proposal in PPS 18, it will be able to source 24% of its electricity from one turbine. However, if the college is allowed the height that it wants, it will be able to source 92% of its electricity from that turbine. Now, if you lived within the flicker of that turbine, you might not want that project to go ahead. Therefore, the decision is not a simple one for the Department of the Environment. However, limiting the height of the turbine will take away the opportunity to use some of the resources that we have. That is just one example.
In relation to public transport, we need to make a call on trying to remove private cars from the roads, especially those that travel in and out of Belfast, which can be seen on the M1 and M2 every day. How can we incentivise people to use public transport? A lot of people have talked about public transport, and the park-and-ride scheme seems OK, but how can we realistically incentivise people to use public transport?
First, the external costs of private single-car occupancy have not been fully taken into account and are much higher than suggested by some commentators. I can provide the Committee with figures on the real cost of motoring that were published by Transform Scotland. Therefore, the externalities must be taken into account. Secondly, a carrot-and-stick approach is required. The trouble is that the public subsidy to Translink has been reduced, which means that passengers have to pay higher fares. That suggests that it is cheaper to continue motoring, because the cost of motoring has fallen dramatically in real terms over the past 20 years. The way to incentivise people is to make it easier and cheaper to use public transport.
Some 60% of all journeys are less than five miles and, from memory, 20% are less than one mile. Queen’s University recently carried out a study that showed that 98% of the rural population live within five miles of amenities such as pharmacies, doctors, schools and retailers. If cycling and walking were prioritised and made safer, a huge gain could be made. I appreciate that this is the Committee for the Environment and not the Committee for Regional Development, but there is a feeling that the general trend in transport policy has been to ensure that the strategic road network is in good shape and can carry as much traffic as possible. The issue of local journeys has not been examined in any way, and work to address those problems has not been encouraged.
It is certainly not encouraged where I come from; there are lots of potholes.
You talked about the concept of putting freight on rail — is that feasible in Northern Ireland or anywhere on this island?
Not in the short term; rail freight was last used in 2003-04. However, in the long term, given the cost of fuel and the external cost of running heavy goods vehicles, it is a matter that will have to be revisited.
Do you think that it could happen in the medium term, considering that our heavy-rail network is fairly limited?
It should not be dismissed entirely.
You also talked about developments concentrated around what you described as “transport hubs”. Should that be revisited in a whole raft of planning policy statements?
PPS 13 is already there. RICS did not dream up the notion of public-transport nodes by itself. It is well established in the available literature and in internationally recognised planning policies.
I was making a point about the need to revise planning policy statements and whether you were suggesting, effectively, changing planning policy.
On PPS 13, the short answer is no, as long as it is implemented. Off the cuff, I wonder about the success or otherwise of PPS 21, and whether it will herald a big drift into the countryside or the growth of towns and cities.
Mr Dornan talked about improving the efficiency of older housing stock. The vast majority of houses that will be occupied by 2020 are occupied already. Some of those houses were built to this year’s standards, while others were built to the standards of the 1960s and 1970s, or, dare I say, to almost non-existent earlier standards. How do you deal with that retrospective problem?
Mr L Dornan:
That is a big problem, and the only way to deal with it is through financial incentives for house owners. We think of older stock as red-brick Victorian two-up two-downs, but, in truth, houses that were built 30 years ago are now becoming older stock. They may have cavity walls, but they do not have any insulation in them. Those houses probably do not have double-glazing, but today’s houses have double-glazing, cavity walls and roofs that are fully insulated, and a very efficient boiler for the heating system. We have moved on tremendously in that regard, even in the past five years. Those improvements can cost money, but they will undoubtedly result in a saving. There must be an incentive for the owner of a 20-year-old house with a boiler that is still working to change much of the building fabric. Such an incentive could take the form of a rates rebate, which, hopefully, would not affect the district rate but would come out of the Government’s purse.
Ms N O’Neill:
In our written submission, we describe typical pre-1914 homes emitting eight tons of CO2 a year, compared to four tons for homes that were built after 1995. We can supply further information on that subject. There is a real need to reduce carbon emissions from older housing stock.
We have heard evidence today from you and a range of agencies, and we have been dipping into the responsibilities of the Departments of Finance and Personnel; Employment and Learning; Agriculture and Rural Development; Enterprise, Trade and Investment; Social Development; and Education. In terms of joined-up government, the host Department for this is the Department of the Environment, but we heard last week about the strictures that, for whatever reasons, are placed on that Department in respect of its overarching policy remit over other Departments. You made that point in your written submission. Do you wish to expand on the need for a cross-departmental approach by Government and how RICS regards the benefits and merits of such an approach?
Ms N O’Neill:
We will be happy to submit further information on that matter to the Committee in writing. When there is a dependence on the budgets of more than one Department, it is difficult to ensure cross-departmental approaches. We will consult our members and get back to you with an approach.
That is great. I thank everyone for their valuable time and information. This session has proved very interesting.
We will now take evidence from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Members should note that the RTPI claims to be a dynamic organisation that is leading the way in the creation of places that work, now and in future. Through its membership, the RTPI constantly seeks to create areas and places in which people want to live and work by promoting good planning, raising the standards of the planning profession and supporting its members through continued professional development. The RTPI’s submission to the inquiry has been provided to Committee members, along with the specialist adviser’s comments.
With us today are Mr Gavin Rafferty, the chairperson of the Royal Town Planning Institute, Mr David Worthington, its vice-chairperson, and Mr Brian Sore, it regional officer. You are very welcome; it is good to see you in this capacity. We will allow you 10 or 15 minutes to give us an overview of your submission to the inquiry, or to add to, amend or expand on it.
Mr Gavin Rafferty ( Royal Town Planning Institute):
I thank the Committee for inviting us to give a presentation on the role of town planning in tackling climate change and delivering sustainable development. We hope to assist the Committee with its inquiry into the implications of climate change and the deliberations that follow from it.
My colleague David Worthington will deliver the greater part of the presentation, and we will interject at a later point. As you have said, Chairperson, the RTPI is a leading professional body that represents spatial planners in the United Kingdom. We have more than 20,000 members in the UK and more than 500 in Northern Ireland. The institute hopes to advance the science and art of town planning and provide continuing professional development for our members. We hope to develop their skills and competencies in the area of spatial planning and to deal with climate change.
Mr David Worthington ( Royal Town Planning Institute):
I thank the Committee for the invitation to contribute to its inquiry. Although I will make the presentation, I expect my colleagues to interject from time to time with whatever additional information they feel is needed.
The Committee has been provided with the RTPI’s consultation document ‘Planning to Live with Climate Change’, which was published in April. It is a high-level document, aimed mainly at the profession and its main customers in Government and industry. Although it articulates the institute’s view on climate change, we stress that we are not experts in the science of climate change. It is for others to provide you with evidence on that. However, the institute accepts that climate change is a fact, and the real purpose of ‘Planning to Live with Climate Change’ is to gear up the profession to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.
‘Planning to Live with Climate Change’ can be complicated. It is a multi-layered document that can be hard going. Rather than repeat its content, we decided that we should speak about the potential outcomes of the inquiry, and who or what should be charged with the practicalities of getting its recommendations on to the ground. I hope that our evidence will be more practical and more to the point than the consultation document.
We distilled our message into four key points. First, the Committee’s recommendations, and the targets that it sets, need to be translated into actions. Secondly, those actions must, out of necessity, be co-ordinated. We noted with interest the final question that was asked to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), because I will deal with the subject presently.
Thirdly, planning is the tool that is readily available to Government to achieve implementation of the recommendations. Fourthly, planning can co-ordinate and align public and private interests impartially, so as to effect the implementation of whatever targets the Committee sets. Over the next few minutes, we will explore some of those points in more detail. I hope that this will not take too long.
As I said, the Committee’s recommendations and targets must be translated into actions. We are aware of the background and context of the discussion, which is the coming together of the review of public administration, planning reform, the Committee’s work and the review of the regional development strategy. In essence, that presents a generational opportunity, because those four elements will not come together again.
That is an unmissable opportunity to create lasting and beneficial change. We also note that everyone is well aware that the existing planning system is ill-equipped to meet the challenges that the Committee’s report will generate. Planning reform therefore represents the best opportunity to create a planning architecture that can deliver and meet the challenges of climate change.
We began to think a little more about how that architecture should look. Sitting on the outside of the process, we have not received much feedback on what happens inside it. We spoke to our colleagues across the water. What emerged from that conversation was that, up until 1979, the system in England, Scotland and Wales largely mirrored that of Northern Ireland. It was regulatory and inflexible. The Government that came to power in 1979 viewed it as a piece of bureaucracy and red tape that needed to be removed.
As a result, they swept the system away and opened up a free-for-all in which developers constructed piecemeal without any framework on which to base their investment decisions. As we are all aware, that can be done only for so long. By the mid 1980s, all the obvious sites had been developed. Developers found themselves not knowing what to do. They ended up going back to Government to ask them where they should go next. At that point, Government realised that the importance of planning as a tool for wealth creation could not be ignored. It is central to Government’s role, not to create jobs but to create the environment in which jobs are generated.
The Government devised a system that identifies opportunities in an entrepreneurial context and creates a competitive advantage. By and large, that system still exists, although it has been modified several times. For example, it now takes account of sustainable development and climate change. However, it continues to be a shift from a regulatory system that blocks development to a spatial framework that actively identifies opportunities. That is the kind of architecture that needs to emerge from planning reform. In short, it is about planning’s facilitating action.
That leads on to my second point, which is that actions need to be co-ordinated. I noted the question asked of the RICS. The targets and actions that the Committee identifies must be used to set Government’s spending priorities. That involves funding and investment strategies that cut across Government. Departments need to come out of their silos, because in present circumstances, when resources are limited, all possible synergies among departmental plans and programmes must be identified in order to institute real cost savings and efficiency gains.
Efficiency gains are about more than just saving money that can be reapplied elsewhere: they are also about the efficient use of land and other limited resources. That, in itself, has benefits for Government. For example, if different programmes are co-ordinated and spare land can be identified, that land can be sold to the private sector.
The private sector requires certainty when making investments, more so now than ever, given that lending from banks is so loaded. Our view is that the development community would welcome an approach that were to involve its investment plans in a broader scope. In essence, that co-ordination of strategy is spatial planning, which is what the institute stands for and is what is practised in England. To summarise, it is the co-ordination of actions by planning to produce efficient results.
Thirdly, planning is the tool that is readily available to Government to achieve implementation. The planning profession is in place, and Government have made a significant investment in employment in that profession in the past 10 years, particularly in the past two years. Around 400 planners are employed in the Planning Service. That is not to say that everything is rosy, because, as we said already, the system requires radical reform if it is to be genuinely effective.
We have not seen the proposals that are emerging on planning reform beyond the ministerial statement and Professor Lloyd’s report. I am a bit disappointed that the co-ordinating role of spatial planning does not seem to feature in the reform proposals, which instead focus on more traditional land-use planning reforms. That is an opportunity that is going begging.
Feeding into that, time is short. According to the consultation document, we have between five and seven years to make an impact. If it were found that the reforms did not work because spatial planning had not been included, there would not be enough time to review the system. The spatial approach has a number of practical applications, but we may leave that issue for members’ questions.
The lesson learned from Great Britain is that planning is integral to the Government’s approach to sustainable economic development and to meeting the challenge of climate change. Although immediate action at a strategic level can be effected through the regional development strategy, action is required on a number of key projects, such as security of energy supply, communications networks — including transportation and telecommunications — health and social services, and education.
The regional development strategy should be the vehicle for those, because it already operates at a high strategic level to cover the whole Province. It is quite far down a process that will lead to an adopted document, which is due to be published in draft form before the summer, and it will go through its examination in public, presumably later in 2009. Therefore, a mechanism exists to get those proposals into the public domain as Government policy. At a local level, the proposals can be expanded if necessary, but the proposals that promote carbon reduction, especially those that combine it with economic development, could be prioritised by the system. We have enforcement powers in place to prevent abuse.
In short, our view is that planning enables implementation and creates prosperity, essentially through the co-ordination role. That leads on to our fourth point. Planners can co-ordinate public, private, community and voluntary interests impartially. Everyone is familiar with development control, because it is public. Everyone can see its work through a district council planning committee. In essence, that should be the outworking of the process, not the process itself.
We need to start with a plan that takes full account of public- and private-sector investment targets and seeks to co-ordinate them in the most efficient and sustainable manner. It must involve local communities in real decision making and integrate the roles of voluntary organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), particularly those that have an interest in the built environment.
Out of that, developers will get high-quality investment opportunities that are attractive to their funders. The public sector will save money through cost sharing, and it will be able to that bit more. The environmental and climate-change targets and issues that the Committee will debate and introduce can be fully considered and met. Local communities will have a direct input into the key decisions that will affect them.
Those are the bones of a spatial plan. The planner’s role is that of an impartial moderator. In essence, the development proposals that flow from that are the implementation of the plan. The application process is one of management, so the two should not be confused. The Planning Service has started to refer to “development management” instead of “development control”. The actual mechanisms for development management will not exist until planning reform happens. It is simply calling the same bottle by a different name.
Finally, the RTPI’s approach of impartial co-ordination has attracted a number of other fellow institutes. In particular, environmental health officers and the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) are seeking to use those techniques.
To sum up, these are our four key messages: the Committee’s recommendations and targets need to be translated into actions — planning can equal facilitation; the actions need to be co-ordinated — planning can create efficiency; planning is the tool that is readily available to Government to achieve those levels of integration — planning enables implementation; and planning is impartial. That brings me to the end of our presentation.
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Worthington. You mentioned the practical applications of the spatial approach. Will you give us some practical examples? Into what does that translate?
We have two examples. One is based on my personal experience and the other is based on the research that Gavin is doing for Queen’s.
To set the scene, I am based at Queen’s University, where I am a lecturer and a PhD candidate. I am undertaking research into spatial planning in divided societies, and that research evaluates the potential to use spatial planning as a way in which to deal with some of the contentious issues in divided societies or cities. We are assessing the role of spatial planning in dealing with those issues and wider issues, such as climate change and meeting society’s needs.
Spatial planning is the mechanism by which one gives spatial expression to other policies and objectives. One of those is objectives to tackle climate change, which we are considering today. All those activities in which we are involved, and operating space on land, revolve around a spatial element — moving between one’s home and one’s place of work.
You mentioned giving spatial expression, but what is the practical outworking of that? It sounds great, but I am trying to visualise what it means.
If a policy is introduced to reduce private-car usage, the spatial expression of that would be how car usage in an area can be limited. One would think of mixed-use development, where housing is close to other services; or where services are combined in one particular centre, space or area of land. Polyclinics have recently emerged in Northern Ireland. Those contain GPs, dental surgeries and leisure facilities, such as complementary services. That is a good example of how spatial expression or dimension addresses some health-related issues.
That is just one example. An education facility — as another example — could be used for adult learning or education in the evening. It could also be attached to a library. That space might have other uses, which would mean that people would not have to move around as much, thereby limiting private modes of transport and contributing towards reducing emissions, and so on. If other policies’ aim is to achieve something, the role of planning is to give spatial expression to those policies through the planning process so that it can have an effect on climate change by limiting CO2 emissions.
Mr Brian Sore ( Royal Town Planning Institute):
I can give an example of where spatial expression did not go so well in Northern Ireland. I am a planner by background, but I was a chief executive in the Health Service, where I was involved with a hospital trust. We recognised that spatial expression fell down as a result of there being no co-ordinating role. In planning hospital facilities, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety specified what it wanted and then informed the community what will be sustainable. However, transport and employment issues meant that we had to involve other Departments. That required co-ordination across Departments, and that did not happen. Only one body could have brought those different views together, and that was the Planning Service, because it can consult on a range of issues across all Departments. That is an example of where spatial expression did not work. However, it could have worked, if someone had been responsible for local spatial plans.
You said, Mr Worthington, that you have a personal example of where it did work.
For a considerable time, I have been working on the H2 housing zoning on the Buncrana Road in Derry/Londonderry. That is an area of 280 acres of land zoned for housing in the Derry area plan. It is the largest example of single zoning in Northern Ireland, and it was, at one stage, the largest example of it in the UK. It will deliver 3,500 houses, which is equivalent to a town the size of Portrush. The private sector, in conjunction and in collaboration with the Planning Service, considered that community’s needs and planned an urban extension to the city. The area will include a primary school, a church, and large amounts of public open space, which the council will adopt. It will include a high street with a mix of retailing uses, such as convenience shops, a health centre and even a public house. The bringing together of all those elements was, essentially, facilitated by the planning office in Orchard House. It brought to the table the council, Roads Service, Northern Ireland Water, and all the other branches of government that were needed to produce an plan that could be implemented.
In the end, the plan-making part came together relatively quickly. Discussions on how to effect those plans on the ground, through the article 40 agreement, took somewhat longer. However, by and large, it was a very successful planning exercise. When that development goes ahead, it will have all the key elements that society needs. That is my personal example. We employed a similar scenario in a site off the Rathgael Road, but it is nowhere near as big in size — it does not have the same quantum.
To add to what Gavin said, when our former president was in Committee last year, she said that you might be surprised to learn that the number of teenage mothers in an area is a spatial planning issue. It is. However, she did not elaborate on what she meant by that. Think about it: the services that teenage mothers need, such as childminding, community facilities, education for children and health care, need to be close at hand. I am generalising, but the fact is that teenage mothers tend to live at the lower levels of society and therefore do not have access to personal transport in the same way that the middle classes do. Such facilities need to be close at hand in those sorts of areas. Obvious synergies exist between what they and other parts of society, such as elderly people, need.
An opportunity exists to make use of school buildings in the evenings for other forms of education, particularly if those are sited together with community facilities. In fact, we did that on the Buncrana Road. Various Government plans can come together to effect such provisions in the community. The plans, programmes and policies of local councils, the Department for Social Development and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety can align to produce an output that has a much wider effect. In short, they can produce an output that is more than the sum of its parts.
Were I a cynical local councillor, I would say that some planners claim to have a particular professional expertise in balancing a range of concerns about a proposed development, whether those be environmental, social or economic. In your submission on climate change, you appear to suggest that the dangers of climate change, and the need to mitigate those, should overcome everything else. What gives planners the expertise to tell the rest of the world that climate change is the enduring factor in an area?
That document may have been watered down; earlier versions of it make a stronger case on that point. The general feeling is that we need immediate action, and, therefore, that there should be, for want of a better phrase, a “survival override”. That is the phrase that officials at the Royal Town Planning Institute headquarters used; it is not something that I have simply pulled out of the air. I was never particularly happy with that phrase. However, there should be some kind of override in place to deal with a situation in which the potential consequences are so catastrophic that normal processes need to be suspended.
For example, if the Severn barrage, which has the potential to provide 5% of the UK’s energy needs, were built, it would cause significant environmental damage to the low-lying wetlands around the Severn. If it is not implemented, however, the UK will need to obtain that 5% worth of energy from somewhere, most likely from burning carbon, which will emit that volume of CO2 back into the atmosphere. The outworkings of climate change mean that sea levels will rise and probably destroy much of those wetlands anyway. The presumption is that Government could effect that scheme in the knowledge that is having an impact.
That might be an unfortunate example, given the people who are currently visiting us, to whom we are not supposed to refer. The specific issue is who has the expertise to make that kind of decision? Can planners claim that they have that expertise?
We are not experts in the science of climate change. Our expertise filters into policy so that planners can make informed decisions about policy and planning applications. Planners depend on the most up-to-date information available in order to weigh up and moderate different interests and make decisions.
The Royal Town Planning Institute stresses that Government cannot wait until they have all the information before they make a decision; they need to intervene now and do something to mitigate the dangers of climate change. We need to begin, gradually, the process of adapting to climate change and its impacts. Once we have done that, we can refine the science, statistics and policymaking process.
The majority of us probably agrees with your general concerns. However, what would you say to the people in this Building who — perish the thought — might not entirely agree with you about the potential threat of climate change?
One must ask who else is in a co-ordinating role who could take on those decisions. Ultimately, those decisions may be political and will have to be addressed in a political forum. However, there are professions that are apolitical and with no vested interest whose wish is to cross those boundaries. That is what is important in the planning system in Northern Ireland. It sits outside of political influence but feeds back in advice and recommendations to the political forum. Only then can decisions be taken. As professionally trained planners, we feel that we are in a good position to do that.
It is good to receive information and opinions on climate change that will feed into our inquiry from professionals such as you. Thank you for your time.