Committee for the Environment - Responses

Committee Response on draft Programme for Government 2008 – 2011, Investment Strategy NI 2008 – 2018 documents

Patsy McGlone 
Commmittee for the Environment 
Room 149 
Parliament Buildings 
Tel 028 9052 1288

Mr Danny Kennedy 
Committee for the Office of the First 
Minister And Deputy First Minister 
Committee Office Room 404 
Parliament Buildings 

27 November 2007

Dear Danny

Committee Response on draft Programme for Government 2008 – 2011, 
Investment Strategy NI 2008 – 2018 documents

Draft Programme for Government/PSA Framework

The Committee welcomes the over-arching aim to build a peaceful, fair and prosperous society in Northern Ireland, with respect for the rule of law and where everyone can enjoy a better quality of life now and in years to come.

The Committee believes that this should be done in ways that protect and enhance the physical and natural environment and use resources as effectively and sustainably as possible as stated in the draft Programme for Government.

The Committee also welcomes the cross-cutting themes set out in the Investment Strategy NI and in particular the themes that building a sustainable future will be a key requirement for our economic, social and environmental policies and programmes.

The Committee welcomes in particular the priority to “protect and enhance our environment and natural resources”.

The Committee welcomes, subject to proper resources, the priorities in the Programme for Government relating to:

  • Delivering a fundamental overhaul of the planning system by 2011.
  • Strengthening the protection of key habitats and species by declaring 200 new Areas of Specific Scientific Interest by 2016.
  • Reducing landfill significantly by creating a network of new Waste Treatment facilities at Council level by 2011.
  • Increasing to 50% the area of agricultural land in Northern Ireland covered by environmental enhancement agreements by 2011

The Committee also welcomes the key goals to:

  • Reduce our carbon footprint by at least 25% by 2025
  • Enable up to 4700 farmers to comply with the Nitrates Directive by 2009
  • Increase by 1650 hectares the area of forest and woodland by 2011
  • Halt the loss of indigenous species and habitats by 2015

The Committee would prefer to see a higher profile in the Programme for Government (included as key goals) for:

  • Climate Change (including an explicit commitment to tackle climate change and to highlight the implications of climate change on society). The Committee are aware that the Department had sought the inclusion of a specific goal relating to raising awareness of its impact on Northern Ireland.
  • Illegal Waste – the Committee supports a further crackdown on illegal waste disposal by pursuing prosecution of offenders.

The Committee endorses the key goals as set out by the Department to: -

  • Strengthen the partnership approach to cut the numbers of people killed or seriously injured on our roads by at least one third by 2012.
  • Have a 50% reduction of 1995 levels in the amount of bio-degradable waste going to landfill sites by 2013.
  • Halt biodiversity loss as far as possible taking into account of the effects of climate change in Northern Ireland by 2015 by protecting our indigenous plants and animals in their natural habitats.
  • Ensure full compliance with the Water Framework Directive by 2015 to achieve good water quality.
  • Declare a further 200 Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI’s) by 2016.

The Committee also notes that there is no reference to the establishment of an Environmental Protection Agency.

Sustainable Development

The committee recognises the cross cutting nature of Sustainable Development and the role of all Departments in its implementation. The Committee believes that there is a specific role for the Department of the Environment in Sustainable Development.

The Committee recommend that there are adequate or sufficient funds provided to ensure the delivery of the key goals.

The Committee acknowledges that the PSA Annex to the Programme for Government addresses the cross-cutting issues and challenges, cutting across Departmental boundaries and that many of the outcomes are inter dependent.

The Committee commented on the following PSA’s:

PSA 4 (Supporting Rural Business)

The Committee welcomes the aim to increase by 50% the area of agricultural land in Northern Ireland covered by environmental enhancement agreements by 2011

PSA 14 (Promoting Safer Roads)

The Committee acknowledges that the KSI targets are currently under review by the Department and believe that more ambitious targets should be agreed. The Committee took into account the recommendations in the Report on Northern Ireland’s Road Safety Strategy, published 09 November 2007.

PSA 17 (Rural Infrastructure)

The Committee notes and welcomes the target to ensure that rural issues are mainstreamed into all relevant Government policies and programmes and would welcome sight of the proposed Rural White Paper when published.

PSA 20 (Improving Public Services)

The Committee notes the objective to modernise and reform the Local Government sector. The Committee has already engaged with the Department and looks forward to further engagement. The Committee has recently been briefed by the Department on Emerging Findings.

PSA 22 (Protecting our environment and reducing our carbon footprint)

Members agreed, in a response to questions from Arlene Foster, Minister of the Environment, to sign up to the UK Climate Change Bill as presented, but with a commitment to provide for Northern Ireland targets at a future point.

The Committee also supported UK Carbon Reduction targets as set out in the draft UK Bill (including an overall UK target of 60% reduction by 2050 with a 26 – 32% reduction by 2020).

The Committee welcomes the target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2025 and Improve Energy Efficiency in homes, which is consistent with the targets in the UK Climate Change Bill.

Members are content with the objectives to:

  • Improve the quality and ecological status of the water environment
  • Take forward action to improve air quality
  • Improve the condition of our monuments and listed buildings, including structures currently on the Built Heritage at Risk Register (BHARNI)
Objective 5

The Committee has already stated that the issue of illegal dumping should have a higher priority in the Programme for Government.

The Committee would support the inclusion of Waste Management as a key goal in the Programme for Government.

Objective 8

The Committee notes the objective to deliver a modern effective planning system and the priority commitment to a fundamental overhaul of the planning system by 2011.

Members are concerned that the proposed efficiency reductions set out in the draft Budget will impact on the delivery of a modern effective planning system to meet the needs of the whole community and the economy while protecting the environment.

Members are also concerned that there may not be sufficient resources for the Planning Appeals Commission to deal with its backlogs.

Members are also concerned at how the proposed efficiencies will be achieved considering possible staffing cutbacks in the Department.

Furthermore, the Committee notes the target of ensuring a fit for purpose suite of draft or adopted development plans in place by March 2011 and is concerned that this target may not be achievable. The Committee noted that judicial reviews have stalled progress on three major area plans.

PSA 23 (Managing the risk of flooding from rivers and the sea)

 Objective 1

The Committee feels that there is a need to consider future planning in order to deliver sustainable flood risk management policies.

The Committee recognises that there is a role for planning in the delivery of the sustainable flood risk management policy.

Draft Investment Strategy

The Committee notes that the draft Investment Strategy NI 2008 – 2018 sets out the framework for the creation of a sustainable twenty-first century infrastructure.

The Committee welcomes the cross-cutting objectives in the strategy, particularly the environmental objective relating to investment in infrastructure to enhance and protect the environment, particularly addressing areas affected by EU Directives.

The Committee notes that £18b will be invested in the next 10 years to deliver essential infrastructure - £5.5b in the next 3 years. The Committee notes the framework for infrastructure investment in six “pillars” and would welcome the environment pillar.

Waste Management

The Committee in particular notes and welcomes the key goal of a new approach to waste management that is compliant with EU Regulations and uses more sustainable technologies and notes the commitment to reduce the levels of landfilled biodegradable municipal waste to 75% of 1995 levels by 2010, 50% by 2013 and 35% by 2020 in response to European legislation.

The Committee welcomes the inclusion of the need to invest in waste management infrastructure to ensure compliance with EU regulations both as a key goal and a milestone in the draft Investment Strategy NI.

Local authorities to deliver the waste management infrastructure

In addition, the Committee notes and welcomes the key milestone of supporting local authorities to deliver the waste management infrastructure by 2011 (with up to £200m or 50% of the capital cost, whichever is the less.

Investment in our environment

The Committee notes and welcomes a reference to the investment in our environment including nature reserves, monuments, archaeological sites, listed buildings and country parks [which] will promote the enjoyment of our heritage for the benefit of all including visitors.

The Committee acknowledges the goal of sustainable flood risk management to meet the social, environmental and economic needs of the region. The Committee recognises that there is a role for planning in sustainable flood risk management.

The Committee recommends that there should be a clear indication regarding which Department has lead responsibility for each issue in terms of the Key Goals and Milestones listed for the Environment Investment Pillar. The Committee recommends that the Department of the Environment should be identified as the lead Department for taking forward the Waste Management agenda.

Yours Sincerely

Patsy McGlone MLA 

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