Assembly News (May 2012) 30 May 2012
Tyres: Committee for the Environment Report (15 May)
The Assembly Committee for the Environment has told the DoE to put in place legislation to tighten up the law on used tyre disposal as part of its interim report on Used Tyre Disposal. The report made a number of recommendations to help address the problem of illegally dumped tyres, including a new registration scheme, the possibility in the longer term of a producer responsibility initiative and more accurate reporting and monitoring of tyre disposal. The Committee’s report is available to read on the Assembly website http://nia1.me/vj
Single–use Carrier Bags (29 May)
The Assembly debated and passed an amended motion proposed by the Environment Committee: That this Assembly recognises that the intention of a charge on single–use carrier bags is to reduce bag consumption and the impact on the environment; calls on the Minister of the Environment to clarify the scope and type of carrier bags that will be subject to charging and to confirm that the list of exemptions will include environmentally friendly reusable bags; and further calls on the Minister to take into consideration the concerns of the retail trade, so that the method of collecting the charge, the size of the charge and the point at which the charge is collected are all taken into account. The basis for the motion was concern that an environmental intervention is, in the view of some, being reconfigured as a revenue–raising intervention and that there were mixed messages being sent from DoE with Anna Lo, Mr Boylan, Mr Kinahan and others stating that the proposed carrier bag levy would be seen by many as a revenue stream. In response the Minister stated that it is, first and foremost, solely an environmental intervention. It will have some revenue consequences, but those are secondary and arise from the sole intention and ambition of current and future legislation on carrier bags, which treats the issue as an environmental one. The Minister outlined how the levy will be administered and added that the Executive had endorsed a proposal for further legislation to widen the scope of the current legislation to capture lower–priced reusable bags. A consultation on this proposal is ongoing.
WRITTEN ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
of Agriculture and Rural Development
Cod Recovery Plan (4 May)
http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/Answer-Book/2012/120504.pdf Page WA 114
The Minister provided details of the outcome of the
review of the Cod Recovery Plan. Last year the Commission asked its Scientific,
Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) to examine how the Cod
Recovery Plan was working. STECF concluded that the Plan was not achieving the
desired reductions in the fishing mortality for Cod and that effort control was
not an effective means to deliver this. Following discussions with the
Commission in the latter part of last year there was an expectation that it
would bring forward a revised plan in the spring. At a recent meeting between
Member States, STECF and the Commission in March 2012 it became clear that that
would not be the case. During the meeting Member States made suggestions for
interim changes to the CRP. The Commission is considering these and other
matters and it is understood that it will bring forward proposals for
amendments to the Cod Recovery Plan in September 2012.
Common Agricultural Policy (4 May)
http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/Answer-Book/2012/120504.pdf Page WA 115
The Minister outlined the proposals she presented to the EU Commission on the Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. In her meeting with Commission officials on 19 April the Minister stated that she offered amendments or suggestions to make the Commission’s proposals more focused and workable. In particular, she discussed the detail of suggestions for a smooth and orderly 10 year transition towards a flat rate support regime. With simplification in mind, she suggested combining the Basic and Greening Payments into a single payment. She also presented her proposals to simplify greening so that it is more focused and easier to administer, while avoiding potentially negative and unintended consequences. In addition, she offered an alternative and much simpler approach to the active farmer test, based on past production activity, which will refocus support on active farmers at the outset. Finally, she stressed the need for sufficient regional flexibility to permit us to adequately address local needs.
Proposals for Legislation (18 May)
The Minister outlined what proposals for
legislation, subject to Executive approval, she has introduced or intends to
introduce between April 2012 and March 2015. The Minister plans to introduce a
Reservoirs Bill in early 2013. Other requirements for primary legislation
relating DARD’s responsibilities particularly in respect of sea fisheries and
implementation of the Floods Directive may arise during this mandate and the
position will be kept under review. Much of the burden of legislation in the
relevant period for DARD will be aimed at implementing reforms under the Common
Agricultural and Common Fisheries Policies; this will take the form of
subordinate legislation made under the European Communities Act 1972. The
purpose of the Reservoirs Bill is to introduce a legal and administrative
framework for the management and regulation of reservoir safety for reservoirs
that can hold 10,000 cubic metres or more of water. The aim is to minimise the
risk of flooding due to an uncontrolled release of water resulting from total
dam failure and thereby protecting human life, the environment, cultural
heritage and economic activity.
Minister of the Environment
Littering Offences (4 May)
The Minister was asked to detail how many people
were convicted of littering offences last year; how much revenue was raised
from the resulting fines; and what further measures he is taking to combat this
problem. The Minister stated that as Councils are much more likely to issue
on–the–spot fines to litter offenders instead of seeking convictions through
the courts, figures for convictions are quite low compared to those for
on–the–spot fines. The latest information held by DoE shows that 133 people
were convicted by the courts for littering offences in the period 1 April 2010
to 31 March 2011 and a total of £7,707 in fines and £5,935 in court costs were
imposed. By contrast, in the same period, district councils issued 3,930 £50
fines for littering offences resulting in a total of £150,268 received.
Information for the period 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012 will not be compiled
and verified until August 2012. A number of measures are being brought forward
to deal with the litter problem including the development of a Marine Litter
Strategy, the introduction of a carrier bag levy and the bringing into
operation on 1 April 2012 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2011.
Planning Applications for Hydro–Electric Power Schemes (11 MAY)
The Minister provided an update on the status of planning applications for hydro–electric power schemes. There are currently 35 planning applications for hydro–electric power schemes in the planning system awaiting decisions. Since 2003 the Department has received 66 planning applications for hydro–electric schemes. Of these, 27 have been approved, 1 has been refused, 3 have been withdrawn and 35 are under consideration awaiting decisions.
Clause 24 of the Draft Northern Ireland Marine Bill (11 May)
http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/Answer-Book/2012/120511.pdf Page WA 302
The Minister was asked whether he has considered how Clause 24 of the draft Northern Ireland Marine Bill might impact on country sport and leisure. The Minister replied that the Bill will provide for a new national designation process for the establishment of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) to enhance protection for nationally important marine wildlife and habitats. Clause 24 gives DoE the power to make byelaws for the protection of features of an MCZ. Byelaws will be site specific and made on a case–by–case basis. It is envisaged that most MCZs will be designated primarily for the protection of seabed features and as such any related byelaws will have little impact on country sport. Byelaws are intended to manage activities which could be detrimental to a MCZ and are not regulated or the responsibility of a government department. Examples of such activities include the use of jet skis, diving, or vessel access/speeds. Also, anchoring by leisure craft could cause impacts by damaging delicate seagrass beds, fanshells and other sensitive marine habitats/species. Byelaws could be used on a seasonal or permanent basis, throughout the whole or part of the site. The level of restriction will depend on the feature(s) being protected.
Areas of Special Scientific Interest (25
http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/Answer-Book/2012/120525.pdf Page WA 44
provided an update on when the programme for the designation of Areas of
Special Scientific Interest will be completed. At the current rate of
declaration, it is expected that the programme of ASSI declarations will be
substantially completed by 2018. By that stage there should be around 440 ASSIs
and all those sites on the DoE’s priority list will have been declared. The
programme of declaration may, technically, not reach a conclusion, as science and
understanding of the environment evolve. On an ongoing basis, other mechanisms
are deployed to aid protection. The annual target of declarations has reduced
by 10 from 25 to 15, a matter he will consider further.
Minister for Regional Development
Funding for Cycling Infrastructure (11 May)
http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/Answer-Book/2012/120511.pdf Page WA 352
The Minister was asked how much funding has been allocated for the cycling infrastructure in each year of the 2011–15 budgetary period. In the 10–year period, up to the end of the last financial year, DRD’s Roads Service invested almost £9 million in the provision of 230km of cycle lanes. In the financial year 2011/12, some £0.95 million was allocated for the provision of cycling infrastructure and provided 6.3km of cycle lanes. Roads Service proposes to invest a further £140k to provide an additional 1.6km of cycle lanes in the 2012/13 financial year. Detailed budgets for the remainder of the 2011–15 budget period have not been finalised. He added that while he was currently unable to provide details of future programmes, it will not be possible to continue to fund all of our functions at the same levels as in previous years.
ORAL ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Fracking: Fish Stocks (8 May)
Minister stated that she had great concerns about the potential impact of
fracking on the natural environment and habitats and had ensured that DCAL’s
inland fisheries group is notified of all hydraulic fracking applications as
part of the consultation process. All
fracking applications are submitted to DETI. DCAL officials will make an
assessment of the potential impact of any fracking activity on fisheries, and
this will be considered in the overall assessment of each application. DETI has
recently established a shale gas forum to address recent interests and concerns
about fracking. DCAL’s inland fisheries group is represented on this forum.
Minister of the Environment
Modiolus Infraction (Answer in response to supplementary question on Bovine TB (21 May)
The Minister provided an update on the possibility of EU infraction over the modiolus beds in Strangford lough. He stated that earlier this year, the European Commission, following a package meeting, advised the Northern Ireland Executive, him in particular and the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, that it was commencing the infraction process. Infraction, if proven, would commence with fines of £8 million and upwards. He outlined that since then the two Departments have worked hard together to interrogate the options and consulted with the European Commission. As a result, it appears that a better situation has arisen, whereby a proposal, inter alia, to have a no–catch zone for the mid–zone — a substantial part — of Strangford lough, together with a range of other interventions, including the restoration of modiolus, may be sufficient to mitigate the risk of infraction, if not avoid it, and, at the same time, protect the lough and the modiolus and allow us to look at opportunities for the fishing community.