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May 2018 right left


Community Places Free Planning Advice

Wednesday 2nd May
Community Places, 2 Downshire Place, Belfast BT2 7JQ


Dry Stone Walling

Sunday 6th May
Mourne Mountains


Belfast Roadshow on Sustainable Development Goals

Tuesday 8th May
Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, 3 Cromac Quay, Ormeau Gasworks, Belfast BT7 2JD

Sustainable NI Carbon Management Training

Wednesday 9th May
Parliament Buildings, Belfast
See above


An Evening Walk in Spring

Saturday 12th May
Belfast Area

Guided bluebell walk at Prehen Wood

Sunday 13th May
Prehen Wood, Derry~Londonderry


Bluebell Stroll with the Ranger

Saturday 19th May
Murlough NNR
No Charge, Donations Welcome

Glenoe Geology Walk

Saturday 19th May
Glenoe Waterfall
No Charge, Donations Welcome

Gilford Castle, Gilford Village, Co Armagh – Historic Garden Restoration

Sunday 20th May
Gilford Castle, Gilford Village, Co–Armagh


Carbon Management Course

Wednesday 23rd May
Inspire Business Park, Newtownards
£225 (No VAT to pay)


Country Fair

Sunday 27th May
Florence Court
Normal Admission Members Free

Jazz in the Garden at Mount Stewart

Sunday 27th May
Mount Stewart
Normal Admission Members Free

Cruise the Lough

Monday 28th May
Adult £4, Child £2


Assembly News Update: Dec 11 6 March 2012

Last updated: Monday 19 Dec

Private Members’ Business (6 December)

Hydraulic Fracturing

Members debated a motion by Anna Lo: That this Assembly believes that a moratorium should be placed on the onshore and offshore exploration, development and production of shale gas by withdrawing licences for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), at least until the publication of a detailed environmental impact assessment into the practice; notes that hydraulic fracturing can put local water sources at risk of contamination; further notes that, amongst a variety of adverse environmental impacts, the process of fracking can cause serious well blowouts, which put both workers and local communities at risk; considers that the production of hard–to–reach fossil fuels is not compatible with efforts to achieve carbon reduction targets; and urges the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to give greater support to the generation of energy from renewable sources instead. Ms Lo urged Members to embrace their responsibility as public servants to protect our society and environment from the uncertain impact of a process that has a severe deficiency of research and reminded members that fracking, has been either banned or placed under a moratorium in France, areas of Germany, Australia, South Africa and in several states in the USA. Ultimately members voted along party lines with Alliance, Sinn Fein and the SDLP voting in support of the motion, while the DUP voted against and the UUP abstained. The motion was carried by 49 votes to 30.

Written Answers to Questions

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development   Page: WA182

Bovine TB (2 December)

The Minister was asked why targets have not been set within the Programme for Government for the reduction and eradication of Bovine TB. In her reply the Minister stated that eradication of TB would not be achievable within the timeframe of the draft Programme for Government, adding that the annual herd incidence has almost halved from nearly 10% in 2002 to 5.15% at 30 September 2011. The equivalent herd incidence rates are 8.72% in England, 6.58% in Wales and 4.65% in the south. Additional funding of around £4 million has been allocated in DARD’s budget to conduct TB and wildlife research and studies to help ensure we have well informed and evidence based strategies to address the issue of cattle to cattle spread as well as the wildlife issue.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development   Page: WA192

Common Agricultural Policy: Greening (2 December)

The Minister outlined her assessment of the greening element in the European Commission’s proposals for the Common Agricultural Policy. While the Minister agreed that the CAP must deliver for the environment as well as supporting farm incomes, ‘the main difficulty from the greening proposals stems from the fact that they are intended to be common across the EU. But agricultural practices and land use varies greatly from region to region’. The greening proposals were also aimed at the arable sector but in the north of Ireland, the arable sector is relatively small. The Minister also believes that some of the greening proposals such as the requirement to retain permanent grassland will unnecessarily restrict farmers in their ability to shape their business according to market needs and thereby have an adverse impact on agricultural competitiveness. Another concern was that there will be a significant administrative burden both for farmers and DARD in implementing these measures. To sum up, I am not against a CAP that delivers for the environment, but the greening proposals need considerable work to ensure that they actually deliver environmental benefits, do not hinder the development of a competitive agricultural industry and can be implemented without disproportionate cost.


Minister of the Environment   Page: WA326

Planning Enforcements (2 December) 

The Minister was asked to detail (i) with how many planning enforcements the Planning Service is currently dealing; and (ii) how many members of staff are working on these enforcements, broken down by Planning Office. In response, the following information was provided:

 Number of Live Enforcement Cases
Number of Staff
 Area Office

 Full Time
 Part Time
 6 0
 South Antrim           
 257 4 0
 1014 6 1
 504 4 4
 333 4 0
 HQ 299 3 2
 Total 3658 277


There are also 10 senior officers at PPTO (Principal Planner) grade who manage the enforcement teams combined with their other duties in Development Management. They have not been included in the figures. The Minister confirmed that he was currently developing a Human Resource Plan to address staffing issues and deployment and believed that enforcement generally in DOE should have greater priority.


Minister of the Environment   Page: WA86

Quality of Rivers and Waterways (9 December)

The Minister was asked for his assessment of the quality of rivers and waterways. The Minister replied that the monitoring of rivers and lakes is carried out by the NIEA and that results are assessed against environmental quality standards contained in the Water Framework Directive. Overall classification utilises a combination of biological, chemical and hydromorphological quality elements. In 2009, 574 river water bodies and 21 lake water bodies were classified using a five band system comprising ‘High’, ‘Good’, ‘Moderate’, ‘Poor’ and ‘Bad’. Assessment is carried out on an annual basis and published in the NI Environmental Statistics Report. Figures for 2010 will be available in January 2012. The numbers of water bodies in each class are shown in the following table.

Water Framework Directive Overall Classification for Rivers and Lakes 2009


 Class Number of River Waterbodies
 Number of Lake Waterbodies
 High 6 0
 Good 140 5
 Moderate 258 7
 142 3
 Bad  286


Minister of the Environment   Page: WA91

EU Recycling Obligations

The Minister provided an update on whether Northern Ireland is meeting its EU recycling obligations.

The European revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD) places a renewed emphasis on the importance of treating waste further up the waste hierarchy, away from disposal and towards waste prevention, recycling and reuse and energy recovery. New targets have been set to recycle 50% of household waste and 70% of construction and demolition waste by 2020. Over the last 8 years, Northern Ireland’s household recycling rate has increased by 27.5%. The most recent Northern Ireland household recycling rate for 2010/11 is 37.5%, an increase of 1.9% on the previous year. Provided the current rate of increase can be maintained Northern Ireland should be able to achieve the 2020 EU target of 50%. DoE has completed a survey on Construction, Demolition and Excavation (CDE) waste, the results of this will be published shortly.



Oral Answers to Questions

Minister for Regional Development

DRD: Investment Strategy (5 December)

When asked for his assessment of the implications of the draft investment strategy for his Department the Minister for stated that he continued to have a number of concerns regarding the indicative allocations to DRD for water, public transport and roads between 2015 and 2021. The draft investment strategy for Northern Ireland proposes £600 million of investment for water and waste water for the six years beyond the Budget period. That will enable us to maintain the current high standards of drinking water quality. However, we face significant challenges in improving the standards of waste water collection and treatment to meet European quality requirements, such as the water framework directive. Furthermore he added that the proposed allocations for public transport could be consumed in total by the rapid transit project during 2015–16 and 2016–17, thereby leaving pressures in pursuing Translink projects such as bus and train replacement and maintaining a safe and reliable rail network.


Christmas Recess 2011: The Assembly is now in recess from17 December 2011 to 8 January 2012. The first plenary sitting will take place on 16 January 2012.


Executive Committee Business

Ministerial Statement: Programme for Government and Investment Strategy (17 November)

In introducing the draft Programme for Government, the Deputy First Minister stated that: We need to make the very best use of our physical assets, such as our beautiful environment, and reduce the size of our ecological footprint in the process. That is why the Programme for Government includes a commitment to invest over £500 million to promote more sustainable modes of travel; a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 35%; a commitment to encourage industry to achieve 20% of electricity consumption from renewables by 2015; and a commitment to improve the thermal efficiency of Housing Executive stock and ensure full double glazing in its properties.


Ministerial Statement

North/South Ministerial Council: Environment (14 November)

Following his statement on the meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) in environment sectoral format held on Friday 21 October 2011, the Minister provided an update on the current status of the plastic bag levy. The Executive has agreed to further legislation on carrier bags because the original legislation, which was passed earlier this year by the Assembly, had a limited mandate in that it was for single–use carrier bags. As reusable carrier bags are now commonplace, if government proceeds with the single–use carrier bag levy, there will probably be a displacement. Rather than pay for a single–use carrier bag, customers would choose to purchase a reusable bag at a slightly higher price. The consequence of that would be that the intended revenue stream to government under the carrier bag legislation would not be realised, nor would the intended and more primary environmental considerations; namely, to reduce the number of carrier bags in circulation. The Executive agreed that further legislation would be brought to the Assembly, which would extend the carrier bag levy to all categories of carrier bags, single–use and reusable. However, the proposal in the original legislation that was passed earlier this year would still proceed independently of the new legislation on multiple–use carrier bags. The consequence of that is that the levy scheme for single–use carrier bags is intended to be in place by the 2013–14 financial year. There are still issues to be resolved. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is not ‘being helpful’ and work is on–going to prevail upon HMRC to collect that revenue stream on behalf of the Northern Ireland Government, but, at the moment, it is showing some resistance.


Private Members’ Business

Aggregrates Levy (7 November)

Members discussed a cross–party motion:  That this Assembly recognises the imminent danger to the quarrying industry if the EU Commission decides to require a recovery of the aggregates levy rebate from 2004; and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to make urgent representations to the EU president and the Chancellor of the Exchequer requesting that no recovery order is made. Members unanimously supported the motion and noted that the credit scheme has provided real benefits in cleaning up the industry in Northern Ireland. Many Members mentioned the considerable investment that has gone into quarries in order for firms to qualify for the credit scheme and into improving the environment. When the first environmental audit of ALCS members was carried out, it was found that a total of 3,787 environmental improvements were required to meet the criteria for the scheme. By the date of suspension on 1 December 2010, 95 issues had not yet been declared compliant at 20 of the 168 sites. Therefore, it has had a huge impact in reducing illegal quarrying and improving the environmental quality of quarries throughout Northern Ireland.

Planning Enforcement (8 November)
Members debated and resolved a motion tabled by Jim Wells: That this Assembly calls on the Minister of the Environment to carry out a review of planning enforcement. Mr Wells contended that: enforcement in Northern Ireland at present is a ‘farce’;  that there is nobody enforcing anything in the Planning Service in Northern Ireland at the moment; there are no planning officers looking daily for infringements of planning regulations; enforcement action is taken only when members of the public or their representatives write to the planning officer; unless an infringement is reported by a member of the public, it will go unenforced; even if an infringement is reported to the planning office, the person who is guilty of the misdemeanour is politely asked to apply for permission for something that he or she should not have done in the first place; and, 83% of retrospective planning applications in Northern Ireland are approved which is considerably higher than the number of approvals for people who do things honestly and wait for planning approval before they start building. Mr Well stated that there is something seriously wrong in Northern Ireland if we have a higher permission rate for retrospective applications than for buildings that have not yet been built. Under data protection legislation, the representative or complainant knows absolutely nothing about what is going on and is not allowed this information as it would prejudice any enforcement action that is being taken. Eventually, after four years the complainant gets a letter saying that they are ‘too late’. Finally Mr Wells added that there were only 50 enforcement officers in Northern Ireland and new cases were coming in at the rate of 4,000 a year.


Rivers (21 November)

Members debated a motion tabled by Simon Hamilton: That this Assembly calls on the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Minister of the Environment and their Executive colleagues to develop a co–ordinated strategy to improve how rivers are cleaned, and an amendment proposed by Danny Kinahan to: Leave out all after “improve” and insert: “the management of our rivers so that they are kept to the highest levels of cleanliness; and further calls on the Executive to ensure that the expertise and services of non–governmental organisations and stakeholders are part of that management arrangement.” There was unanimous support from all contributors to the debate for the motion and amendment in an effort to secure greater interconnectedness between various public agencies, not just Departments, in respect of the cleanliness of Northern Ireland’s rivers. In response the DARD Minister said she would welcome a river cleaning strategy to address the current obvious gap and agreed that there should be clear responsibility and co–ordination and a strategy that delivers properly and sorts out the issue. The Minister added that following the debate she intended to raise the issue at Executive level and see ‘where we can get to’.


Written Answers to Questions

Minister of the Environment

Tourism: Built Heritage (11 November)

The Environment Minister revealed that, already, over 18,500 known or suspected archaeological sites and monuments have been recorded in Northern Ireland, along with over 13,000 historic buildings. This is in addition to many thousands of industrial heritage sites, hundreds of historic designed landscapes, and the many Conservation Areas and Areas of Townscape Character that have been identified across the North. These assets are fundamentally important to the whole of society, particularly in the context of our tourism economy. Many of these are destinations for tourists already, but others have yet to realise their full heritage and economic potential. Following the launch of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board’s Key Signature Projects, the Minister had been advised that officials from NIEA have worked closely with their colleagues in the NITB to develop, and strengthen, the quality of the built and archaeological heritage offering in each of those projects. All of the Key Signature Projects involve some of Northern Ireland’s most important heritage assets. However, there is still huge potential for the built and archaeological heritage to support tourism.  

Minister of Agriculture & Rural Development

Hydraulic Fracturing (18 November)

While stating that she had no plans to conduct an assessment into the impact of Hydraulic Fracturing on agriculture and rural development, the Minister stated she was both personally and politically concerned about the process of Hydraulic Fracturing and its effects on the environment.


Common Agricultural Policy: Greening (25 November)

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development was asked for her assessment of the greening element of the Common Agricultural Policy proposals. The Minister replied that while she was not against a CAP that delivers for the environment, the greening proposals need considerable work to ensure that they actually deliver environmental benefits, do not hinder the development of a competitive agricultural industry and can be implemented without disproportionate cost. For the Minister the main difficulty from the greening proposals stems from the fact that they are intended to be common across the EU while the agricultural practices and land use varies greatly from region to region.


Minister of Culture, Arts & Leisure

Lough Neagh: Fish Population (18 November)

Minister Ní Chuilín was asked for her assessment of the current population status of each fish species normally found in Lough Neagh; and what constitutes a sustainable population. In response she stated that her Department has received scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) concerning the European eel. Their report concludes that the European eel stock in Lough Neagh is outside safe biological limits. DCAL, working in conjunction with the Agri–Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), has undertaken research for the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO), which includes electro–fishing surveys, habitat surveys and the installation of fish counters on the Rivers Blackwater and Maine. Records conclude that salmon populations in these rivers, which flow into Lough Neagh, are failing to achieve conservation levels and are outside safe biological limits. The status of the population of migratory trout in Lough Neagh is unknown at present but research is currently being undertaken and a report is due in 2012. Of other fish species occurring in Lough Neagh, there is currently no data on populations of pollan, roach, rudd, bream, rudd/roach/bream hybrids, pike, perch, tench, stone loach, gudgeon, minnow and stickleback. The term sustainable population is applied to a fishery where the populations have safe biological limits and/or reproductive capacity and can be exploited to provide a yield. A sustainable yield is within the range where the populations can maintain productivity to provide a satisfactory yield.


Fisheries Act 1966 (18 November)

When asked for her assessment of whether the Fisheries Act 1966 is fit for purpose; and if not, when she will begin consultations on a replacement Bill, Minister Ní Chuilín replied that the Fisheries Act, as amended, has been in place for 45 years and she was aware that some of its provisions have been superseded by more recent European Directives. However she considered that the Act still provides a sound foundation for the conservation and protection of fisheries and can address changing circumstances through the making of subordinate legislation. A review of the Act would therefore be deemed to be resource intensive for DCAL and is not currently a priority for the Department.


Minister of the Environment

European Union Birds Directive and the EU Habitats Directive (25 November)

The Environment Minister was asked what action DoE is undertaking to ensure that Northern Ireland complies with the European Union Birds Directive and the EU Habitats Directive; and whether he has any concerns about compliance with these Directives. The Minister stated that  the European Commission has instigated infraction proceedings against a number of Member States including the UK for alleged deficiencies in how the ‘Wild Birds’ Directive has been transposed into national legislation. The infraction against the UK involves all of the devolved administrations and the Department is working closely with the other UK authorities in order to address the Commission’s concerns. Amending Regulations made in June 2011 address one aspect of the complaint. The Minister stated that he was confident that the work being undertaken by the DoE on further amending Regulations will address the remaining issues and satisfy the Commission that we are fully compliant with the Directive.  In respect of the Habitats Directive the Commission previously instigated proceedings arising from concerns about deterioration of a designated feature in the Strangford Lough Special Area of Conservation, namely the Horse Mussel (Modiolus) Biogenic Reefs. A joint DARD/DOE 3 year project, known as the Modiolus Restoration Research Project (MRRP), undertaken by Queens University has recently been completed. The MRRP aimed to advance restoration of the Modiolus beds and a recent report from the MRRP recommended additional actions to protect; restore and monitor the restoration of the Modiolus beds.  Again the Minister stated that he was determined that an action plan will be developed to assist restoration and he would continue to press DARD to bring this about, to mitigate the risk of infraction, to ensure no significant economic loss and to ensure the lough develops positively.


Oral Answers to Questions

Minister of the Environment

National Park (7 November)

The Minister re–iterated his support for the development oflocalnational parks.  As farmers had raised issues with him about national park designation and the impact on the farming community, his strategy is to lead the debate and to look forward to legislation and the designation of national parks. The Minister outlined his intention to create a maximum level of agreement to mitigate some of the fears and to build the argument and support base.  There will be costs around national park designation because there would be a requirement for one, or more than one, national park management group to take forward the management of one, or more than one, national park. There would however be benefits including: better protection of the environment and natural heritage; at a time when people are faced with economic difficulties, a national park would create a model for positive economic growth; and  would even lead to farmers in a national park area having premium produce simply because it came from a national park.

Septic Tanks (7 November)
The Minister confirmed that there is no grant scheme in the DoE for the replacement of septic tanks. While not ruling one out, a scheme to replace septic tanks in the North would require a capital budget of around £12 million. We have about 108,000 septic tanks, as well as at least 15,000 to 20,000 that are not yet registered. The Minister added that in his view there is very good compliance in the North of Ireland when it comes to septic tanks and pointed out that only 10% of water course difficulties come from septic tanks. All the rest come from discharges from other sources.

Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

Shale Gas Fracturing (7 November)

The Minister stated that while DETI have licensed areas for exploration, this does not include any permission for deep drilling or associated engineering functions, including hydraulic fracturing, and any such application will be subject to consents from the relevant authorities. The consideration of applications, which are not expected for at least two years, will be informed by the relevant scientific studies in progress in the United Kingdom, Europe and elsewhere. The Minister added that as she understands it, any royalties that come from fracking go back into the Westminster Exchequer.

Minister of Agriculture & Rural Development

Forestry (21 November)

The Minister announced that Forest Service will review the support arrangements for private planting with the objective of increasing the rate of woodland creation. The Minister recently met forestry stakeholders to discuss ways of increasing the rate of planting. They brought ideas including the scope for planting to alleviate flooding risks, greater equality of rates between lowland and less–favoured areas and improving the financial encouragement for farmers and landowners to take part in planting programmes. The Minister hoped that the outcome of this work will assist in delivering higher rates of planting over the period of the next rural development programme and help us achieve our long–term aim of increasing woodland cover across the North from 6% to 12% of land area, as expressed in the forestry strategy. The review will take account of the recently published European Commission proposals in the rural development regulation, which include forestry measures, and will report in time to feed into the new rural development programme.