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Northern Ireland Environment Link Logo





Mar 2018 right left


Hedge Planting

Sunday 4th March
Gilford Castle, Gilford Village, Co–Armagh

Belfast Festival of Learning

Monday 5th March
Various, see programme for details


Woodland Management – Saintfield Estate

Sunday 18th March
Saintfield Estate, Saintfield


The Rivers Trust Spring Conference 2018

Wednesday 21st March
Iveagh House, Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin


NI Allotment and Community Garden Forum

Saturday 24th March
MACCA Centre, Omagh

Easter Fun At Monkstown Wood

Saturday 24th March
Monkstown Wood, Newtownabbey
See website for details


Outdoor Recreation & Your Community

Tuesday 27th March
An Creagán Centre, County Tyrone

EU Funding for Sustainable Development – Project Ideas Lab

Wednesday 28th March
Sustainable NI, Bradford Court, Upper Galwally, Belfast BT8 6RB


Assembly News (Apr 11) 6 March 2012

By Seán Kelly, Policy Officer, NIEL

Executive Committee Business

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill: Final Stage (14 March)
The Assembly passed the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill do now pass. The Bill is intended to help councils deal more effectively with a range of problems that can have a degrading impact on the local environment. The Bill should help to reduce problems such as littering, graffiti, dog fouling, dog control, illegal fly–posting, abandoned vehicles, nuisance parking, noise, statutory nuisance and nuisance alleyways. The Bill will be supported by a comprehensive series of guidance documents, codes of practice and regulations to help district councils to get the most out of the new, improved powers at their disposal. Part 1 gives district councils new powers to deal with alleyways affected by antisocial behaviour. Part 2 gives district councils the power to remove abandoned cars from the streets immediately. Part 3 amends the offence of dropping litter in a lake, pond or watercourse, requires businesses and individuals to clear litter from their land, strengthens existing street litter control notice powers to require local businesses to help clear up litter that they generate. It enables councils to restrict the distribution of flyers, handouts and pamphlets and also contains provisions concerning abandoned shopping trolleys. Part 4 enables councils to serve defacement removal notices requiring the removal of graffiti and fly–posters, gives councils powers to tackle the sale of spray paint to children and strengthens the existing legislation which deals with graffiti and illegal fly–posting. Part 5 replaces dog by–laws with a new simplified system, enabling district councils to deal with dog fouling, to ban dogs from designated areas, to require dogs to be kept on a lead.  Part 6 gives councils powers to deal with audible intruder alarms and the annoyance that they may cause and powers to impose fixed penalty fines on licensed premises that ignore warnings to reduce excessive noise levels. Part 7 restates and updates the law on statutory nuisances and Part 8 increases the maximum fine on summary conviction that may be provided for in regulations made under the pollution, prevention and control provisions in the Environment Order 2002. Throughout the Bill, greater use is made of fixed penalty notices as an alternative to prosecution. Stronger, stiffer fines are provided for in the Bill, and district councils are given the power to retain receipts from fixed penalty notices. In most cases, they are given the flexibility to set their own rates.

Energy Bill: Legislative Consent Motion (14 March)
The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment moved that this Assembly agrees that the UK Parliament should consider amendments to the Energy Bill to provide powers for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to establish a scheme to facilitate and encourage renewable generation of heat, including the administration and financing of the scheme. Members agreed the motion which would extend primary legislative powers for renewable heat to Northern Ireland to ensure that DETI could bring forward proposals to incentivise this important market and so ensuring a more diverse, sustainable and secure supply of fuel for Northern Ireland. The Minister stated that heat energy accounts for close to half the energy consumed in Northern Ireland; however, 98% of our heating fuels are imported. In order for the Northern Ireland heat market to become more sustainable, it is vital that renewable fuel sources are developed and that the uptake of renewable heating technologies is encouraged. The strategic energy framework includes a target for Northern Ireland to achieve 10% renewable heat by 2020 while currently only 1•7% of our heating demand is met from renewable sources. In order to reach that target, it is essential that support mechanisms are developed to encourage the uptake of renewable heat technologies. While DECC has made plans to incentivise the renewable heat market in GB through a renewable heat incentive, Northern Ireland’s heat market is very different to that of GB meaning that it has been appropriate for separate consideration to be given to how the heat market here might be encouraged and incentivised, so that a Northern Ireland solution can be developed for our local context. In September 2010, the Minister announced that DETI would seek to support the renewable heat market in Northern Ireland by developing a renewable heat incentive scheme similar to the GB proposals.  In response, the Treasury has allocated £25 million for the spending review period for a Northern Ireland renewable heat incentive, should one be introduced. In order for an incentive scheme to be introduced in the future, DETI required appropriate legislative powers to create tariff structures, set eligibility standards and make payments. At present, DETI does not hold any primary powers in that area of work. The Minister therefore sought the Assembly’s consent to enable DECC to amend the current Energy Bill to provide powers for DETI to introduce and administer a Northern Ireland renewable heat incentive. A future renewable heat incentive for Northern Ireland will require secondary legislation in due course. In addition, there will be a full public consultation on the design of the renewable heat incentive in advance of implementation.

Renewables Obligation (Amendment) Order 2011 (21 March)
The Renewables Obligation (Amendment) Order (NI) 2011 has been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly, and it will come into operation on 1 April 2011. The latest changes to the will provide enhanced support and wider benefits, particularly to rural and farming communities.  The changes in legislation will: increase the Renewables Obligation Certificate (ROCs) levels for the generation of electricity from anaerobic digestion from the current 2 ROCs per megawatt hour for all s to 4 ROCs per megawatt hour for generating stations up to 500kW capacity and 3 ROCs per megawatt hour for stations between 501kW and 5MW; Provide generators using onshore wind, hydro or solar photovoltaic panels accredited before 1 April 2010 to receive the enhanced ROC levels introduced after this date for new generators for any additional generating capacity they add, subject to the various ROC banding thresholds; Introduce Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) requirements for micro–generators installing renewable electricity generating equipment; and Introduce biomass and bio–liquids sustainability criteria to meet the requirements of the Renewable Energy Directive.

Marine Licensing (Appeals) Regulations 2011 (21 March)
The Assembly approved the draft Marine Licensing (Appeals) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011. The statutory rule will provide an independent appeals mechanism to allow economic operators to appeal against marine licensing decisions and enforcement notices issued by DoE in its role as the appropriate licensing and enforcement authority under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. The 2009 Act introduces a new system for licensing marine activities, which will replace licensing currently carried out under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985. The types of activities that are licensable include construction on the seabed, offshore renewable energy installations and dredging. The new system will apply across the UK from April 2011 and will require subordinate legislation to provide more details on appeals, fees, exemptions, civil sanctions and the registration of activities. The Appeals regulations make provision for operators who do not agree with a marine licensing decision or who have been issued with an enforcement notice under the 2009 Act to make an appeal to the Water Appeals Commission. There is no fee for making an appeal.

Marine Licensing (Civil Sanctions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2011
The Assembly also approved the draft Marine Licensing (Civil Sanctions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2011. This statutory rule is intended to provide a ‘robust and proportionate alternative to prosecution for minor offences under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009’. The Order provides a mechanism in the form of fixed and variable monetary penalties that will remove any financial benefit that operators may derive from failure to operate inside the law. The draft civil sanctions Order introduces fixed and monetary penalties that are set at £100 for individuals or £300 for businesses to address low–level, technical or administrative offences, such as failure by an operator to provide information within the required time. It also introduces variable monetary penalties that do not have a fixed upper limit for more serious breaches or for instances in which an operator may have derived a financial benefit from non–compliance. The amount of variable monetary penalty will be the estimated financial benefit derived from the offence plus a deterrent element less the cost incurred by the operator. The revenue from monetary penalties will be paid into the Consolidated Fund for Northern Ireland meaning that DoE will not benefit financially from this legislation. Appeals can be made to the Water Appeals Commission against final notices imposing fixed or variable monetary penalties. DoE will consult on and publish guidance on its use of civil sanctions. That guidance will contain information on circumstances in which sanctions are likely to be used, how liability can be discharged, factors to be considered in calculating variable monetary penalties, the right to make representations and the rights of appeal.

Planning Bill: Final Stage (23 March)
The Planning Bill which sets a framework for the future of planning provides for the transfer of planning powers from the Northern Ireland Executive to local councils has been passed by the NI Assembly. The Bill will involve the transfer of the majority of planning functions from the DoE to local government after new governance arrangements for councils and a new ethical standards regime for councillors have been put in place and at a time to be decided by the next Assembly. Councils will be required to work with the communities they serve to build a vision for the future of their area. They will bring forward development plans showing how their area will change. Councils will decide the majority of planning applications in their area and be responsible for enforcing planning decisions. The community can become involved at every stage of the planning process and Councils will set out in their statements of community involvement how and when they will consult the community, and developers will be required to take account of the views of the community in drawing up applications for major or regionally significant development. While the Bill will see tougher fines particularly in respect of historic buildings and trees, there is no provision for TPRA. Although a number of parties had previously attempted to insert an amendment for inclusion of a third–party appeal, a petition of concern from the DUP vetoed its inclusion. The Minister stated that ‘Councils will be the decision–makers, and councillors will live with the consequences of their decisions’, adding that ‘ultimately, if communities are not happy with the way the area is shaping up, they can exercise their views at the ballot box’.

Private Members’ Business

Single Use Carrier Bags Bill: Final Stage (23 March)
Following members granting of accelerated passage, Daithi McKay moved that the Single Use Carrier Bags Bill do now pass. The Bill as amended is essentially enabling legislation. Consideration Stage saw the removal of all the detailed provisions in the original Bill. The specific role for councils is gone; the specific charge of 15p a bag is gone; the offences and penalties are gone; and the scope of the legislation has been extended from single–use plastic bags to single–use carrier bags. All that detail was replaced by a single clause. DoE will be able to use that provision alongside the powers that are already available under the Climate Change Act 2008 to implement the Executive’s decision to introduce a bag levy. Importantly, the Bill will now provide sufficient flexibility to identify various options for implementation, arrange full public consultation and finalise policy direction and to legislate for that approach.

Written Answers to Questions

Legislation (11 March)
The Minister of the Environment provided the information below detailing all legislation, since May 2007, that has gone through, or is going through, the Assembly, which devolves powers or responsibilities from my Department to local government authorities. The table sets out the titles of the relevant legislation, the powers or responsibilities devolved, and the date when the legislation has been, or is expected to be, made.




The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill ( Northern Ireland)

The Bill is designed to improve the quality of the local environment by giving district councils additional powers to deal with litter, nuisance alleys, graffiti and fly–posting, abandoned and nuisance vehicles, dogs, noise and statutory nuisance.

The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent in late March / early April 2011.

The Waste and Contaminated Land (Amendment) Act ( Northern Ireland) 2011

One of the main objectives of the Act is to legislate for a partnership between the Department and the local government sector in tackling illegal waste activity. The Act therefore gives new powers to district councils in relation to the investigation and enforcement of illegal waste offences so that councils and the Department have identical powers in this regard.

Received Royal Assent on 10 February 2011.

The Planning Bill

The Bill will deliver a reformed planning system and transfer the majority of planning functions to district councils as part of the implementation of local government reform.

The Bill is currently at Consideration Stage. Subject to completion of all Assembly Stages, it is expected to receive Royal Assent in April / May 2011.

The High Hedges Bill ( Northern Ireland)

The Bill is intended to provide a means of resolving disputes between neighbours with regard to the adverse impact on the reasonable enjoyment of property due to an evergreen/semi–evergreen hedge acting as a barrier to light.

The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent in late March / early April 2011.

The Local Government Finance Bill ( Northern Ireland)

The Bill will give councils more direct control over, and responsibility for, the management of their financial affairs. It will remove the current requirements for councils to obtain permission from the Department for borrowing, for establishing certain funds, or for the application of their funds or proceeds from the sale of capital assets. This will be replaced by a prudential regime for capital finance, which will, for example, allow councils to determine for themselves how much they can afford to borrow, and to operate within affordable limits in accordance with the prudential regime and recognised accounting codes of practice.

The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent in late March

Wind Farms in Special Protection Areas (11 March)
Given that As a wind farm was recently granted planning approval in Cumbria at a location where there is a recorded presence of hen harriers, the Minister of the Environment was asked what steps he is taking to ensure parity of policy in the processing of the planning application, for a wind farm at Fardross, Slieve Beagh, Clogher. The Minister responded that the presence of the hen harrier is not in itself an absolute block on windfarm development. Planning application for a windfarm at Fardross, Slieve Beagh relates to a site lying entirely within the Slieve Beagh Special Protection Area, a European designated site. The Minister has instructed his officials to write to the European Commission to ask them to consider our approach in the light of the Commission’s own guidance on Wind Energy and European designated sites and the challenging targets set for renewable energy in Northern Ireland.

Answers to Oral Questions

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Rural White Paper (15 March)
The Minister stated that she hoped to publish a draft rural White Paper action plan for consultation on 21 March. The consultation document contains a wide range of actions aimed at improving the well–being of rural communities, such as addressing difficulties in accessing services, public transport, broadband quality and speed, and the development of effective community development structures. The rural White Paper will provide a strategic rural policy framework for the next 10 years and will help guide the work of the Executive in that significant and challenging area. The provision of good communication infrastructure and connectivity is vital to the sustainability of rural areas and important in providing the isolated and vulnerable in our community with much–needed access. The rural White Paper will provide an opportunity to look at what we do to support our rural areas and to think innovatively about how we target our limited resources for the betterment of our rural communities. (The consultation on the Rural White Paper was subsequently launched on 21 March and will close on the 13 June 2011).

Minister of Finance and Personnel
Low Carbon Homes Schemes (15 March)
The Minister stated that the Executive has agreed to close the energy efficiency homes scheme and the low carbon homes scheme from the end of March 2011. Although the aim is to improve the energy efficiency of the local housing stock, the take–up so far has been disappointing. There are only three low–carbon properties, none of which has qualified as a zero–carbon property. The Minister added that the savings associated with the schemes will not be taken out of the Budget altogether but will be transferred to the green new deal project. It was felt that that was a much more appropriate way of cutting down the heating bills of a large number of houses.

Speaker’s Business (23 March)

Assembly Speaker
End of Mandate
Mr Speaker marked the end of the four–year term of the Assembly adding that is the first devolved Assembly in a generation to complete a full term. In that time, the Assembly has held 277 plenary sittings and approved some 69 Bills. Ministers have taken over 11,624 questions for oral answer and 32,411 questions for written answer.