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Apr 2018 right left


Coppicing Small Trees

Sunday 8th April
Knockbracken Allotments, South Belfast


Integrated Water Management and Sustainable Drainage

Wednesday 11th April
QUB, Medical Biology Centre, Lecture Room 2, Ground Floor, Lisburn Road, Belfast


Our Earth, Our Future: to mine or to mind?

Saturday 14th April
Greenvale Hotel & Restaurant, 57 Drum Road, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone
See website for details


Path Maintenance

Sunday 22nd April
Bog Meadows Nature Reserve Belfast


Making Mitigation Work

Thursday 26th April
Red Cow Moran Hotel, Dublin
£45 – £160

LIFE Information Day – Dublin

Friday 27th April


Assembly News (Feb 10) 6 March 2012

By Seán Kelly, Policy Officer, NIEL

Oral Questions

Department of the Environment
Environmental NGO Funding (1 February)
In responding to questions on NGO funding, the Minister stated that he recognised the importance of NGOs, and engagement with local communities to manage our environment. The Minister had sought assurances from NIEA officials that cuts to the natural heritage grants programme will be minimised this year, despite the overall reduced level of funding available in 2010–11. The DoE, with a budget of little over £100 million, had to find £15 million in efficiency savings, lost over £7 million as a result of a reduction in planning receipts, and had to spend over £2 million on an equal pay settlement. Therefore, the Department is under severe financial pressure, and some difficult decisions had to be made. He added the Department is seeking to spread the pain and to keep everything going and once it gets over its current difficulties, and more planning receipts received, it will hopefully be in a better position to fully support vital NGOs.

Department for Regional Development
Belfast Rapid Transit System Update (8 February)
Following completion of the public consultation on the policy proposals to inform a new rapid transit Bill, the Department will produce a consultation report that will contain the finalised policy. The rapid transit division is currently preparing an outline business case for the project which will identify the preferred options for rapid transit with regard to the network routes, a procurement strategy, a commercial business model and a fare system. Identifying the preferred options will allow the Department to undertake the necessary public consultation, impact assessments and appraisals on the various options before recommending a final route alignment for each of the three routes. The Minister added that the rapid transit system is designed so that it could be upgraded to light rail, if numbers justified such a move. Although the initial proposal is for three pilot routes, the hope and intention is that the system will include further routes.

Committee Business

Statutory Committee Membership (1 February)
Thomas Buchanan has replaced Iris Robinson on the Assembly Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety; Jonathan Bell has replaced Thomas Buchanan on the Committee for Employment and Learning and Adrian McQuillan as a member of the Committee for the Environment.

DOE 2010–11 Spending Plans (9 February)
The Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment outlined the Committee’s views on the DoE’s revised expenditure plans for 2010–11. Members acknowledged that the Department faces significant financial pressures and welcomed its commitment to reduce consultancy spend and running costs as well as the review of corporate services. Members supported the Department’s intention to focus staff cost savings on not filling vacancies and welcomed the decision to realign the Planning Service’s operating costs. However members were concerned about the proposed deferral of contracts and grant funding to external non–governmental organisations for the following reasons: it is unlikely that those who are affected by cuts will have the opportunity to relocate staff; the decision, unlike the one to realign the Planning Service, could lead to redundancies and the loss of expertise from the sector or the region; and some of the organisations that are affected by the decision deliver or contribute to statutory environmental protection obligations. The cutting of their funding may not be the most cost–effective approach in the longer term if it leads to a further deterioration of protected sites and/or EU infraction proceedings. The Committee welcomed the fact that the Department is liaising closely with the organisations that are affected but asked for a more detailed picture of the organisations that face cuts so that members can assess the real impact of the Department’s proposals.

Executive Committee Business

Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill
Extension of Committee Stage (15 February)
Members agreed that the Committee Stage of the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill be extended to 20 April 2010 so that further time is available to scrutinise the Bill.

Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill – Final Stage (23 February)
Following debate Members passed the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The Bill is an important milestone as it clarified the powers of district councils and waste management groups to enter into long–term service contracts with the private sector; to enable councils to acquire land otherwise than by agreement for waste management purposes; to make preliminary arrangements for the reorganisation of local government; to establish statutory transition committees for the purpose of preparing for and giving full effect to the reorganisation of local government; and to enable the Department to make regulations to provide for severance payments to be made to councillors who resign during a specified period.   The Bill is expected to come into operation in March 2010 as the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2010.

Draft CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme Order 2010 (23 February)
The Environment Minister sought and gained Assembly approval for the Draft Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme Order. The CRC requires participants to abate emissions or purchase allowances and encourages the implementation of energy efficiency strategies. The scheme is aimed at large public and private sector organisations, (roughly speaking to those who have an electricity bill of £500,000 a year) which account for 10% of the UK’s carbon emissions.  It is estimated that 5,000 organisations will be full participants, with about 100 of them based uniquely in Northern Ireland. The UK Government and all Devolved Administrations will participate in the CRC. The scheme will be mandatory, and participating organisations will have to monitor their emissions and purchase allowances for each ton of CO2 that they emit.  All revenue raised from the annual sale of allowances will be recycled back to participants according to how well they perform. While domestic housing and transport emissions are excluded, there are specific Northern Ireland aspects to the scheme. It is intended that schools will eventually participate as part of the education and skills authority when it is set up. Until then, the legislation provides for schools to be included with education and library boards or the Department of Education. Street lighting will be exempt in phase 1 of the scheme but will be included from 2013. All other public sectors, including health and water, will be treated consistently across the UK.

Written Questions

Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment
Geothermal Energy (12 February)
In responding to a series of questions on geothermal energy, the Minister reported that DETI is engaged with the Utility Regulator and other Departments on a project to examine the potential for renewable heat in Northern Ireland, which includes scoping out any potential contribution from geothermal energy to our energy mix. However the Minister recognised that there are a number of legislative, technical and financial barriers to the development of geothermal energy in Northern Ireland.

Minister of the Environment
Planning Applications – Areas of High Scenic Value (12 February)
The Minister revealed the number of planning applications submitted within the last ten years where the proposed site was in an area of high scenic value i.e. areas which are designated to protect areas of landscape merit, were as follows: of the 1994 applications received during this period, 1495 were approved, 195 had been withdrawn, 231 refused and 66 still live.  

Planning Reform (12 February)
Following widespread consultation on the wide–ranging proposals for reform of the planning system the Minister has now formulated his final policy position, taking full account of the views expressed through the consultation, and subsequently submitted these policy proposals to Executive colleagues for consideration on 7 January 2010, with a view to seeking clearance at an Executive meeting as soon as possible thereafter. Subject to Executive agreement, the final policy position will be made public and the legislative process progressed. However the Minister added that given the extremely tight legislative timescale it is essential that Executive clearance of the final policy is secured in the coming weeks ‘if we are to remain on course to deliver the reforms by the 2011 deadline’. On 25 February the Executive subsequently passed Minister Poots’ proposals for reform of the planning system. Further information can be found

Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment
Offshore Renewable Energy (19 February)
DETI have received 12 inquiries from organisations interested in developing the potentially significant offshore wind and tidal resources in Northern Ireland waters. In all cases, DETI noted that the completion of the SEA and finalisation of the Plan would enable DETI to work with The Crown Estate, as owner of the seabed, to launch a competitive call for offshore renewable energy projects. This call is planned for 2010–2011 and will enable developers to come forward with their specific proposals. The establishment of an Offshore Renewable Energy Forum has not yet happened. Following the public consultation on the draft Plan, the Minister will consider the views and comments from marine users on both the Plan and membership of the Forum. Meanwhile the Minister stated that while DETI currently has the legislative power to issue onshore Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) in relation to the Offshore Renewable Energy Certificate the powers to issue offshore ROCs currently lie with the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).  However, as outlined in the Department’s draft Offshore Renewable Energy Strategic Action Plan 2009–2020, the department are seeking to transfer these powers to DETI.  

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Assistance towards Renewable Energy by Anaerobic Digestion (26 February)
The Minister revealed that following receipt of a report from the Agriculture Stakeholder Forum on Renewable Energy, she was carrying out a review of DARD’s renewable energy policy and expects to publish the outcome of this review in May 2010. Meanwhile DARD has secured EC State Aid approval to implement a Biomass Processing Challenge Fund, which they plan to open in summer 2010. The objective of the Fund is to encourage investment in a range of Renewable Energy technologies at farm level, including Anaerobic Digestion (AD).  CAFRE meanwhile also intend to deliver a course for farmers/ growers on AD during 2010.

Private Members’ Business

Local Government Reform (22 February)
The Minister of the Environment responded to Members’ concerns about ongoing uncertainty and delay in the local government reform programme and stated that significant progress has been made. Policy proposals for local government reorganisation have been with the Executive since June 2009, have been cleared by the First Minister, and, after they have been approved by the deputy First Minister and the Executive, the Minister intends to publish them for consultation. The Minister also stated that in delivering local government reform, he must ensure that benefits will be gained. Therefore, he has requested that NILGA, puts forward its proposals on how the local government sector intends to achieve the regional collaboration to realise the expected benefits. However in awaiting a response the Minister stated that ‘The time for prevarication on the issue is over’, adding I will not proceed with any proposal that does not reduce the cost to the ratepayer’.