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Feb 2018 right left


Snowdrop Strolls

Thursday 1st February
Rowallane Garden
Normal Admission, Members Free


Snowdrop Walks

Saturday 3rd February
Springhill, Moneymore
Normal Admission Members Free

Snowdrop Walks

Saturday 3rd February
The Argory, Moy
Normal Admission Members Free

Path Edging and Bird Count

Saturday 3rd February
Comber Greenway

Pond Improvement

Sunday 4th February
Rea’s Wood Antrim


Rethinking Engagement – A Dialogue Approach

Wednesday 7th February
Holywell Diversecity Community Partnership Building, 10–12 Bishop St, Derry


NI Science Festival 2018

Thursday 15th February
Various, see website for details
See website for details

Brexit, Climate and Energy Policy

Thursday 15th February
Arthur Cox, Ten Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2


Nest Fest

Saturday 17th February
Springhill, Moneymore
Normal Admission, Members Free

Woodland walk at Breen Forest on Glenshesk Road

Saturday 17th February
Breen Forest on Glenshesk Road

Scrub Clearance

Sunday 18th February
Slievenacloy Nature Reserve, Belfast Hills


Priorities for Transport Infrastructure in Northern Ireland

Tuesday 20th February
Radisson Blu Hotel, The Gasworks, 3 Cromac P lace, Ormeau Road, Belfast
See website for details


Water Northern Ireland Conference 2018

Thursday 22nd February
Crowne Plaza Belfast, 117 Milltown Road, Shaw’s Bridge, Belfast BT8 7XP
Contact for details

Shifting Shores Wave 2 seminar

Thursday 22nd February
Olympic Suite, Titanic Belfast


Grassroots Social Event in Belfast

Saturday 24th February


Assembly News (Feb 11) 6 March 2012

By Seán Kelly, Policy Officer, NIEL

Executive Committee Business

Minister for Regional Development
Transport Bill: Consideration Stage (24 January)
The Minister moved the Consideration Stage of the Transport Bill. Among the many amendments discussed and passed were those relating to the inclusion of accessibility and sustainability as additional matters to which the Department must have regard when carrying out its duty to secure the provision of public passenger transport services. These amendments reflect the aim of the public transport reforms to create an ‘efficient, effective and sustainable public transport system’ that contributes to the Executive’s transportation, environmental, social inclusion and equality objectives while supporting the development of the wider economy.

Minister of the Environment
Waste and Contaminated Land (Amendment) Bill: Final Stage (25 January)
The Minister moved the Final Stage of the Waste and Contaminated Land Amendment) Bill. The main purpose of the Bill is to legislate for a partnership approach between the DoE and the local government sector in dealing with illegal waste activity. The Bill provides the DoE and councils with the legislative authority to deal effectively with fly–tipping and waste, and it strengthens the enforcement powers of departmental and council officials. In addition, the Bill makes necessary amendments to existing legislative provision for the introduction of a contaminated land regime in Northern Ireland, mainly to reflect lessons learned through operational experience in England and Wales, and a minor amendment to the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 to provide an inclusive definition of the Department’s powers of entry and inspection.

Ministerial Statements

Minister of the Environment
Draft Planning Policy Statement 23 (Enabling Development) and Draft Planning Policy Statement 24 (Economic Considerations) (17 January)
The Minister issued two planning policy statements (PPS) for public consultation, draft PPS 23, which deals with enabling development, and draft PPS 24, which refers to economic considerations. Draft PPS23 provides a mechanism for subsidising the restoration and the refurbishment of built heritage or other assets where there are clear public benefits and where the work cannot be funded by other means. It allows a development proposal that is contrary to established planning policy to be permitted where that development or its proceeds are needed to secure the long term future of the heritage asset in the public interest.  Draft PPS 24 makes it clear that full account shall be taken of the economic implications, as well as the social and environmental aspects of a proposal when making planning decisions. Draft PPS 24 makes it clear that where the economic implications of a proposal are significant then substantial weight should be afforded to them. In such cases, substantial weight can mean “determinative weight.” The Minister added PPS24 ‘gives economic considerations a greater weight than was the case heretofore, and that is why I am keen, at this time of recession, that we move forward with it as quickly as possible’. The public consultation on both documents runs until 6 May 2011.

Written Answers to Questions 

Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister
Sustainable Development Commission (7 January)
The Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister stated that following DEFRA’s decision to withdraw funding for the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), they have reluctantly accepted that it would not be feasible for the local SDC office to continue to provide the full range of services and will cease funding the SDC after 31st March 2011.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Nitrates Derogation (7 January)
The Minister explained that the European Commission Decision extending the derogation under the Nitrates Directive until 31 December 2014 applies only to the spreading of manure from grazing livestock, namely cattle, sheep and goats, on grassland farms. The derogation does not apply to manure from pigs or poultry or poultry litter because spreading this material on land at rates above the general 170kg/Nitrogen/hectare limit set by the Directive will over supply nutrients, particularly phosphorus. Grassland farms wishing to operate under an individual derogation must make an annual application and meet specific criteria including submission of fertilisation accounts and additional nutrient management measures.

Rose Energy Incinerator at Glenavy (7 January)
In response to a question on the annual cost of disposing of poultry litter, the Minister replied that over 200,000 tonnes of poultry litter is generated each year and the vast majority is spread on land. However, land spreading of poultry litter at current levels is not sustainable in the long term due to its high phosphorus content, the enriched phosphorus status of local soils and the resulting detrimental impact of excess phosphorus on water quality. A working group of government officials and poultry industry representatives has recently investigated interim options for the storage and use of poultry litter pending the establishment of a sustainable long term technical alternative to land spreading. Conclusions to date indicate that most potential options are either not available due to lack of capacity or are cost prohibitive. Where capacity has been identified, the cost of disposal is estimated to be approximately £90 per tonne of poultry litter. However, the capacity available is limited and insufficient to deal with the amount of poultry litter currently spread on land. There are also logistical and technical constraints. As a viable option with sufficient capacity has not been identified an annual cost cannot be estimated.

Rural White Paper (21 January)
The Minister provided an update on the development of a Rural White Paper (RWP). DARD is actively working with other Departments on the development actions for inclusion in the RWP.  The Minister has recently held very positive bilateral meetings with many of her Ministerial colleagues on the importance of the RWP and they have agreed concrete actions for inclusion in the action plan. The Minister reiterated her commitment to issuing a draft RWP Action Plan for consultation by 31 March 2011.

Minister of Finance and Personnel
Plastic Bag Levy – Costs (7 January)
The Minister stated that in developing the estimated resource generated by a plastic bag levy it was assumed that the levy per bag would be 15p. Based on current estimates some 189 million ‘single use’ carrier bags were used in Northern Ireland in 2009/10. As such a 15p levy per bag would generate some £28.4 million per annum. An adjustment to this figure was then made to account for the estimated decline in usage due to changes in consumer behaviour. An allowance was also made for the costs that the Executive will incur for administration, enforcement and promotion of the levy. The proposed plastic bag levy receipts have been initially allocated to the advancement of the Green New Deal.

Minister for Social Development
Boiler Scrappage Scheme (7 January)
The Minister stated that in January 2011 I will announce a new Fuel Poverty Strategy which will include a pilot Boiler Replacement Scheme and expected the new Scheme to be in place for spring 2011. Unlike the Boiler Scrappage Scheme in England the Boiler Replacement Scheme will be targeted at vulnerable people who have inefficient boilers.

Minister of the Environment
Assessment on Efficiency (28 January)
The Minister explained that DoE has faced very significant financial pressures primarily as a consequence of the significant and sudden decrease in planning application income and various reductions to the DoE’s overall budget. The overall budgetary pressure at the beginning of this financial year was circa £16 million (in excess of 12% of the opening budget position). This scale of financial pressure within one financial year follows a difficult financial position in 2009–10 when the DoE had to absorb financial pressures of circa £9 million. To address these pressures two reviews were commissioned to identify how efficiencies could be achieved from a reduction in the cost of delivering corporate services across the DoE and its executive agencies; and by aligning the Planning Service operating costs to forecast levels of planning application income. When fully implemented, the Corporate Services Review will deliver savings of circa £2 million. The Review of the Planning Service Operating Costs has identified potential savings of circa £9 million. This will be partly delivered through a rapid reduction in staffing and revising the fees structure for planning applications. The review of Planning Fees should deliver in excess of £2 million per annum which, in addition to the savings from the review of planning operating costs, should contribute to moving the Planning Service to a balanced budget position. In addition, the level of discretionary spend across the DoE has been significantly reduced and the DoE will continue to ensure all resources are efficiently utilised in the delivery of its services and programmes.

Minister for Regional Development
Proposed A5 Road Development (28 January)
In response as to whether the proposed A5 road development justified a spend of £700 million. The Minister stated that Roads Service has advised that the Full Economic Appraisal for the A5 Western Transport Corridor will be finalised once the details of the scheme have been confirmed, following the consideration of issues arising from the Public Inquiry, which he anticipates will be held in May/June this year.  Preliminary Option and Preferred Option Reports have been produced as part of the scheme development process. These reports set out the economic position at each of these key decision points. At the Preferred Option Stage, the ratio of benefits to costs was 1.74.

Transport Bill (28 January)
The Minister stated that he expected that the Transport Bill will complete its passage through the Assembly Stages and receive Royal Assent by spring 2011. Thereafter, the Act will come into effect in stages as it will be necessary for the DRD to finalise policy development and make regulations by way of subordinate legislation to support the powers taken in the Act.  Clauses 35, 37, 41 and 47 will come into effect immediately on Royal Assent. The Department envisages that it will be a further 12 to 18 months before it will either require or be in a position to commence the remaining provisions of the Act. During this time the Department will work with stakeholders on the provisions of any necessary subordinate legislation.

Answers to Oral Questions

Minister of the Environment
Recycling (18 January)
The Minister stated that the latest official data indicates that, in 2009–2010, Northern Ireland achieved a 35•6% household recycling rate, which was up from 34•4% in the previous year and is a significant improvement on the 4•9% rate achieved in 1999. Based on historical trends, Northern Ireland is on track to meet the 50% EU household recycling target by 2020. He was however aware that, in 2009–2010, a number of councils met or are close to meeting the 50% target while several councils are achieving rates well below that and below the Northern Ireland average.  Councils that underperform already impose a penalty on their ratepayers, and they will continue to do so. By 2013, it will cost roughly £100 a ton to tip waste into landfill sites. Therefore, it is in the interests of councils and ratepayers for that waste to be diverted either to generate energy or to be recycled. If some councils achieve 50% now while others achieve only 27% or 28%, people should recognise that there is a significant gap to be filled. The Minister added that if it comes to the point where Northern Ireland as a whole ends up being fined because councils are lagging behind, we will have to look at fining or imposing that burden on particular councils to incentivise them to meet the targets that are set.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Resources for Woodland (31 January)
The Minister outlined how in the current Programme for Government, she made resources available to increase woodland cover by 1,650 hectares by March 2011, primarily through the conversion of agricultural land to woodland under the woodland grant scheme. Up to the end of December 2010, 671 hectares of new woodland had been created. Given that this is obviously less than planned at this stage of the PFG, it is unlikely that the target will be achieved by March this year. The Minister however reiterated her commitment to the forestry strategy’s long–term aim of doubling the area of woodland at a rate that will depend on both the willingness of landowners and farmers to plant trees and available budget cover. Following her announcement in November 2009 of increases in grant rates of up to 30%, there has been a steep rise in the area of woodland creation applied for since then. The Minister therefore expected that increased interest in applications to result in more woodland creation that will continue into the next PFG period. In the meantime DARD will increase its efforts to promote the benefits of woodland creation and to provide assistance to farmers and landowners in the creation of new woodlands. The available support is significant and includes increased grant rates; changes in the single farm payment to allow farmers to continue to receive the single farm payment as well as a forestry grant for land converted; and advice and guidance from skilled and professionally qualified staff. The Minister will also consider how best the Department can integrate woodland creation and other land use management to achieve the priorities set for both agriculture and forestry.