Stratagem Policy Panel: Environment

Yesterday included a lively discussion on the primary environmental issues facing ministers when they take office. David Gordon of the Belfast Telegraph and Jim Kitchen of the Sustainable Development Commission.

Download our all our conversations onto iTunes or your favorite feed reader.Even with the high profile of the Stern Report on Climate Change, commissioned by the Chancellor of Exchequer, there is some scepticism that environment will, as David Gordon put (11 mins in) even register on the Stormont Richter Scale, indeed he noted that Northern Ireland still doesn’t an Environmental Protection Agency, decades after it has been brought in elsewhere, and we are still grappling with basic issue like wildlife conservation areas, historic buildings and polution prevention. He believes it will remain a Whitehall driven matter, with relevant Stormont ministries following suite.

Jim notes that there is a review of environmental governance which was due to report last March, which is now scheduled for next May, which will likely outline some challenges for the new devolved government – if we get one. David argued though that local ministers are not likely to want to push reforms through quite so quickly and swiftly as direct rule ministers. The quality of brief and degree of funding of an independent Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, could be an early victim.

There is also a sense that although the environment is a popular issue. Jim noted, for instance, that ordinary conversations show a strong awareness of the wider issues of climate change and polution. There is somehow a difficulty in getting to countainence the necessary changes that need to take place. There has for instance been some resistence by local people to the planned National Park in the Mournes. Indeed, in the case of PPS14, there seems to be a direct conflict between traditional landownership culture of ‘It’s my land, I’ll do what I want with it”, and the need to protect the rural environment.

As David noted (22 mins in), devolution is not likely to be a ‘new Jerusalem’ for environmental issues. Indeed he recalled the huge pressure Dermot Nesbitt the then Environment Minister came under from the building lobby when his department implemented a moritorium on further development in fifty crisis areas.

We had hoped to include Ciaran Rogan of Translink and Noel Williams of the Energy Saving Trust in the discussion, but for various reasons they were unable to join us.