“Responsibility for environmental regulation..”

The NewsLetter reports that the Environment Minster, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, will today set out reasons to the Assembly as to why she believes it is not necessary to create an independent Environmental Protection Agency – as is already in place in England, Scotland, Wales and in the Republic of Ireland. The BBC reports that environmental lobby group, Friends of the Earth, are threatening to pursue their previously reported complaint to the European Commission – following a High Court ruling that the Environmental Heritage Service was not sufficiently independent to comply with EU directives on environmental governance. A rejection of an independent EPA would also mean rejecting the recommendations of the Review of Environmental Governance which reported to the Minister in June 2007 in unambiguous terms [pdf file]

“Responsibility for environmental regulation in Northern Ireland should be transferred to a new independent Environmental Protection Agency.”

Adds Quote from the Environment minister And the Minister’s statement – Full statement to Assembly here [doc file]

[Arlene Foster] said: “I and my party take the role of environmental governance too seriously to externalise the organisation into an outside agency.”

Adds

The Review of Environmental Governance recommended an Independent Environmental Protection Agency in this form

The new Agency should have the following structure:

• a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department of the Environment,

• the duties and functions of the Agency should be embodied in statute,

• governed by a Board of no more than 12 members,

• the Board should comprise the Chair, the Chief Executive and members providing specific expertise in relevant areas,

• members of the Board should be appointed by the Minister of the Environment in accordance with the principles and procedures of the published guidance from the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments for NI,

• a Chief Executive should be appointed and should be responsible to the Board for the day-to-day running of the proposed Agency,

• the staff of the proposed Agency should be employees of the Agency and not the Northern Ireland Civil Service,

• the proposed Agency should issue an annual report on the conduct of its statutory duties, and

• the proposed Agency should be located in an iconic historical building or a state-of-the-art new building reflecting best practices in sustainable building.

The Environment Minister instead proposes

The Minister also said there would be restructuring and a change of culture within DOE. EHS will be retained and reorganised as an Agency of DOE, two independent Board members will be appointed and open Board meetings will be held.

The Minister said: “In EHS we have an impressive pool of intellectual capacity, practical ability and determination to get things done. This is a valuable and irreplaceable resource of which we can all be proud. I will retain it as a DOE Executive Agency and will launch it as the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.”

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  • “[Arlene Foster] said: “I and my party take the role of environmental governance too seriously to externalise the organisation into an outside agency.””

    I attended one of the days of the public inquiry that rejected proposals to build apartments on the old Salmon Fishery site off Beach Road, Portballintrae. I was very disappointed by the performance of the EHS representatives. The local residents association and its associates had to provide their own resources to protect the site.

    Professor Amyan McFadyen paints a very gloomy picture of the loss of biodiversity along the north coast shoreline so it’s unlikely there’ll be much improvement here [final 3 images] in the near future.

    How much clout does the Minister currently exert when it comes to a breach of the planning regulations? Apparently the owner of this property is also a fellow party member and it seems the Minister is minded to take no further action.

  • Damian O’Loan

    A couple of points to note:

    “two independent Board members will be appointed and open Board meetings will be held”

    These two measures can be taken in contrast with, for example, an independent sub-committee and exclusively open Board meetings. Most meetings which occur in public also have private sessions.

    Secondly, while there would be those who would dismiss ‘another unlected quango’, under present circumstances in particular, an appointed watchdog may better serve the public interest.

    We have seen, and are perhaps seeing, how dfficult it is to force Ministerial resignations in a mandatory coalition. But poor performance by an appointed watchdog could result in dismissal on the orders of the Minister, excepting in case of strong public support for the individual in question.

    In this and in other cases then, Ministers could be losing the opportunity to shift the risks while keeping a share of any successes. They are also sacrificing the chance to appear firm and decisive when replacing someone, and if modest, may even admit to sacrificing the chance to have the job done by a better-qualified expert. Or even a pro-industry anti-Green, whatever she would wish.

    Finally, “I will retain it as a DOE Executive Agency and will launch it as the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.”

    Given such a blatant admission of a re-branding operation, let’s hope she doesn’t spend much on the re-launch.

  • The Raven

    Damian, all very eloquent. Let’s put it as it is. It’s another half-hearted attempt at environmental policy in this region, while keeping it all nicely in-house, and away from the potential of an Environmental Czar, who may have the knowledge and clout to embarrass Queen Arlene and the Party Machine.

    By the way, I have still received no reply to the letter I wrote enquiring as to the outcome of this particular story: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7319891.stm

    Nevin is right to highlight the ongoing debacle of the gentrification of the North Coast. It’s been tantamount to environmental rape.

  • Funny, I wrote to Arlene regarding an issue of unprotected trees being felled in advance of a planning application being submitted, to avoid them becoming an issue in the planning application (if you see what I mean). Despite one of her party colleagues being involved in the same issue, no answer received here.