The time has come for an independent Environment Agency in Northern Ireland
Sep 08, 2011
“Do nothing” is not an acceptable option for the Northern Ireland government which is consulting on whether or not to create an independent Environment Agency.
The UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) is urging the government to press ahead with options to create an independent body. UKELA’s Chair, Mark Brumwell, says: “failure to do so would have serious negative impacts on the environment and economy. This is a long running issue which is in urgent need of resolution”.
Five years ago there was another governance review which received an overwhelming response from environmental bodies in favour of setting up an independent agency, but then failed to go ahead with the proposal. Instead Northern Ireland has had environmental regulation carried out within its Department of Environment by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).
Andrew Ryan, the Convenor of UKELA’s Northern Ireland working party says: “we are still concerned about the lack of separation between policy making and operational responsibility. Because responsibility for both regulation and policy lies with the same department, there is not the same capacity for public debate on new legislation and policy that exists in other parts of the UK. The pace of change in terms of the Department’s “Better Regulation” program has also been disappointing to practitioners.
“UKELA also has concerns that the NIEA is under-resourced and lacking in enforcement powers and expertise, as well as a perception that there are certain areas in which little regulatory or enforcement activity is occurring at all”.
The working party particularly points to water pollution and river quality which remain a significant issue in Northern Ireland, reflected in the persistently low penalties imposed for water pollution offences in the Northern Irish courts.
The consultation by the NI Department of Environment closes on Friday September 9th.
Andrew Ryan is a Partner at Tughans Solicitors, Belfast, and Convenor of UKELA’s Northern Ireland Working Party. Contact: Tel: +44 (0) 28 9055 3300; Mob: +44 (0) 78 9696 9500
Dir: +44 (0) 28 9082 0527
Mark Brumwell is a Partner at Dundas and Wilson LLP and Chair of UKELA. Contact: Dir: +44 (0)20 7759 3517. Email Mark.Brumwell@dundas-wilson.com
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