Ballyhornan and Bishopscourt, County Down: Environmental Neglect
Christopher Hazzard (Sinn F??in)
Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Business Committee for scheduling this Adjournment debate, and I welcome the opportunity to highlight the environmental impact of the ongoing neglect of the Ballyhornan area and, indeed, the opportunity to illustrate some of the issues that continue to affect the health and well-being of some of my constituents.
At the turn of the 20th century, Ballyhornan was a quiet coastal community where approximately 30 families lived in small thatched cottages and each earned a living on the sea or off the land. As a self-contained community, village life centred around the general store, the post office and, of course, the local pub. Indeed, the renowned local writer John Bryce commented that people in Ballyhornan were so close that the death of someone was looked upon as a national disaster.
Major change came to the quiet village, however, in the early 1940s as the British MOD requisitioned land, and the adjacent Bishopscourt airfield was built. Ballyhornan became part of the British military camp on the east Down coastline. The base was divided into one main site that included the radar area, runways and main buildings, and five smaller sites that housed mesh blocks and minor buildings. Having been downgraded in the post-war years, the base was restored to full operational status in 1956 as Cold War tensions escalated. Undoubtedly, Bishopscourt’s importance lay in its strategic position on Ireland’s eastern seaboard, which made it the ideal location to guard against air attacks at the back door to Britain’s main defences. Indeed, Killard Point near Ballyhornan was strategically selected as the site of the air defence radar unit, which, for the duration of the Cold War, searched the Atlantic skies for signs of Soviet intrusion.
Despite the widely held belief that Bishopscourt would continue to play a significant role in British air defence in the post-Cold War era, the base was closed abruptly and without warning at the end of 1990. In the words of a contemporary ‘Down Recorder’ editorial, the camp that was once a thriving mini-village has become a ghost town in the heart of County Down.
Having helped nurture a community around the military camp, the RAF had a sizeable impact on the local area, especially when it came to services and facilities. Many of the RAF amenities were available to the public and contributed to the well-being of the locals. As was to be expected, however, in the years following the military’s departure from the area, the extent to which the Ballyhornan community relied on the benefits that their lodgers conferred on them has become glaringly obvious.
There can be little doubt that the secretive and hasty departure of British military forces from Ballyhornan was a determining factor in the rapid decline of the village. In the light of the traditional heritage of the seaside community, the arrival of British military forces in the 1940s prevented expansion and development in areas in which Ardglass and Strangford made progress, and unrealistically sustained a community when it should have been evolving with the conventional natural resources.
When the British military forces moved out, the local community was left in limbo as the facilities and services once offered had suddenly disappeared. Ballyhornan then found itself in the undesirable situation of requiring 50 years of infrastructural development all at once. Most of the houses are former RAF barracks and homes that were simply sold off to a private individual at the time of the withdrawal. Disposal of the land by the MOD took place in 1991 in three lots. Lot one was the main airfield, lot two was the married quarters, and lot three was offices, stores and residential units.
Lot one now houses Bishopscourt racetrack and a number of original military buildings that remain in a derelict state. Lot two, now known as The Fairways, comprises some reasonable-quality residential units along with some derelict premises. However, the general environment is somewhat unkempt, arising, it seems, partly from ambiguity over ownership of and responsibility for common areas. Lot three, now known as Killard Square and Killard Drive, was sold to a developer who subsequently sold the majority of the former barrack blocks with little or no adaption at very low cost.
Since the MOD withdrawal from the area, the former RAF accommodation has changed to varying degrees and standards into residential accommodation now supporting a population in the Bishopscourt and Ballyhornan area of approximately 1,000 people. That includes a mixture of permanent residents and holiday-home owners, but the past few years have seen a trend towards permanent occupation. However, basic physical infrastructure in the area is wholly inadequate to support that population.
In much of the Ballyhornan area, housing units and the general environment are of extremely poor quality. In fact, it is difficult to overstate and describe adequately the extent of the problem. That is particularly the case on the former main airfield site and to an even greater extent in Killard Square and Killard Drive. Although exhibiting variation, residences in the latter area are, in the majority, former temporary structures and, in many cases, in very poor condition, particularly externally. Many were bought cheaply by people without means to bring them up to standard. Although some individuals have undertaken development and renovation over the years, that has often been done without the involvement of the planning and building control authorities.
Although there has been some private investment in homes in the Bishopscourt and Ballyhornan area, there has been little investment in basic infrastructure. The area lacks the basic infrastructure common to normally constructed residential settlements, and significant deficiencies are evident in roads, water and sewerage provision. Those problems are particularly acute in Killard Square and Killard Drive, where the procedure for adopting services has not been followed through on, and they remain unadopted by the relevant authorities.
As well as contributing to the general impression of dilapidation and unkemptness of the environment, the situation has led to a number of specific problems, including the regular overflowing of the sewerage system, resulting in raw sewage being deposited in homes and gardens. Incidences of a brown tinge and suspension in water supplies have also been reported. Roads are pitted with potholes and are inadequate for normal traffic. However, the roads, water and sewerage infrastructures are not of an adoptable standard, so the Department for Regional Development cannot fund their upgrading within existing legislative and policy constraints.
The beauty and splendour of the Irish countryside is regularly cited as one of its major attractions, and most will agree that it should be a prime local heritage and economic asset. However, in places such as Ballyhornan, that valuable asset is being battered by various environmentally damaging practices. Despite the fact that Ballyhornan is situated in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and is set among some spectacular coastal scenery with a wide variety of wildlife and vegetation and a rich environmental heritage, the local environment continues to come under severe threat.
Indeed, I share the views of many when I say that it is imperative for the residents of the village and the wider Lecale and Down District Council areas that the environmental problems in Ballyhornan be speedily and effectively addressed. Urgent action should, in due course, help with the regeneration of the village by creating a safe and sustainable environment for residents and visitors. The disposal of sewage in Ballyhornan has become the most pressing environmental issue in recent years, as the original system that was built to service the military camp can no longer function safely.
Raw sewage from hundreds of homes is being pumped through a rusty, leaking pipe that leads directly into the sea in front of the village, where it washes back up to the sand on the main beach. Local residents and those who visit the beach have to pick their way through sanitary towels, used condoms, toothbrushes and other waste that is being washed up to the tideline on a daily basis. Residents are increasingly angry with the ongoing situation. Indeed, they are fearful that the health and safety of their children is being put at risk through exposure to growing levels of unsatisfactory pollution. The sewage is a mixture of water, human waste, microorganisms, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, excreted pharmaceuticals and, potentially, pathogens, such as cholera, typhoid and hepatitis B. It is widely recognised that inadequate or no waste water treatment has an exceptionally negative impact on aquatic life, human uses of water, fisheries and human health. With that in mind, it is short-sighted and totally unacceptable not to maintain and upgrade the infrastructure as soon as possible.
Recently, the Minister for Regional Development, Mr Kennedy, announced that work on the much-needed infrastructural improvement in Ballyhornan was not progressing as he had hoped, and that the much-awaited upgrade to Ardglass waste water treatment works will not be completed at any time in the near future. Having waiting the best part of 25 years for the required sewerage upgrade, patience is wearing thin on the ground and people are becoming increasingly irritated with the glacial pace of change. The Ballyhornan area has suffered long enough and it is time that those issues were addressed. Furthermore, the site of pollution is within an area of special scientific interest and a marine reserve. As such, it is imperative that the practice of pollution be banned as soon as possible. It is vital that we stop pumping raw sewage into our waterways and seas. I call on the Minister of the Environment to enforce the solution to the problem if need be. We must take a stand against the ongoing destruction of our local environment.
There is also a persistent issue with the general decline and neglect of the beach at Ballyhornan. A number of years ago, a local newspaper reported that, according to a Beachwatch survey, Ballyhornan had the dirtiest beach in Ireland and Britain. The investigation, sponsored by the ‘Reader’s Digest’, found 69 items of rubbish per metre in a 100 m stretch of the beach, and an article commented that:
“if we do not dispose of our rubbish more carefully we will be guilty of ruining our beaches for future generations and damaging our own tourist economy.”
Subsequently, at an NIEA spring clean event, more than 130 large bin liners of rubbish were collected from Ballyhornan beach. I think that it is pertinent to note that whilst the mission statement printed on volunteer T-shirts that day proclaimed “Don’t throw waste in the sea”, the irony was not lost on locals as they looked out on the raw sewage.
As far back as 1984, the ‘Down Recorder’ reported on the problem of erosion at Ballyhornan beach. That issue was never tackled to any responsible level, with the DOE providing only a short-term solution by placing boulders along the base of the cliffs. The ‘Down Democrat’ covered the issue 15 years later in 1991, and 13 years on in 2012 I am reasonably informed that the erosion problems have never been suitable addressed. Therefore, 28 years after the erosion of the cliffs was first mentioned, it continues unabated.
What was once a picturesque village on the Lecale coast has become visually dilapidated as the result of decaying buildings, wire fences and other rotten reminders of the military’s presence, such as unkempt grass verges and bricked-up windows in houses. Uncoordinated and hasty development of residential buildings in the immediate aftermath of the military’s departure has led to disjointed and disorderly-looking properties, which will noticeably not stand the tribulations of the elements and time. Residents have cited bad planning as one of the major reasons for the environmental degeneration of the area. Agreeable solutions to some of those issues would include: the removal of unsightly remnants of the military fortifications, including high metal fences, concrete posts, barbed wire and various outbuildings; replacement or screening with hedge and tree planting and the provision of attractive open spaces; and the clean-up of illegal dumping.
Addressing the major infrastructural and environmental issues that I have touched on would act as a stimulus to significant private investment in new and existing developments, including the Bishopscourt race track. In turn, the viability of Ballyhornan’s future would be secured, leaving it able to attract and maintain basic services such as shops, healthcare, and public transport, thus resulting in much improved social conditions. Importantly, it would also facilitate the area to capitalise on its huge potential for tourism and would provide a boost to an industry that has previously thrived in the area but that has suffered from the physical deterioration of the built environment and trends in the global tourism industry. The focus for coastal areas in Down is to provide a high-quality setting for day trips and short breaks, particularly for those who are interested in outdoor activities. Given its natural setting on the Lecale coast and its proximity to developing visitor areas such as Ardglass and Strangford, Ballyhornan has many of the attributes to re-emerge as a successful tourism destination.
The situation in Ballyhornan that I have detailed today is arguably unique. That uniqueness has its origins in military history and the rather unmanaged transition from that. As a result, the area does not conform to the various statutory norms relating to settlements and development, which makes the problems difficult for authorities and service providers to address.
The multifaceted nature of the problems faced and the fragmentation of remits and responsibilities in the public sector mean that it is not in the gift of any one agency or community to address the situation that they have inherited. As a result, a significant barrier exists to both community and statutory agencies — the need for co-ordinated action. In the absence of that, it is difficult for any agency to jump first in committing its time and resources. For instance, there would be little point in adopting a roads infrastructure and carrying out remedial works until water and sewerage infrastructure can also be addressed. In the absence of a central source of funds, agencies are in limbo while each waits for the other to make the first move. In turn, potential private investment is dependent on the infrastructural issues being addressed. In short, the present inability of agencies to address the infrastructural issues affecting Ballyhornan acts as a brake on further physical development and stunts economic growth.
Conversely, addressing, through creative public investment, the debilitating factors — the blight of poor-quality housing, dereliction and inadequate sewerage arrangements — on the outstanding environmental attributes of Ballyhornan will pump-prime further investment. It will also leverage private sector interest and achieve the outcomes discussed. That process has already begun through the collective action of a number of agencies and the community to develop coherent and co-ordinated integrated local development plans, and through the establishment of the Ballyhornan Task Force as a multi-agency structure to take forward these ideas.
In light of the issues that I have illustrated, I call on the Environment Minister to instigate a thorough environmental impact study into the Ballyhornan/Bishopscourt locality. I also press upon him the urgent need to enforce improvements to the area’s sewerage system and to help end the shocking practice of pumping raw sewage into our waterways and sea. Finally, I ask the Minister to commit his Department to an extensive clean-up of the area and to help set in place best practice for future development.
Jim Wells (DUP)
I have been in this Chamber for far too many years. The issue of Ballyhornan and Bishopscourt has come up time after time. A flotilla of Ministers — DRD, DOE, DARD, you name it — has been down there to look at the situation. Council set up a task force, of which I was a member, and many hours were spent trying to unravel the problem of Ballyhornan. Really, if truth be known, very little progress has been made.
It is regrettable that the Member took the opportunity of raising the legitimate concerns of the community in Ballyhornan and Bishopscourt to have several digs at what he calls the British military establishment, which we call, of course, our defence forces. If he talks to some of the locals down there, the reality is that they welcomed the presence of the RAF because it provided employment for an awful lot of people in a deprived rural area. Many of those who have lobbied him and other MLAs were the very people who got their first job through what he called the British military establishment, which provided them with income and employment. Therefore, it was not a question of the vesting of land, the driving out of local farmers and the ruination of the economy; in fact, it brought an awful lot of money into the Bishopscourt/Ballyhornan community.
The ending of the RAF presence was quite sudden and unannounced, but his party is also demanding the removal of the British presence from Ballykinler — the third largest employer in Down district. If he had his way, the army would be out in the morning. What would that do for the economy of that area? Very similar situations would arise.
The Department and the Executive face the problem that an absolutely fundamental and immutable fact of life is that if you own private property it is your responsibility to look after its roads and sewerage infrastructure. The difficulty is that, if you break that rule at Ballyhornan/Bishopscourt, you are faced with the problem that there are hundreds of similar developments throughout Northern Ireland.
If you accept that Ballyhornan is a special case — and I accept that it is very unusual — and you break that fundamental rule, you will have hundreds of other small communities demanding exactly the same treatment. Therefore, I understand the reluctance of the Minister for Regional Development or the Environment Minister to intervene and use public money in this situation, because the principle in question also applies to private developments throughout the country, where developers have gone bust or gone into liquidation and have walked away, leaving housing estates without proper road and sewerage infrastructure.
If the Government were to move in and use taxpayers’ money to fix those situations, the dyke would burst and people would be walking away from developments all over the country. That is not to belittle the concern that we all have for the community in Ballyhornan but to somehow paint the picture of the difficulty that the various Departments have.
I am also slightly disappointed that he failed to mention that, where possible, action has been taken. The one thing that he forgot to give proper recognition to is the local strategic partnership, which I served on for many years. When money was available, it provided a new community centre in that area, which is used for playgroups and all sorts of activities that bring considerable benefit to that community. We worked closely with the local community to deliver that service.
That was a situation where it was legal to use European money through the local strategic partnership to deliver a service. The problem is that, at the moment, the law does not allow state money to be used to move in and repair the clear and obvious deficiencies in infrastructure in Ballyhornan. That is the problem that we are facing. Once the sewage leaves Ballyhornan and is then pumped into the Irish Sea, there is a statutory responsibility upon the Department to provide proper treatment facilities and to stop the outfall. I accept that, but, within the confines of that large former RAF base, it legally cannot be done. If we are to solve the problem of Ballyhornan in the long term, we will have to change the fundamental legislation that governs the provision of roads, footpaths, street lighting, drainage and sewerage in Northern Ireland. Do that at your peril, because I can see that stirring up a hornet’s nest over how we deal with private developers.
John McCallister (UUP)
I welcome the Adjournment debate, and I congratulate Mr Hazzard on securing it. I also pay tribute to the constituency..." class="glossary">Member of Parliament for South Down, Margaret Ritchie, who has highlighted the issue and encouraged me and colleagues, including Jim Nicholson MEP and the Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy MLA, to visit.
I agree with many of the comments that Mr Wells made. When looking at and visiting the site at Ballyhornan, one can be shocked at the quality of the housing that we are asking people to live in. The road and sewerage infrastructure there is appalling. That might be a legacy issue, but the problems certainly did not seem to be there when the RAF was there. They emerged after the RAF left, and there may be a lesson to be learned about how you handle something like this when returning it to private ownership. Indeed, there may be a lesson about how the selling off of the houses was dealt with. The houses may have been a bargain at the time, but many of them are now not fit for human habitation. It is appalling that, in this day and age, people are living in such housing.
Mr Hazzard and Mr Wells both mentioned that there are environmental issues there. There is illegal dumping, and there are the waste issues, which Mr Wells mentioned, about sewage going into the Irish Sea. That is a major problem, and it is such a shame, because it is in a beautiful and picturesque part of our constituency. There is a collective will to do something, but the difficulty is that deciding what that something will be is proving very elusive, considering that almost every Minister has been down to visit and look.
Almost every Minister is equally appalled at the state of the housing, the roads and the general infrastructure. How do we move that situation forward and tap into and attract private sector investment, rejuvenate the infrastructure, and use facilities that can attract thousands of people, such as Bishopscourt race circuit? How do we attract people to stay in the area and spend some of their hard-earned money? How do we rejuvenate it and build up the tourist potential of what is a very beautiful part of the County Down coast? It is in an area of outstanding natural beauty, but, looking at the state of Ballyhornan, one would not think it.
There are huge problems, including the quality of the housing. However, as Mr Wells said, the hardest nut to crack is the fact that the housing is all in private ownership. How does the state, through its various agencies, intervene in that? How does it actually improve the outcomes for the people who are almost trapped in low-quality housing with poor infrastructure around them? It is all privately owned. How do you tackle that without, to use Mr Wells’s phrase, bursting the dyke and replicating this situation throughout Northern Ireland?
I genuinely believe that there is a political will to do something. I am sure that the Minister will have some information for us, but I imagine that he will probably not be able to solve all the issues that confront him, apart perhaps from how we address the issue of pollution going into the Irish Sea, which is obviously a very strong focus of his Department. However, it would be great if we could find some way —
I thank Mr Hazzard for securing the debate. A multidisciplinary and multi-departmental approach is required for a programme of regeneration for the local environment that makes up and surrounds Ballyhornan and Bishopscourt. Away back in 1990, the Ministry of Defence in London announced that it would be rationalising its bases, and, shortly after that, RAF Bishopscourt, near Ballyhornan, closed. An area of wasteland was immediately visited upon the local population. A significant tract of housing with airfields, which had once been used to accommodate members of the RAF, was sold off to private entrepreneurs. The bottom line is that the Ministry of Defence left no structure in place for regeneration. The roads, water and sewerage systems were not considered to be of an adequate standard, and Roads Service, along with the water service, have refused to adopt a substantial infrastructure. They resort to their ancient position, which is that the frontagers must bring up the infrastructure to their standards before they will adopt and maintain them. Many of the frontagers and local residents are in receipt of low incomes and cannot afford to undertake the infrastructural works.
Since 1991, we have tried to achieve a multidisciplinary approach, but Roads Service and Northern Ireland Water refuse to play ball. Ballyhornan and District Community Association, with the direct representation and support of the then MP, Mr Eddie McGrady, was successful in obtaining funding for a family centre, which was opened in 2008-09. A very active community association has been able to secure the support of Down District Council for the provision of a 3G pitch.
Support was secured for the engagement of various consultants over the years to work towards bringing forward a regeneration programme. They all identified the problem as the need for the upgrade and adoption of the local infrastructure, but Roads Service and the water service refused to bite. Eventually, Down District Council established a multi-agency group in June last year, comprising political representatives, representatives from DARD, Roads Service, Northern Ireland Water, the council, etc, to ascertain the possibilities for an upgrade. Consultants have been appointed, are involved in assessing the situation and are due to bring forward a programme shortly. It is important that connections are put in place that link Ballyhornan with Bishopscourt and Ringawaddy, but the roads, water and sewerage infrastructure needs to be upgraded to an acceptable standard. It is also important that the statutory authorities agree to maintain that infrastructure.
Furthermore, it is an area of outstanding natural beauty and needs to be marketed and promoted as an area of tourism and visitation by the council, the Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland. Activities such as motor racing take place on the track, but the local economy does not gain from such events as the vendors generally come from outside.
Some social housing has been approved for the site. The current MP, Margaret Ritchie, has led delegations from the council and the local community association to the First Minister and the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. She also brought the Minister of the Environment and the Minister for Regional Development to the area to examine the requirements and the level of dereliction and asked them to explore the potential for rejuvenation.
Out of the consultant’s report must emerge a multi-agency approach to regeneration and priorities for action to which all Government Departments and agencies must sign up. OFMDFM must spearhead that regeneration initiative with DARD and DSD. The rural areas at risk programme currently being thought about in DARD must signpost Ballyhornan and Bishopscourt as such areas and dedicate resources and staff to work with the community to bring forward economic and environmental regeneration as well as opportunities for job creation. This place must no longer be abandoned.
The consultant’s report should be ready within a few weeks, after which intergovernmental action is required. A demilitarised site must be used for positive environmental, economic and job-creation opportunities for the local community that resides in the Bishopscourt/Ballyhornan area along the east Down coast.
Caitriona Ruane (Sinn Féin)
Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht seo agus gabhaim buíochas le Chris Hazzard.. I welcome the debate and thank Chris Hazzard for securing it.
Chris has given us a very thorough history of the area, and I do not propose to repeat that. What I will say is — and I do not know why anybody in this House would express surprise at it — that the British military and the British Ministry of Defence disposed of the site in a very irresponsible way. They did so without any regard for local people or their duties to them. That does not surprise me: I have seen it in every continent in the world where the British had their troops.
It was sad to hear my colleague Jim Wells, who claims to be interested in the environment, justifying what the British military did. I was very disappointed to hear that. It is also a bit disingenuous for Mr Wells to try to say that developers and the British Ministry of Defence somehow have the same responsibilities and are guided by the same laws.
The British Government failed in their duty to local people and did not dispose of the site in the way that they should have. Our position is that they should not have been there in the first place. We should not have had militarised sites. The least they could have done was to move out and, when they moved out, to leave the site as they found it — a beautiful part of Ireland on the beautiful County Down coast — so that it was safe for people living near it.
Sinn Féin wants to see the demilitarisation of every site in the North of Ireland. I do not know why Mr Wells finds it surprising that we also want to see the demilitarisation of Ballykinlar, as many local people do. I understand that there are jobs there, but I have been to Bishopscourt, I have been to Ballyhornan and I have been to Ballykinlar, and people do not want militarised areas. Those days are gone, hopefully forever.
I strongly believe that a joined-up approach is needed among Government Departments, with the Department of the Environment playing a key role. I note what Mr Rogers said, but he hardly mentioned the Department of the Environment, the Minister for which comes from his party.
So, I am making a plea to the Minister of the Environment. I am asking that his Department gives a commitment to a common vision and understanding on the value of rural areas that are vital to social cohesion in south Down.
I am asking that he deals with the asbestos. We heard about the sewerage and I will not repeat that, but it has to be dealt with. We cannot have raw sewage going into open sea.
The lack of infrastructure and substandard roads highlight the extent of the problem, which is made worse by the fact that many of the houses are built out of hazardous materials such as asbestos, a throwback to the days when the villages were home to the British forces. We all know the dangers of asbestos, and, day to day, families are forced to live with that in Ballyhornan and Bishopscourt. I am calling on the Minister to examine how we deal with that and, once and for all, commit to dealing with the problem. Asbestos is a silent killer, and the eradication of that dangerous substance must be a priority for the Assembly.
I am also calling on the Minister of the Environment to commit to an independent assessment of what hazardous materials have been used in the construction of buildings and what materials have been left dumped in both villages. I am asking him to give a commitment that his Department will remove those materials, such as asbestos, and replace them with safe building materials.
We are in a new era and time, and I had hoped that we had moved forward and were not justifying bad action by the Ministry of Defence. It created this problem and it failed to deal with this problem, as did successive direct rule Governments.
I thank Chris Hazzard for securing this Adjournment debate, and I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to it. As Members outlined, the Ballyhornan/Bishopscourt area is a small coastal settlement that is deprived and vastly underdeveloped, with serious infrastructure problems in relation to roads and sewers, and with a substandard water supply.
The regeneration and development of Ballyhornan/Bishopscourt is an important issue to my party. My colleague Margaret Ritchie, MP for South Down, and SDLP councillor Dermot Curran, have worked on the ground with residents from the area over a long period. My colleague Alex Attwood, Minister of the Environment, visited the area, and our MP has in recent months made representations to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, urging the Minister to consider Ballyhornan for the rural area at risk scheme. Although that scheme is only at the consideration stage, I join my colleague in expressing to the Minister the need for it to be implemented, and request that Ballyhornan be considered as a pilot area.
There are serious environmental and health concerns regarding that location in relation to housing. Many of the houses are of poor quality. Of those that have been developed and renovated, as Mr Hazzard outlined, most were done without the involvement of the authorities, such as building control. As Ms Ruane highlighted, asbestos roofing exists in a number of former barracks blocks, which poses a potential health risk.
The most pressing environmental issue is the sewerage system, with reports of regular overflows of the system into homes and gardens. There are also many issues in relation to the breakdown of water supplies, asbestos and poor road conditions. I will not go through other stuff that other Members highlighted; I will just finish here.
The residents from the Ballyhornan/Bishopscourt area have a commendable self-help attitude. They have taken the lead in helping their area but, in order to make the necessary improvements, they require support from Ministries such as the DOE, DRD and DARD, along with strong backing from the Executive. I hope that, as a result of this debate, the Ballyhornan and Bishopscourt area will become a priority.
I apologise, Mr speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in..." class="glossary">Deputy Speaker, for being some seconds late for the commencement of the debate. I welcome the debate, and I welcome Mr Hazzard to the House. I reassure the House and Members that I will forward a copy of the Hansard report to all Ministers who have competence and authority when it comes to dealing with all the issues around Ballyhornan because, if we are going to deal with Ballyhornan, we have to deal with all the issues around Ballyhornan. That is the standard against which any Minister and Department should judge themselves.
There was a strange moment in this debate when Mr Rogers was criticised for not mentioning DOE. He was followed by a Member who in her contribution did not mention OFMDFM, which technically has responsibility for military sites, or DARD, which has responsibility for the overall site because it is a rural settlement that falls, for development purposes, to DARD not DSD. If we are going to deal with this issue, let us deal with all the issues. Let us not be partial. Let us not be selective. Let us not pick our target in the way that some people have chosen to in this debate. That will not be the standard that I will deploy when it comes to this issue. I will raise these matters with DARD, because many of them fall to DARD. I will raise these matters with OFMDFM, because some of these matters fall to OFMDFM. And so on and so forth with DRD. Those environmental issues that fall to my Department, I will deal with in my Department. I will not adopt the standards of others, which are, in my view, partial and selective.
Mr Hazzard said that Departments were not jumping first. That is not the case. Let me explain why. When it comes to DOE’s responsibility in respect of the site, DOE has adopted a development plan for Ards and Down which specifically deals with the small settlement that is Ballyhornan and how expansion might be appropriate. In addition, DOE has identified two industrial policy areas to grow local employment given the decline of the fishing industry. More than that, DOE has granted planning permission. In order to see the proper development of the area, determining weight was given to economic benefit. That is why a community centre has been approved. That is why retail units have been approved. That is why a petrol station and shop has been approved. That is why 12 units of social housing have been approved.
When it comes to enforcement, my Department is currently dealing with the issue of drift racing on the site. The Department is interrogating in a very serious way a proposal to extend motorcar racing on the site beyond the permitted development rights limit of 14. And so on and so forth. So, when it comes to the claim that nobody has jumped first, I argue that DOE has clearly jumped. It and other Departments may not have jumped high enough, but, clearly, Departments have jumped.
Beyond that, on a broader narrative, look at what DOE has done in convening four beach summits. Why did we convene four beach summits? To bring into the life of the Department external advice about how to deal with water and sewerage and beach issues that affect all beach areas in the North of Ireland. What is the consequence of that? Tidy NI and the Marine Conservation Society have escalated their efforts to encourage people to clean up beaches, a point made by Mr Hazzard. Even today, in ‘The Belfast Telegraph’, there is a campaign to clean up our beaches. I will certainly encourage Tidy NI and the Marine Conservation Society to take forward what Mr Hazzard asked in his concluding remarks, namely to clean up the area. I will ask them to do more, and I will interrogate what more DOE can do.
The treatment of raw sewage is a crucial issue. Under European directive, my agency, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, has determined that the appropriate treatment for Ballyhornan is a long sea outfall and fine screening. The problem is that DRD and NIW have not dealt with the issue of fine screening to deal with the sewerage issue. As a consequence —
I will let you in, Mr Wells.
As a consequence, warning letters were issued in 2009, 2010 and 2011 to compel NIW to deal with the fine screening issue. It has not done so. In my view, it should have done so. In my view, further enforcement should have been taken against it. That is why, as of some recent weeks, a water order enforcement notice is going to be served on NIW, to ensure that the requirements of the agency in respect of sewage treatment in that area are complied with by 2013. However, that is not good enough in my view. That should have been done before now.
However, at least it is getting done now. NIW will be advised that, by March 2013, it will have complied with the requirements established four or five years earlier to have not only a long sea outfall for sewerage, but fine screening to mitigate the risk. I will give way to Mr Wells now.
Jim Wells (DUP)
That is very welcome, Minister. However, having listened to the Minister, and with all respect to him as Minister of the Environment, I have to ask why he was nominated to respond to the debate when the vast majority of the issues affecting the people of Ballyhornan, such as unadopted streets, footpaths, roads and the sewerage infrastructure, lie with DRD. That Department has the key role. Frankly, if there was something that allowed DRD to move in and fix all of those issues, 90% of the problems would be solved.
The clue is probably in the subject of the debate, which is trying to address the environmental impact. I may concur with the Member that, if I am sitting here, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development should be standing there; the Minister for Regional Development should be there; and somebody from OFMDFM should be over there, so that we could all deal with the totality of the site’s issues. However, I do not mind coming here to account for what DOE is doing in that neighbourhood, in the way that I outlined, and what it has failed to do in enforcing the waste water treatment directive.
Caitriona Ruane (Sinn Féin)
I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that someone has to take leadership. When I was Minister of Education, I took the lectern and took responsibility for the Lisanelly site. I fought for money for it. Obviously, different organisations and Ministers also had responsibilities, but I showed leadership. I accept that there needs to be a joined-up approach, but I call on this Minister to do the same.
Can you point out to me where, in my Department, I have failed to show leadership on this matter? There is now an area plan and approved planning applications. I am about to, essentially, serve enforcement proceedings upon NIW, and so on, never mind the fact that my Department is putting more money into South Down by way of the Mound of Down and the Saint Patrick’s heritage project, for example, and trying to more fully profile the quality, scale and wonder of our natural heritage, a point that your colleague raised in respect of economic development. So will you point out where —
Given that narrative, will you point out to me where it is that you claim that I am not showing leadership? I would argue quite the contrary. The fact that I am prepared to come to argue this case on the Floor; the fact that DOE has had a good narrative; the fact that I acknowledge that more should be done; and the fact that I think that government, across government, should be doing more shows active leadership. Any suggestion to the contrary is, I think, contradictory. I will give way to you.
Caitriona Ruane (Sinn Féin)
I asked you specifically for two things that could be done. Maybe I will repeat them. I asked for an independent assessment of the hazardous materials used in the construction of buildings and dumped in both villages, and to commit your Department to removing hazardous materials, such as asbestos, and replacing them with safe materials. My colleague Chris Hazzard, who secured the debate, asked you to deal with sewerage.
Let me point out that I dealt with the sewerage, and I dealt with the clean-up of the area. If there is an issue across the Department’s range of environmental responsibilities, I bear down on the Department to assess the risk and enforce where necessary. Of course, I will look at the matters that you raised about the dumping of asbestos and other items in the area. A Member who raises with me an environmental risk in a certain neighbourhood will see that I am not a Minister who will neglect that information. I will take that information forward, I will interrogate it, and I will make assessments. If the responsibility falls to my Department, to DFP or to some other Department, I will try to ensure that the appropriate Department lives up to that responsibility.
Don’t you suggest, on the basis of this debate, that DOE is failing in its responsibilities, lock, stock and barrel, across the needs in Ballyhornan. Do not suggest, as seems to be implicit in your comments, that, somehow, previous leadership in the constituency of South Down failed the people of Ballyhornan. Clearly, it has not.
Adjourned at 4.34 pm