The Northern Ireland Waste Management Strategy was published by my Department in March 2000. Its main aim is to achieve sustainable waste management through the reduction, re-cycling and recovery of waste. A key requirement for the strategy is the development by district councils of waste management plans, showing how they propose to meet the targets in the strategy and provide the strategic network of waste management facilities that will be needed.
The strategy set a deadline of the end of June 2001 for the submission to my Department of final draft plans following public consultation. All three council partnership groups submitted draft plans to my Department before the end of June. However, these were pre-consultation rather than final drafts.
My officials have recently met with representatives of the three groups and provided information to assist them to finalise the draft plans for public consultation. My Department has also provided a workshop to assist councils to identify the best practicable environmental option in their plans.
Completion of those plans and the establishment of the physical infrastructure needed to meet the strategy’s objectives and targets will be central to its success.
The Department of the Environment recently consulted on a draft planning policy statement that was concerned with planning policies for the development of waste management facilities. The Department has also funded a further study of waste arisings in Northern Ireland. The results will assist councils in making their decisions on waste management.
An important part of the machinery to deliver the strategy was the establishment of the Waste Management Advisory Board. The board held its inaugural meeting on 6 June 2001. I am confident that it will play a key role in the guiding, monitoring and progression of the strategy.
Given that the three sub-regional waste management strategies reflect the key objectives of the Northern Ireland waste management strategy, why has the Department of the Environment delayed its identification of generic education and public awareness programmes to support the implementation of the district council waste strategies. As a consequence, £1 million of funding to support the local strategies’ implementation has been surrendered. What steps has the Department of the Environment taken to provide training and innovative and meaningful consultation mechanisms for local government officers involved in the development of district council waste management plans?
Some councils did not make representations to the Department of the Environment until June 2001, and the Department received only consultative documents rather than draft plans. That held back the Department. There was £3·5 million set aside, but the Department had to return £1 million. However, I assure the Member that that does not mean that the Department will treat the issue any less seriously.
The Department hopes to push the education plans when the other plans go out, because if one issue is put in front of another it is forgotten about and it loses its impact. That is why the education plans are not running now. However, they will run concurrently with the other plans.
My question follows on from Mr Poots’s question. Will there be adequate funding and help for the consultation and education programmes as well as for their practical implementation?
The Department of the Environment tries to obtain as much funds as are necessary. In advance of the plans’ completion, the Department has sought the views of district councils and the Waste Management Advisory Board on immediate expenditure needs. In this financial year, the Department will invest £400,000 on extending the Great Britain waste and resource action programme (WRAP) in Northern Ireland in order to assist the creation of a stable and efficient market for recycled materials and products. To complete waste data studies costs a further £400,000, and £500,000 will be invested in a public awareness and education programme to coincide with the public consultation of district council plans.
Departmental officials are also looking at the scope for further assistance to councils on top of the £130,000 that has already been provided to help complete their plans and to set up pilot schemes. The indicative allocation for waste management in the 2002-03 draft Budget is £7 million.
Detailed decisions on the distribution of the funds have not yet been made and will depend on progress on the development, agreement and implementation of district council waste management plans, which the Department awaits.