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Connswater River

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 7th November 2016.

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Photo of Sammy Douglas Sammy Douglas DUP 3:00 pm, 7th November 2016

5. Mr Douglas asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs what action her Department is taking to improve the water quality and habitat conservation of the Connswater river. (AQO 585/16-21)

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

The main actions taken to improve the water quality and habitat conservation of the Connswater are delivered as part of the north-eastern river basin management plan. Measures involve working to improve understanding of the pressures in the area and improve the evidence to target actions in an effective way. Most of those measures require working with other Departments or organisations, and key to delivery is active engagement with stakeholders through partnerships and catchment projects. Specific actions include working with the water industry to minimise the pollution risk from combined storm overflows, which are points on the sewerage network designed to overflow in the event of blockage or very wet weather. Other actions include providing guidance and information to help communities protect and enhance local streams and rivers in the urban environment.

Examples of specific actions in the Connswater include: rubbish removal from the river; areas of semi-natural habitat created; management and control of invasive species; and new, improved bridges and crossings. As part of the greenway project, large areas of the rivers have been improved by removing sections of historic concrete channels and creation of more natural river courses. Over time, that will improve the biodiversity and water quality of the rivers.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) is currently working with Northern Ireland Water to address a number of discharges to the Connswater. The pollution hotline number is publicised on signage within the Connswater greenway to allow the reporting of pollution. NIEA is a key partner in the Department for Infrastructure’s Living with Water programme, which aims to contribute to the improvement in the quality of water in the Belfast lough catchment area, which includes the Connswater. NIEA officers continue to have good links with Connswater Community Greenway staff, and it is hosting a stakeholder workshop on 15 November for the north-eastern catchment area at Mossley Mill to identify future partnerships.

Photo of Sammy Douglas Sammy Douglas DUP

I thank the Minister for his answers thus far. The Minister mentioned the clearing up of some rubbish on the Connswater river. Certainly, with regard to the Sam Thompson bridge, some people talked about it as a bridge that goes nowhere, but we have had nearly 500,000 people walking over it. I welcome the work that has been done there. Will the Minister outline to the House what progress has taken place with the flood alleviation scheme?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I know the Member is very familiar with the greenway, probably as much from cycling around it. I look forward to cycling its full length when it is constructed. One of the benefits of the overall project has been the flood alleviation scheme. Significant parts of east Belfast's flood alleviation scheme are being delivered as part of the Connswater Community Greenway project. The overall scheme sees an investment of £12 million to alleviate the impact of flooding on nearly 1,700 homes. It is due to be completed early next year. Some 270 properties adjacent to Orangefield Park and Victoria Park are already benefiting from upgrades. That was a £1·7 million element of the overall project.

This is good and positive work, and I know that the Minister particularly wants to welcome the good collaboration that there has been among a range of Departments, including our own, and also with Belfast City Council and the Connswater Community Greenway Trust.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

I call Mr Seán Lynch. I advise the Minister that we need a quick response.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

Will the Minister assure the Assembly that water quality and habitat conservation will continue to have priority in all our inland waterways?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I am sure that the Minister will always want to ensure that water quality is one of the things highest on her agenda as she is looking to fulfil her duties to protect and enhance our local environment.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

That ends the period for listed questions. We will now have 15 minutes of topical questions.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

It is fair to say that, today, the Minister has demonstrated that he is capable of answering questions on anything apart, maybe, from how he voted on Brexit.