Air Pollution: South Belfast

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP 2:15 pm, 5th December 2016

6. Mr Stalford asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to outline her plans to address air pollution in South Belfast. (AQO 821/16-21)

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I welcome the latest report on air quality in Northern Ireland, published by my Department on 22 November. The report clearly shows that air quality in Northern Ireland continues to improve, although we continue to have problems with emissions from road traffic at certain locations. The report notes that long-term roadside levels of pollutants in Belfast are mostly decreasing, albeit at a slower rate than I would like.

In addressing air quality in Belfast, and across Northern Ireland, my Department has commenced a review of air quality policy and legislation, with the intention of developing a dedicated Northern Ireland air quality strategy and revised local air quality management policy guidance. The review will consider new thinking on air quality policy across the UK and internationally, aimed at reducing emissions from all sources to protect public health, assist with climate change targets, and improve congestion. Those polices will be consulted on in due course.

In addition to the review, my Department provides funding support to councils, including Belfast City Council, to carry out their statutory local air quality management and action plan duties and has worked closely with Belfast City Council and the Department for Infrastructure to draw up an air quality action plan for the greater Belfast area. The air quality issues here are predominantly due to road traffic emissions. Therefore, the plan focuses on introducing measures relating to sustainable transport, such as the forthcoming Belfast rapid transit scheme; the development of the Belfast transport hub; and park-and-ride, as well as strategies that promote public transport, walking and cycling.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I am grateful to the Minister for that very full answer. Does she agree with me that, in tackling congestion, any air quality strategy must have significant investment in infrastructure, including the York Street interchange?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I totally agree with the Member. As a former Minister for Regional Development, I was very much involved in some of those projects and, in particular, the York Street interchange. As a former member of Belfast City Council, the Member will know that the council has declared the Westlink corridor, from York Street to the city boundary, as an air quality management area. That is an area that carries approximately 100,000 vehicles per day. The development of the York Street interchange project is one of the principal measures in reducing transport emissions along the Westlink corridor and is one of a range of measures that DFI has agreed, with the council, to include in its air quality action plan.

It is, therefore, vital that this project goes ahead. Obviously, it is not the only project in which there are air quality issues. The Dungiven bypass is another such project in Northern Ireland and one that I would like to see moving forward very quickly.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Given the increasing population in the Carryduff/Saintfield Road area, will the Minister agree that the introduction of a greenway from Carryduff to the city centre would be a very good proposal to include in her action plan?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question. I am very keen for such projects to move forward, as was the former Minister. As a user of the greenway in my constituency, I see its benefits and the benefits of cycling, but, given the increase in population in that area, I advise that members of the public use the park-and-ride facility and take advantage of the public transport system that is in place there.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

Will the Minister acknowledge that four major cities have committed to banning diesel cars by 2025 due to air pollution levels? Will she let the House know whether she has any intention of doing the same?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question. I suppose that I have to declare an interest as the driver of a diesel car. At this stage, no, I do not have any intention to do so.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her responses so far. She may be aware that it was reported last week that one of the air quality monitors in Dungiven was not working, and has not been for some time. I understand that it is the council's responsibility to replace that. Was the Department aware that it was not working? Whose responsibility is it to request a replacement?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question. Yes, I am aware of that, as I was of the issue on the Ormeau Road. It is my understanding that it has been out of use since March this year and that the reason why it has not been replaced is an issue with replacement parts. The Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council is in the process of procuring a new monitor. I understand that it continues to be able to monitor pollution but is using a different method to do so.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton Speaker

Before I call Ms Mallon, I remind Members that, if they wish to ask a supplementary, they should rise continually in their place.

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for her answers to date and for her commitment to tackling air pollution. I seek assurances from the Minister that, in the event of Brexit, we will maintain the current levels of environmental protection for air quality.

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question. Obviously, Brexit will not have an impact on this. The Executive have given a commitment, and you will understand from our Programme for Government that we recognise the importance of air quality and have a target against the air quality indicators to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide recorded across all monitoring stations in Northern Ireland. We have a draft delivery plan, and an indicator is out for consultation. It contains the various measures that we are looking at. As a Department, generally, we are looking across the piece at how air pollution can be tackled, not only in transport but in the agriculture sector.