Environment Bill: Legislative Consent Motion

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 8:15 pm on 30th June 2020.

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Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 8:15 pm, 30th June 2020

I have to counter that and say that we have not seen environmental degradation; we have seen environmental improvement. The Member said that our waterways and air quality are not good enough. I agree with her, and there is more to be done and more that we will do to improve water quality and air quality. We do not need the European Union to tell us how to do it. We know how to do it ourselves and we need to tackle it. The damage that is being done to many of our waterways is disgraceful and horrible and it needs to stop. We will work out how we can address that better than is currently the case but we certainly do not have to go backwards.

I do not have a particular issue with an independent environmental agency. However, I will say that the environmental NGOs in England, Scotland and Wales do not hold up the work of the agencies there as something that is so much better than the work that the NIEA does. Everybody can repeat it, but it is not some great panacea that is going to deliver brilliance that we currently do not have. We have an agency that is left to get on with its job and, in my opinion, does quite a good job. If the House wishes to create an independent environmental agency, that is absolutely fine, but it is not the panacea that some people make it out to be. It may be good but it may not be any better than what we currently have. That assessment needs to be carried out.

When it comes to casting unfounded aspersions on the OEP, as some people did, we do not have any evidence whatsoever that it will not be independent or robust. The body has not even been created yet and, already, people are casting aspersions that it will not be this, that or the other. That is a ridiculous position to adopt.

I have absolutely no doubt that further change is coming in how we deal with the environment and ensure that it is well kept. John Blair raised the issue of habitat and species loss and, again, that is something that, I hope, we are slowly reversing.

I launched the environmental challenge fund just the other day and to do that, I went up to Slievenacloy, which benefited from the challenge fund last year. There is a wide range of species of grasses and flowers there that we are allowing to be promoted. Projects like that are making a real difference.

I have previously been to Glenwherry to see a project to bring back many of the breeds of ground-nesting birds that we had practically lost. I have to be blunt: one of the ways that that was achieved was by the removal of foxes. Some people might not like that, but a ground-nesting bird is easy prey for a fox. Therefore, if you want to save the ground-nesting birds and the indigenous species that have been in this country for millennia, those are the actions that you have to take. I agree with Mr Blair; we need to improve those areas, bring back species and create habitats that are suitable in order for them to thrive. We need to look at this as a holding position and then engage in how we can carry out further improvement.

The border was raised as an issue. It is not an issue. All the regulations that we have come from the European Union and we are carrying out the same regulations. The border is not an issue because we do not have different positions at this point. As we go forward, I suspect that we will face challenges, but the challenges may well be with people on the other side of the border keeping up with us. That may be the challenge. One will just have to wait and see. Opportunities exist there with the environmental improvement plan that we will facilitate and bring in, and that is something that we really need to do.

In closing, nothing in the Bill reduces protections. There is not one smidgen of evidence to support that assertion. Therefore, those who are voting against the Bill are doing so based on a straw man. I am thankful that most of the House support the Bill. It is absolutely necessary if we are for real about protecting our environment.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly endorses the principle of the extension to Northern Ireland of the provisions of the Environment Bill, as introduced on 30 January 2020, dealing with: environmental governance in Northern Ireland in clauses 45 and 46 and schedules 2 and 3; waste and resource efficiency in clauses 47-53, 56, 58, 62, 64 and 68 and schedules 4-9; water quality in clauses 81 and 83; and amendment of REACH legislation in clause 125 and schedule 19.