Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 3rd November 2020.

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Photo of David Hilditch David Hilditch DUP 2:00 pm, 3rd November 2020

4. Mr Hilditch asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs what progress has been made in reviewing the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. (AQO 996/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I thank the Member for his question. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act relates to a range of policy areas — gating orders, vehicles, litter, graffiti, dogs, noise and statutory nuisances — relevant to both clean neighbourhoods and the environment. Those policy areas are the responsibility of a number of Departments, including my Department and the Department for Infrastructure.

I can confirm that, although my Department has no plans to undertake a formal review of its sections of the Act in the foreseeable future, the issues of litter and dog fouling will be considered in DAERA's forthcoming draft environmental strategy for Northern Ireland. The strategy will consider options for tackling those ongoing problems in the future and include the outcome of the current review of fixed penalty notices for litter and dog-fouling offences.

Part 7 of the Act relates to statutory nuisances. Sections 63 and 65 give district councils the power to deal with noise from premises, including land, that they consider to be prejudicial to health or amounts to a statutory nuisance. Where a council is satisfied that a nuisance exists, sections 63 and 65 require the district council to serve an abatement notice. There are no plans to amend the legislation at present. My officials, however, are in communication with the Department of Justice following its earlier consultation on antisocial behaviour. The Department for Infrastructure has confirmed that it has no current plans to review any legislation linked to the Act.

Photo of David Hilditch David Hilditch DUP

I welcome the Minister's answer. I understand, of course, that enforcement of such a wide-ranging Act falls to local government. That is where I believe that things fall down, however, so I would welcome anything coming forward by way of any new Act. Is there any way in which the Minister can see better working happening with councils, which are the enforcers? Their record on enforcement over the past couple of years has been very poor.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I am very keen that the legislation be properly and well enforced. I brought it forward when I was Environment Minister. We therefore want to see benefits arising from it. We will look at certain issues around fixed penalty notices for litter and dog fouling in the environmental strategy, and potentially in a new environment Bill. Hopefully, we can strengthen any legislation that needs strengthened in that form.

Photo of Karen Mullan Karen Mullan Sinn Féin

Minister, dog fouling is a blight on our neighbourhoods. In an area of my constituency, we have particular issues with rodents, which apparently feed off it. Are you considering making it mandatory for dog owners, of which I am one, to carry litter bags or appliances for removing foul when out walking their dog?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I have not given that thought at this time, but, as part of the environment strategy, we will certainly consult on how we can further strengthen issues around dog fouling. Dogs are the most wonderful pets, and those of us who have them are very privileged to have them. Having a dog comes with a responsibility, however, and people have a responsibility to ensure that they clean up after their dog. It is as simple as that.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, I hope that you will agree with me that an independent environmental protection agency would be the most appropriate body to monitor the implementation of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I am not sure whether you have informed local councils that you intend to take powers away from them and whether your local councillors will accept that. If the SDLP wishes to accept that as its policy, I will be happy to hear about it in due course.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

One area that the Minister mentioned as being covered by the Act is abandoned vehicles, and vehicles being worked on in the street etc. In a number of locations in my constituency, that is problematic. Local neighbourhoods are blighted by such businesses working on footpaths and on the street, leaving oil and abandoned vehicles that cause difficulties for other resident who want to park. The current legislation is not working, and I ask the Minister to review that particular aspect of it.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I am happy to look at it. However, the legislation was brought out, in the first instance, to give councils the powers to deal with those issues. If there is a weakness in the legislation, that is one thing. If there is a weakness in the implementation, that is another thing. We need to identify which it is: the legislation or the implementation of it.