'Decarbonisation of Road Transport in Northern Ireland': Committee Report

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 29th November 2021.

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Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:15 pm, 29th November 2021

When it comes to the green growth strategy, on which DAERA leads, a group of Ministers convened to discuss a range of issues previously. One of those issues was hydrogen. My understanding is that we are due to reconvene. I have no doubt that hydrogen will be discussed, given its importance to the environment but also the economy.

I will continue to engage with Executive colleagues and the British Government in respect of funding to support the development of the EV infrastructure network. Recently, ESB has been successful in securing £3·27 million from the Levelling Up Fund to expand and enhance the network across Northern Ireland. I am keen for councils to access the £20 million of on-street residential charging funding that is available. As Members will know, to incentivise councils to apply, I have set aside £350,000 of match funding. My officials will work with the councils, so that 100% of their capital costs will be covered when they make a successful application.

I am supportive of the move by organisations to green their fleets, particularly in the public sector, because there is a responsibility to lead by example, but I recognise the current challenges with vehicles that are harder to decarbonise, including HGVs. Members will also know that I have encouraged Executive colleagues to lead by example by switching to electric ministerial vehicles. I made that choice when I took up my post. If the Executive were to do that, it would send a strong and positive message about our commitment to helping others to make the switch. In addition, my Department has purchased electric vehicles as part of a pilot project. That will allow us to assess the suitability of electric vehicles to meet operational needs, with a view to replacing other vehicles in our fleet with low-emission vehicles in the future.

The Department is also working to reduce diesel emissions from the Strangford ferry service entering the environment, and I have provided £1·36 million from the blue-green fund to assist community transport organisations to assess the feasibility of using electric vehicles for the services that they provide to communities across Northern Ireland. That is in addition to providing financial support to enable the people of Rathlin to have access to e-bikes and a greener community car, because I want to do what I can to support the people of Rathlin in realising their ambition to be carbon-neutral.

Where possible, my Department will continue to facilitate demonstration projects of alternatively fuelled vehicles in Northern Ireland, and we will continue to liaise with other jurisdictions, including through the British-Irish Council transport working group, to learn from their pilot projects and trials, because that shared learning is very important.

The decarbonisation of road transport will mean behavioural change that will have an impact on everyone. I welcome the Committee's support in bringing those changes forward. I assure the Committee that I will consider the inquiry report and its recommendations carefully and that I am genuinely committed to working with the Committee and Members throughout the House, and with communities, in order to ensure that we make the positive progress that is required if we are to tackle the climate emergency.