DAERA Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, today published a discussion document highlighting three specific elements of the UK Government’s Environment Bill, currently making its way through Parliament.
Speaking today, the Minister said: “Protecting and improving our environment is a priority for me and should be a priority for everyone. The environment is, of course, valuable in its own right but it also sustains economic growth and facilitates social wellbeing.”
The discussion document launched today, seeks the views of a wide range of stakeholders on:
- Environmental Improvement Plans, which would require DAERA to produce long-term strategic plans for the environment;
- A policy statement on the application of environmental principles, currently contained in EU treaties, by all Departments when making policy; and
- Arrangements for independent environmental oversight, a role currently undertaken by the European Commission.
Minister Poots commented: “As I announced in June, DAERA will take a collaborative approach to develop a multi-decade ‘Green Growth’ strategy and delivery framework, to include a range of programmes which will help to transform Northern Ireland to net zero carbon society by 2050. Our strategy for improving the environment will sit at the heart of the Green Growth Framework endorsed by the NI Executive, and set the tone for environmental improvement for decades to come.”
He continued: “Environmental principles have been at the core of international environmental law for many decades. As we near the end of the EU withdrawal transition period, I am keen to ensure that Northern Ireland continues to benefit from the application of these important principles during the policy making process.”
The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will be established under the Environment Bill and (subject to the Assembly’s approval) extend to Northern Ireland. The body will be independent from government and will: provide independent scrutiny and advice on environmental law and policy; investigate environmental complaints from organisations and the public; and oversee the delivery of environmental law by public authorities, taking enforcement action where needed. The OEP would also monitor and report on progress against environmental improvement plans.
The DAERA Minister stated: “Environmental governance is a much broader topic than environmental oversight alone but establishing the OEP in Northern Ireland presents an opportunity to bridge the governance gap that would otherwise arise after the transition period. While I am confident of the Executive’s desire and ability to protect and enhance the environment, the independent expert advice of the OEP would undoubtedly support our efforts to do so.”
Due to the Covid-19 crisis there has been a delay in the passage of the Environment Bill through Parliament. Royal Assent will not now be achieved until the New Year and as a consequence the commencement of the OEP’s operations in England is set for 1 July 2021. As a result a need to put in place interim arrangements has arisen.
With regards to this delay Minister Poots commented: “I have given my approval to put in place interim arrangements that will allow Northern Ireland to participate as far as is practicable in common interim arrangements for the handling of complaints from members of the public regarding alleged failures by public bodies to comply with environmental law. The development of a casework management system by Defra for the interim arrangements and the OEP will now take account of Northern Ireland related issues.”
The discussion document will remain open for comment until [5 February 2021] and can be accessed at: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/consultations/environmental-plans-principles-and-governance