The Department for Environment Agricultural Rural Affairs Minister (DEARA), Edwin Poots, has just launched a consultation document on Northern Ireland’s first ever overarching Environment Strategy

It is envisaged that this Environment Strategy will be adopted as Northern Ireland’s first ‘Environmental Improvement Plan’ (EIP) which, subject to the approval of the NI Assembly, will be a statutory requirement under the Environment Act 2021 to monitor environmental progress against the Environment Strategy on an annual basis.

The announcement came in the same week that the Environment Act 2021 finally received Royal Assent at Westminster (TLT will be running a series of insights on the Act so stay tuned). The Act covers a wide range of environmental matters and sets the agenda for environmental governance now the UK has left the European Union.

The Environment Strategy is not to be confused with the long-awaited Energy Strategy consultation which closed in June 2021 - we await its publication in 2022 for what will be a key document in shaping energy policy in Northern Ireland for the next decade.

The Environment Strategy is intended to be an overarching document setting out NI’s environmental priorities for the coming decades and it will form part of the Green Growth agenda.

The Consultation

The consultation opened on 11 November 2021 and will run until the closing date on 18 January 2022 at 4pm. It puts forward Six Strategic Environmental Outcomes (SEOs) in the 78 page consultation document. Some key proposals that may be of relevance to the planning sector in NI are set out under each SEO below.

Strategic Environmental Outcome 1 - Excellent air, water, land & neighbourhood quality

  •  Publish NI’s first Clean Air Strategy and address ammonia emissions through a forthcoming Ammonia Strategy
  • Implement Flood Risk Management Plan 2021-27
  • Develop a wide-ranging Dilapidation Bill to be introduced by 2023 to tackle neglected sites

Strategic Environmental Outcome 2 - Healthy & accessible environment & landscapes everyone can connect with & enjoy

  •  Review of Landscape policy/legislation and update of AONB management plans
  • Secure the long-term future of the Housing Executive’s social housing stock
  • Develop and implement a Culture Arts and Heritage Strategy

Strategic Environmental Outcome 3 - Thriving, resilient & connected nature and wildlife

  •  Develop a Peatland Strategy for NI 2021-2040

Strategic Environmental Outcome 4 - Sustainable production & consumption on land and at sea

  •  Publish an Action Plan by the end of 2021 that will identify a range of supporting actions to deliver the forthcoming Energy Strategy

Strategic Environmental Outcome 5 - Zero waste & highly developed circular economy

  •  Publish a new Waste Management Strategy by 2023 and by 2035 send no more than 10% waste to landfill

Strategic Environmental Outcome 6 - Fair Contribution to UK net zero greenhouse gas emissions & improved climate resilience and adaptability

  •  Achieve legislative passage of a NI Climate Change Bill (see our recent legal insights), deliver carbon budgets and consider the UK Emissions Trading Scheme

Implications

What is clear from the consultation is that the Environment Strategy will not be standalone. Numerous new strategies are being proposed and planning consultants, local authorities and other stakeholders will have to navigate their way through them when dealing with new development proposals in the coming years.

For example, landscape policy is set to be amended – what impact will this have on wind development and other renewable projects?  A New Ammonia Strategy is set to be forthcoming – how will farm business support schemes be integrated in to this, and what impacts will this have in terms of limiting new intensive agriculture development? In terms of the new Waste Management Strategy – what reduction or recycling requirements will housing developers have to consider  to become a bigger part of the circular economy, and how will this be integrated into Construction and Environmental Management Plans?

In a world of constant change, businesses and communities need to prepare for the future with sustainability at the core to thrive long-term. This consultation is the opportunity to shape environmental policy and consider the long term impacts in relation to how planning decisions will be made against this backdrop.

Once the Strategy is adopted, there will also need to be a mechanism for monitoring and accountability to determine whether progress is being made.

Office for Environmental Protection (OEP)

The launch of the Interim Office for Environmental Protection was previously announced on 1 July 2021, in advance of the OEP being legally created after the Environment Act 2021 was enacted.

The OEP is a new body, independent of the NI Executive and UK Government which aims to monitor progress against EIPs and publish annual reports. As noted above, the Environment Strategy is set to become the first EIP.

As well as monitoring and reporting on EIPs and environmental law, the OEP will handle complaints of public authorities failing to comply with environmental law and it will have powers to take enforcement action against them. Effectively the OEP is required to hold government to account but taking action against individuals or businesses will remain the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

However the OEP can also advise on changes to environmental law in NI. The fact that the OEP will be both an advisory body and a regulator to government in NI raises obvious concerns about how much teeth it will have in terms of enforcement powers.

For those involved in planning, environment and energy sectors in Northern Ireland, we encourage you to take part in shaping NI’s Environment Strategy. Follow the link to take part in the consultation before 18 January 2022.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at November 2021. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

Written by

Sarah,Mulholland,TLT

Sarah Mulholland

Date published

16 November 2021

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