Lyons urges public to have their say on NI’s environment governance issues

Environment Minister Gordon Lyons today encouraged industry stakeholders to take an active role in shaping Northern Ireland’s approach to environmental plans, principles and governance.

A discussion paper, highlighting three specific elements of the UK Government’s Environment Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament, was launched by the then Environment Minister Edwin Poots on December 10, 2020.

The document will remain open for comment until February 26, 2021.

Encouraging people to register their views on the document before time runs out, Minister Lyons said: “Environmental principles are at the core of international environmental law and, following 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 minister continued: “Responses to this discussion document will inform the framework for environmental policies which support Green Growth.

This will be central to the Executive’s co-designed Green Growth Strategy and Delivery Framework which aims to transform our society towards net-zero by 2050, protect and enhance our environment and sustainably grow our economy by embedding a Green Growth approach in future Government policies and business strategies.

“The measures covered in this consultation will go towards ensuring the effective environmental governance required to achieve this.

“It is therefore vital that we all take an active role in shaping our approach to environmental plans, principles and governance.”

The discussion document 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 by all departments and UK Government ministers when making policy for NI; and
  • Arrangements for independent environmental oversight.

Minister Lyons concluded: “Our environment is not only valuable in its own right; it also facilitates our health and wellbeing and sustains our economic growth.

“However, achieving this economic growth at the cost of its degradation through over-exploitation or pollution is not sustainable.

“Protecting and enhancing our environment is a priority and I would therefore encourage you to consider this important document carefully and take an active role in shaping our approach to environmental plans, principles and governance.”

The UK Government’s Environment Bill was introduced to Parliament on January 30, 2020, and is currently at Report Stage in the House of Commons.

However, none of the provisions of the UK Environment Bill relating to NI devolved matters can be implemented here without the agreement of local Ministers or, in most cases, the Assembly.

The environmental principles are:

  • The principle that environmental protection should be integrated into the making of policies;
  • The principle of preventative action to avert environmental damage;
  • The precautionary principle, so far as relating to the environment;
  • The principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source; and
  • The polluter pays” principle.

The Office for Environmental Protection will be created by the Environment Bill.

It will be a new, independent statutory body with the principal objective of holding the government to account for implementing environmental law and thereby contributing to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment.

The functioning of the OEP in Northern Ireland will be subject to the approval of the NI Assembly.