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New NI councils reluctant to commit to unitary waste body

Northern Ireland’s new councils have said it is too soon since their reorganisation to commit themselves to a single waste authority.

On 1 April, the number of councils was reduced from 26 to 11 and the country’s environment minister, Mark Durkan, has previously called for a single authority to preside over the country’s waste in the interests of efficiency.

Mark Durkan

Durkan, left, recently told the Northern Ireland Parliament that consistency had proven difficult following the reforms when councils with “different practices and policies are being stuck together”.

MRW understands that some councils have been reluctant to embrace his proposal for a single waste entity after being given greater powers following the redrawing of authority boundaries.

SWaMP 2008, a previous grouping of eight councils, was disbanded and a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment (DoE) said that replacement authorities had yet to decide on a collective or individual approach to statutory waste management functions.

A statement said: “The minister recognises that while he sees clear advantages in a single waste authority approach at council level, it is ultimately for councils themselves to identify and determine what degree of trans-council waste management co-operation is in the best interests of their ratepayers and for the fulfilment of their own legislative waste management functions.”

Mid Ulster District Council, a merger of Cookstown, Dungannon and South Tyrone councils (both previously in SWaMP 2008) and Magherafelt Council, said it would work with any of the other 10 councils within Northern Ireland, “when it is mutually beneficial for it to do so”. 

A spokeswoman for Mid Ulster said the council was heading towards meeting the 2020 statutory 50% recycling target “by converging the approaches to waste collection and treatment across the three legacy councils”.

Now that the new councils … have gone through the transition, they will be looking for a transformation on the efficiency aspects of waste

John Quinn

She said it was difficult for the council to form a view on the creation of a single waste body for Northern Ireland as the remit of such a body had yet to be set out in detail by the DoE.

John Quinn, chief executive of Arc21, a multi-council waste authority that survived the reallocation of boundaries, believes that there is an appetite for a review of the structures of the country’s waste policy.

He said: “Now that the new councils are in operational mode and have gone through the transition, my view is that they will be looking for a transformation on the efficiency aspects of waste, and there will be a need to look at operations around collection at one level and operations around treatment and disposal at another level.”

The DoE said the 11 new councils would determine their own preferred waste management structures. While Durkan has the power to enforce the creation of a unitary waste body, one of the key aims of the reforms to local government was to enhance councils’ self-governance.

“Any power of direction would only be applied in very exceptional circumstances,” it said.

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