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NI prepares for environment office closure

Parliament Building Stormont

Northern Ireland environment minister Mark H Durkan has announced legislation to cut red tape to coincide his department’s dissolution.

He reassured that the Environmental Better Regulation Bill, which was passed in the Northern Ireland Assembly, will not weaken environmental protection standards.

Another bill to remove the Department of Environment (DOE) as part of legislation to reduce the Assembly from 12 to nine offices completed its final stage on 2 February.

It is likely the majority of the DOE will be subsumed into the newly named Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs but Durkan said its functions will be transferred across other departments was well.

Mark h durkan

Mark H Durkan

Durkan (pictured) said: “I am seizing this opportunity to put the appropriate legislation and measures in place to ensure our environment gets the level of protection it deserves. This includes reducing red tape and unwieldy legislation to make it easier for other departments to carry out these functions.

“I have already done this successfully in planning through the Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) which brought 800 pages of policy in to one single, strategic document. This bill will do the same for areas of environmental regulation.”

The bill includes powers to make regulations to streamline the environmental permitting process for businesses and others including:

  • clearer communication about authorised fuels and exempted fireplaces in smoke control areas
  • measures to allow district councils to implement air quality action plans more quickly
  • a less confusing system for reporting on drinking water quality for public supplies
  • a review to make “powers of entry” onto premises clearer and simpler

The bill is expected to receive Royal assent within the next six weeks.

Durkan made a case for setting up a fully independent environmental regulation body that would take on responsibility for waste management last December.

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