Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Northern Ireland 'in desperate need' of environment watchdog

The DUP is to be put on the spot in the Assembly tomorrow on whether Northern Ireland should get a new environmental watchdog.

The Stormont debate comes after two of the party's ministers controversially boosted plans for a commercial visitor centre development at the Giant's Causeway.

MLAs will be asked to back a resolution tomorrow tabled by Green MLA Brian Wilson and Alliance leader David Ford, calling on the Executive to establish an independent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This reform was recommended by an NIO-appointed panel in a "Review of Environmental Governance" report published in June.

A decision on the proposal is now awaited from DUP Environment Minister Arlene Foster.

The creation of an independent agency would bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK and the Republic.

While publicly-funded, it would operate outside of central Government control, taking over the role currently occupied by the Environment and Heritage Service of Mrs Foster's department.

The RSPB, one of a number of conservation groups campaigning for an EPA, believes the cause has been advanced by a recent High Court ruling.

This judgment upheld challenges against area plans - future development frameworks - for the Magherafelt and north coast districts.

It found that European Union rules had been broken because Planning Service had not consulted an external environmental authority on the area plans.

The High Court ruling also said it " may become necessary" to create an external body "with relevant environmental responsibilities".

RSPB Northern Ireland director Aidan Lonergan admitted today: "The significance of this ruling should not be underestimated.

"Northern Ireland is in desperate need of such an agency if we are serious about protecting and securing our wonderful wildlife, habitats and built environment."

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