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Unregulated car washes in Belfast should be inspected for pollutants, councillor says

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Belfast City Council

Belfast City Council

Belfast City Council

Belfast City Council has been called upon to take immediate action to end suspected damaging environmental practices at unregulated car washes being poured into waterways across the city.

At the council’s most recent Strategic Policy and Resources Committee meeting, DUP Councillor Gareth Spratt demanded action from City Hall to combat pop-up unregulated enterprises across the city.

He made the appeal after it emerged that a report into unregulated car washes commissioned by Belfast City Council after a DUP motion in November 2019 had been “closed” after officers concluded: “BCC have no responsibility for regulating or licensing hand car washes and valet services.”

The council did not give details about the number of unregulated car washes in the city.

DUP Councillor Gareth Spratt took issue with the council officer’s conclusion, stating the council did have powers to move in and take action. He said the council response was “essentially pushing it out to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive, and the police.”

He questioned if the NIEA, run by his party colleague Edwin Poots at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, had the power of entry to access unregulated car washes across the city. He said Stormont powers to stop destructive practices at these car washes was not “complete and absolute”.

He said: “From looking at the papers and the different consultations and so on, I would think our Building Control department would be likely to have power of entry there. I would suggest we keep it a bit closer to home. That is if our building officers have power of entry, and we have an unregulated car wash pouring all kinds of chemicals into storm drains.”

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He added: “I know our officers do have the power of entry. I think it is important that if we have chemicals going into our river system that we need a speedy response.”

Chair of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, Green Councillor Councillor Áine Groogan said Councillor Spratt’s queries “had been noted and would be looked into.”

The council officer report states: “The NI Environment Agency has responsibility for enforcing the requirements of the Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999. It is an offence under the Water Order to discharge or deposit, whether knowingly or otherwise, any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter so that it enters a waterway or underground stratum.

“Officers in Legal Services have written to the NIEA requesting any available data on the number of unregulated car washes in Belfast. The NIEA have advised that in line with guidance they would recommend that vehicle washes are connected to the mains sewer where possible. They anticipate such a facility would be available in Belfast.

“Should consent be the only solution, a suitable treatment system would be required. The NIEA currently don’t have any vehicle wash sites in Belfast on their books which hold a consent to discharge. Further enquiries with the NIEA, HSENI and PSNI have not determined that the relevant data can be sourced from elsewhere.”


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