Assembly end of term report - must do better
It didn’t take long for this Executive to signal its contempt for the environment.
As the only part of UK or Ireland without an independent Environmental Protection Agency a campaign for an effective watchdog won broad support from business leaders, anglers, and the consumer council. The Executive said no.
It is not just that this Executive has failed to protect the environment. The real scandal is that it has presented the environment as the new enemy to Northern Ireland. The Executive now deems that environmental protection can be legitimately sacrificed if anyone even whispers the word ‘economy’.
Yet it is precisely those European countries with strong measures to deal with climate change, environmental protection and planning that have buoyant economies. We only have to look south of the border to see where the gleaming new roads and a bungalow blitz mentality can leave an economy.
The future for Northern Ireland is the low carbon economy yet instead of grasping opportunities our Executive is failing to protect us from the emerging global energy crisis.
The Executive has taught us to be suspicious of any quick success.
The campaign for better cycling provision ends up with the Minister for Regional Development (or more precisely, the Minster for Roads) cutting the cycling budget by over 90 per cent.
The Green New Deal brings together unions, farmers, business groups, and environmentalists to create jobs, address fuel poverty and deliver better energy efficiency. Not only is the Executive’s funding tokenistic, but the Minister for Finance uses it to justify scrapping two green rate relief measures.
A plastic bag levy will not function as a deterrent to using the bags, but as a method of funding environmental protection damaged by the budget.
A policy vacuum in relation to the environment has been replaced by policy incoherence.
Its final gesture, draft Planning Policy Statement 24, introduced to satisfy a handful of powerful developers, is out for public consultation until the day of the Assembly election. This disgraceful and facile proposal could be the final nail in the coffin of what remains of the planning system.
There is at least one committed environmentalist in the senior ranks of each political party. It’s time for them to stand up and be counted in the next Assembly.