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Green groups celebrate Burke recommendation to create environment agency

19 June 2007

Colum Delaney
Policy Advocacy Officer
E-mail: colum.delaney@rspb.org.uk

Northern Ireland's leading environment organisations [1] have given a warm welcome to today's report of the Review of Environmental Governance [2], which has recommended the creation of a new independent environment watchdog for the region. The Review of Environmental Governance was conducted by an independent panel of experts [3] appointed by former Environment Minister Lord Rooker. The report has been presented to the new Environment Minister Arlene Foster for consideration and implementation.

Speaking on behalf of the coalition, Aidan Lonergan, Northern Ireland Director of RSPB said the report was the culmination of more than a year's work by the inquiry team and comes after more than four years of campaigning by the coalition:

'We are delighted that the report has recommended the creation of an independent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A new EPA would be tasked with the protection of air and water quality; the management of the waste industry; the conservation of wildlife and their habitats; and the protection of special landscapes and our built heritage. As the report's title suggests, environmental protection represents the foundation stone on which the economic vitality and public health of Northern Ireland depend.'

Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK and Ireland not to have an independent Environmental Protection Agency. This anomaly and DOE's track record in regulating pollution, protecting wildlife, and conserving landscapes and the built environment, led a 9-strong coalition of green groups to lobby Government for the establishment of an independent agency. The Review of Environmental Governance was appointed in response to their campaign.

John Woods, Northern Ireland Director of Friends of the Earth congratulated the Review team and commended their report to Minister Foster:

'This report affords us the best opportunity in a generation to reform the system which protects our environment.  The 100,000 local members of our nine organisations are demanding that this opportunity be seized - and they are not alone. Following a postcard campaign organised by the Coalition for Environmental Protection, people across Northern Ireland wrote to their political parties demanding the creation of a bold new authority with the independence and resources necessary to do its job.'

Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party, SDLP, Alliance Party and Green Party have stated their support for the creation of an independent Environmental Protection Agency. The position of the DUP which holds the environment portfolio remains unclear but Minister Foster has said she is keeping an open mind on the subject.

Hilary McGrady, Northern Ireland Director of National Trust concluded:

'Mrs Foster could leave no greater legacy to the people of Northern Ireland than to protect its most important asset, our environment. The recommendations contained in this report will allow Northern Ireland to address old problems such as illegal dumping and to prepare us for new challenges such as climate change. We look forward to our planned meeting with Mrs Foster when we will be pressing her for swift implementation of the report's recommendations.'

Notes

[1] The Coalition for Environmental Protection comprises:

Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland Friends of the Earth National Trust Northern Ireland Environment Link Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Ulster Wildlife Trust Woodland Trust Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust WWF Northern Ireland

[2] Foundations for the Future, the final report of the Review of Environmental Governance is published today at http://www.regni.info

[3] The Review of Environmental Governance was chaired by Tom Burke.  Also on the panel were Sharon Turner and Gordon Bell.  Tom Burke CBE is an Environmental Policy Adviser to Rio Tinto plc and a Visiting Professor at Imperial College, London.  Professor Sharon Turner is a Chair of Environmental Law at Queen's University, Belfast.  Gordon Bell is the former Chief Executive of Liberty IT, a successful software development company. For more information, visit http://www.regni.info.