Unmasking the Significance of Waste Law and Regulation in Northern Ireland
Tughans was delighted to co-sponsor a half day seminar on waste management issues in association with the UK Environmental Law Association, the Environmental and Planning Law Association for Northern Ireland and Landmark Chambers. Held in early October 2010, the theme of the seminar was developments in waste regulation in Northern Ireland. The event was chaired by Professor Sharon Turner of Queen’s University and presentations were made by a number of high profile figures from the waste management and legal sectors.
John McMillen, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency gave his perspective on the Agency’s role in waste regulation. He set out how the Agency was actively enforcing environmental legislation, with some 40 convictions secured in court in 2009. Greater emphasis was also being placed on the seizure of assets alongside imposing fines for criminal penalties. Other measures such as the repatriation to Ireland of illegal waste deposits were also being used to counteract serious criminal activities. John also recognised the need for the Agency to work with business in Northern Ireland. He outlined continuing steps that were being taken under the “Better Regulation” programme to improve how the Agency interacts with businesses, along with targets to reduce consultation times on planning applications.
Partner and Head of the Environment and Planning Team at Tughans, Andrew Ryan reviewed proposed changes to waste regulation set out in the Waste and Contaminated Land Order (Amendment) Bill plus other future developments in waste law. Changes proposed by the Bill include increased powers of investigation and prosecution for local councils and the ability to serve fixed penalty notices for relatively minor waste offences. Andrew noted that with the new powers came a need for detailed guidance that would allow both the Environment Agency and the local councils to understand their roles and responsibilities within this new regulatory framework. He also commented on proposed changes to the Northern Ireland Landfill Regulations that would further restrict the types of waste that could be landfilled. This will lead to significant opportunities for the local waste industry to provide the new facilities required for increased recycling and recovery. Andrew also highlighted the continuing delays that are seen in the planning system, which must be addressed to enable the timely development of new waste management facilities.
Chief Executive of waste management group Arc 21, John Quinn, set out his views on the challenges facing the development of major waste management infrastructure. In particular, John noted the need to both expedite planning applications but also ensure public “buy in” for major projects such as energy from waste facilities. John highlighted Belfast City Council’s recent consultation on the development of an energy from waste facility in Belfast. Whilst the proposal was ultimately rejected by Belfast City Council, the consultation itself was an excellent example of broad public engagement that – perhaps surprisingly – indicated substantial public acceptance of the proposal.
David Elvin QC of Landmark Chambers provided a detailed paper on Waste Regulation from a European perspective. David highlighted the changes that will be brought about by the new 2008 Waste Framework Directive. David noted how the issue central to waste regulation - the definition of waste, remains a complex issue that defies an all-encompassing definition. The recent case law of the European Court of Justice that David reviewed showed, if nothing else, that whether a material is waste or not still must be judged on a case-by-case basis. Helpfully, general principles for end of waste criteria have now been incorporated into the new Waste Framework Directive. However, detailed end of waste guidance must still be developed for specific waste streams to provide the certainty that manufacturers of recycled or recovered products require.
Finally, a contrasting view on waste regulation and resource efficiency was provided by James Orr, Director of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland. James put forward the view that much more needed to be done to minimise waste production and increase the recycling and recovery of viable materials. In particular, James considered that a focus on large scale energy from waste facilities was directing resources away from much more efficient reuse of waste materials.
So did the conference unmask the significance of waste law and regulation Northern Ireland? The answer to that could well be yes. Nobody would question the need to put into place further regulatory measures and improved infrastructure to deal with waste in Northern Ireland. However, significant problems and barriers still remain, for example the timely delivery of waste infrastructure; the need for clarity on end of waste criteria; and, a regulatory framework that balances environmental protection and crime prevention against encouraging legitimate business operations.
Should you have any queries in relation to the aspects mentioned above, please contact Andrew Ryan on 028 9082 0527 or by email, email@example.com or click here for more information on our Environment and Planning services