Belfast City Hall
Venue: Lavery Room - City Hall
Contact: Ms. Eilish McGoldrick, Democratic Services Officer 028 9027 0450
Apologies were reported on behalf of Alderman Haire and Councillors Brooks and McAteer.
The minutes of the meeting held on 7th and 21st November were taken as read and signed as correct. It was reported that those minutes had been adopted by the Council at its meeting on 2nd December subject to the variation of the minute of the meeting of 7th November, under the heading “Commissioning of a Report”, to reflect that Councillor McLaughlin had agreed to include Councillor Flynn’s proposal around good growth, inclusive growth and an ambition to a just transition to a zero-carbon economy within his proposal and that no amendment had been put to the Committee.
Declarations of Interest
No declarations of interest were reported.
Northern Ireland Environment Link - Nature Matters NI Campaign
The Chairperson welcomed to the meeting Mr. S. Kelly, Northern Ireland Environment Link, Mr. J. Martin, RSPB NI, Mr. V. Magreehan, National Trust and Mr. R. Hunter, Ulster Wildlife.
Mr. Martin provided an overview of the Nature Matters NI Campaign, a coalition drawn from more than 70 members of NI Environment Link, working together to secure the best future for the environment.
He explained that the project board was made up of the following four workstreams:
· International Advocacy – to raise awareness of and build support for our key Brexit messages at a North/South, East/West level and beyond;
· Sustainable land-use – to develop a new sustainable land-use policy in coalition with others and to advocate this to government;
· Nature and Environmental Protection – to ensure that existing levels of protection for nature and the environment were maintained/enhanced; and
· Marine and Fisheries – to develop a new sustainable fisheries policy and designate an ecologically coherent and well managed network of protected areas at sea.
He highlighted the number of laws that would be affected by Brexit in relation to agriculture and environment, consumers and health protection policy areas.
Mr. Martin stated that Brexit would impact Directives – particularly Birds, Habitats and Water Framework which was the basis of nature conservation and environmental legislation and regulation. He raised concerns in relation to the potential lowering of environmental standards and ‘race to the bottom’.
He highlighted that the UK would no longer be subject to the European Court of Justice and the threat of heavy financial penalties through infraction. He suggested that the current systems would need a major overhaul and re-invigoration to safe-guard the key environmental priorities.
He summarised the Cross-Border and all-Island Environmental Issues such as the implications of the Land Use Policy and the guidance needed for use and protection of shared sites.
He raised concerns in relation to the UK’s future access to EU environmental funding such as LIFE+,INTERREG and partnership project funding.
Mr. Martin then provided an overview of the Non – EU International Environmental Agreements and stated that the UK was a signatory to other international Environmental agreements which would be ‘unaffected’ by Brexit. He advised that most of the 41 environment, agriculture and fisheries policy areas currently dealt with 'under' the EU would require 4 nation agreements in the future.
He highlighted that the Nature Matters NI was campaigning for:
· A sustainable agriculture and land use policy that was fair to farmers, good for nature and benefits society;
· Nature and environmental protection to ensure Northern Ireland’s most treasured species and habitats could thrive;
· A nature–friendly marine and fisheries policy to protect Northern Ireland’s seas and marine biodiversity;
· Funding for nature conservation to replace existing EU funding programmes such as LIFE+ and INTERREG; and
· The island of Ireland to be considered as a single biogeographic unit with effective mechanisms in place to resolve and manage cross border environmental issues and prevent unfair competition post–Brexit.
He advised that many MLA’s had made a pledge to ... view the full minutes text for item 3.
Dr Mary Dobbs, Queen's University Belfast
With the permission of the Committee, the Chairperson welcomed Dr. M. Dobbs to the meeting.
Dr. Dobbs provided an overview of the immediate implications of Brexit on the environment and agriculture sector leading to new relationships with new challenges and new opportunities. She explained the changes to some laws and the options for future governance mechanisms and explained the various approaches and obstacles. She advocated that there was an oopportunity for the UK to develop its own objectives and principles
She explained her analysis of the EU Withdrawal agreement and advised that it would be used to patch some gaps in the environmental policies but there would also be some significant changes. She suggested that without the EU Commission to oversee protection of the environment, the UK should develop its own Common Framework for environmental protection with an independent body for oversight, as allowing DAERA to take on this role would be a conflict of interest. She advised that cross-border treaties and trade considerations would also be essential as the UK becomes a non-EU state.
She highlighted that there had been some Policy and Legal Developments and provided a risk analysis of new trade deal options and their potential impacts on environmental policies. She advised that with economic pressures, laws might shift giving rise to internal competition within the UK, leading to divergence within the UK and with Ireland.
She suggested that potential next steps included:
· Maintain existing standards and improve existing standards;
· Strengthen internal governance mechanisms where possible, such as extending current Bills;
· Collaborate (cross interests/fields/borders) and avail of grass roots and external bodies;
· The Assembly to reconvene to progress legal developments and advancements;
· Equivalent of current funding; and
· Feed into environmental strategy and push for a common framework.
During discussion, Dr. Dobbs answered a range of questions from the Committee, in regards to the additional powers of DAERA, the Repeal Bill, potential impact on well-being and access to green and open spaces, waste removal and the processing and smuggling of waste.
The Chairperson thanked Dr. Dobbs for attending and she retired from the meeting.
The Committee noted the information which had been provided and agreed to invite representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to a future meeting of the Committee.
The Commissioner for Resilience provided an overview of the following report:
“1.0 Purpose of Report or Summary of main issues
The purpose of this report is to provide a briefing for the committee on potential implications of UK Exit on energy prices. The briefing has been prepared by summarising the conclusions of a range of official sources and academic sources. It does not offer a technical appraisal or assessment, rather provides an opinion from officers, and should be treated as such.
Members are asked to note the update provided.
3.0 Main report
Members are reminded that at the October 2019 Council meeting the following Notice of Motion was agreed:
‘Council condemns plans to hike electricity and energy prices across Belfast, with, for example, Power NI planning to raise their prices by 6%, SSE Airtricity by almost 7% and Electric Ireland by 8%. Council notes that some of these companies have increased their prices for the past 3 years. Council believes that this is grossly unfair, particularly given the fact that prices on the wholesale gas market have fallen by 49% over the last 12 months. Council believes that every effort should be made to oppose these hikes and wishes to see an immediate energy cap put in place. Council calls on the Chief Executive to write to the utility regulator to argue for the above.
This Council agrees that a report be submitted to a future meeting of the Brexit Committee on the impact of Brexit, including a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, on the electricity and wider energy market.’
Members are advised that the Utility Regulator has been invited to attend this Committee but a suitable date has yet to be agreed.
It is impossible to provide a definitive view of how UK Exit might affect energy prices in Northern Ireland, and much of the opinion in this area is speculative. Furthermore, reports on the issue tend to focus on the GB context, which is not always instructive regarding NI. Major differences exist between GB and NI energy systems, in particular because of the existence of a single electricity market (SEM) in Ireland.
A key determinant of supply and price is the operation of the Single Electricity Market. Giving evidence to the House of Lords EU Committee, the Utility Regulator explained, ‘If SEM cannot operate as a functional market post Brexit then this could have a range of repercussive social and economic aspects—including security of supply concerns and the potential for higher prices with consequential impacts on fuel poverty and manufacturing costs in NI.’
The EU Exit Single Electricity Market Team within the UK Government has provided information on its intentions regarding the SEM, stating that ‘it is the UK Government’s position that by far the best outcome for electricity in Northern Ireland is to maintain the Single Electricity Market (SEM). In the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive, the UK Government is determined to protect electricity supplies in Northern Ireland. We are therefore committed ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
Day 1 Readiness
The Strategic Director of City and Neighbourhood Services reiterated the existing Civil Contingency Arrangements which included the following:
· Due to the extension and the general election, reporting structures had now been stood down;
· Depending on the outcome of the general election, there could be a range of Brexit related outcomes so the Council needed to continue to be ready to stand up again if required; and
· A review of the Business Continuity Management process would be undertaken for the Council's critical services to prepare for the various scenarios.
During discussion, the Strategic Director advised that learning from the Emergency Planning Exercises included the importance of sharing information and escalating issues with the reporting structure and highlighted the critical role of the Council in the process.
The Committee noted it would be kept updated on the Contingency Arrangements process.