15 April 2015

Question Time: Environment Tuesday 14 April 2015


Environment Minister, Mark Durkan, was asked how many planning applications for single wind turbines have been approved since 2005 during today’s Question Time. The number of single wind turbine applications approved from 2005 to 31 January this year is 2,212. This figure is for applications approved and does not necessarily equate to the number of single wind turbines constructed and operational, as the Department does not hold information on whether the permission has been implemented. The figures may also include renewals of planning permissions and changes to existing approvals, and may, therefore, equate to fewer than 2,212 individual sites. Mr Durkan believes “it is important that the right balance is struck between facilitating wind energy development in appropriate locations and protecting the exceptional quality of our natural environment. These are matters and issues that I considered in finalising the strategic planning policy statement (SPPS).”

During topical questions, Mr McAleer asked the Minister whether he is aware of reports in last week's 'Ulster Herald', which stated that raw sewage may have been leached into the River Strule for two weeks and, if so, what steps his Department has taken to investigate and remedy the situation. The Minister lamented that “this report will cause huge concern for the public around the issues that the Member has identified, as well as for me and my departmental officials. The incident to which the Member refers was first reported to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) on 8 April, and a local inspector investigated immediately. The inspector informed Northern Ireland Water about the problem, and it then carried out work to remove the sewer blockage that had caused the sewage overflow and had led to it going into the watercourse.

It is understood that there were difficulties in gaining access to the site. NIEA classified this as a low-severity incident, with localised impact on the River Strule. I am not saying that low impact is no impact, but fortunately, due to the swift reporting of the incident and the swift reaction to that report, a more major incident was avoided."

Throughout the oral question time period, the Minister also answered questions on how prosperity agreements can contribute to tackling climate change. the Carrier Bag Levy and Planning and Super-councils.