New industrial pollution control rules for Northern Ireland

Three sets of regulations bringing Northern Ireland's industrial pollution control system broadly into line with Britain come into force in early March.1 The new three-tier system of controls will be phased in for existing processes over a four-year period ending in December 2002, with the authorities having a leisurely nine months to determine applications for authorisation.

The new regulations build on an Order laid before Parliament last November which is now on the statute book (ENDS Report 274, pp 41-42 ).

The Order established the three-tier system of control. District councils will regulate releases to air from the least complex processes under a system known as "local control". The Department of the Environment (DoE) is the regulatory authority for the other two tiers - "restricted central control", governing releases to air from more complex processes, and "integrated central control", regulating releases to air, water and land from the most complex processes.

These arrangements diverge from those established by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in Britain, where local authorities regulate releases to air from a much larger number of processes - though in Scotland this task was transferred to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in 1996. District councils in Northern Ireland were felt not to be up to the job. Otherwise, however, the new regime is very similar to Britain's - though it will need a rapid overhaul by early next year if Northern Ireland is not to miss the deadline for implementing the EC Directive on integrated pollution prevention and control.

The new controls come into force on 2 March. Operators of new processes or of existing processes undergoing "substantial change" will have to apply immediately for an authorisation. Otherwise, operators of existing processes will have to apply for authorisations in a phased timetable beginning in the last three months of this year and ending in the last three months of 2002.

Last year's Order caused some consternation in the Confederation of British Industry because it provides a six-month period for determination of applications for authorisation, rather than the four months in Britain. The CBI fears that this could have an adverse impact on companies' ability to respond quickly to new contracts.

The Government has promised that decisions will be taken in less than six months for applications involving new investment. However, one of the orders has also varied the standard determination period, giving the DoE nine months to decide initial applications for existing processes under both restricted and integrated central control. Conversely, district councils have been given two months to determine applications for new small waste oil burners.

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