Celia Worthington, Commercial Partner, advises on current waste management regulations in Northern Ireland
Those involved in the waste management and disposal industries will be well aware of the complex legislative and regulatory framework for such industries in Northern Ireland. There are at least eight European Directives, nineteen pieces of domestic waste legislation and fourteen strategies, plans and programmes governing waste management. However despite the array of legislation governing the industry the illegal dumping of waste has been taking place in Northern Ireland on a vast scale most notable the 2013 case involving the illegal dumping of some 500,000 tonnes of waste in the Mobuoy area, Campsie outside of Derry. At the time the reports stated that the scale of the illegal dumping was mind blowing in that the amount of waste illegally buried was more than the weight of six Titanics and enough to fill several hundred Olympic- sized swimming pools. The cost of clean-up funded by the public purse has been reported as running into hundreds of millions of pounds.
Part of the problem appears to be the ineffectiveness of the legislation, some of which is self-regulating and which is not sophisticated enough to deal with the criminal operator.
The existing systems in place for tracking the flow of waste have also been open to abuse. The Mobuoy case brought the industry firmly into the spotlight and galvanised the commissioning of an independent review, The Mills Report, which was published in December 2013. The report concluded that criminality was widespread in the waste industry in Northern Ireland and that the regulatory regime for waste was complicated and not working as intended.The report recommended change to the regulatory services with a need to become more integrated and adaptive.
The Environment Minister, Mark Durkan, reacted to the report and in his Operation Plan for managing and regulating waste published last October promised to use every mechanism available to tackle the serious problems identified by the report with a strong emphasis on creating strong partnerships between the new local councils and the DOE to ensure proper management of waste in Northern Ireland. There was clear emphasis in the plan on not only reducing waste crime but reducing the amount of waste created in the first place.
It remains to be seen if the reported changes can be implemented quickly but illegal dumpers beware; whilst it has taken the PSNI eighteen months to investigate the Mobuoy case the PPS has now initiated court proceedings against two companies and a number of Directorsand the matter is listed for early 2015.
Celia Worthington, Senior Partner of the commercial department of Worthingtons Solicitors, Belfast office can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org