N. Ireland Politics

Stormont Department of Environment: DoE minister issues

Landfill site
Image caption What to do with landfill sites is one of the problems piling up on the minister's desk

The new environment minister should be easy to spot: they'll probably have a long bargepole with which to repel their new charge.

Environment is a department blessed with little or no money and a lot of very major problems galloping towards the new incumbent.

The last budget saw the Department of Environment awarded between just £5m and £7m capital spend a year for the next few years, which is much the same as no capital spend at all.

Then there is Europe, which is already breathing down the department's collective neck.

Brussels is demanding answers to questions over how the department handles landfill sites, how well it protects fresh water sources, why it hasn't protected specific environments and habitats and so on.

If the answers aren't sufficient then fines will follow. Big, big fines.

There are also the dreaded recycling targets. With Westminster, along with Europe, breathing down the same neck as above, the minister will have to reach very ambitious targets very quickly.

Northern Ireland hasn't exactly grasped recycling with enthusiasm, so it may require more stick than carrot.

For reasons that are unclear, the DoE minister is also responsible for implementing the Review of Public Administration.

In effect, it's about giving more power to local councils but ending up with fewer of them. It's already well overdue.

Poisoned chalice

And finally the minister will have to sip from the poisoned chalice that is planning, which has been something of a disaster in recent times.

The previous minister Edwin Poots even rounded on his own department, which doesn't augur well for the new boss.

There are also various planning inquiries and decisions awaiting attention.

These include the Belfast City Airport extension, the seemingly never-ending planning inquiry circus that is the John Lewis development at Sprucefield (the last minister was warned off by the Attorney General after a legal gaffe over this) and of course incinerators.

Any honeymoon for the new arrival will be brief. The new environment minister should be easy to spot: they'll probably have a long bargepole with which to repel their new charge.