HC Deb 16 March 1992 vol 205 cc797-9W
Mr. Carrington

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will list the achievements since 1979 of the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Brooke

Since 1979, the Department of the Environment has made substantial progress in conserving and improving the quality of the built and natural environment in Northern Ireland.

Housing condition surveys show that the level of unfitness declined from 14.1 per cent. in 1979 to 8.4 per cent. in 1987 and that the proportion of dwellings lacking at least one basic amenity declined from 17.9 to 5.5 per cent. The level of home ownership, which was 52 per cent. in 1979, is now 65 per cent. The housing situation of people unable to purchase their own dwellings has also improved with a fall in the Housing Executive's urgent waiting list from nearly 19,000 in 1981 to under 10,000 at present.

A total of £ 347 million has been invested in the further development of the road system, there has been considerable upgrading and expansion of the facilities at Aldergrove airport and extensive improvements at Belfast, Londonderry, Lame and Warrenpoint ports.

In 1989 the Department gained approval from the European Commission for a comprehensive programme for a new transport infrastructure in Northern Ireland, involving total expenditure of over £ 150 million of which £ 100 million will come from the European regional development fund.

Belfast city centre has seen a huge expansion of retail opportunities; areas of inner-city deprivation have been helped through the work of nine action teams; the Laganside corporation has been established to regenerate vacant and underused riverside land, and a new weir on the River Lagan is under construction. Londonderry has also seen significant economic improvement, with public and private investment in the last three years either spent or planned totalling over £ 200 million creating 2,500 full-time and part-time jobs.

An extensive programme of economic and environmental improvement schemes is also being carried out in the provincial towns.

New legislation during the period has helped improve the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of district councils. The local government auditor has completed seven value-for-money studies. Compulsory competitive tendering and improvements in the conduct of council business will soon be statutory requirements.

As part of the next steps agency policy, a Rate Collection Agency was established in 1991, and an Ordnance Survey Agency and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency are to come into being from 1 April 1992.

Since 1979, grants of £ 3.2 million to district councils have enabled 31,000 houses to convert to burn smokeless fuel. Two hundred and fifteen river water quality stations have been installed to monitor and control water pollution. Three major pieces of legislation have been introduced to protect and keep open rights of way; to designate areas of outstanding natural beauty and of special scientific interest; and to protect certain plants and animal species.

In addition, 4,300 buildings of architectural or historic importance have been listed, 700 monuments have been scheduled as being of archaeological or historic importance and 32 monuments have been taken into state care. Four areas of outstanding beauty, covering 147,000 hectares, have been developed and 36 areas of special scientific interest covering 7,550 hectares.