Northern Ireland Assembly
Tuesday 24 April 2001
The Asssembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
At the sitting of the Assembly on Tuesday 10 April 2001, a number of Members raised concerns about the procedure in respect of the opportunities for Members to reply when they have been referred to in a debate. I previously ruled on this matter on Monday 18 December 2000 — Hansard, Volume 8, No 3, page 79 refers. However, since there still seems to be some lack of clarity in the minds of Members, let me make one or two remarks on this issue.
A Member making a personal statement usually conveys matters of a personal nature to the House. An opportunity to reply may arise when a Member has been referred to in a particular way in a debate. The arrangements for personal statements are described in detail on page 312 of the twenty-second edition of ‘Erskine May’. Personal statements with regard to matters of a personal nature are taken before the start of public business and require the leave of the Speaker. These statements are not subject to intervention or debate, and I require that the text of such a statement be made available to me in advance.
Members may not depart from the agreed text, and no debate or other comments should subsequently ensue. However, when the matter referred to in the statement relates to another Member, he or she will be allowed to give a further brief view on the matter and to say whether the statement is accepted. I expect Members to restrict their comments to the issues raised in the statement, and I will not in any circumstances permit prolonged or repeated verbal exchanges on matters raised in a personal statement.
Members know that other avenues of recourse are available to them in respect of differences between Members. They can be dealt with through the Committee on Standards and Privileges, formally by way of a private Member’s motion or through contact with the relevant Whip’s offices.
In respect of an opportunity to reply to accusations made of them by another Member, Members have sought advice on how they may respond in situations where they are referred to by name in a debate. Page 386 of the twenty-second edition of ‘Erskine May’ advises that Members must conduct business in a spirit of "good temper and moderation".
It also provides that Members should
"guard against all appearance of personality in debate".
While that may come as a substantial disappointment to some Members, the maintenance of good order and parliamentary decorum requires the application of this principle to the proceedings of the Assembly. However, I regret that some Members have on occasions alleged that other Members have been involved in unlawful activity when the Member has not been convicted of the named offence.
If it is requested and seems appropriate, I will, on occasion, permit an opportunity of reply to those of whom specific reference has been made in relation to breaches of the law and where there has been no conviction. However, I will not permit an opportunity of reply in other circumstances, and certainly not when accusations of a purely political nature are made. An opportunity to reply will be made available at a suitable time.
I note from Hansard that a number of points of order were raised regarding unparliamentary language. I have studied those, and while I am clear that none of the comments were any ornament to the debate or to the Official Report, they do not seem to be unparliamentary. However, it is hoped that they do not become habitual language in the Chamber.
I have received notice from the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment that he wishes to make a statement on the meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in its tourism sectoral format held on 30 March 2001 in Letterkenny.
The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Sir Reg Empey):
Following nomination by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, Dr Seán Farren and I represented the Northern Ireland Administration at the tourism sector meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council. The Irish Government were represented by Dr James McDaid TD, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. This report has been approved by Dr Farren and is also made on his behalf.
The Council noted a formal progress report on the establishment of the new tourism company and also received an update from Ms Ann Riordan, vice-chairperson of Tourism Ireland Ltd and Mr Felix Mooney, a member of the board. Work is progressing on the further development of Tourism Brand Ireland, marketing programmes for 2002, staffing structures and proposals for the company’s Dublin and Coleraine offices. The Council considered and approved the draft codes of conduct for board members and for the staff of Tourism Ireland Ltd.
The Council also discussed a paper jointly produced by the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment and the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation in conjunction with the Council for Education, Recruitment and Training (CERT), the Irish tourism and hospitality training authority. The paper outlined the support mechanisms and training arrangements for the tourism and hospitality sector in both parts of this island and referred to joint initiatives already undertaken. The paper also identified key areas where joint activities in both jurisdictions would be beneficial. It put forward possible future initiatives for consideration by the appropriate Departments.
Ministers discussed the serious implications of the foot-and-mouth crisis for the tourism industry North and South. They reiterated the determination of both Administrations to combat the crisis in every way possible. Ministers also expressed their determination to ensure that the future of tourism in both parts of this island is positive and that its potential is realised to the full. The council also approved the provision of IR£1,500 per annum to Ms Ni Fheargusa as the board member nominated to assist the chairperson of Foras na Gaeilge.
The Deputy Chairperson of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee (Mr Neeson):
In view of the adverse publicity that Northern Ireland, Ireland and the British Isles are getting due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak, does the Minister have any special plans to promote Northern Ireland, particularly in North America? His counterpart is currently visiting the United States to deal with that issue. What involvement did Northern Ireland have in the recent visit of international tour operators to the United Kingdom?
Sir Reg Empey:
As the Member will know, I recently launched a substantial recovery plan that had been prepared by the Tourist Board in consultation with the industry. That will involve a series of activities spread over the next couple of months in North America — both in Canada and the United States. I am currently looking at whether, and when, I should attend. A programme has already been prepared and is under active consideration.
I am aware that Dr McDaid is currently in the United States. We were not consulted by the British Tourist Authority (BTA) about the arrangements. As Northern Ireland was almost clear of the disease at that stage, the authority hoped that we would be able to market ourselves as a completely disease-free area. Therefore, we were not included in that visit. It was also argued that the time required to transport people to Northern Ireland would have been prohibitive in view of the very strict timetable.
It is my belief that the Irish Minister, Dr James McDaid, has gone to the United States of America on a tour promoting Ireland as a whole, and it is my understanding that tourism in Ireland is to be promoted as a whole. Did the Minister approach Dr McDaid to find out whether there was a possibility of a joint promotion between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?
Sir Reg Empey:
That was mooted at a press conference following the Council’s meeting in Letterkenny, and I stated my willingness to participate in such a promotion. However, Dr McDaid has proceeded with his own promotion. Tomorrow I will attend a meeting in Glasgow of all four United Kingdom tourism Ministers. I hope to find out what joint promotion activities we can undertake. I also hope to examine the experiences of other tourism Ministers to see what we can learn from them and what advice we can translate into practical action to help many of our struggling businesses.
I thank the Minister for his statement. I strongly welcome it and the details about the new all-island tourist company. I have a fear, a suspicion, a worry that perhaps there is a risk that we will abandon our responsibilities and leave everything to this new company in the hope that it will solve our problems. Even before foot-and-mouth disease we badly needed to refocus and restructure our responsibilities to make the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) more effective to carry out the responsibilities not contained in the new all-island tourist company.
Can the Minister tell us if there is anything moving on that front? If not, perhaps he could tell us when something will be moving? Those responsibilities are every bit as vital. If we do not have our act together, the all-island tourist company will not function for us as well as it should.
Sir Reg Empey:
I thank the Member for his comment. He used the words "a fear, a suspicion, a worry" that we are leaving everything to the new company. I assure him that that is not the case. This is primarily a marketing company the main function of which is to create a brand and market it internationally, and the creative nature of that work is proceeding. Consultants are already at work. We have not yet seen the draft proposals for 2002, but we must nevertheless remember its main function.
The Tourist Board is currently preparing a three-year plan. Action is therefore underway with regard to refocusing its activities. That is necessary because of the changed circumstances. As the Member will know, the NITB gives grants similar to those given by the IDB and other organisations. The administrative part of that is being transferred to the new Economic Development Agency, but the primary function of the NITB will continue to be promotion, and it will have regulatory functions. The board is part-owner of the company, and its chairperson and chief executive are directors, so there is no way in which we are going to see a situation develop in which the NITB does not have — any more than Bord Fáilte does not have — an overview of tourism as a whole in Northern Ireland. I can assure the Member that we do not intend to leave everything to this new company.
While I welcome the Minister’s statement, it was somewhat bland in character. It was similar to those issued after the meetings of many North/South bodies — "We had a meeting, made a couple of decisions, doled out a bit of money, issued a press statement and then went home". Members would like more detail about what exactly happened. For example, have the minutes of these meetings been made available to anyone? Perhaps they could be made available to the appropriate Assembly Committee so that they could be probed in detail, we would know what was going on, and there could be a more standard consultation process.
Does the Minister accept my view that the BTA initiative was extremely unfortunate? While we accept that it might have been difficult to bring all the incoming tour operators to Northern Ireland, at the very least the Minister or a leading NITB official should have been invited to address them, give them an insight into Northern Ireland and tell them that Northern Ireland is still open for tourist business.
On a much more serious matter, the Northern Ireland tourist industry is facing a crisis on a par with that faced by the agriculture industry — particularly in South Down. In any of his recent negotiations, has the Minister made any proposals to the Executive on a consequential loss package to make up for the millions of pounds already lost by the tourist industry?
Sir Reg Empey:
There are a number of matters there. The Member will know that a synopsis of the proceedings of these bodies is sent on a regular basis to the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee. That is now done routinely following a request from the Committee. After each meeting I make a statement to the Assembly, and we have questions, as is happening at the moment. All the matters discussed at the meeting are contained in the statement. In the synopsis, items such as the agenda for the meeting are made available to the Committee. Everyone can therefore see the matters that we are discussing, except perhaps personnel issues that it would not be appropriate to detail. Nothing is being discussed which does not appear in the synopsis.
I accept, and agree with, what the Member said about the BTA. I was annoyed that the situation happened the way it did. The explanation which was forthcoming was also unfortunate. Officials from the BTA will be present at the meeting in Glasgow tomorrow of UK Tourism Ministers, and I hope to have the opportunity to pursue the matter directly with those officials.
On the broader point about consequential loss, my Department is currently dealing with 36 cases of businesses that are showing signs of distress. These vary from companies that have sustained losses of 10% to 25% to those that have had their income taken away from them entirely. I am aware that that affects the Member’s constituency and, indeed, the constituencies of other Members.
I must make a point here. The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development made it clear yesterday that some people were still defying the advice given by her Department from the outset of this foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in relation to the movement of animals. Unlicensed movements of animals are still taking place. The people involved in these movements — although they may be a tiny minority of the agriculture community — are putting in jeopardy the livelihoods of thousands of people in the Province. People have tried to build up businesses over the years, and these are being put in jeopardy by a handful of people who are behaving in an irresponsible and selfish manner.
This House can send out the message that people must not move animals without a licence. Irresponsible people have brought the disease in and are spreading it in the Province. Such actions are grossly irresponsible, and that is why the Executive are urgently studying what steps to take. I will also be asking tomorrow about what steps are to be taken nationally and what help is to be provided from the contingency reserve. These are matters that we cannot be expected to handle on our own.
I too welcome the Minister’s statement and the fact that attention is being given to the impact of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak on the tourism industry, particularly rural tourism.
The Republic is currently having a major drive in the USA and is using the services of high-profile performers such as U2 to get the message across that the Republic is a place to visit. Has the Minister any plans to use a similar strategy for Northern Ireland? In his statement the Minister said that key areas had been identified where joint activities in both jurisdictions would be beneficial. Can he outline some of the initiatives that could be taken?
Sir Reg Empey:
The latter point relates to actions that my Colleague Dr Seán Farren could be taking in his Department with regard to training and identifying common areas. As the Member will be aware, there has been co-operation for some considerable time, and a representative of CERT — the Irish Government’s hospitality training body — was present at the meeting alongside representatives from Dr Farren’s Department. They are looking at proposals which I hope will be brought to the next meeting. I will, of course, report to the House on the detail.
I am very conscious of the need to get the message across, and we are looking at what we can do in overseas markets. I made it clear that I was prepared to do joint work with other UK Ministers or with Dr McDaid, but it takes two to tango, and it is up to them to make up their own minds.
As far as we are concerned, we have launched our own campaign in all the European and North American markets where the bulk of our overseas visitors come from. However, as the Member understands, we are dealing with a very deep-seated misconception, particularly on the part of people from North America. They start from the assumption that, in some cases, your hands and feet fall off as a result of the disease. That is what some people truly believe. We have to get more exposure to make people realise the facts. Last year there were outbreaks of anthrax in the United States, and that is a far more serious disease than foot-and-mouth, by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, Americans still expect us to visit North America.
We have an extremely difficult task, one that will require consistent effort over the next few months to save next year’s business at least.
Does the Minister have any plans to give financial aid to hotels and to bed-and-breakfast establishments to help them over this crisis? Was this discussed at the meeting on 30 March?
Sir Reg Empey:
The subject of compensation for businesses in Northern Ireland would not have been discussed at the meeting in March. The matter is being examined by a special working party set up by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. They have asked each of the relevant Departments for input on how its sector is being affected. My Department has responded. I have indicated to the House that we are currently dealing with 36 cases of people in difficulty. As Members know, some interim steps have been taken with regard to short-term assistance for companies to alleviate some of the problems — for example, the Inland Revenue and the Customs and Excise have helplines and are offering deferments regarding PAYE and VAT. The Rate Collection Agency has a helpline and is offering deferment. We accept that these measures merely put off having to pay a bill, but in the short term that can be very significant.
There is also a more long-term benefit in the small firms loan guarantee scheme. This is a UK-wide scheme, which has now been amended to include the hospitality sector. I have written to the banks; I have pointed out that this loan guarantee scheme is available, and I have asked them to exercise sensitivity and discretion in their dealings with people from this sector. We await the report form the working party to see what is available. I repeat that I will also be waiting to see what will be done nationally. The Prime Minister and the Government have made it clear that they have got to help businesses and industries to get back on their feet. However, so far, as the saying goes, the Chancellor’s two arms are "the one length".
I thank the Minister for his endeavours to deal with the crisis in the tourist industry. Will he confirm that the next meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council will be held in Coleraine? As the new tourism company is to be based in that town, does he agree that this will be a highly significant occasion, given the importance of the tourism company to the Causeway coast? Finally, does he agree that the new tourism company has a critical role to play, given the present crisis in the tourist industry caused by foot-and-mouth disease and the important lessons to be learned from that sad experience?
Sir Reg Empey:
The next tourism meeting of the NSMC will be held in Northern Ireland. The precise location has not been determined, but the Member has put an idea into my head. The Coleraine office is one of the matters that we regularly refer to, in both correspondence and discussions between us. I am looking forward to its establishment. It will have a very significant role to play.
The Moyle and Coleraine areas have suffered major blows to tourism in the last few weeks, particularly with the cancellation of the North West 200. We are anxiously waiting for an announcement on the suspected case of foot-and-mouth disease in Ballintoy, and we hope for good news there. However, there has been a major hit to one of our most important tourism areas. There is no disguising that.
The primary function of the tourism company is to increase the market of international visitors to both jurisdictions. As the Member is aware, more than 70% of our international visitors come to Northern Ireland via the Republic. We must increase that number, however, and get more people who visit the Republic to come to Northern Ireland. Indeed, parts of the Republic are very anxious to get people to visit their areas — Donegal and other places feel even more isolated than Northern Ireland.
This is not simply a Northern Irish issue — it is a geographical issue. To get more people who visit areas such as Cork, Kerry and Dublin to come up north is a major exercise, the success of which the company will be judged upon. We will at least be able to measure what it achieves, even though the particular circumstances of this year will make it extremely difficult to use that as a benchmark.
There is a perception that the whole emphasis of the foot-and-mouth epidemic seems to be on the farming industry and on the financial package available for farmers. There is nothing at all wrong with that. The Minister has commented on the tourism industry, but, given the serious nature of the issue, can he tell the House when decisions will be made to try to help the tourism industry across Northern Ireland?
There is a feeling abroad in Northern Ireland that the longer the disease goes on and the longer it takes for decisions to be made on how aid goes to the tourism industry, the worse the problem will become. The quicker those decisions are made, the better. Does the Minister have a timescale for that?
Sir Reg Empey:
We all sympathise with those in the agriculture community, some of whom have seen a life’s work literally go up in smoke before them. There is no way that anyone cannot be deeply affected by that.
There is also a misconception that a farmer who loses his or her animals is compensated for the loss of the capital asset — the animals. They are not compensated for a future loss of income, nor are they compensated for the years, and indeed generations, that it would take to rebuild a herd, particularly a pedigree herd. Farmers are not getting a bonanza from this — their livelihoods have stopped. They cannot put animals back on their land for months, and their income is, of course, nil.
I have previously made it clear that I regard people in the tourism sector as often being the forgotten victims of this crisis. The income of people who own guesthouses, for instance a husband and wife, has not just dropped — in some cases it has stopped, but the costs continue. I cannot emphasise enough that we are very conscious of that. That is why I expressed anger at the irresponsible actions of a very tiny minority who are giving the agriculture sector a bad name that it does not deserve.
In so far as timescale is concerned the matter is critical. I cannot be precise, but I expect that it will be possible to identify what we can do in the next two weeks. However, that is subject to what happens nationally, and we must understand that we cannot assume that it is appropriate for us to take the entire burden here. The contingency reserve is there to help in a national emergency — this is a national emergency. I am looking to the Chancellor to divvy up the contingency reserve and help, bearing in mind that foot-and-mouth disease was imported to the Province; it did not start here.
I congratulate the Minister on his forthright condemnation of those who imported the foot-and- mouth plague. Mavericks spread it, and it is threatening the community. We have been trying to create farm diversification in west Tyrone for six years. We have encouraged many farm businesses that were finding it difficult to survive to try to diversify. Many of those businesses have been singularly hit, not only by the agriculture crisis, but also by their dependence on a diversification that was also agriculturally related or dependent. The situation is beginning to have a serious impact in west Tyrone. Sperrins Tourism Ltd launched the "kick-start" initiative on a Thursday, and on the Friday it was struck in the teeth by the outbreak at Ardboe.
I appeal to the Minister to consider this matter nationally and, as soon as he can, to give us a timetable. Survival in west Tyrone is critical for our agriculture community and for those who depend on it.
Sir Reg Empey:
The Member is right that, for some time now, we have been encouraging people in rural areas to add another string to their bow. The reason for that is that agriculture has been suffering for several years for a wide variety of reasons that are structural and will not go away. Even if we get over the foot-and-mouth crisis — when we get over the crisis — those problems will remain.
We have encouraged and grant-aided people. We have put public funds into physical diversification, whether in the form of conversions, the erection of chalets, or whatever. Marketing assistance is offered, and, indeed, computer bookings are also available. There is no doubt that in encouraging people to move from an industry that was under enormous pressure, they have been encouraged to move into another industry that is also under enormous pressure. The Member is perfectly right to draw attention to the matter.
The consequential effects of foot-and-mouth disease are far reaching. It is almost impossible to draw a clean line around the sectors that are affected; they go far and wide. A comment by Mr Bell of the Institute of Directors in the business section of the ‘News Letter’ today draws attention to these issues. I sympathise with the Member.
I notice that some people in the north-west are considering proposals to run a festival as opposed to the North West 200. If those people have a proposal and draw it to the Tourist Board’s attention, it will be looked at as sympathetically as possible. It may be that that example could be followed in other areas. I am sure that Sperrins Tourism Ltd will not be behind the door in coming forward with ideas.
The Minister has rightly recognised the effects of the foot-and-mouth disease on the tourist industry. It has been confirmed in today’s papers that the Balmoral Show will be cancelled this year, resulting in the loss of some £6 million of income and revenue to the area. What steps will be taken to compensate people who have lost bed spaces as a result of the cancellation of the show? What study will be done into the impact of this on the capitalist structures —
Order. The Minister has been fairly generous in his preparedness to respond to matters broadly within his remit, even though they did not arise from the North/South Ministerial Council statement. The question that the Member is asking falls somewhat outside, not only the issues covered in the statement, but issues covered by the Assembly. Perhaps the Member does not recognise that, as he was not in the House to hear the statement. If that is the case, it would be wrong to press further on the Minister’s generosity by asking him to respond to a question that deals with a matter well outside his area of responsibility.
I read the Minister’s statement prior to entering the Chamber, so I am aware of its contents.
Then the Member has very little excuse.
I will ask two other questions.
The first relates to consequential loss. Can the Minister look at how that is going to affect the country’s sports and leisure activities in relation to the North/South body and the relationship that the Tourist Board has with local councils? In my own area, the local council has been very active in promoting tourism across Northern Ireland and further afield in the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe. What relationship does the Tourist Board have with local councils in trying to help promote those areas specifically, and others further afield?
Sir Reg Empey:
I do not know quite where to begin. The Member for Strangford is always creative in these matters.
We all deeply regret yesterday’s announcement. The Balmoral Show is one of the highlights of Northern Ireland’s year, not only for the tourism and agriculture sector, but beyond that, because it attracts people who otherwise would have no connection with agriculture whatsoever. It is a huge blow.
We do not want to see people lose out as a result of this crisis. However, we would be naïve in the extreme to believe that, even if there were no financial constraints upon us, everybody is going to come out of this as if nothing has happened. That is just not the case, and the Member knows that. Certainly, we are looking at the financial and economic impact of this crisis on all sectors. Within a week or two we should have a report, and the Executive will be able to make recommendations at that stage.
Regional tourism organisations are supported by the Tourist Board and will continue to be supported by the Tourist Board. They will have a role to play in the recovery programme, as it will be necessary for those organisations to do some of their own marketing work. The Tourist Board will look at any proposals that may be advanced by those organisations. Of course, not every local authority is in a regional tourism organisation, but where there are proposals and suggestions from the local authorities, they should be brought to the Tourist Board as quickly as possible, while we are considering this.
The whole issue comes down to cash. At the moment, the Tourist Board is spending money that, strictly speaking, it does not have. I have made it clear to the board that it is to take whatever steps it feels are necessary and appropriate. It will be my task in the months ahead to find the resources for that. However, local authorities have a contribution to make, and I have little doubt that those directly affected will be generous in their resource allocations.
The Minister for Regional Development (Mr Campbell):
I beg to move
That the Private Streets (Construction) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2001 be approved.
The Regulations amend the Private Streets (Construction) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1994, which set out the standards and detailed requirements for the construction of private streets in new housing developments. The 1994 Regulations provided for the deposit and approval of plans and for the giving of notice for the commencement and completion of various stages of work. They also provided for the inspection of work, carrying out of investigations and tests and the taking of samples to ensure that work was in conformity with the regulations.
The proposed changes are necessary to implement the provisions of the primary legislation — the Private Streets (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 — which placed responsibility for the provision of street lighting in new developments on the developers. The effect of the proposed amendments to the Regulations will be to introduce changes in two distinct areas. First, regulation 15(a) and schedule 8 prescribe standards for the provision of street lighting in private streets. Secondly, they amend regulation 20 of the 1994 Regulations to extend the specified expenses to include the cost of inspection of street works during construction and to provide for the bearing of such costs by developers.
Consequential amendments relating to the deposit and approval of plans — regulation 3(8) — the notice of commencement of stages of work — regulation 3(9) — and detailed requirements for goods and materials to be used in the construction of streets — regulation 3(13) — have been made. In addition, references in the 1994 Regulations to various technical publications have been updated.
The proposed Regulations were circulated for comment to the Construction Employers’ Federation, Northern Ireland Electricity, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and other public bodies. The comments received by my Department during the consultation period have been taken into account in the Regulations now before the Assembly.
The Chairperson of the Regional Development Committee (Mr A Maginness):
I welcome the Minister’s statement. Because of the legislation, developers will not only have to comply with prescribed standards, but they will have to meet the cost of inspections. That is not an unfair burden. It is important that we note that, and I welcome that move. It is also fair to say that, following widespread public consultation, there was a general welcome for the measures. The Minister has made a progressive step that the public will welcome.
I shall not detain the House unduly on such straightforward Regulations, but I ask the Minister to ensure that the Department for Regional Development puts in place stringent inspection standards for street lighting before it adopts a road as a public road. I am sure that my fellow members of the Regional Development Committee will agree. It is all very well for the Minister to introduce the Regulations and put the burden on developers, but developers will take short cuts and will not comply properly with the standards that have been laid down by the House.
The anticipated saving of £1·5 million is to be welcomed. I ask the Minister to ensure that the money that is saved as a result of the implementation of these regulations and the carrying of the burden by the developers will be used for further road development by the Department. It would be the best use of these savings if the money were ploughed back into the road network, which is sorely in need of additional funding, as the Minister and the House will recognise. Small amount though it may be, £1·5 million would be very welcome.
I also have a concern, which I am sure is reflected by other members of the Committee, that developers may seek to pass on the additional costs to house purchasers. I ask the Minister to assure the House that these costs will not be added on to house prices and that developers will bear them. It would be unfair if house buyers were to be further burdened with additional costs that rightly should be borne by the developers.
The Committee in its consideration of these Regulations was supportive, and I reiterate my welcome, as Chairperson, and that of the Committee for them.
The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Regional Development (Mr McFarland):
I too welcome the Regulations and support the Chairperson’s remarks. Will the Minister clarify the timing factor? In many developments we see houses completed but the infrastructure, the roads and the lighting have been left in an extremely rough state. How long will a developer be allowed to leave an estate like that before he is obliged to comply with the Regulations? This often happens where a developer has built one group of houses and is hoping to move on to a second group. He will try to leave the infrastructure unfinished until he has built his second batch. We need to have a clear idea of how long a builder will be allowed before he must fulfil his obligations under these Regulations. I welcome them again.
I too very much welcome the Minister’s statement this morning. The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee asked a very important question. We have all seen, especially as council representatives, that it can take many years for roads to be adopted. It has taken over 20 years for some roads in my constituency to be adopted.
We need to be very clear on this, because developers can take quite a while to finish anything. My fear is that they might also throw street lighting into that. We need clear assurances from the Minister that contractors will not be able to treat street lighting in the same way as they treat the finishing of roads. Is there a developer who is creating problems with the finishing of street lighting? What penalty points will be given to him? With regard to roads and adopted roads, a bond exists at the moment, but that bond can be taken away if the Department feels that it must finish a road itself. Will this also apply to street lighting?
I welcome the proposals as the Regulations in Northern Ireland are now in line with other regions of the UK.
It is important that the £1·5 million savings be retained within the Department. It could be used for improvement to roads in either small capital works programmes, or in road maintenance schemes. The developer is being asked to incur only a marginal extra cost to a development, and that should not cause any undue extra financial burden.
Mr Hay made reference to many unadopted roads. There are roads throughout Northern Ireland — particularly in urban areas — that have never been adopted, causing pain to many householders. Will the Minister look at this issue soon?