Northern Ireland Assembly, Monday 11 June 2007, Culture, Arts And Leisure
Mr B Wilson: In his introductory remarks, the Minister of Finance and Personnel highlighted what he believed to be the key challenges facing Northern Ireland, but there was no mention of the major challenge of climate change. Indeed, Tony Blair has said that climate change is the most important issue facing the planet. Climate change affects the whole planet, not justNorthern Ireland.
I approach the Estimates from a green perspective, but when I examine the details, there is absolutely nothing green about them at all. My party would argue for additional expenditure on the railways and, in particular, the development of the railway line toDerry— but there is nothing there. A light rail system forBelfastwas promised 10 or 15 years ago, but there is no mention of it, which is very disappointing.
The Secretary of State forNorthern Irelandtried to promote renewable energy, and there was support for the concept of micro-generation. However, the take-up has been poor because the grant aid currently available for such projects does not even cover the cost of building control and planning fees. Those ideas have not taken off, and more money must be targeted in that direction.
We should support the research and development of renewable energy and consider alternative crops such as willow biomass and rapeseed. I use biodiesel in my car; the chap who produces that fuel made an approach about a business grant but could not get one. There is an opportunity to develop alternative fuel inNorthern Ireland, and there are potential benefits for the rural community. Farmers could produce energy crops rather than simply availing of the benefits of EU set-aside land regulations.
The Budget proposals do not address the improvement of the environment, and although I appreciate that there is little that can be done about that now, I will put down a marker for the next Budget and comprehensive spending review, because these are the issues of the future. I do not ask for extra money; as an economist, I am aware that resources are limited. We must examine ways in which to use those resources more efficiently by channelling them into green areas, thereby creating a sustainableNorthern Ireland.