A Local Challenge

Climate change along with sustainable and unsustainable development are the buzz words at the beginning of the 21sth century. Countless reports tell us that the climate is changing, that there is global warming, that man’s activities play a substantial part in it all and that by pursuing a sustainable development strategy we can make things better.wind turbines

Climate change is linked with our demand for energy derived from fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas and the emission of greenhouse gases, (principally CO2), their consumption releases into the atmosphere.  It is one of the results of unsustainable development that risks causing damage to such an extent that the planet would no longer have the capacity to support human life. 

Unsustainable development across the world is over exploiting resources and creating pollution, changing habitats and driving species to extinction. It is creating social problems which are exacerbated by inequalities in health, wealth, education and employment which accompany it.

Sustainable Development

Sustainable development has been defined as,

                       “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” 

 It is simply the efficient and effective use of resources (environmental, social and economic) while living within the earths limits in a manner that ensures a decent quality of life for us, our children and future generations.

For many people, practising sustainable development  means “not leaving the TV on standby”, buying energy efficient light bulbs or recycling household waste into the Council’s coloured bins, but not much more.

Many people feel frustration that they don’t know more about sustainability issues and therefore feel that they cannot do more to contribute to a sustainable future.

At international level Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General recognised this problem as the challenge of the century, to take an idea that seems abstract- sustainable development-and turn it into a reality for all the world’s people.

At local level, District Councils face the same problem. Wehave always had a moral obligation to act sustainably but from 31st March 2007 we have been required by law to act in a way, best calculated to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in Northern Ireland, but how do we turn the concept of sustainable development into reality and help people to live by sustainable principles day in, day out.

Omagh District Council is committed to leading by example on Sustainable Development.  The Council is a key player in the local economy and makes a significant contribution to the creation of sustainable communities and at the same time has a local influence on the habits of residents.

The Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) is developing a new sustainable development strategy for Northern Ireland but  this web page  provides some examples of the steps already taken by the Council in pursuit of the first strategy, “First Steps towards Sustainability which waspublished in May 2006.

Six priority areas  were developed through which a sustainable development strategy for Northern Ireland should be delivered-

  • Climate Change and Energy
  • Sustainable Consumption and Production
  • Natural Resource protection and Environmental Enhancement
  • Sustainable Communities
  • Learning and Development
  • Governance for Sustainable Development.

Examples of what these priority areas mean in practice and how Omagh District Council has been delivering practical sustainable development actions within them are outlined below.

1. Climate change and Energy

The effects of climate change can already be seen.  We are experiencing more frequent incidences of severe weather and disturbed weather patterns. Temperatures and sea levels are rising, ice and snow cover is declining, all with potentially catastrophic consequences for the natural world and society. drought picture
FloodsTo combat these effects we need to reduce green house gas emissions within the district, principally by promoting energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources, such as bio fuels(e.g. wood) wind power and solar  power in place of the fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas.
What  have we been doing in Omagh District Council?

We have been reducing greenhouse gas emissions from council buildings/facilities and with reduced energy consumption, comes reduced cost.

This has been achieved through the use of renewable technologies such as the installation of a wind turbine at the Gortrush Civic Amenity Site, solar panels (photo voltaic cells) at the Council head quarters at Grange Park and at the new Strule Arts centre.

Wind TurbinePV panels

We have installed a biomass boiler at the Leisure Centre and  grey water harvesting methods are also employed at the Arts centre while at a more basic level  energy efficiency within all council buildings is promoted by encouraging staff to practice good heat, lighting and power management.

Through the councils waste reception sites, the concept of material recovery and  reuse through recycling is promoted, successfully reducing the amount of waste going to landfill.

Boiler at Leisure Centre

During 2008-2009, 38.13% of the waste produced in the district was recycled, maintaining earlier gains (2007-2008, 38.09%) which showed an increase of over 10 % on the 2006-2007 figures when 27.95% of the waste was recycled. Staff are required to minimise car based travel during work and car share where practical. 

We promote energy efficiency  in the conservation of fuel and power in new buildings and in renovation  projects through the application of the building regulations overseen by the Building Control Department.

We monitor and report on energy usage from high energy use buildings and facilities throughout the council estate.

The Council has made a commitment that all council buildings will be carbon neutral by 2012

An audit of the council’s energy management has been carried out in all its public access buildings of over 1000 square metres.

We have implemented the environmental management system (EMS) and associated standard ISO 14001:2004 into the Environmental Health Service office at Lisnamallard House, the Leisure Centre and the Technical Services Department.
Through the standard we evaluate the environmental aspects of the Council's activities to ensure that we practice good stewardship and comply with all legal requirements. The key issues which we consider include-
- Emissions to land, air and water
- Waste generation and management
- Use of raw materials and natural resources
- Use of energy
- Local/community environmental issues
- Concerns of interested parties
- Nuisance e.g. odour, noise etc
- Applicable legal and other requirements

To view our environmental policy statement click here.

We are in the process of helping 10 local businesses implement a similar environmental management system (B.S.8555) under the Stem (Sustainable Together through Environmental Management) initiative. Through signing up to STEM, these businesses can manage and reduce the environmental footprint of their business activities, i.e. waste disposal, energy consumption, discharges to water and land, use of raw materials and storage of fuel etc. The overall outcome is that the business not only gains an environmental standard, but they also enhance their tendering ability, improve their public image, gain a better understanding of environmental legislation and help to contribute to a more sustainable environment for all.

  

2.     Sustainable Consumption and Production

Sustainable consumption and production requires achieving resource efficiency and achieving more with less, which means not only looking at how goods and services are provided but also the impacts of products and materials across their whole lifecycle, building on people’s awareness of social and environmental concerns. The Council must lead by example through providing recycling schemes in offices and properties and ensuring that purchasing policies are appropriate, with whole of life costs being considered.

What have we been doing in Omagh District Council?

All council offices and relevant buildings have introduced waste recycling facilities

In buildings where the Environmental Management System (EMS) is in operation, waste audits have taken place to guide us in our waste minimisation plans and staff are trained in the real life costs of excessive consumption. Traditionally administrative offices have consumed vast quantities of stationery products but within the council we practice the policy of printing little, reading documents on screen and where necessary always printing on both sides of the page.

As a major purchaser of goods and services, the Council is working towards sustainable procurement policies to ensure only the purchase of resource efficient products which have minimal social and environmental impacts. Purchasing officers collaborate with other local authorities to pursue sustainable purchasing ideals. The council currently purchases 100% green electricity.

3.     Natural Resource Protection and Environmental Enhancement

Within the district, our priority is to protect, conserve and enhance our landscape, air quality, freshwater environments and biodiversity.

What have we been doing in Omagh District Council?

We work alongside the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to conserve and promote the natural environment within the district.

We have appointed a Biodiversity officer whose role includes the implementation of a Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) specific to the district including all council properties.

moorlands

The Omagh LBAP outlines a plan of action to:

  • Conserve and enhance the rich biodiversity of Omagh District for both current and future generations
  • Raise awareness of the variety and importance of Omagh’s biodiversity
  • Encourage local ownership and stewardship of Omagh’s biodiversity
  • Encourage the sustainable use of biodiversity in all new policies and strategies affecting Omagh District.
 

On the ground this means wildlife projects with local community groups, biodiversity events for the public and Council initiatives to target the habitats and species that need conserved in our district.

We are implementing programmes to maintain tidiness, hygiene and cleanliness in out towns, village and hamlets.

We are involved in developing the Strule riverside walkway and cycle path.

Mobile flower bed
Road side dumping

 

We monitor air quality throughout the district as well as investigating any air, noise, and land pollution related complaints.

 

4.     Sustainable Communities

Promoting the idea of community engagement, civic leadership and responsible citizenship is a crucial component in the creation of sustainable communities. The community planning process is a vehicle for effective community consultation and involvement to help inform the process. For communities to be sustainable, the following aims need to be met.

  • to increase the economic wellbeing of people of the district
  • to create an attractive high quality environment where people feel safe and which provides the conditions for health and social well being by providing cleaner, greener safer, healthier communities where people want to live and work
  • to promote engagement with the community, civic leadership and responsible citizenship

What have we been doing in Omagh District Council?

We have been involved in the development and introduction of a Community Plan (2007-2010) to promote the wellbeing of the people of the district. The vision for the plan is to make Omagh District an economically prosperous, healthy, sustainable and quality place in which to live and work. In pursuit of this vision, we have agreed 6 themes and action plans with our community planning partners-

  • Economic Prosperity and wellbeing
  • Health and Well being
  • Education
  • Infrastructure
  • Environment
  • Community safety

These themes inform the work of the council on all levels.

5.      Learning and Communication for Sustainable Development.
In our introduction we said that “many people feel frustration that they don’t know more about sustainability issues and therefore feel that they cannot do more to contribute to a sustainable future”. Light switch

Many people, perhaps through the media’s relentless focus on damage to the environment,  don’t realise that there are three key issues in sustainability, environmental, social and economic and often they are interlinked. Knowledge is the foundation of a sustainable community and District Councils have a role to play in increasing awareness across all age groups. Education provides the knowledge needed to bring about the behavioural changes necessary to progress towards a sustainable society.

 

What have we been doing in Omagh District Council?
The District Council has been working informally in an educational role for many years on a range of issues which often cut across the three key sustainability themes, environmental, social and economic. We are involved in issues from waste minimisation and the benefits of recycling, to promoting food safety in the home, to promoting health and fitness in leisure centres, to training people how to prepare their own foods at much less cost than buying fast food. Biodiversity meeting

We work in partnership with various statutory agencies and voluntary and community groups to achieve improvements in health and wellbeing e.g. the Investing For Health partnership, the Community Safety partnership and the Health Promoting Schools Award scheme.

Learning and Communication is a key pillar of the Omagh Local Biodiversity Action Plan.  Through seasonal events for the public such as the Big Garden Bird Watch and the Red Squirrel Day at Gortin Glens Forest Park and through targeted community group and schools activities such as tree planting and bug hunts, the Council is positively influencing citizens to look after their natural environment around them, protecting it for the future.

 

6.Governance for Sustainable Development

The strategy requires the mainstreaming of sustainable development across government. Not just environmental governance but also corporate and political governance and includes joined up government, better regulation and synergy between local and central government.

What have we been doing in Omagh District Council?

We hope this quick look at the  priority areas above  has convinced you that we have been practising the principles of sustainable development within council departments. This has been happening informally for many years but our new  statutory duty  means we now need to develop more formal plans and mechanisms  to integrate sustainable development into all that we do. We are working hard to meet this challenge.

  
If you would like any further information regarding Sustainable Development within Omagh District Council please contact Dr. Ian Leitch, Environmental Health Department, Lisnamallard House, Old Mountfield Road, Omagh. BT79 7EG
Tel: (028) 82256202 or E-mail eh@omagh.gov.uk