Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has welcomed its new Director of Sustainability and Environment.
Andrew Cassells attended his first meeting as Director of the Sustainability and Environment Committee, formerly the Neighbourhood Services Committee, on Wednesday 17 August, where he was welcomed by Committee Chair, Councillor Oonagh Magennis and Vice Chair, Councillor Terry Andrews.
Mr Cassells’ public sector career spans some 25 years which has included senior management positions at councils in Northern Ireland and Scotland, predominately focusing on the provision of technical services such as Waste Management, Street Cleansing, Grounds, Building and Vehicle Maintenance. Mr Cassells holds a master’s degree in Sustainable Development from the University of Stirling, is a Chartered Environmentalist and a corporate member of the Chartered Institute of Waste Management.
With the new directorate incorporating wider environmental issues, as well as the important day-to-day functions of waste management, cleansing and maintenance, Mr Cassells said the public was becoming increasingly better informed on this subject.
“I believe most people are now conscious of the reality of climate change and the increasing role we all have to play in tackling it,” he said.
“In its most basic terms, sustainability means living within our natural environment to the extent that we are not causing any ecological damage to the environment, and leaving it in at least as good a state to our children.
“There is a climate emergency. People are recognising that this is real and that we can no longer ignore it. There are increasing flooding issues, for example, and we have had incidents across the district.
“We have been seeing great weather, but there has also been heat stress. And going forward there will be extremes of climate and more frequent occurrences of flooding, incidents which previously would have been a once in a 100-year event.”
Having enjoyed a wide ranging career, including a period with a private engineering company in Belfast, Mr Cassells spent the very early part of his career in mining engineering in England, with 15 years at the National Coal Board. And it is his early years which he said helped provoke his interest in sustainability, coming “full circle” to doing a master’s degree in Sustainable Development in 2008.
“The interest has always been there, having studied Geography,” he said. “With engineering and mining, it’s a bit of an extreme example, but you see the consequences of what you do. When we use up part of the natural capital of the world – once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Mr Cassells said he was looking forward to working closely with elected members in a busy first year ahead. On top of the to-do list for 2022 is overseeing the introduction of a new £7.4m Council fleet, which will bring improvements to the waste collection service. Mr Cassells also plans to undertake a review of street cleansing for Council and continue to build on current recycling levels.
Between 2015 and 2021 Newry, Mourne and Down District Council saw an 85% reduction in the amount of waste sent to landfill (to 2,494 tonnes) – one of the lowest levels of waste sent to landfill across all Northern Ireland Councils. Mr Cassells said Newry, Mourne and Down was performing well at Council level but stressed there would be challenging targets to meet in the years ahead.
Thanking residents for their recycling efforts to date, he added, “The Council’s doesn’t recycle. The public recycles and we enable diversion away from landfill. Recently there has been a big push on reducing food waste and there is still a significant amount of black bin waste that could be recycled or composted.”
Mr Cassells said he was conscious that an efficient waste management service and clean streets were among residents’ top priorities.
“Street cleansing is a big issue, and we hope to undertake a review of street cleansing before the next financial year. We have a significant investment coming — £7.4 million for over 70 vehicles, 30 of which are in refuse collection. The Council acknowledges the frustration experienced by vehicle breakdowns in the old fleet. It has also been frustrating for staff and we look forward to sharing more about the new fleet shortly.
Chair of the Sustainability and Environment Committee, Councillor Oonagh Magennis, said: “We look forward to working closely with Andrew on a busy programme of work for this committee, which is at the heart of providing key services to residents.
“To the forefront will be the delivery of the new Council fleet which will be key to an improved waste management service. Communicating the crucial messages of sustainable development will also be important for this Committee.”
Vice Chair, Councillor Terry Andrews, added: “We are all coming to terms with the true impact of climate change and the Council has an important role to play in helping to mitigate its effects, and in its messaging around sustainability and the environment.”