Environmental Protection Legislation: Consultation

Oral Answers to Questions — The Environment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 5th February 2001.

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Photo of Mr Oliver Gibson Mr Oliver Gibson DUP 4:15 pm, 5th February 2001

11. asked the Minister of the Environment if he will make it his policy, in liaison with the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, to ensure that the farming community will be consulted in relation to new legislation to protect the environment.

(AQO 669/00)

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

My Department enjoys an excellent working relationship with farmers, their representatives and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. In the past, it has consulted successfully with farming bodies on a range of policy proposals. Most recently farming representatives were fully involved in the Northern Ireland Biodiversity Advisory Group, which, last autumn, submitted proposals to me for a Northern Ireland biodiversity strategy. On 23 January I announced in the Assembly my intention to consult on measures to strengthen existing legislation for the protection and management of areas of special scientific interest (ASSIs).

I will ensure that farmers’ representatives, landowners and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as others interested in protecting the environment, are fully consulted. The protection of sites in the future will be best achieved through partnership with landowners and other relevant interests. I will continue to apply the principles of full and open consultation with all interested parties on any further legislative proposals relating to the protection of the environment.

Photo of Mr Oliver Gibson Mr Oliver Gibson DUP

I welcome the Minister’s statement that he enjoys the support and encouragement of the farming community. The difficulties with regard to tree protection orders (TPOs), special areas of conservation (SACs) and those areas that are still designated ASSIs include identification of the locality and protection by fencing and the identification of the rare trees.

Very rare trees may be identified on a map, but developers and the men with the chainsaws normally do not carry maps. Therefore there must be other ways of identifying trees that are to be preserved. This was particularly relevant in the case of Knocknamoe in Omagh, where there were some specialist trees in the estate. What efforts will the Minister make in relation to identification and proper protection?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

We will do all we can to ensure that people are aware of the special areas of control, whether they relate to trees, ASSIs, or otherwise.

A consultation paper will review the protection and management of ASSIs, and it will pose questions about the nature of management agreements, the continued payment of compensation, and action to deal with third-party damage. I suggest to Mr Gibson and representatives of the farming and landowning communities, as well as other interested parties, that comments could be given through that arrangement over a three-month period.

We are seeking partnership with all concerned for the protection of any of these species. I ask Mr Gibson, through his channels, to ensure that those issues will be brought forward in the consultation document.