Assembly News (April 2012) 1 May 2012
Private Members’ Business
Lough Neagh (17 April)
Mr Molloy moved a motion that called onthe Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to convene a working group to explore and pursue actively the potential for a cross–departmental approach to bring Lough Neagh back into public ownership. All parties with the exception of the UUP and the TUV supported the motion and during the debate members were reminded that many departments including DCAL, DARD, DOE, DRD and DETI ‘all need to be around the table’.
Written Answers to Questions
for Agriculture and Rural Development
http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/Answer-Book/2012/120413.pdf Page: 516
NSMC Meetings – Loughs Agency: Prosecutions (13 April)
The Minister was asked, further to her statement on 26 March 2012 on the North–South Ministerial Council meeting, how many people have been (i) arrested or questioned; (ii) charged; and (iii) processed through the courts and with what result, in relation to the (a) 161 nets; (b) 12 boats; and (c) 2 cars that were seized; and what happened to the seized items. The Minister replied that no one was arrested as the Loughs Agency does not have the power of arrest. 18 people have been charged with all cases remaining pending. In relation to the seized items, 80 nets and 5 boats have been the subject of destruction orders by the courts and 81 nets, 7 boats and 2 cars are in the process of being presented to the courts for orders for their forfeiture and destruction.
Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment
http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/Answer-Book/2012/120413.pdf Page: 579
Northern Ireland Renewable Heat Incentive (13 April)
The Minister provided an update on the proposed Northern Ireland Renewable Heat Incentive and when it will be introduced. Following the consultation last year on proposals, DETI has been undertaking further analysis on the potential design of the RHI, including a re–assessment of tariff levels, eligible technologies and banding. This work has been completed and the design of the RHI scheme is being finalised and all necessary approvals are being sought. This includes the necessary State Aid approval, without which the scheme cannot be introduced. The Department is in contact with Brussels on this matter, while the timing of the approval is outside of DETI’s control, they are hopeful that this would by obtained by June. The Minister intended to provide further information on the launch of the scheme as soon as all approvals are in place.
Minister of the Environment
PPS21 Draft Supplementary Planning Guidance (13 April)
The Minister provided an overview of the responses to the consultation on PPS21 draft Supplementary Planning Guidance. ‘Building on Tradition’ a draft sustainable rural design guide for the Countryside consultation ended on 8 July 2011. DoE received 28 responses and ‘overall, the draft guidance has been positively received, with around two–thirds of respondents expressing broad support for its contents’. Many respondents made suggestions however on how particular aspects of the draft guidance could be improved upon. In the main, the comments received related to relatively minor points concerning for example, terminology and the use of language, as opposed to fundamental concern with the overall approach, the Minister has agreed amendments to the Design Guide which has been refined and improved. Subject to Executive endorsement, his intention is that the design guide is published in final form before the summer recess.
Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) (April 20)
The Minister was asked what steps he is taking to improve his Department’s performance in enforcing Tree Preservation Orders. In response he stated that he believed robust measures should be taken in relation to planning offences and that enforcement – particularly for serious environmental and planning issues – needs to be escalated. He had been assessing how to achieve this and has made it ‘crystal clear’ to his staff that more robust enforcement is an essential element of a balanced planning system. He has also asked his officials to review existing procedures for alerting DoE outside office hours of active tree felling. In addition, commencing in this new business year, he has asked that his officials provide him with monthly reports in relation to enforcement activities associated with High Priority cases including trees protected by a TPO. He has done this because it is rare for a TPO to end up in court proceedings and he wished to ensure that action is and is seen to be taken against those who breach TPOs.
Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development
http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/Answer-Book/2012/120420.pdf Page: 7
Common Agricultural Policy: Less–favoured Areas (LFA) Scheme (20 April)
The Minister outlined potential changes to the LFA scheme under the current EU CAP proposals. The Minister stated that the LFA Compensatory Allowances Scheme currently forms an important part of our Rural Development Programme and operates under Pillar II of the CAP. DARD undertook a review of the support arrangements for less favoured areas in 2009 with the evidence pointing to an underpinning rationale and need for continuing LFA support with a clear focus on delivering positive environmental outcomes and, in particular, avoiding land abandonment and environmental degradation. The European Commission published legislative proposals for CAP post 2013 last October and these include a provision, within Pillar II of the CAP, to continue support for LFAs (or Areas of Natural constraint) post 2013. However, there are some potential changes to the architecture of the Pillar II support in that payments may require to be linked more closely to compensating farmers for the additional costs incurred and income foregone of those farming in the LFAs and to be degressive above a threshold level of area per holding. The CAP Reform post 2013 proposals also provide for an optional payment for areas with natural constraints within Pillar I, but Pillar II payments would need to take account of any Pillar I payment. The future of LFA support beyond 2013 will also depend on the outcome of the EU–led project on the re–designation of these areas. The EU Commission has proposed that the future designation of areas of natural constraint should be based on a set of objective biophysical criteria. The proposals also suggest that these new designations be in place from 1 January 2014.
Common Agricultural Policy (20 April)
http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/Documents/Answer-Book/2012/120420.pdf Page: 8
The Minister outlined the implications of a possible transitional period between the existing and a reformed CAP if its implementation is delayed beyond January 2014. The current CAP legislation covers the period up to the end of 2012 for the Single Farm Payment (SFP) Scheme and to the end of 2013 for Rural Development Schemes (including Less Favoured Areas and Agri–Environment Schemes). The CAP Reform proposals are intended to apply from 1 January 2014 onwards. Hence the Commission has published a transitional regulation for SFP in 2013 scheme year which is scheduled to be agreed later this year. It is in the most part a rollover of existing arrangements and therefore the Minister anticipated that our current systems and process will suffice in relation to 2013. She was aware that it is possible that the implementation of the CAP Reform proposals will be delayed beyond 2014 and DARD are currently pressing the EU Commission to come forward with proposals to deal with this scenario. At this stage the EU Commission is reluctant to concede that there will be a delay. It is anticipated that any interim arrangements in 2014 for SFP will be a rollover of the current scheme which should mean minimal changes to existing systems and processes. The position in relation to Rural Development schemes in 2014 is more complicated and hence DARD are pressing the EU Commission to come forward with proposals at the earliest opportunity so that the necessary systems, staff and processes can be put in place.
Woodland (April 20)
The Minister provided an assessment of DARDs performance in meeting its target to increase woodland coverage. The Forest Service business plan target in 2011/12 was to create 250ha of new woodland under the Woodland Grant Scheme and by 1 March 2012 this target had been exceeded and 284ha was planted. However she acknowledged that this rate of planting is insufficient to meet their aim to increase woodland cover to 12% of land area by 2050. To help achieve this aim, last November she announced that Forest Service will review support arrangements for private planting to increase the rate of woodland creation. She also indicated that the review will take account of the Commission’s proposals under the draft Rural Development Regulation. While she acknowledges requirement of agricultural land for food production, she is aware of a limited amount of such land, that since 2008 has or may become ineligible under the Single Farm Payment (SFP) scheme, or which is not in good agricultural and environmental condition. This land may be suitable for forestry planting in a way to help farmers comply with their SFP responsibilities. Forest Service will explore the potential of this land with stakeholders in advance of the 2013 planting season.