Cllr Barry McKee welcomes NIPSO report on TPOs

Green Party NI Councillor Barry McKee has welcomed the publication of the Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman's Report into tree protection in Northern Ireland.
Speaking at the Ards and North Down Borough Council Planning Committee in November, the Bangor West representative said, "I welcome that this investigation into TPO trees was undertaken by NIPSO and that the published report is shining a light on this important area of tree protection and the planning system. The findings are disturbing - that despite 369 tree protection breaches reported between 2019 and 2022, only one resulted in enforcement action being taken, and none led to prosecution.
The Ombudsman has sought to increase public accessibility & engagement but the opportunity to contextualise this has been missed by the failure to align these aims with the pillars of the Aarhus Convention, two of which are, access to environmental information and entitlement of the public to participate in environmental decision making.
We must have open and transparent decision making within our planning system, on environmental and tree protection too. Previous work by Green Party representatives have yeilded this report by NIPSO, and also resulted in the introduction of TPOs & works to trees applications being reported to Ards and North Down's Planning Committee on a quarterly basis. 
There is a strong argument that TPOs do constitute environmental decision making and if this is the case any failure to facilitate participation in that process could be a breach of the Aarhus Convention.   
With that context in mind, I am concerned that within the response from this Council, that there is a rejection of recommendations and divergence from the recommendations of the report on public access to information and environmental decision making. I am concerned that continuing down this path may lead us to be non-compliant within the provisions of the Aarhus Convention.  
I believe it would be prudent for this Council to be assured that we will not end up in the same predicament as the Department for Infrastructure, who in ended up in protracted and costly negotiations with the Aarhus Convention compliance committee. 
In that case the failure to make EIA screenings and habitats regulations assessments accessible on the planning portal resulted in breaches of the Aarhus Convention. Therefore, I believe there is a need to be assured that the same will not apply to TPO’s if they are deemed to be environmental decision making. There is much to do, and this Report has assisted in showing the disparities and gaps, amongst other well known Reports into failings in our wider system."'
The NIPSO report 'Strengthening Our Roots: An Overview Report on Tree Protection in the Planning System' is available at: Strengthening our roots: an overview report on tree protection in the planning system | NIPSO