Case number: CEI/17/0022

CEI/17/0022

Whether the identities of purchasers of land from Coillte are environmental information
 

11/10/2018


Background


On 22 February 2017, the appellant made a request to Coillte under the European Communities (Access to Information on the Environment) Regulations 2007 to 2018 (the AIE Regulations) for information:
"in respect of all sales of land greater than or equal to 101 ha [≥ 101 ha] considered by Coillte between 2011 and [22 February 2017]:
1./ Please provide a list identifying the land in question and the identity of the purchaser in each case.
2./ In respect of each sale considered please provide a copy of:
(a) the Property Sales Impact Form or equivalent
(b) the documented decision in each case including decisions to proceed and decisions not to proceed with a sale
(c) the information considered by the decision maker in making its decision
(d) copy of the stakeholder management plan including updates postconsultation
(e) a copy of the entry on the excision list".


As Coillte did not notify the appellant of its decision on the AIE request by 21 May 2017, the AIE request was deemed refused pursuant to article 10(7) of the AIE Regulations. On 22 May 2017, Coillte notified the appellant in a late decision that it had decided to grant access to the requested records which it considered relevant to the appellant's AIE request. 
The appellant requested an internal review of Coillte's decision on 4 April 2017. In its internal review decision dated 3 May 2017, Coillte granted access to its excision lists for 2011 to 2016. The excision lists contain the sales of land by Coillte from January 2011 to December 2016. However, Coillte refused access to the identity of the purchasers. It stated that the identity of the purchasers: 
1. is not environmental information;
2. even if it is environmental information, refusal to grant access would be justified on the grounds of commercial sensitivity under article 9(1)(c) of the AIE Regulations; and
3. the consent of the purchasers would be required before it could grant access, and that obtaining that consent would place an undue burden on Coillte. 
The internal review decision also stated that the decision was made having regard to the public interest served by disclosure. 
The appellant appealed Coillte's internal review decision to refuse access to Part 1 of its request to my Office on 22 May 2017. 
While my investigator invited submissions from the parties on a number of issues in this case, including on whether exceptions to disclosures of environmental information in articles 8 and 9 of the AIE Regulations applied, in keeping with my general practice I decided to confine my review to the question of whether the information sought is environmental information.
I have now completed my review under article 12(5) of the AIE Regulations. In carrying out my review I have had regard to the submissions of the parties and to:
· the Guidance document provided by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on the implementation of the AIE Regulations (the Minister’s Guidance); 
· Directive 2003/4/EC (the AIE Directive) upon which the AIE Regulations are based; 
· the 1998 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe  Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention);  
· The Aarhus Convention—An Implementation Guide (Second edition, June 2014) (the Aarhus Guide); and
· the jurisprudence of the courts, in particular on the question of the definition of environmental information. 
What follows does not make comment or findings on each and every argument advanced but all relevant points have been considered.


Scope of review


I note that the appellant's request for an internal review only concerned Part 1 of the AIE request. Part 1 of the AIE request was for a list of all sales of land ≥ 101 ha considered by Coillte between 2011 and 22 February 2017 and the identity of the purchaser in each case. The appellant submitted that the request was for information relating to sales that were under consideration by Coillte between 2011 and 22 and 22 February 2017, including “sales that were under consideration during this period but had yet to complete”.  


Sales within the scope of the AIE request


Coillte initially submitted that it did not consider any potential sales of land ≥ 101 ha which did not proceed to final sale between 2011 and 2016 (potential sales), and therefore that it did not hold information on such potential sales. It appeared implicit from Coillte’s submission that as it did not consider any potential sales of land ≥ 101 ha, it did not hold information on such potential sales, including the identity of potential purchasers in respect of these. 
When my investigator notified the appellant of Coillte's submission that it did not consider any potential sales between 2011 and 2016 and that this implied it would not hold the identity of potential purchasers for that period, the appellant responded that the request was up to, and including, 22 February 2017. The appellant also challenged whether Coillte held the identity of potential purchasers. 


My investigator subsequently clarified with Coillte whether there were any sales of land ≥ 101 ha, other than those already disclosed, under consideration between 1 January 2011 and 22 February 2017 regardless of whether they proceeded to final sale. My investigator also asked Coillte if there were any potential purchasers of potential sales of land ≥ 101 ha for the same period. Coillte clarified that there was one potential sale in 2014 for an area of land not exceeding 645 ha which has not yet proceeded to sale. It stated that in September 2014 approval was granted for an Option for Sale Agreement for the land (the Option). Coillte explained that "an option agreement gives the other party an option to purchase lands at a future point in time." Coillte provided a written assurance that, other than this one potential sale, no other potential sales of land ≥ 101 ha which did not proceed to final sale were considered by Coillte between 1 January 2011 and 22 February 2017. Coillte also clarified that, with the exception of the Option, there were no other potential purchasers. In the absence of any information before me indicating otherwise, I accept that written assurance. 
In addition to the Option, Coillte submitted that, when responding to the request, it overlooked one land sale completed in January 2017 of 196 ha (the January 2017 sale). Coillte wrote to the appellant on 8 June 2018 informing it of the omission of these two relevant transactions in its previous correspondence i.e. the January 2017 sale and the Option.  


In total there were six sales of land ≥ 101 ha by Coillte (excision list reference numbers: 2014-0002; 2014-0054; 2014-0046; 2016-0003; and 2016-0085 and 2016-0083) and one potential sale of land ≥ 101 ha (the Option) between 1 January 2011 and 22 February 2017 relevant to the appellant's AIE request. Regarding the list of sales, I am satisfied that with the disclosure by Coillte to the appellant of the January 2017 sale and the Option that the appellant has now been provided with a list of all sales of land ≥ 101 ha considered by Coillte between 2011 and 22 February 2017. 


Identity of the purchasers


That leaves the remaining issue of whether the identity of the purchasers is environmental information. Part 1 of the request sought "the identity of the purchaser in each case". The Oxford English Dictionary defines "purchaser" as "[a] person who purchases something for money; a buyer". Therefore, I am satisfied that the plain and ordinary meaning of the word "purchaser" in Part 1 of the AIE request means the identity of the purchasers of land bought from Coillte and does not include the identity of the potential purchaser under the Option. Coillte in its initial decision on the AIE request stated that it did not grant access to the identity of the purchasers or to "speculative enquiries or discussions that were considered but did not proceed to completion" (emphasis added). The appellant in its internal review request stated that “Part 1 of the request has not been answered i.e. in respect of sales of land over 101 ha since 2011” (emphasis added). I note that the internal review request explicitly referred to the “sales of land” and did not make reference to Coillte’s refusal to grant access to “speculative enquiries or discussions” which “did not proceed to sale”. As a result, I do not accept that information relating to potential sales including the identity of the potential purchasers is within the scope of my review. Therefore, the scope of this review will be limited to the outstanding information under Part 1 of the AIE request regarding the six sales of land i.e. the identity of the purchasers of land and whether those identities are environmental information.


Preliminary Matters


Before I carry out my review, there is a preliminary matter I would like to address. The appellant requested access to a copy of Coillte’s submission and objected to my office’s decision not to facilitate the exchange of submissions in this case.
Neither the AIE Regulations, the AIE Directive nor the Aarhus Convention prescribe the procedures that are to be adopted by me or my Office. Those procedures are set out in my Office’s Procedures Manual, which is available on www.ocei.ie. While Access to Environmental Information and Freedom of Information are two independent statutory regimes, as Commissioner for Environmental Information I am guided in my approach by the Office of the Information Commissioner's experience. The Information Commissioner's approach to exchanging submissions, which is the similar to the OCEI's, was upheld by the High Court in The National Maternity Hospital v The Information Commissioner [2007] 3 IR 643 (The National Maternity Hospital) and Grange v The Information Commissioner [2018] IEHC 108 (Grange). 
In conducting a review, I am bound by the requirements of fair procedures; accordingly, my Office is required to notify parties of material issues arising for consideration ensuring that each party is made aware of the relevant facts and arguments being relied upon by the other side. Having reviewed the case file in this appeal, I am satisfied that both parties, including the appellant have been appropriately notified of all material issues in this appeal and been given the opportunity to respond to them.


Analysis and Findings


Coillte submitted that it had provided the appellant with all environmental information which it considered fell within the scope the request. It stated that "the identity of the purchasers of the lands in question has not been provided to the appellant on the basis that such information does not constitute "environmental information" as defined in Article 3(1) of the AIE Regulations". 
Article 3(1) provides that “‘environmental information’ means any information in written, visual, aural, electronic or any other material form on -
(a) the state of the elements of the environment, such as air and atmosphere, water, soil, land, landscape and natural sites including wetlands, coastal and marine areas, biological diversity and its components, including genetically modified organisms and the interaction among these elements, 
(b) factors, such as substances, energy, noise, radiation or waste, including radioactive waste, emissions, discharges and other releases into the environment, affecting or likely to affect the elements of the environment,
(c) measures (including administrative measures), such as policies, legislation, plans, programmes, environmental agreements, and activities affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b) as well as measures or activities designed to protect those elements, 
(d) reports on the implementation of environmental legislation, 
(e) cost-benefit and other economic analyses and assumptions used within the framework of the measures and activities referred to in paragraph (c), and 
(f) the state of human health and safety, including the contamination of the food chain, where relevant, conditions of human life, cultural sites and built structures inasmuch as they are, or may be, affected by the state of the elements of the environment referred to in paragraph (a) or, through those elements, by any of the matters referred to in paragraphs (b) and (c)”.


For information to qualify as “environmental information” it must fall within one of the six categories set out in paragraphs (a) to (f) of article 3(1) of the AIE Regulations, which includes any information "on" one of those six categories. 
The appellant submitted that the identity of the purchasers is environmental information under article 3(1)(a). While the appellant submitted that the identities are environmental information under article 3(1)(a), in my view article 3(1)(c) is the most relevant provision in this case. Accordingly, I will first consider whether the identity of the purchasers is environmental information within the meaning article 3(1)(c). 
Are the sales of land “measures” within the meaning of article 3(1)(c)?
The appellant has submitted that sales of land are "measures affecting the environment" and the identity of the purchasers is information “on” those measures. Thus, the issue at the centre of this case is whether the identity of the purchasers is information “on” measures and activities affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors referred to in article 3(1)(a) and (b). The appellant stated that, in considering whether information "on" a measure which does not contain environmental content is environmental information, I "must" adopt the approach of the United Kingdom (UK) Upper Tribunal in DfT, DVSA and Porsche Cars GB Limited v Information Commissioner and John Cieslik [2018] UKUT 127 (AAC) (Cieslik). While I may adopt the reasoning in decisions from the UK where such decisions shed light on how the AIE Directive should be interpreted and where it is not inconsistent with legal precedent within this jurisdiction, I am not bound by the Upper Tribunal's decision (see Redmond & anor v Commissioner for Environmental Information & anor [2017] IEHC 827 (Redmond) at paragraph 54). 


When considering whether information is information “on” a measure affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors, my approach is to first identify any relevant measure(s). I then consider if the information relates to, concerns or is about that measure(s) so as to be information “on” it within the meaning of article 3(1)(c). Applying my approach in these type of cases to this case, I will first consider if the identity of the purchasers relate to or concern measures affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors of the environment. If I find they are, I will then consider if the identity of the purchasers is information "on" those measures within the meaning of article 3(1)(c).


It is helpful at this point to set out the process for land sales by Coillte. Coillte explained that land sales by it are either:
· Reactive sales - where a sale is initiated by a query from a potential purchaser; or 
· Proactive sales - where Coillte identifies a suitable property for sale, sale of that property is then approved by the Property Sign-Off Committee (PSOC) within Coillte, and the property is offered for sale by private treaty or auction. 
The PSOC must be consulted in all cases where Coillte is proposing to dilute its ownership or control over a property asset, with the exception of short term, non-renewable licences not exceeding 12 months and a value not exceeding €5,000. 


Coillte confirmed to my investigator that the PSOC was consulted in respect of all sales falling within the scope of this review. In doing so, Coillte made an active and formal decision to sell the land in question. The list of measures cited in article 3(1)(c) is an illustrative list of examples of measures and is not an exhaustive list. I note that at page 53 the Aarhus Guide in discussing the meaning of “activities or measures” remarks that “[m]ost importantly, the activities or measures do not need to be a part of some category of decision-making labelled ‘environmental’”. I am satisfied that where a public authority makes a formal decision to sell land that amounts to it adopting a ‘measure’ within the meaning of the AIE Regulations. However, in order for a measure to be a 'measure' within the meaning of article 3(1)(c), it must be something affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors of the environment referred to in article 3(1)(a) and 3(1)(b) or a measure designed to protect those elements. Thus, in order for the six sales to be 'measures', I must be satisfied that those sales affected or were likely to affect the elements and factors of the environment or were measures designed to protect those elements.


In support of its position that the sales of land are not 'measures', Coillte submitted that my decision in case CEI/14/0011 (Mr Jim Redmond and Coillte Teoranta), which is available on www.ocei.ie, considered whether the information sought in relation to the purchase price, purchaser, site size, etc. could constitute environmental information. In CEI/14/0011 I stated that "I consider that in the circumstances of this case, the change of forest-ownership, in itself and without more, does not constitute a measure or an activity affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors referred to in Article 3(1)(a) or (b), or a measure or activity designed to protect those elements" (emphasis added). I did not find in CEI/14/0011 that a sale was not a measure; the issue was whether it was a "measure" within the meaning of article 3(1)(c). In CEI/14/0011 there was absolutely no evidence before me that the transfer of ownership of the land affected or would be likely to affect the elements and factors of the environment. Coillte also submitted that "a change of ownership is effectively a paper exercise resulting in a change of title and as such it does not affect the land use per se. Change in ownership does not amount to a change in land use". It continued that "no change in land use can be effected without [the purchaser] going through the statutorily required licencing and planning processes".
The appellant submitted that in this case there is evidence of change of land use as most of sales of land were for the purpose of wind development, one for the construction of a holiday park and one for the construction of a large data centre. The appellant also submitted that the sales of land "are measures affecting the environment since the sales were manifestly and demonstrably for non-forest purposes". 
In determining whether the six sales are 'measures', I consider it relevant whether there is any evidence that the sales of land affected or were likely to effect the elements and the factors of the environment. In order to ascertain whether the six sales affected or were likely to affect the elements and factors of the environment, my investigator asked Coillte if it gathers or receives any information that might indicate why a purchaser wants to buy land, what their intentions are for the land or if there would be any change in land use in the event the sale is approved by Coillte. Coillte confirmed that it does gather or receive such information in a formal or informal way. 


For the purpose of this review, Coillte provided a copy of the information it released to the appellant under Part 2 of its AIE request for five of the six sales of land (excision list reference numbers: 2014-0002; 2014-0054; 2014-0046; 2016-0003; and 2016-0085). From this information I can see that the sales of the land at Straness (excision list reference number 2014-0002), Glennakeel (excision list reference number 2014-0054) and Knockauncurragh (excision list reference number 2016-0003) were for the purpose of wind farm developments; and the sale at Newcastle (excision list reference number 2016-0085) was for the purpose of a holiday park development. While there does not seem to be a plan for a development per se or significant land use change in the evidence before me in respect of the Altnapaste sale (excision list reference number 2014-0046), there is evidence that the purchaser planned to use the land in a manner which would affect the elements and factors of the environment such as land and landscape. Regarding the sixth sale (excision list reference number 2016-0083) the excision list for 2017 provides that the sale was at Derrydonnell Co. Galway. It is common knowledge at this in point in time that the sale of land at Derrydonnell was for the purposes of a data centre. For example, at page 8 of its 2016 Annual Report Coillte reported that "[i]n 2016 we finalised the sale of land to IDA Ireland to facilitate the location of an Apple data centre in Co. Galway" (see also www.coillte.ie concerning the sale at Derrydonnell). A search of Coillte's excision lists for 2016 and 2017 show that there was only one sale of land at Derrydonnell (ref. no. 2016-0083). Coillte confirmed to my investigator that it would hold information of the kind sought in Part 2 of the appellant's AIE request for this sale. 


Thus, I accept that the purchasers of the land in each of the six sales had specific plans in respect of the use of the land. Such developments as windfarms; a holiday park and a data centre would involve activity such as construction which would affect the elements and factors of the environment, such as land, landscape, waste, waste water, noise emissions. Therefore, I accept that the purchasers’ plans or intended uses for the land were likely to affect the elements and factors of the environment. I also note that Coillte had information on such plans or uses before it at the time it made the decision to sell the land. The six sales of land were a pre-requisite for the purchasers' plans or intended uses for the land. As such, the change of ownership was inexorably connected with the purchasers' particular plans for the land. I am satisfied that there is a clear nexus between the measures i.e. the decisions to sell the land and likely effects on the elements and factors of the environment.


I note that Coillte submitted that the purchasers would have to go through the relevant planning and licensing processes if they intended to change the land use. However, the Court of Appeal in Minch v Commissioner for Environmental Information & Anor [2017] IECA 223 (Minch) stated “the reference to "likely to affect" the environment [in article 3(1)(c)] should really be understood in the sense of being "capable" of affecting the environment”. I also note that in Minch the Court stated that I am not “required to make a judgment as to whether the plan or policy is ever likely to be put into effect and in that sense is or is not likely to affect the environment.” I am also satisfied that I do not have to consider whether it was likely that purchasers would follow through on their plans for the land or whether they actually implemented their plans. It is sufficient that the six sales were capable of affecting the elements and factors of the environment. Therefore, I am satisfied that in the circumstances of this case the six sales of land by Coillte are 'measures' affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors of the environment referred to in article 3(1)(a) and (b) within the meaning of article 3(1)(c).  


Is the identity of the purchasers information “on” measures under article 3(1)(c)?
As I have found above that the six sales of land are 'measures' within the meaning of article 3(1)(c), I will consider whether the identity of the purchasers is information “on” those measures, and thus, environmental information under article 3(1)(c). 
The definition of environmental information is broad. The Aarhus Guide provides at page 50 that deciding what environmental information is requires a degree of interpretation by the public authority in a particular case. It goes on to say that in defining environmental information, the clear intention of the drafters was to "craft a definition that would be as broad in scope as possible, a fact that should be taken into account in its interpretation." 
Coillte submitted that in the High Court’s judgment in Redmond (which is under appeal to the Court of Appeal), the information sought included the identity of the purchasers of land from Coillte. It stated that, at paragraph 53 of the Court’s judgment, the Judge held that “she could not see how the information sought at items 3 – 7 of the request “could fall within any of the categories of "environmental information" as defined in article 3(1) of the Regulations"”. It stated that the Court went on to state, in the same paragraph, that the “only conceivable part of the definition” to which the request could be said to relate was article 3(1)(c). Coillte submitted that:
“[t]he Court was doubtful that the sale of a leasehold interest in land, as was at issue in that case, came within the scope of the measures listed article 3(1)(c), but that even if it did, the Court was not satisfied that it would affect or be likely to affect the environment. Even in the circumstances of a sale of land to a developer, the Court held that "strictly speaking, the environmental information that falls to be disclosed is not so much the identity of the purchaser but any information that was given by the purchaser about the proposed development."” 
The appellant stated that Coillte cited Redmond “as a basis that the identities of the purchasers of large areas of forest are not environmental information”. The appellant submitted that:
“[i]n Redmond the conclusion of the Court was based on the observation that the requestors in that case could not identify an environmental affect arising from the transfer of the lease and that in the majority of UK and Scottish cases where the identity of the purchaser was considered to be environmental information there was evidence of change in land use”.
It continued that in this case there is evidence of change of land use. 


In Redmond the Court stated:
“Suppose, for example, that a public authority sold a piece of a national wildlife park to a property developer who had informed the public authority baldly that he wished to build a hotel on the land. It would seem that any information held by the public authority about the proposed hotel development would fall to be disclosed. However, in those circumstances, it seems to me, that, strictly speaking, the environmental information that falls to be disclosed is not such much the identity of the purchaser but any information that was given by the purchaser about the proposed development. In the present case, the evidence before the Commissioner did not include, and he was informed that Coillte simply did not have, any information as to what the purchaser’s intentions were and it seems to me that the mere identity of the purchaser did not fall within the meaning of environmental information for the purpose of the Regulations.”
The case now before me can be distinguished from CEI/14/0011 (the subject of the appeal in Redmond). In CEI/14/0011 there was no evidence before me as to what the purchaser's intentions for the land were and if they affected or were likely to affect the elements and factors of the environment. In contrast to that, the position in this case is that in each of the six sales of land the decision to sell was accompanied by information concerning the purchasers’ plans or intended uses for the land.  


It is well established that in order for something to be a 'measure' there must be more than a minimal connection between the measure and an affect on the elements and factors of the environment (see Case C- 316/01 Glawischnig v Bundesminister für soziale Sicherheit und Generationen (Glawischnig) and Advocate General Kokott in Case C-266/09 Stichting Natuur en Milieu and Others). In CEI/15/0007 (Mr Ken Foxe, Raidió Telefís Éireann and the Department of Defence), which is available on www.ocei.ie, I stated that “an assessment of what is integral to a measure or activity under paragraph (c) is a useful test to employ when defining the scope of the definition of environmental information”. The appellant in the present case submitted that the sales of land are measures affecting the environment and the "the identity of the purchaser is integral to this measure. For example, in law the "three Ps" define the essential terms of a land sale contract - Price, Property and Purchaser." In assessing whether the identity of the purchasers in the six sales of land is information "on" measures within the meaning of article 3(1)(c), I consider it relevant that the six sales of land were reactive sales and that when deciding to sell, Coillte decided to sell to a specified purchaser. Even if the identity of the purchaser did not factor into the PSOC’s decision to authorise the sale the land, Coillte made its decision to sell the land to a specified purchaser. 


When interpreting the Regulations, I construe the provisions of the AIE Regulations purposively in light of the aims of the AIE Directive and the Aarhus Convention. In CEI/15/0007 I stated that “it is useful to consider the preamble to the [Aarhus] Convention” when considering the meaning of terms derived from the Convention. I also consider it useful to consider the recitals to the preamble of the AIE Directive when considering terms derived from the Directive.

Recital (1) of the AIE Directive states that:
“[i]ncreased public access to environmental information and the dissemination of such information contribute to a greater awareness of environmental matters, a free exchange of views, more effective participation by the public in environmental decision-making and, eventually, to a better environment.”
The preambles to the Aarhus Convention include the following expressions of purpose:
"[r]ecognizing that, in the field of the environment, improved access to information and public participation in decision-making enhance the quality and the implementation of decisions, contribute to public awareness of environmental issues, give the public the opportunity to express its concerns and enable public authorities to take due account of such concerns," 
and
"[a]iming thereby to further the accountability of and transparency in decision-making and to strengthen public support for decisions on the environment". (Emphasis original)
In CEI/15/0007 I stated that in “[a]ssessing the meaning of "any information... on..." in light of the [preamble to the Aarhus Convention], I am satisfied that information which supports the aims of accountability and transparency in decision-making should be considered as included within the definition”. The recitals to the AIE Directive also support those aims. The appellant submitted that "Ireland is one of the least afforested countries in the EU and government policy is to increase tree cover". It continued that "it is of significant public interest to know as much information as possible about the disposals of large parcels of publicly owned forestry, particularly where such disposals reduce afforestation. In particular the identity of the purchaser ... is important information". By way of example it stated that with the identity of the purchaser "the public can understand if the purchaser has a track record or policy in sustainable forestry or if it has other motivations which are incompatible with government policy". I accept that access to the identity of the purchasers may enable the public to participate in environmental related decision-making and can support accountability and transparency in such decision-making. In the specific circumstances of this case, I accept that the identity of the purchasers has more than a minimal connection to the sales and that the identities were integral to those sales. 


Finding


I find for the reasons set out above that the identity of the purchasers of the six sales of land sold by Coillte (excision list reference numbers: 2014-0002; 2014-0054; 2014-0046; 2016-0003; and 2016-0085 and 2016-0083) is information "on" measures affecting or likely to affect the elements and factors of the environment referred to in article 3(1)(a) and (b) and is environmental information within the meaning of article 3(1)(c). 
As I have found that the identity of the purchasers is environmental information under article 3(1)(c), it is not necessary for me to go on to provide an analysis on whether the identity of the purchasers is environmental information under article 3(1)(a) in this particular case.
Whether it would be appropriate for me to direct release of the identity of purchasers
In keeping my general practice in cases such as this, I have limited my review to the issue of whether the identity of the purchasers is environmental information. I do not see it as my role to make a first instance decision on the release of environmental information. I also note that submissions in this case considered to some extent whether some of the exceptions to access to environmental information applied to the identity of the purchasers. In such circumstances, any third parties e.g. the purchasers who might potentially be adversely affected by the disclosure of environmental information would have to be consulted before any environmental information could be released. I consider that Coillte is best place to carry out any necessary third party consultation and to determine in the first place whether the AIE Regulations require the release of the environmental information held within the scope of this appeal. 


Decision


In accordance with Article 12(5) of the AIE Regulations, I have reviewed the decision of Coillte in this case. I find that Coillte's decision that the identity of the purchasers in the six sales of land (excision list reference numbers: 2014-0002; 2014-0054; 2014-0046; 2016-0003; and 2016-0085 and 2016-0083) is not environmental information was not justified. Accordingly, I annul Coillte's decision.
In light of my decision that the identity of the purchasers of the six sales of land sold by Coillte is environmental information, I expect Coillte to process Part 1 of the appellant’s AIE request in accordance with the AIE Regulations in so far as the information requested is for the identity of the purchasers of the sales of land. This is without prejudice to the consideration by Coillte as to whether any of the exceptions to disclosing environmental information set down in the AIE Regulations apply to the identity of the purchasers. I also expect that the [Coillte] would make its fresh decision at the earliest possible date and, in any case, within the statutory period.


Appeal to the High Court


A party to the appeal or any other person affected by this decision may appeal to the High Court on a point of law from the decision. Such an appeal must be initiated not later than two months after notice of the decision was given to the person bringing the appeal.



Peter Tyndall
Commissioner for Environmental Information