Tuesday, 17 December 2019
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
492. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of felling and thinning licences appealed in each month since September 2018; the number of appealed applications approved and refused, respectively, in each month; the number of staff dealing with appeals; the impact on the forestry sector of same; his plans to deal with the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52668/19]
493. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of felling and thinning licences on appeal; the length of time it takes to process an appeal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52669/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 492 and 493 together.
The Forestry Act 2014, which was commenced in May 2017, amended the Agriculture Appeals Act, 2001, to allow appeals against decisions of my Department concerning licence applications for forestry felling, planting, forest roads and aerial fertilisation to be dealt with by a Forestry Appeals Committee. I subsequently established the Forestry Appeals Committee in February 2018. The Committee operates independently of my Department, although the remit of the Agriculture Appeals Office was extended in to provide all administrative and secretariat support for the Forestry Appeals Committee.
Three additional administrative staff were recently assigned to the Agriculture Appeals Office to assist with the increased workload. Resource requirements are monitored on an on-going basis. The Committee membership includes eleven Appeals Officers from the Agriculture Appeals Office and an external Chairperson. The legislation provides that the Chairperson and any two ordinary members of the Committee may hear an appeal. The Committee commenced hearing appeals in March 2018.
The number of appeals to the Forestry Appeals Committee has risen from 35 in 2017 to just under 200 in 2018 and to 250 in the first 7 months of 2019. These appeals are almost exclusively from third parties. A decision on a license may be the subject of multiple appeals.
My Department deals with applications for felling licences independently of the appeals process for Forestry Appals Committee. Applications for licences are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Each application is considered regarding its effect on the surrounding countryside, environment and particularly for its likely impact on any sites designated for conservation proximate to the proposed forestry site, known as Appropriate Assessment Procedures (AAP). The majority of appeals have been in respect of the AAP.
My Department endeavours to issue decisions on forestry licences within four months of receipt of a completed application for a licence, but this may not be possible due to the particulars of the site or the number of licence applications received at any time. Recent changes to AAP designed to take account of recent case law have given rise to delays in processing licence applications, while the new procedures are being put in place.
These AA procedures have been amended to introduce a robust and workable system which will address the issues now faced. Introducing this system involved the recruitment of additional ecological expertise and changes in procedures for the forestry inspectorate. My Department has also concluded a recruitment competition for two new ecologists who are expected to start work within the Department shortly. Forestry district inspectors have undergone training and are continuing to receive support in delivering the new procedures. A categorisation of files affected by these requirements is underway in order to best assess further action needed and by whom. Officials of my Department have met bilaterally with forestry companies, to examine the applications on hand and to assess their backlogs with a view to moving applications forward.
The Deputy should be aware that notwithstanding the above, my Department has issued over 4,000 tree felling licences so far this year, which is an increase of 15% on the same period in 2018.
The number of tree felling licence appeals notified to my Department by the FAC for each month, since September 2018 is indicated in the following table.
|Date Appeal Notification from FAC||No. Felling Appeals Notified by FAC|
The FAC may cancel, vary or uphold a decision on a forestry licence application. The number of decisions on appeals made by the FAC and notified to my Department since September 2018 are given in the following table.
|Month of Decision by FAC||Decision Upheld||Decision Varied||Decision Cancelled|