Thursday, 5 March 2020
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Felling Licences Applications
I propose to take Questions Nos. 922 and 923 together.
I am aware that there are currently delays to issuing forestry licences and acknowledge that this is causing difficulties for some in the sector. These are as a result of the changes made to internal Appropriate Assessment Procedures (AAP) which were introduced in response to important Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decisions and their subsequent interpretation by the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC) and others. These changes are unavoidable and are largely beyond the control of my Department. As you know, my Department is the forestry licence consent authority and, since 2017, all licence applications are subject to a statutory public notification system.
Mindful that these new procedures would lead to requests for more Natura Impact Statements (NIS), with additional costs involved for applicants, my Department has opted, in most cases, to produce the Appropriate Assessment Reports and Appropriate Assessment Determination itself, instead of requesting applicants to provide a NIS. This should be of significant assistance to forestry companies.
A tree felling licence application for the person named is currently being assessed under the new procedures. The proposed felling site has 13 Natura sites within the likely zone of impact. It has not yet been decided if all these sites may be screened in or out for Appropriate Assessment. If one or more are screened in, then the applicant may have to provide an NIS or the Department may be in a position to complete an Appropriate Assessment Report and Determination.
It is open to the applicant to provide an NIS rather than awaiting the outcome of the Department's assessment and they may decide to consult with an industry professional on how best they should proceed with their application. The Department has published a template NIS and guidance note for forestry professionals and training is being arranged.
Applications for forestry operations must be carefully assessed by officials of my Department to ensure any possible impacts the operations may have on the surrounding countryside and environment are fully considered. For this reason, my Department has recently amended its Appropriate Assessment procedures to take account of important Court of Justice of the European Union decisions, in respect of the Habitats Directive. This has caused a backlog of applications, while the new procedures were put in place.
The tree felling application for the person named was reviewed by a forestry inspector and a Natura Impact Statement (NIS) was requested on 12 September 2019. If the applicant wishes to progress with their application, they must supply the requested NIS before any further assessment of their application can take place.