Thursday, 1 April 2021
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
382. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the wait time for felling licence applications; the number of applications outstanding; his plans to address the backlog; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17748/21]
392. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of timber felling licences granted in the first three months of 2020 and 2021, respectively; the volume of timber involved, in cubic metres, in each case; the number of applications still on hand; the length each application is on hand by the number of months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17889/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 382 and 392 together.
I am aware of the issues facing the forestry sector and the timber industry and considerable efforts have been made to address them. Additional resources have been recruited and training, information and guidance has been provided to both Departmental staff and registered foresters and, as a result, we have seen gains in terms of output.
The introduction of Project Woodland, recently launched by Minister-of-State Pippa Hackett, with responsibility for forestry, is our strategy for resolving the licensing issues. This new structure aims to ensure that the current backlog is addressed. The Project involves a review and refresh of our processes and procedures and includes outside stakeholder participation to bring an independent perspective. It is a task-driven process, with clear deliverable and milestones.
Working Group 1 under Project Woodland is specifically tasked with reducing the backlog and then plotting a trajectory to achieve this target. The recommendation in Ms Jo O'Hara's Implementation Report is that this Group publish a process to achieve these targets, including prioritisation and scheduling and that a monthly dashboard show the outcome of this process against the target trajectory. Meanwhile, Working Group 4 will address Effective Processes, which will include clearer explanations for the statutory basis for forestry regulation and the introduction of more efficient and effective processes. I expect there will be cross-cutting issues between these two groups.
A target to issue 4,500 licences in 2021 has been set which is a 74% increase on 2020.
As regards current output, since the beginning of the year, my Department has issued 518 tree felling licences, for 1.624 million cubic metres of timber. This is an increase of almost 20% in the number of felling licences issued in Q1 2020. There are currently 4,576 tree felling licence applications awaiting decision, which includes a batch application by Coillte of 1,864 licences advertised on 19th March. The average time to decision for tree felling licence applications received is 13 months.
It is worth noting that there are always licences in the system at various stages of processing. These are the initial stages of an application being made, while the registered forester finalises application documents to referral to prescribed bodies. referral to the inspector and/or ecologist/archaeologist, to making final decision. Applications may also be returned to the applicant (and their registered forester, where relevant) for further information.
I remain hopeful and confident that the changes presented under the Project Woodland structure to processes within my Department will bear fruit, particularly to give confidence to all applicants that they can receive a timely decision on their forestry licence application.