Thursday, 15 July 2021
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
The delays in issuing forestry licences is a pressing one which is impacting the sector significantly. Along with Minister of State Pippa Hackett who has responsibility for the sector, we have devoted considerable efforts towards resolving it. The reasons for the current backlog are well known. The Department was obliged to make significant changes to the forestry licensing system due to European Court of Justice and Irish law rulings relating to the protection of European sites. This led directly to most forestry projects being screened in for Appropriate Assessment.
This has been very challenging to implement and resulted in a requirement for much greater ecological input into licensing and to a delay in issuing licences, while new procedures were introduced and additional IT, ecology and inspectorate resources were put in place. Significant resources and investment have been devoted to implementing these new procedures and I have introduced a framework under Project Woodland towards resolving the entire licensing issue.
There are 4,487 felling licences on hand, of which 1,764 are new Coillte applications received in March. I completely accept that this we need to address the number on hand, and the number of licences issued recently show that we are making some progress in this regard. Indeed, the number of private tree felling licences issued in June is the highest monthly figure for over five years. The Department has now issued 1,835 tree felling licences this year, 51% of which are to private individuals.
This reflects recent improvements made to the system for the systems for the preparation of Appropriate Assessment Screening Determinations, Appropriate Assessment Reports and Appropriate Assessment Determinations. Currently, these improvements are only applied to private tree felling licence applications and our ecologists are working mostly on these felling applications in advance of the system being developed further to assist with forest road works and afforestation licence applications.
Initiatives under Project Woodland will bring further improvements in licensing efficiency and output. There are recommendations with the Project Board, which oversees the Working Groups, for such initiatives, including proposals for a pre-application process and an environmental grant. A business system analyst is conducing a review of the licensing process. Furthermore, the Project Board Group has agreed that a regulatory review of the licensing system be carried out. and that an independent expert do this work.
We are making progress and I am hopeful that further gains in efficiency will be possible due to these proposals.
A breakdown by country of the felling licences on hand is provided below.
|Counties||Felling Licences on hand|