Written answers

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Forestry Sector

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

29. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of his work in relation to afforestation licensing. [38546/22]

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has committed to issuing 5,250 forestry licences this year, which is an increase of 30% on the number issued last year. The Forestry Licensing Plan was published at the start of the year and sets out a range of forestry priorities set to run for the whole of 2022.

As regards progression towards our overall target at the end of quarter two up to 30th June, 2,449 licences have issued, just short of the projected average of 2,635 at 93%. It is, however, inevitable, in the context of the annual target figures, that there will be fluctuations in licence output and across categories from week to week.

Across the individual categories of private felling, Coillte felling and roads we are close to or above our projected target. I acknowledge that we have not reached expected levels in relation to afforestation, at 57%. However when compared to our output at the same time last year we are slightly ahead.

In order to achieve our targets, we have improved our systems, and given the number of files required to be referred to ecology, we have recruited significant numbers of additional ecologists. There are 35 full-time equivalent ecologists working on forestry applications with 21 dealing with afforestation. The full impact of these measures and of this recruitment will become evident across the second half of the year.

Training of these new staff and the requirement for a second 30 day public consultation period for those sites subject to Appropriate Assessment has delayed output to date, but I am hopeful that the second half of the year will see an increase in the number of afforestation files issued.

In addition, to ensure efficient use of resources and similar to other planning authorities, files with outstanding further information requests back with the applicants over a set length time will be removed from the licensing worklist. Reminders will always be sent to applicants to make them aware of the situation with their file.

In the interest of full transparency details of all licences issued by category are available on the weekly dashboard. This is published on my Department's website and is made available to all interested parties as well as being submitted to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine each week.

Along with Minister of State Pippa Hackett, who has overall responsbility for the sector, it is our firm commitment to meet the targets as set out in the Licensing Plan and to deliver for the forestry sector in Ireland.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

30. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details of his Department’s efforts to streamline the application processes for forestry licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37577/22]

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I established Project Woodland to improve the forestry licensing system and deal with the forestry licensing backlog, and to drive forward the planting of trees under a shared vision for forestry in Ireland.

As part of the work undertaken to deliver on the Project, a legal and regulatory review of forestry licensing was carried out by Philip Lee Solictors and, following extensive stakeholder engagement, their Report was published on 29th June, 2022.

Philip Lee reviewed and critically analysed the existing EU and domestic legal framework for the licensing of forestry activities, including relevant case law. In addition, the Report focuses on practical and implementable options for streamlining processes and procedures, having regard to arrangements in other European countries, and the constraints imposed under EU law as interpreted by the Courts.

The Department is now developing an action plan for the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Report, with the implemtation of certain recommendation already under way.

Work is also on-going with the implementation of the 57 recommendations arising from a business process review carried out under Project Woodland. An Agile Implementation Group is implementing system solutions, including new functionality, arising from that review, with 39% of all recommendations either complete or in progress.

This work builds on earlier improvements to our processes. These improvements have facilitated the preparation of Appropriate Assessment Reports by my Department, which removes this burden from applicants in most cases. Associated with this, and in order to assist foresters in submitting quality applications, we recently provided habitat map training and we are shortly due to roll out training specifically for ecologists. Furthermore, a pre-application discussion pilot has been completed and we now intend to deliver this at a national level. All of these measures are aimed at improving the quality of applications received, and at opitmising the time of those assessing applications.

Furthermore, in tandem with looking at processes, I have substantially increased the resources available to process forestry licences, with 35 ecologists now dealing with licence applications.

I believe these efforts have had a positive impact as we have issued 2,449 licences to end June which is 93% of our projected average at this point in the year. We will continue to focus on improvements to the system and to assist those who are engaging with it by means of improved communication and training.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.