The Department of Agriculture has made a change in the way forestry projects requiring appropriate assessments (AA) under the Habitats Directive are assessed.
The change is necessary “in order to give full effect to recent legislative changes”, according to a recent Department circular.
“The Department has initiated a revised public consultation to ensure that there is full public participation in decision-making around projects that may have an effect on European sites,” it states.
This involves a 30-day consultation period on receipt of the licence application, as is currently the case, but this is followed by a second 30-day consultation period after receipt of a Natura Impact Statement (NIS), or after an AA report is produced by the Department, along with relevant documentation.
Applicants with files already in the backlog for up to three years are now being further disadvantaged
“This means that for most licences – those screened in – there is now an additional 30-day delay for a mandatory public consultation period,” said Mark McAuley, Forest Industries Ireland (FII). “This has been forced by the Attorney General based on European case law and applies across all sectors, not just forestry.”
Paddy Bruton, Forestry Services, is highly critical of this change.
“Applicants with files already in the backlog for up to three years are now being further disadvantaged,” he said. “Under no circumstances can the contents of this circular be used as a reason for the Department not achieving the minimum of 100 licences per week already committed, which is still well short of what the sector requires.”
This proposal submitted to the Department well over a year ago was one of the recommendations of the MacKinnon report
Teige Ryan, None so Hardy Nurseries, added: “It currently takes the Department an average of just under a year to issue a licence, so despite the extra consultation, there is ample time for this within existing time frames.”
Given the complexity of the licensing system, Bruton said the introduction of a woodland environmental planning grant is essential.
“This proposal submitted to the Department well over a year ago was one of the recommendations of the MacKinnon report, to cover the cost of environmental reports necessary on all licence applications,” he said.
The number of forestry licences issued last week reduced to 22 from 115 the previous week as a result of the legislative change.