Minister of State with responsibility for forestry Andrew Doyle has said that he is “fully aware of the delays in the issuing of licences for afforestation and felling”.
The Minister issued a statement on the delays in getting licences on Friday.
The Department of Agriculture, as Ireland’s national forest authority, has overall responsibility for approving applications for tree-felling, afforestation and the construction of forest roads.
The Department has said there have been delays in the issuing of licences due to necessary changes in the procedures surrounding appropriate assessment, a requirement as part of the approvals process.
The IFA said on Wednesday that some farmers are waiting over 12 months for licences.
“I am fully aware of the delays in the issuing of licences for afforestation and felling. While licences continue to issue every week, this has not been at the rate that we would like to see,” Minister Doyle said.
“This has caused some disappointment to forest owners, many of whom I have met recently. I want to take this opportunity to provide an update on the ongoing work to reform the processes to ensure that this temporary disruption is resolved as quickly as possible.
“I also want to reassure landowners that every effort is being made to improve on the delivery of licences to bring them back into line with the expected time lines for delivery of these,” he said.
In approving licences, the Department must ensure that all projects are compatible with environmental sustainability and in compliance with EU and Irish law.
It said that each application must undergo detailed scrutiny regarding its environmental suitability, including site inspections, statutory referrals, public consultation and the application of procedures around appropriate assessment and environmental impact assessment.
Recent European Court of Justice and Irish law rulings relating to the protection of natura sites, ie SACs and SPAs, have meant changes to this process, specifically in relation to the appropriate assessment procedure, it said.
More transparent and robust procedures are being introduced
The Department also said that “more transparent and robust procedures are being introduced”, which will demonstrate the process by which the Department arrives at a final decision regarding whether or not a project will adversely affect the integrity of a natura site, either individually or in combination with other plans and projects.
Minister Doyle said that notwithstanding recent delays, 2019 has actually been a record year for issuing of felling licences, with 3,866 issued year to date - an increase of 23% on the same period last year.
“While the introduction of these new procedures involves some regrettable disruption in the short term, we have no option but to reformat the licensing process. We have a responsibility to ensure that all forestry applications are scrutinised and held to the highest possible environmental standards.
“I believe that in the long run, these changes will enhance forestry’s reputation for environmental sustainability and will make for a more responsive licensing system.
"The Government has tasked the forestry sector with delivering on some ambitious targets for forestry under the Climate Action Plan to 2030 and reforming the approvals process now will ensure that the process is fit for purpose in delivering these targets.”
The Minister added that he has also commissioned a consultant to review the Department’s processes and procedures on forestry applications and approvals similar to an exercise undertaken in Scotland. This report will be finalised by the end of November.
It is expected that this comprehensive review, which has taken account of the views of a wide range of stakeholders, will provide further opportunities to make the licensing processes more effective and efficient going forward.
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