Forestry licence delays due to ‘necessary changes’ in assessment – Doyle

A statement has been made on the temporary delays in the issuing of forestry licences by Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Andrew Doyle.

The Department of Agriculture has overall responsibility for approving applications for tree-felling, afforestation and the construction of forest roads.

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, according to the department.

Commenting on this, Minister Doyle said: “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.

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 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 timelines for delivery of these,” the minister added.

In approving licences, the department must ensure that all projects are compatible with environmental sustainability and in compliance with EU and Irish law, the authority outlined.

It was noted that every application has to be scrutinised on 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 have meant changes to this process, specifically in relation to the Appropriate Assessment procedure.

“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, according to the department.

Notwithstanding the current delays, the Minister noted that the afforestation sector has approximately 3,200 more hectares of approved land this year which is available to plant.

He added that 2019 has actually been a record year for issuing of felling licences with 3,866 issued year to date which is 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,” Minister Doyle said.

We have a responsibility to ensure that all forestry applications are scrutinised and held to the highest possible environmental standards.

Introducing this new system includes the recruitment of additional ecological expertise and changes in procedures for the department’s forestry inspectorate.

Concluding, Minister Doyle said 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.