NIS option ‘not viable’ for many forestry licence applicants – Sherlock

Cork TD and Labour Party spokesperson on agriculture, Seán Sherlock, has said that there are still “huge delays” in tree-felling licences with the Natura Impact Statement (NIS) option “not viable” for many applications.

Deputy Sherlock posed a parliamentary question to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, asking how many tree-felling licences are awaiting assessment.

The Cork deputy also asked for the number of staff working on tree-felling applications and the number of NISs requested.

Deputy Seán Sherlock

“It is just not feasible for applicants to retro-apply for a NIS which is above their costs and which may or may not speed up their application. Why is an NIS not factored into the original application?” deputy Sherlock told AgriLand.

3,600 licence applications

In response to the parliamentary question, the minister said: “I fully recognise the impact the current forestry licencing delays are having on the sector at the moment.

My department receives applications and issues new licences every week and currently there are 3,000 felling licences with the department for processing.

“Of this total, approximately 1,000 are Coillte felling licences. Some 1,000 are private licences which require ecology input on which a backlog has developed. The remaining private licences are at various stages of processing and do not generally experience the same delays as those that require ecology input.”

The minister confirmed that there are currently 38 forestry inspectors, 16 ecologists and 11 administrative staff involved.

“By way of context, in terms of output, the total volume of felling licences issued for 2020 was just over five million cubic metres, of which just under two million cubic metres issued since the introduction of the new forestry legislation in mid-October,” the minister added.

“In terms of NIS, my department has advised that in cases where a file requires Appropriate Assessment (AA), if an applicant supplies an NIS, this will reduce the waiting time for a licence decision,” the minister concluded.