I acknowledge applications to my Department for forestry licences are facing unacceptable delays at present. I am glad to have the opportunity today to give some background to these delays and to provide details on what is being done to alleviate the issue. These delays are as a result of changes made to internal appropriate assessment procedures, AAPs, which are beyond my Department’s control. The Department is obliged to implement changes to the AAPs that were required following important Court of Justice of the European Union decisions and their subsequent interpretation in the High Court and the forestry appeals committee.
Currently, we are amending the AAPs in order to introduce a robust and workable system that will address the issues now faced and which will deal with the backlog. Introducing this system involves the recruitment of additional ecological expertise and changes in procedures for the forestry inspectorate. Notwithstanding these current difficulties, we have issued 3,929 felling licences this year, compared with 3,136 issued in 2018, with 71% of licences being approved within four months.
Small access roads do not require planning permission unless an entrance is created to and from public roads. We have been working with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to remove the requirement that forest entrances on public roads, apart from national primary routes and motorways, require planning permission but certain legal issues have arisen that are now being considered by both Departments. With respect to environmental assessments, any forest road development that is shorter than 2,000 metres does not require an environmental impact statement to be submitted with the licence application.