Thursday, 15 July 2021

Questions (13)

Barry Cowen

Question:

13. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress of Project Woodland. [38547/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Project Woodland was launched in February this year with the objective of reviewing and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the forestry licensing system, as well as the creation of a shared national vision for forestry and the development of a new Forest Strategy. It involves four Working Groups (WG) covering various aspects of forestry delivery and reports to a Project Board.

I am pleased to say that substantial work has been undertaken by all Working Groups, with regular meetings held. The Project Board overseeing the project is actively engaged having had eight meetings to date. They intend to produce interim reports to update all interested stakeholders on the progress on implementation of the project, the first of which will be published in the next fortnight.

As I mentioned, there are four WGs examining the suite of recommendations made in the MacKinnon report. Among their key recommendations to the Project Board to date are:

- examining the backlog and producing specific recommendations for improving output, including a definition of the backlog, which have been presented to the Project Board for consideration.

- licensing process improvement. A business analyst has commenced work on an end-to-end process review. In addition, proposals for a pre-application process and a planning grant have been submitted to the Project Board for their consideration.

- a regulatory review of the licensing system be carried out. I have agreed with this proposal and have asked the Project Board on how best we will do this. It will be undertaken by independent expert. The review will include an examination of experiences in other Member States in licensing forestry activities and how they comply with EU legislation and from this what lessons we can bring to our licensing systems.

- putting forward proposals for a review of the organisational structure of forestry within my Department, and reviewing the roles Coillte, Coford and Teagasc in terms of supporting the Department on delivering forestry outcomes.

- developing a template for a new Customer Charter for forestry, which will be finalised in tandem with the work on the licensing process.

- Training of all actors within the sector and ways in which to positively communicate with customers and all stakeholders will be looked at in detail by two sub-working groups.

- developing a shared vision for forestry in Ireland and aims to deliver a new Forest Strategy in middle of 2022. On this, a preliminary analysis has been completed which includes a detailed SWOT analysis, stakeholder mapping development of proposed scenarios. This work and other work to take place will inform the next steps which will include a wider public and stakeholder engagement process and I expect this to take place later this year.

In conclusion, I would like to recognise the momentum and progress made under Project Woodland and I applaud the commitment shown by all involved, in particular the representatives from the Forestry Policy Group who make up the membership of the Working Groups. Along with Minister of State Pippa Hackett who has overall responsibility for the sector, I am committed to the success of this Project and by working together I believe we can deliver on its ambitions for the benefit of the forestry sector and society at large.

In parallel with Project Woodland, the Department continues to pursue continual improvement on all its work on forestry particularly licensing. I am pleased to say that is yielding dividends and that licensing is 30% ahead of the same point last year. There is still considerably more work to do but we are fully committed to maintaining this momentum.

Questions Nos. 14 to 16, inclusive, answered orally.