Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Ceisteanna (169)

Declan Breathnach

Ceist:

169. Deputy Declan Breathnach asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the length of time to process forestry applications within the Forest Service; the longest, shortest and average processing times for the past five years in tabular form; his plans to speed up the process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37814/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

My Department is required to carefully vet all afforestation applications, with regard to their potential impact on the surrounding environment; on habitats; on archaeological monuments; on the social aspects of the proposal and to ensure that silviculturally, the proposal meets the required standards.  This detailed examination is carried out by district forestry inspectors, supported by experts in archaeology and ecology within my Department. 

Following the commencement of the Forestry Act in 2017, site notices must be erected at the entrance to the proposed site for afforestation and forest road works, to inform the public that an application has been submitted.  That site notice must remain in place for a period of five weeks.  Applications are open to public consultation, facilitated by the site notice and advertising on my Department’s website.  Interested parties may make a submission in writing on any application, within 30 days of it being advertised.  Certain public bodies may also be requested to provide an opinion on an application and up to eight weeks is provided for their response.  Therefore, since the commencement of the Act, a decision may not be issued within 30 days at a minimum.

In recent months, officials of my Department have engaged additional archaeological resources.  These inspectors have focused on afforestation applications and have worked to reduce the backlog in that area.  In addition to this, changes have been made to the online application system with regard to how applications near an archaeological monument are treated, to ensure that only applications in close proximity or surrounding such a feature are examined.  These changes have resulted in a reduction in the time taken to assess an application in respect of archaeology.

With regards to ecology, an additional inspector with ecological qualifications is now working on afforestation applications and further ecological resources will be obtained over the coming months. Officials of my Department have also been working to enhance the online application system, with regard to Appropriate Assessment procedures.  I am confident that these changes will enhance the afforestation application system.

Following receipt of an application, my Department conducts an initial check to ensure that all relevant details have been submitted as required.  The date an application is advertised on my Department’s website is the date that complete information has been received in relation to an application. The tables below indicate timeframes from the date advertised to the date of decision.  Accurate data is available and provided here since the start of the current Forestry Programme, when the Afforestation Grant and Premium Scheme commenced in January 2015.

The following table shows the shortest, longest and average time in days for a decision on an afforestation application. The Deputy should be aware that, in some cases, my Department requests further information from the applicant.  In the case below of the application that took 1,119 days for a decision, for example, the applicant was asked to provide further information, but despite numerous follow-up letters, did not respond for many months.

Year

Shortest

Longest

Average

2015

5

522

74

2016

3

680

86

2017

3/30*

1,119

91

2018

30

959

124

2019 to 31st August

30

826

139

* Note from the commencement of the Forestry Act, 2014, on 24 May, 2017, the shortest time before a decision is 30 days.  However, some applications would have been decided in a shorter timeframe from January to 23rd May that year.