Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Ceisteanna (125)

Paul Kehoe


125. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the specific measures being taken to expedite the issuing of felling and afforestation licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23813/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I am acutely aware that current delays in issuing licences has led to difficulties for stakeholders.  The Government is committed to reform of the planning and appeals processes as set out in the Programme for Government and we have presented draft legislation to this effect which I expect to be presenting to the House in due course.

My Department is intensively engaging with all relevant stakeholders on these issues. The current licensing difficulties are as a result of the changes made to internal Appropriate Assessment Procedures (AAP).  These were introduced in response to important Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decisions and their subsequent interpretation by the Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC) and others.  These findings meant that in order to grant licences which fully meet environmental requirements, fundamental changes to the licensing system were unavoidable.

My Department has a detailed project plan in place for dealing with the current backlog and new applications, which includes significant investment in extra resources required to deliver the plan. These resources are a combination of additional ecologists, forestry inspectors and administrative staff where required.

A Project Management Board, with a dedicated Project Manager, is overseeing and monitoring delivery.  There will be a continuous review of the process, in order to effect efficiencies. A communication plan to keep stakeholders fully and regularly informed of progress, with a dedicated central resource to deal with queries, is a key element of the project. This plan is already yielding progress with felling licences issued in August the highest in the previous 13 months in both volume and area.

In tandem with this plan a draft amendment to the Agriculture Appeals Act, 2001 is being introduced which aims to increase efficiencies in the appeals process. I very much welcome the almost 9,000 submissions on the Bill which we are now reviewing in advance of presenting the Bill to the House for consideration in the very near future.

I know  that the current situation is challenging, but it is a temporary disruption which, when resolved, will make for a better, more sustainable and fit-for-purpose forestry licensing system for many years to come.