Hackett says forestry applications to be decided like planning

The Senator in charge of forestry has signalled a new approach to the contentious sector by aligning licencing and appeals processes with planning and giving stronger focus to native plantations.

Previously some members of communities – particularly in Co Leitrim and West Cavan – had been vocal about the proliferation of forestry dominated by sitka spurce, and how powerless they felt in fighting back.

Minister of State with responsibility for Forestry at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Senator Pippa Hackett, indicated today that the government had decided to proceed speedily with the implementation of a number of forestry related commitments in the 'Programme for Government'.

The most eye-catching proposal is the Agriculture Appeals Act, 2001 to align the forestry licencing and appeals processes with the planning processes. The Minister confirmed that a draft Bill to align the forestry licencing and appeals system with other similar planning processes is to be published by the end of this week on her Department’s website for the public to view and comment on the proposals. After the consultation, the draft Bill will be presented to the Oireachtas for consideration as soon as possible after the summer recess.

Other proposals include the development of a new scheme for the creation of native woodlands on state and other public lands; the development of a new a portal to enhance public participation in forestry decision-making in Ireland; and the appointment of an independent chair, to be identified, to lead the implementation of the MacKinnon report.

“As a nation we need to plant more of the right trees in the right places,” Minister Hackett said. “The Programme for Government commits to an ambitious afforestation plan, and a robust system is a critical part of that objective. This early action by Government is designed to build a sustainable licencing and public participation model, and to engage public bodies in the drive to plant more native woodlands.

“These actions are being further enhanced by the recruitment of a significant number of ecologists by my Department. These measures are a clear demonstration of the importance that the Government attaches to a forestry sector that can deliver the best possible economic, social, environmental and employment benefits.”