Supplies of timber to build new homes in danger of drying up

Industry figures say backlog of forestry licensing and appeals threatening jobs

The delays have forced State forestry company Coillte, which supplies about 75 per cent of the logs that sawmills need, to cancel auctions. Photograph: Getty Images

The delays have forced State forestry company Coillte, which supplies about 75 per cent of the logs that sawmills need, to cancel auctions. Photograph: Getty Images

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Housebuilding across Ireland could be undermined as backlogs in the State’s forestry licensing and appeals system risks plunging the industry into crisis, endangering timber supplies and up to 12,000 jobs.

All forestry activity, from planting to tree felling, must be licensed, but a change to the law in 2017 allowed anyone to appeal felling permits issued in the Republic.

Industry figures warn that supplies of timber, needed to build new homes to tackle the housing crisis, could dry up next year as the Department of Agriculture struggles to process licence applications and appeals.

And they say the impending shortage could also result in many of the 12,000 people employed in sawmilling, harvesting and transporting timber losing their jobs.

The delays have forced State forestry company Coillte, which supplies about 75 per cent of the logs that sawmills need, to cancel auctions.

“This has constrained the availability of materials that Coillte places on the market to supply our customers,” the company acknowledged.

Mike Glennon, joint managing director of sawmiller Glennon Brothers, said the group had only enough supplies to get to the third quarter of the year.

“In October, we will be in trouble,” he warned, adding that the business employed 250 staff and 120 contractors.

Uncertain

Daragh Little, managing director of forestry manager Veon, confirmed that his company, which employs 33 people, has already let go three staff while prospects for other posts were increasingly uncertain.

According to Mark McAuley, director of Forest Industries Ireland, part of employers’ group Ibec, the department has about 1,500 licence applications and 350 appeals to process.

Department officials are only processing enough licences to produce about a quarter of the timber needed here. About one-third of those are appealed, creating a further backlog.

Mr McCauley noted that some applications have been with the department for two years. “It can take a year to get through the forestry appeals committee alone,” he said.

“They have to put in place a system and resources that can deal with all of this. The industry has done everything it possibly can,” he added.

Mr McCauley said that the Republic faced the prospect of having to import timber next year, even though it actually had “swathes of trees that are waiting to be harvested”.

Export business

He noted that, along with its home market, the industry also faced the loss of export business – particularly to the UK, where demand for timber is strong. Irish suppliers compete there with European mills, which can easily step in to make up the shortfall and which do not have to deal with the same rules in their countries.

Mr Glennon said the delays have primarily hit softwood, used in housebuilding and to make pallets for transporting goods. The Republic’s need for this commodity is continuing to grow, he added.

The industry advised the Government against introducing legislation that allowed for open appeals in 2017, arguing that EU rules did not require this. Since then it has been in regular talks with the Department of Agriculture about the problem.

The department did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. However, it has been recruiting extra ecologists to process forestry licence applications, while it has also hired a private company to aid this work.