Recital (18) of the amended EIA Directive states:
“With a view to strengthening public access to information and transparency, timely environmental information with regard to the implementation of this Directive should also be accessible in electronic format. Member States should therefore establish at least a central portal or points of access, at the appropriate administrative level, that allow the public to access that information easily and effectively.”
The FLV was introduced by DAFM in January 2021.
The Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (2020) amends the Forestry Act (2014) to provide for the following in respect of licence applications;
“the publication, on a website maintained by or on behalf of the Minister, of documents and information furnished to the Minister for the purposes of an application for a licence,”
The ‘About’ tab states:
The Forestry Licence Viewer (FLV) is an interactive mapping application which displays recent forestry licence information at a Parcel level and a Licence level.
The application presents details for Afforestation, Forest Roads, Private Tree Felling and Thinning, Coillte Clear Felling and Coillte Thinning licence types divided into different licence layers, which can be turned on or off using the Layers section of the website.
New applications for forestry licences received from 11th January, 2021 will have documentation displayed in the FLV.
Application documentation will be visible when the application is advertised and open for public consultation. Submissions will be available to view when they are received and processed. Decisions made on applications received from 11th January, 2021 may be viewed in the FLV as they become available, along with any assessments and supporting documentation used to arrive at the decision.
The Help tab merely gives details of Grant and Premium Categories and Biodiversity & Exclusion requirements of the Afforestation scheme.
There is no Help or explanation of the sites functions.
The Viewer does not explain the scope of what it shows and what it does not show. Importantly, there is no statement on the site to indicate that the Viewer is an incomplete record.
There is no linkage between the FLV and the Department’s Public Consultation web page. It would make sense for a link to be created on published application and decisions and the FLV.
There is no visual distinction on the map layers of the Status of a particular licence to indicate the following:
-Application open for consultation
-Application under assessment
-Licence approved, but open to appeal
-Licence approved, but under appeal to the FAC
-Licence remitted to DAFM by the FAC for re-assessment
-Licence approved and active – works yet to commence
-Licence approved and active – works ongoing
-Licence approved and active – works commenced
-Extension to a previously approved licence due to expire
On the tab for a particular licence the status of a licence is only given in terms of the following;
-Decision Pending Approved
-Under appeal to the FAC
The tab does not indicate whether the particular application is open for consultation or subject to appeal. Where licences are within these categories no deadline dates are indicated.
The Viewer does not show ALL active licences
Licences issued before the FLV was introduced which are still active (i.e. works have not been completed) are not shown.
Felling licences, in particular, can be awarded for a period of 10 years. All active licences should be included on the Viewer.
Extension periods to existing licences are not indicated on the viewer, even if the extension has been awarded recently.
The Viewer provides a number of base map options but short of this no other spatial data options are available in order to contextualise the licences – other layer options should include Designated Sites (European and National), Watercourses and waterbodies, Townland boundaries, National Monuments, national soils data.
There are multiple functionality issues with the Viewer Search function. This is extremely poor and should be considered defective.
A particular licence can be located if the user knows the exact reference number. However, if the user does not know the licence reference the search function only permits for a search using an Address
There are no other criteria by which a search can be made – for example by size of application, type of application, by date, by status, etc.
As regards the Address search function, this is extremely poor too. A search for a common Townland name will show a list of Townland names followed by ‘(locality)’ but no actual locality in terms of Electoral Division or County. The user would be required to go through the list until hitting on the right one. The list is limited to 6 options which is completely unsatisfactory as there are common Townland names of which there are cases well in excess of this number.
There is no facility which gives suggestions or options for similar names as is the case with comparative sites (Historic Environment Viewer, Land Direct, GeoHive).
It should be remembered that many Townland names in Ireland have alternative spellings. With the FLV unless the user types exactly the name that is in the system there is no match.
There is no guidance for the user in using the search function.
The viewer has a built in restriction whereby multiple layers cannot be viewed at a scale greater than 2km.
Why the Viewer would have such a restriction designed in to the product needs to be explained. Comparative GIS based websites (e.g. GeoHive) have no such restriction. This restriction should be considered in the context of EIA screening which uses figures of 3km and 5km in terms of cumulative impact assessment and the Habitats Directive where a 15km buffer is used in relation to Natura 2000 sites.
When open, the layers tab obscures the Zoom tab so it is not possible to adjust the Zoom without first closing the layers tab. This is a small matter but illustrates the poor design of the product.
The licence details pop-up has no facility for expanding. Where there are multiple documents available for a project it is not possible to see them all at the same time.
There is no facility to download individual or all of the records for a particular application in a single click; each individual file needs to be opened and then downloaded separately. This is very inefficient.
There is no tab for Recent Decisions – i.e. application that are open for appeal
The Recent Applications tab shows a list of the most recent projects added to the Viewer.
As of the 18th April the most recent applications listed are for the 9th April. DAFM has published applications on the 12th, 14th and 16th April which are not included on this list. These more recent applications do not appear on the Viewer. The delay between formal notice being made and the records being available on the Viewer can represent a significant proportion of the consultation period. This is unacceptable.
The ‘About’ tab says that ‘New applications for forestry licences received from 11th January, 2021 will have documentation displayed in the FLV’. However, not all applications which are published for consultation after this date have documents appended. If the application was received prior to 11th January 2021 then documents will not be published despite the project being open for public consultation.
There is a two-tier system in operation whereby if the application which is open for public consultation was received prior to 11th January 2021 direct access to documents is not available. If the application was received after this date then all of the documentation will be made available through the Viewer.
Where documents are provided a full Site Details Report is not provided with applications; this is only provided when a decision has been made. An iNet preapproval submission document is provided but this does not contain all the details that would appear in Site Details Report.
The Address search option is seriously deficient. It appears to select six matches to any characters typed in to the input box irrespective of the number of addresses which may be a match. Where a name with multiple matches is detected, the six matches will indicate the name with ‘locality’ in brackets without any further indication of the general locality – for example County. The user then needs to step through them one by one in the hope of finding the address that they are looking for.
There have been issues with layers not working properly. Recently the Forest Roads layer was showing only a fraction of projects. A search for a known project reference would show the application but it was hidden on the basic layer.
As a product the FLV is significantly inferior to other Government map-based products in terms of its scope and functionality – EPA, OPW Flood Maps, GeoHive, etc.
The FLV is a means of providing information to the public on forest licences. In the context of the EIA Directive and the Aarhus Convention it should be pointed out that the FS is operating different mechanisms in terms of the provision of information in this regard. Where applications have been made after 11th January 2021 all records are made available without charge through the FLV. For applications made prior to this the FS will charge the public (SI 417/2020) for the provision of records or alternatively will provide the records in response to a request under the AIE Regulations (usually without charge).
However, given the importance of timeframes, particular in respect of decisions which are subject to appeal, the AIE route is unsatisfactory as the Department invariably delays the provision of records until the appeal deadline is very close or has passed even where the AIE Request has specified a timeframe for the provision of the records within the appeal window.
There are thousands of applications still in the system where the public will not have guaranteed access to records within relevant timeframes (including documents which should already be legally made available (e.g. AA documents under Regulation 42 (18) of the Birds and Natural Habitats Directive)) without having to pay.
• The FLV should clearly detail the scope of the Viewer
• All active licences should be included on the Viewer
• Details of applications and decisions should be included on the Viewer on the same
date that they are published on the consultation pages of DAFM’s website
• There should be linkage between the publication information and the FLV
• All applications and decisions that are subject to public consultation / appeal should have all documentation provided.
• The symbology of map layers should include status – pending, approved, open for consultation, open to appeal, extension, etc
• Addition spatial data layers should be included – Designated Sites (European & National), mapped European Annex I habitat, Water Courses and Waterbodies, Soil Types, Townland boundaries, Monuments, etc.
• The search facility should be extended to cover project status
• Downloading options for project documents needs to be improved
• The restriction on multiple layers at greater than 2km resolution should be removed
• Additional tabs should be provided for Recent Decisions, Licences under appeal and
Extensions to previously issued licences.
• DAFM should provide an updated spreadsheet of the consolidated list of applications and decisions for each year.
• SI417/2020 should be revoked
AIE Request has been submitted to DAFM for details of the technical specification provided to the developers of this product and other associated information.