The Principal Planning Officer presented the above report, details of which had been previously circulated to Members. The purpose of this report is to advise Members that Council has been consulted on the scoping of a Forestry Plan for West Tyrone and, given that forestry and woodlands are a potentially important land use in the District, it is proposed that the Planning Committee considers and sends the attached response (Appendix 29) to DAERA Forest Service.
Councillor Dobbins stated that any proposed forestry plans should be welcomed. She stated that although the recommendations were ‘soft’ they were to be welcomed in an environmental capacity.
Councillor Kelly welcomed the letter and stated that some forests planted in his area did not seem to be connected to the wider landscape. He further stated that in his opinion, that approach would be detrimental to the aesthetics of the landscape and although addressed within the response, enquired if officers had considered this in the LDP. He stated that it was important when laying out their forestry that it was connected and followed the contours of the landscape rather than buying a farm and planting it with spruce trees. He suggested that native species of trees should also be considered rather than just pure spruce plantations which were not native trees to the area.
In response, the Principal Planning Officer concurred with the remarks made by Councillor Kelly. He stated that the wording of the considerations showed that they were being much more sensitive to all of those issues. He stated that the elements set out in the consultation did consider the visual impact to the landscape, softer borders with much more of a mixed forestry and more of a mixed nature of deciduous species particularly on the boundaries to give softer lines. He stated that the consultation was very positive and that officers emphasised those points in the response but it was important that we were not just bounding our District with forests which would be detrimental to the LDP objectives to sustain vibrant, rural communities.
Councillor McGuire recalled that in previous years, once forests had been cut down a lot of acreage in those areas was used as forms of renewable energy. He stated that it was important to have clarity on the matter and Members were consulted regarding future plans for those harvested areas.
In response, the Principal Planning Officer stated that the consultation had mentioned regenerating the forests in a different way, however there had been no mention of any alternative land uses or renewable energy applications. He stated that if Members were content that Council would like to be consulted on the matter and could be added to the response as a consideration.
Councillor Kelly enquired if mapping of the forestry land throughout the District be designated within the LDP.
In response, the Principal Planning Officer stated that forestry, like agriculture, would not be designated within the LDP, however it would be referenced in the background papers. He added that one of the aspirations in the plan was to increase biodiversity and tree cover, however it would not be illustrated within the document.
Councillor Kelly asked how they were going to show that further forestry had been developed and protected within the plan timeline throughout the district.
In response, the Principal Planning Officer stated that annual monitoring and a five year review would be carried out, however this was largely outside of the planning remit as planning applications were not required to plant trees or fell trees. He stated that the Forestry Service had engaged more with the public, Councils and stakeholders.
The Head of Planning advised that in France certain agricultural areas were protected and preserved for the economy of a particular region. She advised that the matter had not been raised within the LDP.
The Chair asked if it was possible that a report be brought to a future Committee meeting to consider different options that may be available early on in the planning stages to afford that same level of protection.
In response, the Head of Planning stated that reference to this would have needed to be made at an earlier stage as matters could not be unexpectedly designated at a later state in the LDP process.
The Principal Planning Officer stated that the matter was not currently an issue, adding that land use and cover would be referenced within the LDP. He advised that forestry throughout the district would be monitored on an annual basis with a much greater awareness would be there to monitor the progress and the protection of biodiversity over the next five years.
Councillor Harkin stated issues such as forestry would be discussed and developed in the future to meet the needs in terms of climate change and that flexibility was important to change or include such issues within local development plans.
Councillor Kelly stated that there were issues in a broader context regarding forestry as forestry was protected in the district due to landowners receiving a subsidy. He stated that, if the payment of the subsidy ceased, a situation could arise where an area could be cleared resulting with swathes of forestry land disappearing with no repercussions. He stated that it was important for work to continue regarding forestry, particularly when the county was reported as the least forested part of Europe.
Recommended Members agree to Planning Officers responding to DAERA Forest Service with the letter as set out in Appendix 29 with the addition of highlighting issues regarding forestry.