News, stories and reports from Forestry Commission Scotland and the National Forest Estate

Review of forestry planting approval procedures

Reducing the complexity, duration and cost of woodland creation applications is our aim following a review of the process by Jim Mackinnon CBE.  This will help boost our aim to increase woodland creation and meet the new goals laid out in the climate change plan.

new planting

A high level delivery plan was published in January 2017 which contains 21 recommendations. These have been grouped into work streams, each of which is intended to produce specific outputs to deliver benefits for the woodland creation process.  The work stream approach has been well-received, and provides a good mechanism for managing and communicating the actions being taken. In addition to the work streams, culture change is seen as an additional key priority.

claires picedited

A key part of the project is the Delivery Reference Group, set up to provide external input. It has met twice. The first meeting assessed and approved the work stream approach; raised the importance of culture change as an issue, and added ‘transparency’ to the three key principles of ‘trust, empowerment and proportionality’ which were included in the report. Of particular note is that whilst supporting the intended outcome of work stream three (approval processes), all members raised concerns about the accredited agent model, and felt that alternatives should be explored on a longer timeframe than proposed in the report.

At the second meeting, progress with initial deliverables were discussed; a more detailed action plan was shared, discussed and supported, and the issue of culture change (for FCS, the sector and stakeholders) was explored in more depth, to develop a shared understanding of positive and negative behaviours and cultures, which can be used to judge progress.

There has been clear progress on four of the six work streams – particularly in relation to EIA thresholds; agreements with statutory bodies; processing agreements and management information

Some key achievements to date include:

  • refining the delivery plan, and identifying critical priorities for action (particularly regarding staffing and IT) (all);
  • working with stakeholders to start developing better guidance and training for applicants on how to achieve positive pre-application discussions with stakeholders (w/s 1);
  • increasing the thresholds for EIA screening (implementation and training to follow) (w/s 2);
  • improving management information on approval times and pre-application schemes (w/s 4);
  • initial drafting of new processing agreement (w/s 1 and 2);
  • monthly publishing of data on submitted and approved schemes, and average approval times (w/s 4);
  • review of website and development of new hard-copy leaflets (w/s 5); and
  • a brief review of progress for the SRO is being commissioned from Jim Mackinnon. (all)

The delivery group has also asked that work stream three is progressed over a longer timeframe, and considers more options for earned recognition beyond the accredited agent approach suggested in the report. This is awaiting the identification of resource and a suitable lead.

We have also been carrying out other work in parallel which is directly relevant including:

  • organisational change – preparation for the anticipated transition from the Forestry Commission into a new Division of the Scottish Government.
  • new legislation – input into the process for developing new Scottish legislation which will underpin a substantial proportion of Conservancy work
  • discussions with large investors – work to explore a new approach involving public, private and community investment, focused on a specific geographic region
  • IT and systems  – crucial for delivering many the desired improvements.