Save Leitrim protesters are pictured picketing outside Monday's Council meeting in Carrick-on-Shannon. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Leitrim County Council’s Planning Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) is going to look at the County’s Development Plan to see where changes can be made to address growing concerns about forestry.
At Monday’s Council meeting, councillors unanimously backed a call for amendments to be made to the County Development Plan (CDP) in light of the high level of forestry in the county.
A group of protesters from the Save Leitrim campaign voiced their concerns about 'blanket afforestation” of the county with a picket outside the Council offices in Carrick-on-Shannon last Monday.
Inside the Council chamber the mood was no less somber, with councillors highlighting concerns over the level of planting, of Sitka Spruce in particular, now occurring and the impact this is having on local communities.
Three separate motions were proposed in a bid to regulate forestry in the county. Bringing forward the first motion, Cllr Sinead Guckian said there are “growing concerns for our communities and sustainable development because of afforestation. Concerns include the over-concentration of forestry planting in the county and the monoculture of Sitka Spruce plantations.
“Over two years ago, as a Council, we asked the Minister to change the licensing laws for forestry and revert them back to responsibility of the Councils. This call seems to be falling on deaf ears,” she said.
Cllr Guckian argued the Council is “best placed to make these decisions on forestry” but notes, at present, the Council can only make observations to the Department of Agriculture on forestry licence applications.
She said she had little confidence “the appropriate regard will be given to these observations on forestry” when it is government policy to promote further planting.
“We need to investigate the possibility of changing our County Development Plan,” she said.
Cllr Justin Warnock also put forward a proposal to amend the CDP noting “it does not protect our farmers, our rural communities or the environment of Co Leitrim from the subsidised violation and exploitation of our farmland by speculators, hedge funds and vulture funds.”
He thanked groups like Save Leitrim who are spearheading the campaign against blanket afforestation and said that it was clear something needed to be put in place to stop this occurring in Leitrim.
Cllr Gerry Dolan backed both Cllr Guckian and Cllr Warnock's proposals but also called on the Council to make a submission to the Minister for Forestry to ensure that forestry grants and premiums are only paid to people who plant their own land. He also wanted a guarantee that payments will cease on any forestry sold off before the 15 year grant period ends. He also asked that the County Development Plan be changed to only allow plantations of native trees such as Ash, Oak or Beech.
Cllr Mary Bohan backed Cllr Guckian's motion and said Leitrim County Council should renew a call for all forestry to be subject to planning to allow local authorities and individuals have a say in forestry planned for their community. She noted a motion she had put forward on this had been agreed but has been ignored by the Minister.
Director of Services, Joseph Gilhooly, pointed out changing the CDP is not a simple process. He stressed any changes must not remove the statutory entitlements of landowners and said care is needed to ensure the CDP remains consistent with national policy - something which could be problematic considering the national policy position is one of broad support for afforestation.
He agreed that the matter should be referred to the Planning SPC for consideration.
The members of the Planning SPC will now look at the County Development Plan in detail and see, where possible, changes can be put in place to make the document “more relevant to Leitrim” with regard to forestry.
The Planning SPC will come back with recommendations which will then go before the full council.