A NEW 'fast track' for low sensitivity woodland-creation projects has been introduced in England. 

The Woodland Creation Fast Track will process England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) applications with at least 90 per cent of land located on low-sensitivity land within 12 weeks (60 working days) – as long as the application is complete, UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) compliant, and provides the correct information from the outset. 

However, Forestry Commission (FC) officials stress that some applications could take longer to process if issues are flagged during the timeframe. 

Sir William Worsley, chair of the FC, said: "I'm delighted that the Forestry Commission is introducing the new Woodland Creation Fast Track. 

"Our customers have told us they need faster decisions on their applications, and this is one way that we are working hard to make that happen.

Forestry Journal: Sir William WorsleySir William Worsley

"Prioritising low sensitivity land will not only help land managers who will get their application approved faster, but it will also improve the landscape itself which will benefit from well-designed woodland projects being planted in these low-sensitivity areas sooner."

Paperwork delays have long been blamed for England's planting struggles. However, the country's woodland-creation rates have increased in recent years. 

The WCFT 12-week window will start once the FC has undertaken checks on the application to ensure it is fully completed with all the required information. If at any point an issue is flagged within the 12-week window, the clock will be stopped while the issue is addressed. 

In such cases, the application may not necessarily be completed within the 12-week window, the FC says.

Richard Stanford, chief executive of the FC, said: "In low-sensitivity areas, we plan to process applications more quickly. This will enable more woodlands to be established more swiftly to realise the multiple benefits they provide. 

"We aim to process a completed EWCO application, compliant with UKFS, within a 12-week period where the land lies within low sensitivity areas. 

"With regards to the applications for woodland creation in areas with higher sensitivity, the appropriate time will be taken to assess the multiple factors which need to be considered. This is an important initiative focusing resources to achieve the step change needed to create more woodlands in England."