SES decision to withdraw guidance is good news for farmers, says UFU

Monday, 24 February, 2020

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) says Shared Environmental Services’ (SES) decision to withdraw their guidance for assessing the impact of ammonia from agricultural planning applications on designated sites, is a good result for Northern Ireland farmers and a win for the Union.

The UFU applied to take a judicial review on the matter of guidance issued by SES last year and received support from the wider industry. The new policy was imposed without consultation or proper consideration and thousands of jobs were put at risk by SES’ sudden decision to implement the guidance.

UFU president Ivor Ferguson said, “We are pleased that SES have come to their senses and have agreed to withdraw the guidance. Farmers were outraged when the planning rules for assessing ammonia from farm applications were changed, again, without warning or discussion with industry. Many of our members had already applied for planning or were preparing applications before the guidance was put in place. They had made financial commitments and, in some cases, spent thousands of pounds only to be left high and dry. The guidance imposed by SES was much stricter than the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) rules and the changes to the original policy made it virtually impossible for most farm businesses to meet the SES thresholds. The roll out of this would have resulted in the vast majority of farmers across Northern Ireland being unable to build and develop their business had they remained in place. The UFU had no option other than to launch a legal challenge but SES’ changed position and decision to withdraw the guidance, is a positive development and good news for our farmers.

“Ammonia still remains a huge challenge for the industry, one that we are constantly reminding members of but our farmers care about the environment and are doing their bit to reduce emissions. After all, this is where we make our living and we recognise that ammonia levels need to be tackled. The UFU will be working with industry, DAERA and NIEA, to ensure any future ammonia planning policy allows room for business development and improvement as well as reducing emissions. While the hard-line SES policy has been removed, planning rules still remain in place and it is imperative that any farmer considering building anything on farm seeks proper advice before proceeding.”

The UFU will be engaging with DAERA and NIEA at the earliest opportunity to ensure that there is a sensible way forward regarding ammonia and planning. 

“Investing in farm businesses can increase productivity, reduce emissions and provide new employment opportunities. SES’ original position not only affected farmers but had wide-reaching consequences for the whole agri-food and the construction industry if it had been allowed to proceed. We were pleased to have the support of many industry organisations and businesses for this case. We will continue to fight on behalf of our members to challenge unfair and unjust decisions and will do so again should the need arise,” said the UFU president.